Collecting Dust by Rosie Garland

Eventually, she gets rid of the double bed and replaces it with a single. The room looks twice the size.

The skirting board is dotted with grey puffs. Slut’s wool, her mother called it. She picks one up and it doesn’t fall apart. If she closed her eyes she’d barely know it was there.

A long hair coils like wire, holding the whole thing together. She tugs. It doesn’t come loose. She carries the ball to the kitchen, slides it gently into a plastic food container, snaps the lid shut.

In her new bed, she thinks about dust: how it’s formed of flakes of skin and other discarded things; how the human body replaces its cells in a seven-year cycle.

She is a completely different woman now, her past self scattered around the house in tiny pieces. Pieces of who she used to be, and lost hold of.

At 4am she gives up on sleep. She wrestles the vacuum cleaner upstairs, hoovers the bedroom more thoroughly than ever before. She unclips the loaded bag, shakes it into the tub containing the scrap of slut’s wool. It won’t all fit.

By a quarter to nine the following morning, she is at the local shopping precinct waiting for the bargain housewares shop to open. She buys a stack of sandwich boxes and spends the day vacuuming, decanting dust into the boxes, vacuuming again. She finds a sheet of labels left over from that summer she didn’t make jam, writes dining room, stairs, spare room, bedroom.

She makes a cup of tea. So many hours until it’s reasonable to go back to bed.

She slides her forefinger along the windowsill and it comes away smudged with a half-moon of dirt. Remnants from those nights spent with her forehead pressed to the glass, staring at the empty driveway, waiting. She finishes her tea, gathers the stuff trapped behind the sofa cushions, the thick velvet on the top edge of the books she never read. She collects every last bit.

That night, she falls into an exhausted sleep, but wakes suddenly. A sick feeling writhes in her stomach and it takes a while to pull herself together. The clock says 4am again. She hauls on her dressing gown and staggers to the kitchen. The table is neatly stacked with plastic boxes. She holds one up to the overhead light. Even though it’s been months since it happened, bits of him will have infested the carpet. She hadn’t thought of that.

She prises open every box, dumps the contents onto the floor. She has no way of knowing which specks are her, and which are him. She kneels beside the mess, scoops it into a heap. Squeezes harder and harder until a lump forms, the size and shape of a newborn child.


ONLINE_Rosie_Garland_headshot_credit_Rachel_Saunders
Novelist, poet and singer with post-punk band The March Violets, Rosie Garland’s work appears in Under the Radar, Spelk, The Rialto, Ellipsis, Butcher’s Dog, Longleaf Review, The North, and elsewhere. Her forthcoming poetry collection What Girls do the Dark (Nine Arches Press) is out in October 2020. She’s authored three novels: The Palace of Curiosities, Vixen, & The Night Brother, which The Times of London described as “a delight…with shades of Angela Carter.” In 2019, Val McDermid named her one of the UK’s Top 10 LGBT writers. http://www.rosiegarland.com/ Twitter @rosieauthor

Today is the Day by Dan Crawley

After passing through the main gate, my daughter Mikie and I make a beeline for her favorite ride. The rain is coming down, thunder rumbles nearby. Since it’s the middle of the week, I hope we won’t have to get drenched while waiting. Sure enough the line is short and moves quickly around the chain-linked posts that lead into a large building that looks like a mountain. We hurry out of the wet and into the large opening of a faux train tunnel. At one point, people do bunch up in the brightly lit passageway. Faux rock walls surround us.

“Why did you tell me this now?” It’s a boy, the same age as Mikie. The boy says this to a woman beside him, clutching the strap of her purse. I assume his mother.

She turns quickly to us and forces a smile at my daughter. “Playing hooky like us?”

“We didn’t want to wait over two hours for this ride,” I say. “And with the weather, we figured today is the day.”

“You figured right,” the woman says.

“I knew you knew him,” the boy says. “You said you never knew who he was because you were wild back then and there were so many guys, but you always did know. Why didn’t you tell me before now?”

“The line is moving,” Mikie says.

“I don’t care,” the boy says. “I don’t want to go on this shitty ride anymore.” He looks at my daughter. “This is the shittiest ride in the park. Only for babies.”

“Hey, now,” I say.

“Elijah,” the woman says. “Elijah!” She tries to grab his arm, but he whips it away. “I’ve wanted to tell you,” the woman says through her teeth. The woman coaxes the boy to walk further down the tunnel. We hear the clatter of coasters up ahead. Mikie and I move slowly, giving some space between us and them. People behind us don’t seem to mind the pace, either.

“Did I say something wrong?” Mikie says. “That stupidhead has problems.”

“Hey, come on,” I say.

We catch up to the mother and son at the loading platform as coaster cars resembling small trains pull up. The mother is still strangling her strap. Riders disembark and we climb in. The mother and son now sit in front us. The harness clicks, traps us.

“This is good news,” the mother says to Elijah. I guess it’s her turn to be riled up. “I thought this could be a good day all around. We’re at your favorite place, and now you know what you’ve always wanted to know. I thought you were old enough to han—”

“This is not a good day.” Then Elijah blurts out, “Where does he live? I’ll go live with him. I want to live with him.”

“I really don’t know where he lives, God’s honest truth.”

The coaster heaves forward and begins to climb the tracks. Soon we will drop into what looks like a dark and cavernous mineshaft, hurtling us along on this out-of-control train, corkscrewing us seemingly deeper into the earth. Mikie screams beside me, her small arms flailing. I hold on to the bar. The coaster rises into a bend. My ex-wife and I delivered the news to Mikie about our separation at her favorite restaurant. Mikie hasn’t wanted to go back since.

The rattling of the wheels, the shrieks of riders, I feel my fingers slip. Gleaming gemstones strobe from the rock walls in every direction. Has Mikie ever yelled at her mother that she wanted to live with me? A dip catches me off-guard, I let go of the bar, my stomach drops. The squeal of metal on metal and instinctually I brace my arm across my daughter’s body. Everything comes to a halt.

“What’s going on? Help, help!” It’s the woman in front of me in the darkness.

Now bright flood lights click on from every direction, and I see how small a space this cavern really is. The coaster sits on the tracks, only a few yards from the last curving bank before heading into the exit tunnel. Above us, the coil of metal tracks, ladders, and walkways. Below is a five foot drop to the concrete floor.

“I can’t get out,” the boy says. The harness is still locked.

I hear people panicking, others reassuring, and then a voice comes over a loud speaker. The voice is sorry for the inconvenience, and that the coaster’s brakes will release momentarily, and then we’ll glide the rest of the way back to the station.

I realize Mikie is talking non-stop next to me. “Look up, Dad. This is so cool. Can you believe this is happening? Look at that, Dad. This is incredible.”

“No it’s not,” says Elijah over his shoulder.

“Yes it is,” Mikie says in a way that I know she means business. “Look around already. It’s like a tornado or something.”

“If I knew, Elijah,” Elijah’s mother says, pleads, “I would tell you where he lives.”

“I’m inside a tornado,” Elijah says.


 

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Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, and Atticus Review. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review.

 

Velcro Shoes by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

At nine—I can’t stop the trips and falls, the scrapes of my knees against concrete. I like the burn and the drum of my blood gushing out of me. I am split skin. My father teaches me to tie my shoes. Because he’s tired of watching me fall. Or, because he’s tired of picking me up. Hands me the left shoe: “Do as I do?” he says, using the right shoe as an example. And I do what he does—until my mid-twenties, when I’ve pushed everyone I love away, too. He forms two loops with each of the laces, crosses them, pushes one through the opening, pulls tight. “Only one can go through. The other can’t. Entiendes?” And I didn’t know then it was our farewell. I get good at making it seem like my shoes are tied—I tuck the laces into the bottom of my shoes, into my socks, press on the aglets with my heels. I fall and I am split skin and gushing blood. My mother gets me a new pair of Velcro shoes “para que no batalles,” she says. That’s what my mother does best—use bandaids when I need stitches. She wipes my knees to keep me from spilling out. When all I want is to make the gash bigger and bigger and bigger and watch all of me spill over my mother, over my father, until I am everything and nothing. She slaps my hand away because “that’s how you get scars”—picking at scabs growing over wounds. She never tells me all the other ways I’ll scar. And she’ll never slap my hand again, busy with her own scabs. The loops and hooks of my Velcro shoes keep me from falling but at school I’m the wetback, spic baby who can’t tie her shoes. And there aren’t any ways to explain that my parents did what they could. And we’ll never ever feel like enough. And there aren’t enough knots, or hooks, or loops to hold me together. I trip, and fall, and gush. I am split skin. Until I learn I am the one who can go through.


 

SARodriguez_HeadshotSonia Alejandra Rodriguez is a Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. She is an immigrant of Juarez, Mexico and raised in Cicero, IL. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, Hispanecdotes, Everyday Fiction, Acentos Review, Newtown Literary, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, No Tender Fences: Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry, and Longreads.

Context! by Jose Hernandez Diaz

A man in a Mars Volta shirt skated in the city. He was going to the flea market. He was going to buy a pair of gloves. It wasn’t that cold in Los Angeles, but he rode his skateboard late at night, so he needed the gloves. He arrived at the Swapmeet and bought a churro. He ate it. Then he found the vendor with the gloves. He paid $2 for the gloves. He wore them at night when he went out to paint the city with a neon green can of spray paint. He wrote the word:

Context!

On a wall. In the middle of the city. He took a photo. Then he wrote Southeast Los Angeles beneath the tag. When he finished, he skated back home beneath the moonlight. Spring was on the way; he was looking forward to that.

 


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Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. He is the author of a collection of prose poems: The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Huizache, Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, Poetry, Southeast Review, among others. He has served as poetry editor for Lunch Ticket and editorial intern for Floricanto Press.

My Mother is a Plant by Tara Campbell

A philodendron, to be exact.

At first, people laugh when I tell them, and after a few whimsical comments the conversation moves on. But the longer you know people, and the closer you get, the greater the likelihood you’ll wind up talking about parents again; and when my mother persists in being a philodendron, friends and lovers invariably quiz me on how it happened.

“Do you remember the moment you were born?” I ask them.

Most will say no, but some will say they’ve seen video footage of their own birth, which I think would be traumatic, hearing my mother scream to produce me.

“And how do you know that was you?” I ask.

Their parents told them.

“Well,” I say, “my mother told me too.”

That’s not to say I’m incurious. I’ve watched my mother, sunning by the window in her maroon-glazed pot, wondering how what she tells me could be true.

# # #

Sometimes at the change of seasons, spring or fall, she decides to give me a sibling. The leaves along one of her tendrils begin to yellow, then dry up. I pluck them off when she asks me to, and when enough leaves are gone, she has me cut off the portion at the end that’s still green and growing. I plant it, and about eighty percent of the time, it survives, becoming my new sibling. She even lets me choose their names. I’m running out of counter space for my family.

Earlier, she says, she used to bear children directly in her pot, their new green heads shooting up from the same soil. She says that’s how she had me—but as I mentioned before, I don’t actually remember it. How could I?

Once in a while, though, I have a dream where I’m standing in a pot next to her. I’m tiny—I can look up at her, sprawling in all directions over my head—and I’m buried next to her, up to my knees in dark, spore-rich soil. She normally likes her dirt on the dry side, but in the dream we’re being watered. I hold on to the tip of one of her leaves as the water washes over us. Her skin is smooth and cool and plump against my fingers.

Tiny organisms in the dirt come to life with the moisture, wriggling against my ankles and toes. I giggle and wiggle my legs, and before I know what I’m doing, I work one of my feet loose from the dirt. As soon as I lift my knee, a wave of anxiety surges up my body, bottom to top, and I clutch onto my mother’s leaf, and feel it crunch in my fist.

Then I wake up.

I don’t know who’s watering us in the dream. Probably Jim. I’ve known him as long as I’ve been alive. He’s the one who taught me how to water my mother, and who fed me and clothed me and did everything my friends’ parents did for them growing up.

But he’s not my father.

I have no father. I’m a product of asexual reproduction. I learned about it in high school biology, which was a while ago, but as far as I know it’s still a thing. Plus, I don’t look anything like Jim; he just adopted me. I take more after my mother.

That was a joke. I don’t look anything like her either. My eyes are brown, not green.

# # #

My mother wasn’t always a plant. Once, a long, long time ago, she was a lovely young woman, which, as in all old legends, meant she was barely more than a girl. And she was beautiful, and pure, and the first part excited men, and the second part excited them even more. But she didn’t want any of them, so, as mythology dictates, she got used to being chased for being chaste.

And one time, as she was being chaste-chased, a goddess from the ancient pantheon took pity on her and decided to intercede. My mother’s foot hit the ground and rooted, and her body stretched and greened forward, sprouting leaves as she tumbled ahead in a tangle of stems and shoots. The man chasing her tripped on her roots, grasping an armful of air as he fell into the fresh mass of vegetation on the dirt. He found he couldn’t get up, and the more he fought to untangle himself, the tighter she held.

Sometimes I see myself in her. My eyes aren’t green, but I am tall and lanky, so maybe there is some resemblance. But I think that’s more wishful thinking, wanting to see something that isn’t there.

I asked her once what happened to her other original children, the ones born close to her in the dirt like me.

“They withered,” she said. “I didn’t know how to be a mother yet, so they shriveled and died.”

I stroked her leaves to comfort her, and my fingers came away wet.

The man who chased my mother was never heard from again. But then, neither was she, really. She never got to go back to her family, or see her friends, or grow up and fall in love and learn to have a family of her own. She calls me her first and only success.

She doesn’t remember how long ago she turned into a plant, or what she was called before. Sometimes she tells me her memories of that moment, of tripping and sprawling forward from girl into greenery. She thinks her hair was dark, her skin olive like mine, her dress white and flowing. But perhaps, she admits, she was too influenced as a child by storybooks with pastel-colored pictures of smiling gods and fleeing women stretching leafy fingers toward the sun.

Maybe it didn’t really happen that way, or in ancient times. Maybe it wasn’t that long ago at all.

Maybe it still happens.

Maybe not all plants are green.


 

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Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Monkeybicycle, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.

Sea Ship Soup Spoon by Corey Miller

The man failed to reach the bottom of the bowl for his last sip of supper: fresh venison and smoked jalapeños in bone broth simmered all Sunday, packing heat. He concluded the spoon was at fault.

The man quested the redwoods and whittled a spoon as tall as the forest. His kukri knife shaved off years of nature, exposing homes of bark beetles, spider mites, and fire ants. He sanded past the tenants escaping down his arm to create something he could handle. Finished, the man dipped the redwood spoon into the bowl for his final sip of soup, but the bowl carved deeper. It reminded him of the Bean in Chicago. His reflection did not reveal a quitter.

He went into the city that was not Chicago and demolished a skyscraper. Sidewalks observed the man grind sawing it into a 30 level spoon. Polished steel beams and pink fiberglass insulation, riddled with mice holes — something that the man could grasp. Finished, he plunged the spoon into the bowl, yet, the bowl descended further. It reminded him of a country he never read about. The man prized the recipe, an uncompromising pursuit.

The bowl was now his ship. He shoved off to sea with the 30 level spoon, distant from the eyes that berated his hunger. Saddling the rim, he used the redwood spoon to paddle against the current. The bowl’s bottom, an unobtainable abyss, voyaged over angel fish and plastic utensils.

The man, drained in the wake of hunting, fell into the ocean and sunk to depths unexplored. Lungs deflated and fingertips seeking, he invented a chasm in the bowl. He broke and released the savory soup into the world. The ship forfeited air for water. All that was left to consume was the ocean. Sodium and sulfur and the world’s excrement dominated the stock, boiled plates simmering for eternity. The man’s single regret was not bearing any peppercorns. He would have cracked and shook the potent seasoning to produce soup spicier than a volcano. One that was dormant though. One not likely to erupt.


 

CMiller

Corey Miller lives with his wife in a tiny house they built near Cleveland. He is an award-winning Brewmaster who enjoys a good lager. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in MoonPark Review, X-R-A-Y, Barren, Cleaver, Bending Genres, Hobart, Cease Cows, and elsewhere. When not working or writing, Corey likes to take the dogs for adventures. Follow him on Twitter: @IronBrewer

One Small Thing by Emma Stough

When the city floods we build a boat. This is what our father would have wanted us to do. Katherine suggests wood, but I doubt wood can save us. Alice pulls our father’s drafts from the library—thousands of pages of his work, unseen, unremarkable. We consider it with careful fingers. This is our father spilled onto the page. We mourn him individually. Outside, the rain falls steadily, heavily, sheets of it becoming walls, barricading our view of the world.

Katherine and Alice and I begin to build. Our father’s premonitions will surely keep us afloat. We have already begun to forget that we grew up on solid ground. The space we are in blurs at the edges, undone by the idea of what comes after this disaster we are in. Tape and hopefulness hold our paper boat in place.

One of our father’s pages says: Do you despair for your own end or the world’s?

Alice says: I missed him even when he was still here.

The electricity has been out since the deluge began. We tinker with our paper boat—our father’s protection—by the glow of candlelight. This is a commentary on history, I think. How far we think we have come and how far we will go until we find ourselves right back at the beginning.

Our neighbor Gus has already drowned. There was nothing we could do to help—we had not yet built our boat. As he was swept away into the building tide, we saw his familiar face, his gentle smile—he bobbed in and out of the flood, happy. We watched until we could only see rising water and the absence of Gus.

When our boat is complete, we stand back and admire. This disaster has revealed the explicit beauty of everything. The satisfaction of ink on paper, the uneven dimples of my sister’s cheeks, the powerful unending circulation of blood inside my body.

What disaster do we face that we have not faced before?

We put on water-resistant raincoats and several pairs of socks. We tuck away the idea that we may return to our childhood home. The storm outside—angry and blue—is waiting.

It takes all our might to heft the paper boat into the flood outside—our father’s words are heavy. At the end of his life he was father-shaped, but empty. Struck down by a sad disease that humans hadn’t cured yet. It ate him from the inside-out. Maybe his body saw the end of the world before the rest of us—maybe that’s always been true.

We propel ourselves into the boat. It is shaped like a savior. The flood is steady and we can’t see the street. Stray cats paddle to the paper stern, scratching at the boat, asking for safe passage. Though we have nothing to promise, no plan, Katherine picks up the wet, scrawny creatures, and sings to them.

We have no hope of navigating on purpose. We sail down the ghosts of streets, searching for familiar markers. There is the movie theater marquee, choked in the river. A good time to show Apocalypse Now, Alice screams. She is thinking about our father’s quiet death, how envious she was.

The flood converges with other floods from other places and sooner or later we find ourselves adrift in an ocean-shaped thing. I take my sister’s hands and tell them this looks less like the end than I thought it would. We huddle against the wind and rain in a paper boat our father gave to us. This is our narrative now. We close our eyes and try to find comfort in remembering the world is just one small thing in an unimaginable universe.


 

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Emma Stough is a Midwestern writer living in Charleston, South Carolina where she teaches beginning creative writing. She has work out or forthcoming in Third Coast, Quarterly West, Jellyfish Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly.

What Goes On At Home by Kevin Richard White

The wife is drying her hands on a yellow towel in the kitchen, some blood getting on it from her dry skin. The husband is watching television in the room over, loudly complaining about liberals. There’s darkness in the house that is not stopping. It’s always like this at home. This lack of light and everything else that goes on. It is unbearable, but they like to stay.

She’s still drying her hands. She’s staring through into the next room, watching him. Briefly, a fantasy is replayed in her head: how they lived earlier in life, in a better home. Where there were no yellow towels, especially. He used to be skinnier and they would fuck every day. Not anymore. She finally looked down at the towel and saw the blood, throws it lamely onto the counter. Her hands were pulsating a bit. Maybe this is why it’s different, she thought, because I’m not as soft and tender as I used to be. Perhaps she would go show him, remind him about tenderness and the previous world they had.

She walked into the living room slowly, him aglow in electronic static – on a throne, it seemed. Once open-minded, he is now obstinate and enjoys drinking too much. Very slowly, she comes up behind him.

“Honey,” she said slowly, rubbing his shoulders.

He doesn’t turn away from the program. “What’s up?”

She looks back to the kitchen. “Do you remember when we used to all sorts of things?”

“What?”

“All sorts of things,” she said, trailing off.

He doesn’t seem to understand the vague question, so he ignored it and focuses harder on the television. It may not be the right time, she thinks to herself. She sighs and turns to go, but notices that on the table next to him, his pint glass is almost empty. He burps absent-mindedly as if to confirm this.

“Let me get you another beer,” she said.

He starts going off about the Green New Deal, as if she was the one who wrote it.

What goes on at home isn’t anyone else’s business, but she wants to make it other people’s business. Friends wonder why they don’t come out. It’s because there’s this. This entire batch of nothing that goes on endlessly like water.

She comes back to the living room with a fresh beer. She leaves it on the table and walks past him to the stairwell, thinking it might be time to take a shower or read.

“What is this?”

She sees him inspecting the glass like he’s a restaurant manager.

“Why is there blood on this glass?”

She looked down at her hands. They still pulsated a bit. They were dry and they were a part of the darkness.

He looked up at her. “Can you get me another one, please? This is disgusting.”

This didn’t happen years ago. He got his own. She didn’t have bad hands. They lived in a better home. They had better everything, more light to use, less stress and way more chances to do incredible things. But now, it came down to things like this. They shared their bodies, spit and blood before, but this was too much for him, it seemed. She glanced – she saw some streaks and spots, blotches and symbols.

“I’m sorry,” she said, coming back down.

“What’s going on?” He said, putting the glass down on the table. “Are you hurt?”

“No, forget it,” she said, temporarily in the glow of the television like some alien being. “I’ll get another one.”

He doesn’t say anything. He just sits paralyzed. She walked past him and went back into the kitchen. Here was the same darkness, the same coating, where all of it mixed. She stood frozen for a bit, looking at the floor, the wall. Maybe this was a test or a new game, she thought. She gets another glass, transfers the beer. What goes on here at this home probably happens at other homes or doesn’t happen at other homes, she thinks. She sees the towel on the counter, yellow and red. 

He is still in the living room, yelling about liberals. It’s enough to wake up the whole room, the whole world of theirs.

She starts to wipe the glass off with the towel, but instead stops. She pours the beer from the new one back into the original one. She takes it back out to him and can feel an energy shooting through her, one that was akin to how she felt back when she was soft and tender, years ago.

“Drink up, honey,” she said.

He stared at her. “I don’t get what – ”

“This television is filthy and dusty,” she said in a weird lilt. “Let me clean it quick, okay?”

He doesn’t know what to say. She starts wiping the television screen with the bloody towel. Huge smeary arcs paste themselves onto the screen, red and pixelated. She wipes the corners and the base and the entertainment stand. A large swath of blood presents itself far and wide as the news cuts to a commercial. There’s people smiling and talking through it.

She takes a step back, proud of her work.

“Honey,” he said finally, unsure and frightened.

“I’ve never felt better,” she said. “This home just needed a good cleaning.”


Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in Grub Street, The Hunger, Lunch Ticket, The Molotov Cocktail, The Helix, Hypertext, X-R-A-Y, decomP, and Ghost Parachute among others. He is a Flash Fiction Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and also reads fiction for Quarterly West and The Common. He lives in Philadelphia.

Friday Soup by Riham Adly

You know I’m allergic to legumes, my husband says every time I offer him a steaming bowl of soup. My seven-year old parrots her daddy’s words. She’s her daddy’s daughter just like I was my daddy’s girl.

Time stops every Friday at exactly 5:38 p.m. By now, I’ve realized that shaking the clocks or even changing their batteries won’t push forward the minutes or the seconds of the hour. In the kitchen I steal a look at the wall clock and feign indifference. Right now-I tell myself, I’m preoccupied with the aroma of my nicely simmering lentil soupa childhood staple refused by everyone in this house.

Daddy liked his lentils hot hot hot. Tongue-biting hot. Chili powder, curry, and cumin did the trick, but too much or too little killed the magic of those rare Friday sit downs at the dinner table. Mother never liked daddy or his lentils. They’re like forest fires burning what’s left of me, she used to say.

The cat meows right outside the kitchen door, he’s like a fickle ghost, sometimes really there, sometimes not.  I pour some soup and go to the cat, but I’m not sure the ghost cat should have it. Maybe no one should have it. I make a detour and head to the living room. I tiptoe barefoot like a nervous dancer. The tiles are cold, cold, cold.

I blink a couple of times in the darkness lit by the glow of the 55 inch flat smart TV. I squint real hard to make out the face in the plaid orange and red pajamas. My girl’s sleepy frame sits in the nook of those arms belonging to the face in the plaid orange and red pajamas. The sofa they’re occupying is an inflamed shade of red I never approved of.

In my memories our sofa had a chronic dusty brown kind of color, facing a much smaller and not so smart television with the face in the pajamas slurping my mother’s hot soup.

I take a deep breath. Today is a good day, I tell myself.  TODAY IS A GOOD DAY. I insist.

“Dinner’s ready yet, Hon?”  The face asks.  I wonder if my little girl will forgive me if one day we all sit down in the kitchen with the dead clock and have lentil soup…If one day my fantasies come true and the face I see now that is her father and my husband is in love with my soup so much, he drinks it all in one go.

Mother said it was the damn lentils that killed him. She didn’t really say damn, and she’d never really dare mention the lentils, I did that. I forgive you, I wanted to say so many times when it was her time to go, but did I?

“Hon? Dinner? It’s about time.” Husband turns to me, eyes on the bowl of soup in my hands.

“Not yet.” I say.

The ghost cat should have the soup instead.


 

RADLYRiham Adly is a fiction writer/ translator from Egypt. Her work has appeared in The Citron Review, Flash Back, Vestal Review, The Connotation Press, Bending Genres, New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Frontier, and Ellipsis zine among others. Her stories have received nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Her work was also chosen for inclusion in the Best Microfiction 2020.

You Don’t Know What’s Important Yet by Meghan Phillips

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents makes house calls. She will come to your mom and dad’s. They’ll be waiting for her on the other side of the front door like they used to wait for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. They will think she looks professional in her cardigan, so they’ll have no problem leading her up to your old bedroom. Your dad will offer tea or coffee, maybe water with a lemon slice, but she’ll decline. The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents won’t want to risk damage to the collection by bringing in unneeded liquids. This will make her seem even more professional. Your dad will smile at her, noticing how her sweater hangs like parentheses for her breasts. Your mom will smile at her, noticing she isn’t much older than you are now.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents told you it’s probably better if you’re not around when she comes to collect your materials. She said sometimes in the middle of a pack out—that’s what she called it, a pack out—the patron gets overwhelmed. She said the documents are already vulnerable. She treats them like they’re already damaged. She said she doesn’t want you to compromise the collection.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will start with the lunch box under your bed. It’s full of notes from your best friend from middle school, notes passed in the hall between classes, under desks in Language Arts. You saved them even though you stopped being friends after she made the field hockey team in tenth grade. They’re written in sparkly purple gel ink and folded into footballs. The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will unfold each one like she’s opening a present and wants to save the wrapping. She will check each one for damage then file them in acid-free folders, one for each year.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will catalog every picture in your night table drawer. Ones of your high school boyfriend in a tux, in a car, in a pirate costume. Ones of you and your friend Deirdre, who slept over every Friday night and moved to Colorado the day after graduation. Ones you don’t remember taking of boys and girls you don’t remember kissing. She will slide each one into a Mylar sleeve. Stack each one in an archival box. Paste on a label in her neat all-caps: PHOTOS.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will take down your posters and collages using a micro spatula. She will roll them into long cardboard tubes. She will enclose your teddy bear in an acrylic cube and catalog your school notebooks and papers. One box for each grade. She will box old gym shoes, stretched out hair ties with their matted nests of dead strands, the crumpled, half-unwrapped tampons from the bottom of your purse. Each item dutifully filed and labeled.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will leave your parents’ house with a hand cart stacked higher than her head. She will shake their hands and drink a single glass of tap water. She will not ask for help.

When you see your room, you’ll be surprised by how empty it feels. You will trace your finger along the faded edges of the wallpaper where your posters hung. You will rub your palms inside the night table drawer, feeling for a shiny print. You will look under your bed and only find an orphaned sock. You will start to cry, sloppy and fast, then you will remember what the Archivist of Vulnerable Documents said about water.

In her email, the Archivist of Vulnerable Documents told you that papers and photos are the most vulnerable materials. The most in need of protection from disaster. When you asked her what kind of disaster she meant, she said: in the end, all disasters are water disasters.


 

542A4609Meghan Phillips is a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her flash fiction chapbook Abstinence Only is forthcoming from Barrelhouse Books. You can find her writing at meghan-phillips.com and her tweets @mcarphil.