How We Survive by K.B. Carle

We survive on vegetables from gardens we make in the backyards of strangers.

Blasting music with all the windows open, raiding closets, setting food bowls on porches just in case our tabby, rottweiler, ferret, hamster, or goldfish come home.

We are the last people on Earth.

You say this every night before you go to your room and I go to mine in a house that was never ours.

We survive on secrets.

Over breakfast I admit that sometimes I wish you’d come to my room. You say you wish you’d known sooner. That you’ve met someone and wasn’t sure when to tell me. I try to remember all the times we’ve been apart, wonder how you managed to meet someone when we are the last people on earth.

I want you to meet her, you say, and I nod because I don’t know what else to do.

We survive on a series of miscommunications.

You take me to the nearby sex shop and tell me her name’s Lorraine. I look for evidence of another human, someone I could be friends with. Someone I could envy, address hateful letters to that I’ll never send but burn in the fire pit while you sleep. Someone I could have rebound sex with—to stop pretending like you and I have ever had sex. I start building a life with this woman you’ve met named Lorraine.

You walk to the display window (I take a moment to admire your ass and think maybe I have a chance) and carry a mannequin towards me.

Meet Lorraine, you say.

We survive on fuck ups and moments of doubt.

Like how did I fuck up this badly? How did you fuck a—Lorraine?

Lorraine has blue hair and eyes that never shut. She’s wearing a black latex catsuit that accentuates her hips and legs in a way I can’t hate, and is made of fucking plaster.

Don’t embarrass me, you hiss.

I shake her hand. Nice to meet you, I say, while thinking about all the things I didn’t do that drove you to Lorraine.

We survive on privacy.

Lorraine starts coming home with you after we meet, and I hear you two through the walls. You tell her about your life before we were the last people on earth, and everyone you miss. I hear you two having sex when I’m trying to sleep. Sometimes, I hear my door creak open and think you’ve come to apologize. Instead, I see Lorraine, leaning in the doorframe, naked and frozen in her shop window pose.

 

We survive on new experiences.

You ask me to move out. Say, it’s nothing personal, just that you and Lorraine need your privacy. I consider telling you about Lorraine in my doorway but you’re babbling about how new everything is with her. You hear birds singing (there are none), music playing (you keep Rick Rolling me), and everything is so much brighter. It’s not. It’s not because, as the last people on earth, everything is still the same.

We survive on small moments.

Since being evicted, I’ve decided to house hop. I want to find this brightness—or newness—you’ve found so I migrate from one house to the next. Somehow you find me, and I think I feel a little bit of that brightness you’ve found.

Lorraine’s throwing a party, you say, and hand me an invitation.

I invite you inside. You back away.

Sorry, Lorraine’s waiting.

We survive on disappointments.

I find a dress in someone’s basement that fits and heels that I hope I can walk in. Your house is somehow crowded by the time I arrive. Lorraine is wearing a pink tutu over a red leather catsuit, and she’s surrounded by other mannequins I recognize from department stories and the sex shop. Even the one from the auto body shop is here. I make my way over to him and try to start a conversation, but he doesn’t respond, so I lean against him and imagine our lives together.

We survive on possibilities.

My husband—the mannequin from the auto body shop—would address me as his partner instead of wife. He would take my last name, never comment on my age, how many pills I take, the diapers I’ll eventually need. He’d hold my hand, kiss me often, and tell me how much he loves me. He’d tell me he loves me so often that I’d forget about the party, Lorraine, and you asking Lorraine to marry you.

We survive on the promise of the future.

You invite me to the wedding, and I come. Lorraine wears a white pantsuit and you—a wedding gown. The mannequin from the auto body shop is there but he sits far away from me. You whisper your vows, kiss Lorraine, and announce that you are now Mr. Lorraine. You thank everyone for coming. You thank me for coming. I have a few drinks and make my way to the backyard. You find me, like you always do, and ask if you can have a taste.

We survive on missed opportunities.

You ask why we—I tell you I don’t know. That’s a lie, but you’ve had one too many, and this conversation seems inappropriate on your wedding night. I tell you I’m leaving, and you tell me you know. You say you’ve noticed all the times I’ve moved, each time farther away from you; how I flirted with the guy from the auto body shop only to now pretend he doesn’t exist.

I tell you I think you’re beautiful. Handsome. That I don’t know which you would prefer.

I guess that’s why we never—

I press my finger to your lips. You’re crying, which shouldn’t be happening. I look for Lorraine. You grab my hand and I know, if you asked me to stay, my answer would destroy everything.


K.B._Brick_Wall_2

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her stories have appeared in HAD Magazine, Good River Review, Waxwing Magazine, and have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She can be found online at http://kbcarle.com or on Twitter @kbcarle.

Traci with an i by Veronica Klash

When the man points the gun at Traci, she’s a saguaro. Not only in look, but in texture. She seems prickly, like if you touched her it would sting. And if Traci is a saguaro I am a succulent at her feet, small with smooth edges. He tells her to keep her hands up and give him all the money. He’s shaky. She’s not. Well which one is it? Do you want my hands up or do you want the money? I can’t get the money with my hands up. She sneers at his response before he gets the words out. Bitch, just give me the fucking money. Traci hits a button and the register pops open with mechanical violence and a ding. She grabs two fistfuls of crumpled bills and smacks them down on the counter. You happy now, genius? The man looks at me, standing next to Traci behind the register, and I almost shrug. We almost share a moment where I would’ve said, yeah I know, she’s out there, man. But when you’re frozen in fear you don’t shrug and you don’t share a moment with the man who’s seconds away from making you piss your pants. He crams the money in his pockets and runs.

After we finish describing the man to the police, Traci pulls a 40 from the fridge and we walk out. The police know we’re not 21, but they either don’t notice or don’t care. The asphalt is slick from the rain. It’s dark out and the siren lights look like bright alien fruit reflected in puddles.

In between swigs Traci says, fuck that job, I was going to quit anyway, fuck that place, fuck that nasty burnt gasoline smell. I kinda like that smell. And I kinda like that job. I wonder how much I’d still like it if Traci wasn’t there. If I had to clean out the slushee machine without Traci singing into a Twinkie in the background. Then Traci asks, do you wanna go to the lake? I know it’s not really a question.

I drive us past walls of trees and borders of shrubs fortifying the road. They repaved last year so now all the potholes are gone, but I still swerve to avoid them. Traci’s pushing buttons trying to find a station that isn’t static. Can you believe that asshole? She asks after giving up on the radio and turning her attention to the window. The guy with the gun? We’ve seen worse, I say. Remember that one tweaker that kept touching his balls? Traci laughs. I try not to sound desperate, but the question falls out of my mouth and my voice vibrates like a fridge on its last legs: Are you really going to quit? Traci’s still playing with the window. Maybe. You should quit too. We should quit together, that’ll show ‘em. She’s right, but it’s not like I have a choice. Mom can’t pay the bills without my help. And Traci’s even worse off. She’s got brothers. All I say in response is, stop that, you’ll break the window.

When we were kids I was afraid to go in the lake because I thought there’d be leeches in there. Tracey—back then she spelled it with an EY, just like me—held my hand the whole time. She didn’t make fun or try to freak me out. She held my hand and smiled. Our legs and arms worked extra hard below the murky water, churning bubbles to the surface, making up for our entwined limbs. My center was gooey and pliant, like mac and cheese straight from the oven.  Back then we both had daddies. I technically still do, but I haven’t seen him in a while.

We’re alone at the lake. I park the car as close to the edge as I can, leaving the headlights on. We throw our clothes in the backseat and Traci, bathed in ghostly glow, runs to the water. I walk over, sidestepping cigarette butts and shattered beer bottles. There’s red lipstick around one of the butts. The shattered glass glints in the sand and I think about the girls who stand outside the club across from the gas station. They shimmer in the dark too. They come in before their shifts to buy gum and cigarettes. They look Traci up and down and tell her she could make good money. They don’t talk to me.

Tracey became Traci with an i right about the time she stopped stuffing her bra. She was filling enough. I asked her why she didn’t like being Tracey with an EY anymore, and she said that things were different, which meant that her name should be different. At the end of her statement, as if for emphasis, one of the spaghetti straps on her black top slid down her shoulder. I was about to reach out to fix it, instead I nodded and pretended to understand what the hell she was talking about. Things didn’t feel different to me.

Traci and I float. The water is so warm we can’t tell where our bodies stop and it begins. When our fingers graze, that mac and cheese heat is in my belly, even though I’m not afraid of leeches anymore. I know there’s other darkness that can pull you under.


VeronicaK2

Veronica Klash loves living in Las Vegas and writing in her living room. You can read her work in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is currently in hibernation, working on a short story collection. Find her tweets @veronicaklash.

I Want To Talk About Boundaries But Instead We Say Goodbye by Cole Beauchamp

As soon as the car stops, we tumble out like fish from a net, gasping in the salty air. I shake myself free of tension from missed turns and what do those parking signs say and dread that Mica’s about to be sick in the car again.

The shingle shifts under our feet, wedging small stones between flesh and the flip flops I’ve rescued from the back of the wardrobe. The twins are in lime green jelly shoes – an Asda special.

“Careful” I shout, but it’s too late. Mica and Jonah are squealing down to the water, two short, stout bodies in rainbow tie-dye short sets. I watch Mica’s hair whip in the sea breeze and wish I’d plaited it. It will be a nest of tangles by midday.

Jonah turns his head this way and that, as if to say – where did all the buildings go? As far as I know, it’s the first time they’ve seen the sea. But there’s only so much the adoption files can tell you.

Gillian and I are lounging in the sun, bellies full of fish and chips, debating the best route home when it happens. Amongst the roar of water on stone and screaming seagulls, I hear a thin cry. Scanning the beach, I see a grey-haired woman hobbling towards me with Mica in tow. Mica’s rubbing her eyes, mewing like a cat. Another legacy: neglected children learn quickly not to bother making too much noise.

“She toppled over and wanted her mummy.” The woman has smart hair, the kind that’s cut in a salon, and linen trousers with a neatly pressed crease. It’s a look that takes me back to my mother’s Tuesday Bridge: four sets of cardigans and pearls turning in perfect synchrony to scrutinize me and find me lacking.

Jonah bounces up to me. “She was running in the water and I said don’t do that, be careful like Mummy said, but she wasn’t listening Mummy, even though I told her.”

“I don’t think she’s hurt. Just a shock,” the woman says.

I scan Mica for injuries – she’s soaked through, her knee badly grazed – and embrace her. Mica plops down into my lap, dripping cold water into my sun-warmed legs. Her hair tickles my face as I kiss the top of her head while Gillian cleans Mica’s knee. I’m grateful we’re at the stage where she lets us. For the first three months, she’d scream every time we tried to put on a plaster. Imagine that on a public beach.

“Left Dad at home then? Girls’ day out?” the woman says.

I try to decipher whether she’s making conversation, being nosy, or deliberately stirring. Gillian rubs antiseptic lotion onto Mica’s knee.

Jonah pipes up. “We don’t have a daddy at home.”

I laugh at his puffed-up chest, his earnest face. Off he goes, a train chugging down the track. “We have a Mummy and a Gilly. And before that we were at Susannah’s. But I didn’t have my own bedroom there and now I do. I like firemen. Do you like firemen?”

Once the plaster is on Mica’s leg, Gillian and I stand to fold the blanket and stash our things in the beach bag. Some days you don’t mind being an ambassador; today I don’t feel like explaining a thing.

“Firemen are nice,” continues Jonah. “Really nice. If you come to our car, I can show you my firemen. I like firemen because-”

“Jonah.” I give him the look, the look that says don’t overshare. That we are family, but she is a stranger. She doesn’t need to hear about what happened with his birth family.

“It’s okay,” she says.

I want to say, it’s not okay. These kids need boundaries. They need to learn not to throw themselves at anyone who glances their way. That I hope we are teaching them to feel loved, to be safe, but there are no guarantees with the start they’ve had.

“You’re a stranger,” Mica says.

I feel a surge of pride. An odd thing to take pride in, perhaps, but I am on the verge of tears. It is sinking in. Although my mother used boundaries to keep me out, I’m using mine to keep strangers out.

“Well that’s not a very nice thing to say.” The woman bristles, looking at Mica the way the Bridge gang used to look at me.

“Time to go,” I say briskly. It’s too much to ask, understanding another’s intent. It’s enough to define your own boundaries, corral your own demons. “Now what do we say to nice strangers who help us?”

“Thank you,” the twins say in unison, heads bobbing.

The woman says “You’re welcome” but the smile on her face wavers. We’re an odd-shaped piece in her puzzle.

It doesn’t matter. We know who we are to each other. “Say goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Mica and Jonah shout, on familiar territory now. They know about departures. They know how to say goodbye.


IMG-20220323-WA0009
Cole Beauchamp is a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. She’s been published in Ellipsis Zine, Dead Skunk, and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in London with her girlfriend, two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. You can find her on twitter at @nomad_sw18

How We Are Formed by Patience Mackarness

SEDIMENTARY

Blue marl, greensand, greywacke. At the blackboard, your teacher looks like he’s tasting the names. Jonno murmurs Grey Wacky! and all of you laugh because it’s true, the teacher’s old and a bit weird.

You’re inching along a high spine of rock, in battering wind. The teacher yells back that it’s tuff, formed 450 million years ago, carved out in the last Ice Age. Lin’s nearly blown into the storm-grey tarn below. Jonno puts out an arm to steady her. You’re in no danger of being blown away.

Lin is asked for every dance. The colour of her hair is pyrite, fool’s gold.

IGNEOUS

Dartmoor is a granite batholith, an extrusion of molten rock from deep in the crust. Extrude means push out. Like a turd, Jonno says, and everyone titters.

You’re all huddled beside the River Dart in the rain, with dripping clipboards and school-issue kagoules that smell of wet tent. When you slip down the bank, your already sodden jeans slimed with mud, Jonno leads a falsetto chorus of The Hippopotamus Song.

Pumice scrapes dead skin from footsoles. It’s spongey-light and feels fake, but it was born in a volcano.

COASTAL EROSION

Waves smash into cracks, split them wider. Hydraulic action and frost-shattering blast out caves. Bits of cliff plunge into the sea, leave pillars and arches, then nothing. The sea keeps on pounding till the whole coast is pulverized.

You’re by the wall in the lineup of rejects, again. Late in the the evening slow tracks play, the disco lights stop flashing, couples move close, Angie and Je t’aime pulse through the gym. Lin and Jonno sway, melt together in the dark. You can’t look away.

METAMORPHIC

Metamorphosis means changing into something else. White marble. Lapis-lazuli.

There’s another dance, punks and tarts this time. Most of the boys go as punks and the girls as tarts, but you hang safety pins round your neck and a razorblade from your belt. You outline your eyes in silver-green, your lips in black. You hold your nose and drink a soup of mushrooms you found growing on the football pitch. Jonno laughs and calls you a stoner. You pogo and swear, knock into other dancers on purpose. People have to look twice, to be sure it’s you. Later, the disco lights turn to fireworks, spell out secret messages on the sky.

A HOUSE BUILT ON SAND

The teacher takes a group of you to a country estate. Greensand lies beneath, but this isn’t a field trip. There’s singing, and lots of people fall to their knees in tears and are born again. You don’t fall down, though afterwards you wish you had, because Lin’s eyes are unfocused and dreamy, and she says her heart is full of Jesus. Jonno’s less mean afterwards, you don’t know if that’s because of Lin or Jesus.

CONTINENTAL DRIFT

Exams are over, everyone’s waiting for results. You know yours will be bad. Lots of people have university places waiting, but you’re going backpacking in India.

People say, India alone, wow! Aren’t you scared?

You are, but you shrug.

People say, What will you do there?

You’ll see the mountains of the Sub-Himalayan Range. You’ll see the Ganges delta where three tectonic plates meet.

You’ll gather cannabis, growing wild on a hillside near Simla. You’ll lose weight, and your virginity. You’ll catch amoebic dysentery, buy an orange sari, sit at the feet of a man with a silky beard who smells like incense.

You’ll come home. People will look twice, to be sure it’s you.


Patience_Mackarness

Patience Mackarness lives and writes in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published by Brilliant Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/

Here I Relate Her Short Marriage to an Artist in Ten Chapters by Vikram Masson

I
In the video, they look so serene circling the wood-fired flame: sparks skitter like fireflies; two brahmins drone mantras in Sanskrit; mothers and aunties look on. She wore diamond earrings shaped like jasmine buds. He painted a pointillist mural of pink flamingos and displayed it in the reception hall. “Blessings to the couple, blessings, blessings!” her tipsy father said, hoisting up a silver flute of Veuve Clicquot. He died of a stroke a few weeks later.

II
Early on, you knew something was amiss — dishes went undone almost every night and gifts from the wedding: a Le Creuset pan, gargoyle salt and pepper shakers, Waterford Crystal bowls, sat unopened on high, shadowed shelves.

III
He paints all day, mixing aquamarine, a touch of burnt umber and titanium white for his cotton clouds, and a ceaseless array of cloud paintings clutter up the apartment walls. At night, while she worked, he drinks rare tequila with lime and discusses fourth wave feminism with women on Twitter. She grew impatient one day and swiped the debit card from his wallet. Soon the wedding diamonds disappeared.

IV
Her grandmother had peered out from thick-lensed rhinestone glasses and said, “Don’t marry a dreamer.”

V
“You don’t respect him,” is what her doctor said when she asked, “How can I bring back the fire?” It was worse than all that. Secretly she wonders why she loathes so handsome a man’s odor, why she longs to sleep in a separate room.

VI
She strikes a match against her husband’s glass and sand head, igniting the white phosphorus, burning the sulfur, until he turns into a specter of crackling flame that diminishes in an instant to a smoky stump.

VII
She doesn’t actually do that, but dreams about that and is happy.

VII
It was the new man’s glance and his long, delicate fingers. How quickly, she thought: his fingers skating along the hot runnels made by her bra straps, the enchanting whiff of expensive cologne. This is the first time she’s spent a night away from the apartment; she insists on staying on top.

IX
How pathetic, she thought, seeing her husband next morning — his arms flecked with dragon’s blood and a rare Indian yellow (a paint made from the urine of cows fed mango leaves). He’s staring at the dull morning sun; he’s weeping.

X
They part uneventfully. Dust, paint rags, unopened coupon packs, empty bottles, and a single ladder left near where the unopened gifts were, on the high, shadowed shelves.


Vikram_Masson_Photo

Vikram Masson writes at the intersection of faith, identity and culture. His poems have been featured or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Glass, Juked, Prometheus Dreaming, Rust + Moth, and Without a Doubt: poems illuminating faith (NYQ Books).

Nitrogen Narcosis by Zoe Raine

We pull the rusting boat out of the weeds. It takes us an hour of searching the dark to find what we had abandoned years ago. I don’t remember who gave us the boat, or if we bought it, do you? Earlier, we laid on our sides, facing away from each other, wondering if the other was awake.

Do you wanna go fishing? You asked.

That sounds nice, I said.

I thought you meant “sometime,” the place we put things that we’ll never get around to— but then I felt you get out of bed.

Spiders crawl over our hands while we drag the cold metal toward the lapping waves. It doesn’t look like it will stay afloat, but I focus on the sound of sifting sand. My nightgown dips into the lake, and I like how it clings to my legs as I steady myself in the canoe. You give us the last push before jumping in. We have no paddle. We have no fishing poles, either. The clouds are covering all the stars, and I can’t seem to find the moon. After settling into the metal and rocking with the waves, I can feel that you’re looking at me, and I wonder if you’re also nostalgic about when we loved each other every day.

We almost don’t notice the leak in the boat, the water rushing in from the sides. Submerged up to our waists, we smile, and then we laugh. Hard. Even with headlamps blinding each other, we find the other’s eyes through blurred vision and burning cheeks, and we don’t look down at the water creeping to our ribs. The cold shows our breath between us, fogging the beams of light. Our headlamps don’t go out once we’re under water, and I watch the shapes of light and darkness dance in flecks around us. Your muffled voice melts into a kaleidoscope dream. Our lungs fill with the lake, and we make bubbles— laughing out the last of our air.


IMG_4646

Zoe Raine is an MFA candidate at Western Washington University (recently trading Michigan snow for Washington rain). She found her love of literary magazines through interning at Passages North and is now a fiction editor for Bellingham Review and reader for Fractured Lit. Her work is featured (or forthcoming) in The Hunger, Maudlin House, and A Velvet Giant. (Photo credit: Elation Studio)

Smoothing the Cranial Curve of a Ghostskull

Can’t shift this sticky Hoosier summer. No walks off the front porch anymore. My hair won’t behave and it floats like a cloud. My hangnails are drying up and my armpits are wet and the sky is a chalkboard of plane exhaust streaks. Ants nip at my dirty feet and crawl up my dirty jeans and the wind tickles the base-fuzz of my spine. I shaved my toes and still stepped on bees. The house chimes an idle litany. My dead dog’s dishes are asleep in the backyard. I scrambled barefoot over the prickle-grass, trying to find some remnant of her dried shit, but I missed the spring and the softening and now the bluebells by the stoop have turned beige. The basketball on the driveway bakes inside its mud shell. The cars hum down Carlisle. The monarch butterfly I’ve been trying to catch since first grade jitters in the peripheral. I don’t turn to face it. The wind dies. A fly pisses on my arm. A branch cracks by the road. A squirrel sneezes at me and I bark back. He scurries into the tree crown as my hair haloes.


kristinelangleymahler_headshotKristine Langley Mahler is a memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska. Author of Curing Season: Artifacts (WVU Press, 2022) and recipient of a 2021 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Nebraska Arts Council, Kristine’s work was named Notable in Best American Essays 2021 and 2019 and is published in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Brevity, and Speculative Nonfiction, among others. She is the director of Split/Lip Press. Find more about her projects at kristinelangleymahler.com or @suburbanprairie.

Epitaph by Kelsi Lindus

We made art. We wept. For no reason. There were tidal patterns in our souls that we could not understand. We had souls, we suspected. We knew very little. We saw colors and we named them. We burned things, yes. We burned everything. We took it all and we used it and we did not feel bad. We turned off the television. We cupped small lifeforms in our hands. It grew warmer. We looked for mushrooms in the dirt. We hosted dinner parties. We drank til we were sad. We never learned. We learned to forgive ourselves and continue. We held the door for a stranger. We were all just babies once. We were all so anxious. We invented occasions to feel warm and generous and sorry. We let the stains set. We put off the important things. We made love. We said love but didn’t mean it. We meant to say it more. We regretted everything and nothing. We were hard, then so soft we couldn’t bear it. We made dramas of our suffering. We could not get out of bed. We humiliated each other. We used our hurt in hurtful ways. We embraced. When it rained, words came to us, and we sat alone and wrote them down. We sang, and the singing broke our hearts, made us kind again, made us better listeners. We were terrible listeners. We were terribly selfish. We built cathedrals and would not let each other in. We were boring. We grew bored. But sometimes we stopped as a bird swooped, plunged its body through the water, reemerged, soared away. We knew to watch. We knew it to be beautiful. We knew.


Lindus_LostBalloon-2

Kelsi Lindus is a writer and documentary filmmaker living in the Puget Sound. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from AutofocusX-R-A-Y Literary MagazineCloves Literary, and elsewhere. She can be found online at @kelsijayne or kelsilindus.com.

When Home is Not an Option by Naz Knudsen

Burning coals glow red atop the golden plate. The friendly café owner props the Hookah next to us by the planters of mauve and red lilies. My mom nods her thank you. I whisper mine. You say, “Merci,” and with it, watch my parents beam in your sweet attempt to speak Farsi. Our Turkish host chimes in, “Teşekkür.”

We flew across the ocean and over the seas, you and I, to meet my parents somewhere in between. I wanted you to experience a place akin to where I grew up—a city cloaked in honking horns and exhaust smoke, where drivers color outside the lines, and dark brown eyes are framed with deep wrinkles of smiles.

Winding the cobblestone paths to the Galata Tower, we wander in and out of shops tucked into ancient walls. We practice our negotiation tactics with the amiable shopkeepers; we resist buying a large rug with hues that mimic the mood of the Blue Mosque watching over the Old City and its red-tiled rooftops. In the bazaar, you linger near the fragrant heaps of herbs and spice. I am drawn to the kaleidoscope of shawls and scarves. My fingertips run along the gleaming threads of silk. On a shelf next to the amber bracelets and opal rings, an orange tabby is soundly asleep. Ceiling fans lift the heat from our cheeks, the delicate fabrics dance. Blue and gold, sage and silver shimmer with the slightest breeze.

We find our way to the water. Near the bridges across the Bosporus, we settle in at a café hidden in a narrow alley, where old Maple trees shelter the travelers and the local passersby. Between the Black and Marmara Seas, Europe, and Asia, the four of us gather. We smoke Hookah, drink from thin-waisted teacups, and savor little Turkish Delights. My mom cuts into the flaky layers of Baklava, and I long for that hint of bitterness that almond paste leaves behind. “Iranian Baklava is different…it’s concentrated and intense, better , I think,” I say. You disagree, but I can trace a faint smile in the depth of your blue eyes. My dad laughs, and you roll the dice. The rug-covered cushions feel intimate, rough, just right against my bare legs.
Bubbles form in the base, loud at first, but soon they fade into the clinking of teacups. The sound of the checkers hitting the edges of the wood brings back memories long forgotten: the times my grandfather used to challenge my dad to a game of backgammon with a bit of bantering on the side.

Hagia Sophia, with all its charm, awaits us somewhere beyond this street. I sip on the hot tea with a perfect note of cardamom and think, perhaps tomorrow. Today, I want to be in-between.


NazbKnudsen

Naz Knudsen is an Iranian American writer and filmmaker. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Mayday Magazine, and she has a flash piece forthcoming in an anthology by Alternating Current Press. Previously, her translations have been published in Farsi. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches storytelling and film editing. You can find her on Twitter, @nazbk.

Exhausted by Brenden Layte

It spits and heaves from the bus downtown. You’ll notice men looking at your mother strangely and feel scared, so you’ll focus on the Velcro on your scuffed-up dinosaur shoes. When you go by Rural Cemetery, there will be a three-decker that your great grandmother lives in. You’ll announce the importance of this location to everyone on the bus. In another couple years you’ll find out that she walked the same route the bus takes before school every morning to deliver her family’s daily piece work when she wasn’t much older than you.

It fills the street behind you from an ancient panel truck, somehow still in one piece. The seats and frame will creak and bounce while you’re delivering nuts to the city’s dive bars with your father. He’ll get dirty wads of cash and you’ll get a few bags of pistachios, maybe even some red ones. In one bar, there will be an old-timer, a friend of your grandfather’s—the one who killed one of his kids and brutalized the others. You’ll sit at the bar and stare at pickled eggs floating through vinegar that hasn’t been clear during your lifetime while your dad jokes about how he could take his dad now that they’re both older and the old man at the bar will just laugh and shake his head. You’ll wonder why anyone would care about this but one day you’ll understand.

It fills your lungs because somebody thought it was a good idea to put an enclosed train platform next to the opening of an expressway tunnel. You’ll wait here bloodied to get the last train home from punk shows when you’re 15. Or you’ll be 19, fiddling with a discman, sad about a girl, reading a book that you don’t like all that much but has the right affectation, and you’ll already be nostalgic more often than you should be. You’ll be waiting to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or maybe even Easter if it’s before your grandmother is too frail to pick up a ham or cut through a turnip.

It sputters from tuk-tuks outside an after-hours club. It’ll be five or six in the morning, and you’ll have been at this for days now. You’ll think that you’re probably ready to go home, but you might just end up in a flophouse downtown again. You’ll be looking around too much because a man that was wearing an all-white suit kept grabbing your friend and she kept telling him to fuck off, and you were high so you threw a drink at him and fucked up his white clothes which caused a scene and so you swiped through the converging bodies to get a few hits in. So now you’ll be outside coming down and nervously fidgeting with a cigarette you won’t be sure about lighting and drivers will descend on you with promises to take you to places where you can keep whatever this is, because it’s clearly not a party anymore, going.

It hovers low like fog, casting a gray-brown filter over everything, even the waves lapping at the posts barely holding the dock above the water. You’ll walk past the boats to the end and wonder what it would feel like if the pylons broke and the dock just floated out into the ocean with you on it, untethered and sinking. You’ll have woken up in a broken-down old bathroom stall, your clothes wet with something that hopefully came from you and coarse with sand. You’ll have stumbled out, bought a beer, and sipped at it while taking in the first light of day under a banana tree. Then you’ll have stripped off your clothes until you stood naked and alone on the beach, walking into cerulean surf set ablaze.


Layte_photoBrenden Layte (he/him) is an editor of educational materials, a linguist, and a writer. His work has previously appeared in places like Entropy, Ellipsis Zine, Pithead Chapel, and the Forge Literary Magazine. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with his girlfriend and a cat that was described as “terrifying” the last time he went to the vet. He tweets at @b_layted.