Chainsaws Don’t Mend Broken Hearts by Rick White

We nurtured spruce saplings into fields of Christmas trees. Kissed them to sleep beneath a tapestry of starlight. We woke on silvery mornings; each new day an elegy to limbs outstretched and bending. We fork-pruned bows and sponged the tops, forcing the sap to flow back down, hardening trunks from within. The smell of it when I set it free — prehistoric! How the forest screamed. The heat of teeth on mangled splinters. Every one an ode to joy, lost forever. A fairy without its wings. I will make my home amongst the slithering worms, the chattering, gnawing bugs. A blanket of needles for the Earth to sleep in. Let us feast on stumps and soil, so that from this resinous slurry, this sainted wreckage, things may grow back — mightier than before.


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Rick White is a fiction writer from Manchester, UK whose work has been published in Milk Candy Review, Trampset, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and many other fine lit journals. Rick’s debut story collection Talking to Ghosts at Parties will be published later this year by Storgy Books. You can find Rick on Twitter @ricketywhite.

Still Chewing On It by S.P. Venkat

“What did you have for lunch?” she asks, over Zoom. I promise, I wasn’t watching the whole class. I had other things to do. But I caught that. I stop and listen. What will he say? Will he tell her the truth?

“Rice and dal,” he says plainly.

I realize I’m holding my breath. Waiting to hear what she says. To hear what the others say. Will they allow it?

I am transported back to the school canteen, where my beloved puri and potato are currently being sneered at. “What’s that yellow mush?” One of them ask me. She is not really interested in the answer.

To have my meal thus slandered, hurt. But I also see what they see. A sad curled up little circle of oily bread in my lunchbox. And a square of unrecognizable, save for the peas, yellow mash.

Under their scrutiny, I am ashamed. They don’t know how tasty it is. The chewy bread is so satisfying, even cold. I’d been looking forward to it all morning. It’s a different but equal pleasure as leftovers. A pleasure twice anticipated and twice savored.

I tear off some puri, scoop up the potato and eat it. My mouth is watering with pleasure. But my heart isn’t in it. I try to be nonchalant, and it seems to have worked. They’ve moved on to other topics. They don’t really care. But look at me, 27 years later, remembering and still hurting. I’m still chewing on it.

I think of a story a friend once told me. It had been a similar thing with a teacher asking each child to state their favorite foods. “Rice and yogurt,” one boy had said. The teacher shook their head. “That’s not a real meal, honey.” The boy had looked crestfallen, my friend told me.

I imagine him baffled. If it wasn’t a real meal, why did he eat it every day? And love it so much? My friend had been there, another fellow yogurt-rice eater. But she’d stayed silent. She’d let him swallow the humiliation alone.

“Well, what did you say?” I’d asked at the end of the story.

“About what?” she’d asked.

“As your favorite food.”

“Oh, I don’t remember. Probably pizza.”

I don’t blame her. I probably would have done the same. It’s not a big deal. Whatever, right? But why did she tell me this story, so many years later?

I’m watching a documentary on Netflix. It’s hosted by a famous chef. He is of Korean descent. He’s got a famous restaurant in New York City. There’s this one segment where they film him in his parent’s house.

He’s asked about what he ate as a child. And he talks about how embarrassing it was to bring his home food to school. This guy? Are you kidding me? That food has literally made him a millionaire. A household name. But he still remembers having his food called stinky. When he talks about the taunting, his eyes wander. He doesn’t look at the interviewer or the food. I shake my head in disbelief. He shouldn’t be holding on to this, but clearly, he does.

Back in the present, I am still looking at the screen. “Rice and dal?” the teacher asks. I brace myself.

“That’s your favorite, right?” she asks tentatively and smiles.

He nods. No big deal to him. Or her. She’s already moved on to the next child. Anyway, half of them aren’t even listening. Distance learning with 5-year-olds is a mess.

It was all so matter of fact. I am relieved. No, it’s not just relief. I am grateful. I breathe again.


Smita_Profile_Pic_09.2021S. P. Venkat is a writer and comedian obsessed with the idea of displaced and reforged identities, aka immigrant lives. She also creates interactive comedy experiments, like her viral “Parenting in a Pandemic Simulator” which was featured in the Huffington Post. She is currently working on her first novel, Fired Up, which is a finalist in the SparkPress STEP contest for BIPOC writers. Find out more at http://www.almostfavorite.com.

Instructions for Telling the Truth by Maggie Wolff

Lie. Don’t tell the doctor you don’t sleep more than a few hours a night, go days without eating, a week without showering. If you tell her the truth, the words you don’t want to hear will split you open again like a backache kick from inside the body.

Wait. Wait it out as long as you can. Hold on to fibers until they shred and slip, emptying your palms.

Speak. Tell the truth. But don’t tell it all. Tell the doctor just enough that she will say what you don’t want to hear, we need to increase your dosage, but not enough truth that she ups the meds too drastically. She says this can be temporary and we will see how you feel on the increased dosage. You tell her, I still want to feel, but you know even that is a lie somedays.

Take. Take the new pill added to the old pill to achieve the right dosage. You tell yourself, this doesn’t have to be hard, because the body knows how to swallow. Don’t beat yourself up for upped meds. The brain isn’t as well trained as the throat. You know this already. You know this by now.

Wait. It will take weeks for you to possibly feel better again. Wait and let it pass over you. Wait and sleep through it as the increase zombifies, nullifies, quiets the too loud parts of you and performs a brain drain. Wait and do what the body wants: sleep or stay awake all night, eat water for dinner or chewable food, wander from room to room like a ghost without the baggage or stay in bed ankle chained to the empty inside you. Wait and see, the doctor says. Wait.


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Maggie Wolff is a queer writer. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Black Fox Literary Magazine, The Lascaux Review, Saw Palm, and Qu Literary Magazine. She is working on her first poetry collection, which follows three generations of women as they navigate depression, addiction, and suicide. She is a poetry candidate in the MFA creative writing program at the University of Central Florida.

A Man on the Street Offers Me a Cooked Shrimp by Andrea Frazier

And I take it, lift the slick comma of flesh right off the flimsy paper plate he juts gently but determinedly into my path. The man’s smile is a jumbled graveyard, each jaundiced tooth a mossy tombstone half-toppled by vandals or forced into a haphazard angle by tree roots heaving and flexing underneath the earth, threatening to burst through. Fueled by a winter melancholy twining my perennial nostalgia, I walk one hundred miles every weeknight over quiet sidewalks sometimes illuminated by wavering halos of lamplight, sometimes not. Now the man wiggles some fingers at me, not the goodbye I’d like but an invitation. With the shrimp tail pinched between my right thumb and index finger, I use my other hand to yank out one of the earbuds that reliably blanket my grey matter with dull noise and chatter. Even as I try to divert it, my mind thunders to the little black canister of pepper spray nestled like an heirloom bullet in the soft fleece of my coat pocket. A fleeting glow disappears into the dark crosshatch of towering pine branches as they welcome the sinking sun; the desolation of this short, tucked away road, creaky little homes buttoned up tight, breathes around me. Still, I smile. Smile at this man whose wiry gray hair poking from under a brown fedora rustles a bit as he bounces on the balls of his feet like he can hardly contain some good, delicious secret. Where did he come from? “Better with a smidge of cocktail sauce,” he tells me, his voice the strained chirp of a red-bellied robin caught, improbably, beneath a sudden cascade of dense snow. The plate, loaded with tiny carcasses, hovers between us. Glitter polish chipping on my nails, framed by tattered cuticles, glints faintly in the dying light when I step forward, swipe my shrimp through the pool of red. “Thank you,” I say. The pepper spray in my pocket: My mom halved a thirty-minute drive down sparse late-night highway to deliver it to my apartment, frantic after, in a moment of stupidity, I admitted that another man — on another of these hundred-mile walks — a stocky cannonball of a man in a blue windbreaker — had grabbed me from behind then barreled away. It’s been eight years since I’ve had a bite of meat, since I suffered through that one slaughterhouse documentary in college. But I chomp down immediately on the shrimp’s tough flesh as I walk away from the man with the graveyard smile, gnash the muscle, the ghosts of nerves rendered unfeeling between my molars. Heading toward home now through the dark chill, I flick the hollow shrimp tail onto some unknown neighbor’s front lawn.


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Andrea Frazier is a writer who lives in Pittsburgh. Her music essay “Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die!” is published in Drunk Monkeys.

Moses in the Chevy by Jim Kourlas

There’s only one car in the lot when we come out of the Kum & Go, this black Chevy SUV with tinted windows, engine idling and two pit bulls in the back seat howling as loud as the baby in front. Trey says car seats aren’t supposed to be hitched up to the front seat. Jodine says you can’t leave a baby in a car, but when she goes to open the door the pits go psycho and that’s the end of us playing heroes. It’s like 2:30 on a Tuesday, muggy as hell. The sky’s too bright to be this buzzed.

We were swiping nickels across scratch-offs in the shop when Trey went out for a cig and the doors ding-dinged open and all that barking-crying swallowed up Whitney Houston. Mellie only looked up from behind the counter, shrugged, went back to her Sudoku. So me and Jodine follow Trey outside. The driver could be in the bathroom, we suppose, but Jodine says when she peed away her Colt the john was empty. Nobody came in the shop. So who knows who pulled up in that Chevy, got out and left a baby and two pit bulls screaming for rescue or whatever.

Jodine gets her phone out, starts dialing the cops. I don’t know anything about babies, so I’m trying to figure out if these dogs are all pit or have a little mixed in. Some boxer maybe or something with a thicker coat, shepherd, you know? They’re boy dogs, big balls knocking between those ripped hind legs. I’m tapping the window, trying to shush them, but it only riles them up more. Trey says stop it.

Jodine goes back in for some Combos and another Colt and some more scratch-offs and we have a little picnic there on the hood of the Chevy. Swipe swipe swipe. Trey slices his path through little fake slot machines, but Jodine says take your time because who knows how long the cops are going to be. I say maybe the Chevy owner is coming back. Then Trey says, searching his card for a win, that maybe there is no owner of the Chevy, maybe it just appeared here. Jodine nods, says none of this is really happening, none of it, but I’m leaning against the hood, feel the heat, the pulse of the engine, and I like this idea—that maybe the baby is a special baby, like Noah or something, dropped in the river.

Moses, Jodine says, shaking her head. She still goes to church sometimes. We pass the Colt back and forth and I can feel things slipping more, our thoughts and stuff. And so I go off, telling them how maybe the pit bulls are like angels guarding Moses-baby there. And how the baby came out of nowhere, out of a god named Chevy. This gets us feeling better about the pits, better about drinking, better that we’re just standing around having a picnic and not risking our lives to save this baby. Baby’s already got its angels, Trey says, nodding.

Then this other car pulls up, a clean white SUV with a hood too high to picnic on, shaking to some fat Latin beat. Nearly runs Trey over. He skitters out of the way and we all slide our stuff over to the front of the Chevy, making sure not to mix the couple winner cards with the stack of losers. This tall swarthy dude in a sky blue suit steps out with a set of keys in hand, flips through them, finds the right one, then opens that Chevy door. Like we’re not even there. Unhitches that baby from the car seat, pulls it up to his chest like a mother, a goddam mother I swear it, kisses it on the head and bounces it up and down until the clouds part, waters part, I dunno, this baby stops crying. Then he climbs back into his SUV, turns his beat down to nothing. Jodine hurries over and slaps that hood but the SUV backs away, just slips through her hands-like, and heads down the highway.

What about your dogs! Trey shouts, and the dogs, it’s crazy, go quiet now, like their barks were Lassie-barks calling for that rich white man like us morons called the cops. Only the cops were never coming, and that swarthy man was, so the pit bulls knew more about what was what than we ever could. I’m thinking we could use some pits like that, some angels, and say maybe we can take them home with us, but Trey says our landlord will kick us out. And Jodine says better not fuck with angels, that you can’t own one, you just got to be good and wait around like you’re at the DMV until your name gets called.

We head home after that. We still have a few more scratch-offs to blow through before the game starts at three, so at least we have some stuff to look forward to. I’m thinking about the pits though, how we left them curled on top of one another in the back seat of that Chevy, work done, dozing until they’d fly off to guard the next Moses-baby or whatever. I think I hear sirens, but I don’t know if they’re cop or ambulance or dogcatcher. If they’re coming for the baby or the pits. Then I look at Trey and Jodine ahead of me on the weedy shoulder, arms outstretched like kids on a make-believe balance beam, and I know the sirens are coming for us.

What the hell, I think. I turn around and head back to the Kum & Go. I don’t want the cops to take the dogs away. Maybe I’ll get arrested or caged with the pits. Or who knows—maybe we’ll all get saved.


Jim Kourlas earned an MFA in creative writing from Roosevelt University in Chicago and has stories in Hunger Mountain and The Blue Mountain Review. He lives in Omaha with his wife and son.

It Takes 25 Minutes to Walk to the Laundromat by Andrea Lynn Koohi

I love the smell of gasoline.
*
When my stepfather comes home, his hands are blackened with grease. He washes them for four minutes under the tap.
*
The cat brings songbirds home in his teeth, hides them behind the sofa. My mother scolds him with tears in her eyes. Says he understands and he will learn.
*
My stepfather says don’t be anti-social. Says get out of the house, go make some friends. I pass a hooded stranger on my way out the door, sit under the walnut tree in the yard.
*
I can’t leave the table until I finish my milk. I stare at the back of a dirty fork, rub its sting from my knuckles. When the glass is empty, I vomit all over the floor.
*
My stepfather works beneath a car in the garage. I dance around tools, puddles of oil. When he asks for the wrench, I find it right away. His teeth flash praise, my breath releases. He rolls back under the car.
*
I see the stranger leave, sense a stillness in the house. I know to wait outside, make bracelets with dandelions, listen to the plunk of walnuts on the ground.
*
I peer over the sink to watch the day’s work float like an oil slick, then slip down the drain. I pop the dirty bubbles on the bar of soap.
*
In the car my mother rides seatbelt-free, window open, jewelled hand to the wind. My stepfather blares Bon Jovi on the speakers, drives 20 over the speed limit. I dig my hand into a box of French fries, feel the slip of oil on my fingers. I love this little nook in the backseat of their happiness. I never ask if we are there yet.
*
When my stepfather comes home, his hands are clean. He’s carrying papers and rage. I hide in my room with a pillow to quell the flapping in my stomach.
*
The more beautiful the bird, the more tears my mother cries.
*
It takes 25 minutes to walk to the laundromat. My mother pushes the metal cart while I steady the garbage bags that threaten to spill. My stepfather stays home, feet crossed on the sofa, eyes like the cat’s when they spot a yellow bird from behind a window. One foot shakes rapidly back and forth, going nowhere. There is no pedal to stop it.


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Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. Her recent work appears in Pithead Chapel, Reservoir Road, Idle Ink, The Maine Review, Streetlight Magazine, and others.

With Appetite by Jasmine Sawers

People always ask me, Hazel, how did you meet your husband? I found him in a can of Spam. He was pretty as a painted teacup, brushing black curls out of his eyes. He unfurled from his jelly ham bed and held his hand out for me to shake, his touch the weight of a snowflake. By the time he stepped from the edge of the tin and into my palm, I was done for.

People always ask me, Hazel, how does a regular woman conduct marital relations with such a curio? All you have to know is he called me his mountains and valleys. My Everest, he would say into my skin. My Grand Canyon. My Vastness. With appetite he traced each freckle, nerve, and vein. He mapped me out. He traversed my expanse and wanted me anyway.

People always ask me, Hazel, didn’t you think about children? Oh, our magic beans. Too big for him to hold, too small for me not to crush with a single brush of my finger. We learned early about children.

People always ask me, Hazel, did you see it coming? It’s easy to look backward and cobble together the mosaic of how things went wrong. This quiver in his lip, that flutter of lashes around rolling eyes. This snide tone, that put-upon sigh. Nights spent separately: I in our sumptuous feather bed, he nestled in his beat-up empty can in the pantry, curl of tin pulled taut over the top. The truth is I was cleaved from my senses when he packed up his tic tac suitcase, cleared out his matchbox dresser. What else could I do but seize him where he stood?

What could any woman in love do but swallow him whole?


Sawers_smiley_author_photoJasmine Sawers is a Kundiman fellow whose fiction appears in such journals as Ploughshares, AAWW’s The Margins, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Sawers serves as Associate Fiction Editor for Fairy Tale Review and debuts a collection through Rose Metal Press in 2022. Originally from Buffalo, Sawers now lives and pets dogs outside St. Louis.

The Songs of Some Birds by MJ McGinn

When I wake up, she’s already gone. The telephone wire, hanging limp outside our window, is bird free. There’s nothing in the bed but me and strands of Meg’s orange hair.

I shoot out of bed, pick up my glasses from the nightstand, slip them on, and go from blur to focus light-switch quick. I have my orange carry-on bag on the bed, and I’m stuffing socks and sports bras into it before I even check the time. This all feels practiced. Muscle memory. It isn’t.

I knew I was leaving yesterday. I had to, but I didn’t really know it until I woke up. Until I started stuffing clothes into a bag, debating if I could bare to leave my records behind.

It’s not Meg. Well, it is Meg, but it’s not something she did. I still love her, that’s really what I mean. On our first date, we went to the zoo. It wasn’t our first date. Our actual first date was at a bar, and she had to leave after half an hour because of a work emergency, so it didn’t count. We went to the zoo, and she paid for the tickets online, and she didn’t even have to convince me because I thought she was so way over-the-top gorgeous. In her car, on the way there, she told me that as a kid, a tiger peed on her.

I move on from socks and undies to t-shirts, jeans, comfy things. I check the window for birds.

I told her it was a cute story, but that I didn’t believe her. I told her that no kid from the Jersey suburbs could encounter a tiger in the wild and live to tell the tale. She smiled at that, a side of her mouth smile, she started to say something then cut herself off and just said, “I like you already, you know?”

I check the time, 8:56 AM. Meg leaves for the gym at 8:30 on Saturdays and gets home at 10, unless she gets coffee afterwards, then it’s 10:15. I have time for the records. I pull on jeans, socks, and a black t-shirt, two snakes crawl toward the collar. No time for a bra, but time for the records. I slip and slide out of the bedroom, step into my Blundstone’s at the door and avoid the kitchen, really just the fridge of summer weddings I won’t be attending with Meg, avert my eyes, head straight for the living room.

We had sex after the zoo and it felt very animal. Tigers. Roar. Her orange hair everywhere.

I can’t fit all the records (67) in the suitcase, and I don’t have time to make executive decisions, so I close my eyes and pick five. Stuff the five in the bag without checking what’s what, then say fuck it and pick two more. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Cost of Living.

I’m not leaving because of her. I love her. Really. That day at the zoo, that night in the bed I’m leaving behind, I thought that was it. The story we’d tell our kids. I texted my mom the next morning and said, “Hey, I know who I’m gonna marry now.” She sent back three heart eyes emojis, then “What’s her name?”, then “don’t tell your father until I talk to him.” It wasn’t the first time I texted her that, but it would be a lot cooler if my dad was a lot cooler.

I’m leaving because of the birds, or maybe her attitude towards the birds.

I order an Uber and look around the room, a final sweep. Anything else essential? My chest and shoulders tighten. I rub my chest where my heart lives, where the t-shirt snake’s head rests. My therapist says I carry my stress in my shoulders and my depression in my ribs. She says anything in the chest is a mix of both. I think she makes up everything she says the night before.

The problem isn’t that Meg is haunted by a cauldron of birds of prey. The problem is that she likes it. Maybe loves it. She blows them kisses goodnight. She thanks them for leaving her dead presents. I don’t mind having the only apartment in Philadelphia with no mice or rats. I mean, the birds are beautiful. Regal. Powerful. All the things Meg is. Dangerous.

The Uber is here, and I don’t take any last-minute items, no miniature memories. No strands of orange hair. Meg can have it all. I walk down the three flights to the street with my orange rollaboard click-clacking each step along the way. I’m not crying, but I might just be too upset to know.

Yesterday, or actually two days ago, Meg and I got in a fight. Over fucking Grubhub. It wasn’t our realest fight, but it was our loudest. I guess the birds heard. Friday morning, walking to work, they dropped a cat on me. Its fur orange with dried blood. They sat on their electrical wires, cleaning their wings with their beaks, preening, like look what we can do.

When I told Meg about the cat, she wasn’t angry. She wasn’t scared. She just said, “Catherine, they love me.” As if dropping dead animals on a romantic rival, real or imagined, was simply a product of love. The worst part was, she was right. Because when the birds dropped that dead kitty on my hair, got its blood on my best work blouse, my first thought was to throw it back.

The drive to the airport is quick. Henry, the driver, smells like Newports and doesn’t say a word. No traffic on 95. The skyline is a haze of heat in the distance. The sun chews up the clouds, spits them out. I see birds in the distance, little v’s. I wonder if they’re Meg’s and how fast they can fly.


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MJ McGinn received his MFA from Adelphi University. His work has previously appeared in the Guernica/PEN Flash Series, New Flash Fiction Review, The Molotov Cocktail, Firewords, Bridge Eight Press, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.

Man-Child’s Menu by Annie Berke

Chicken Fingers with French fries $6.00
+ Substitute sweet potato fries +$1.00
+ Consume one-handed while playing Call of Duty. Your girlfriend will sit at the table, eating a salad. You won’t know if she’s talking to you, so you gesture to your headset without moving to take it off +$0.50

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich with carrot sticks $5.00
+ Add apple slices +$1.00
+ Forget to ask her if she wants one too. She will steal one of your carrot sticks, and each crunch will sound like an accusation +$1.50

Chicken Quesadilla with corn chips and mild salsa $5.50                                                       

+Add guacamole +$2.00
+ Order this on a wet Saturday night. She’ll go out with her friends that really despise you, not the ones who just casually hate you. She will come home, drunk and gloomy, and eat your chips hovering over the garbage can +$1.00

Hamburger with French fries $7.00
+ Add cheese +$0.50
+ Request this from a waiter at her cousin’s wedding, since you don’t eat fish or the chicken. Watch her eyes fill with tears as the best man toasts to the bride and groom’s future children +$5.00

Noodles (Spaghetti or Penne) with Butter and Cheese $5.00
+ Leave butter and/or cheese on the side +$0.50
+ Let her be the one who leaves. That way, on paper, at least, you aren’t the bad guy. You’ll tape together a cardboard box for her to pack up her things, and she’ll say it’s the nicest thing you’ve done for her in years. You’re the best woman I’ve ever been with, you’ll tell her, and she will respond, flatly, What does that mean? That question will make you feel so tired. You’re tired! Men are allowed to be tired! Maybe with the next woman, you’ll think, you won’t have to translate everything. She’ll just get it—get you. After all, your mother always told you that when you find the girl, it’ll be easy. She still says that, though lately she says it gazing at you like your glasses are crooked. You don’t wear glasses. Your now-ex will pack up the box and shut the door quietly behind her without a word. She has always been like this, you think: classy, no drama. Or maybe you’re already idealizing her now that she’s gone. You’ll wonder if you’ve made a mistake, and the regret will taste like you’ve bitten your tongue while chewing: the sharp shock of it, your mouth hot and mean now, flooded with salt and metal. You will never let yourself have that thought again *no charge


Annie Berke is the Film Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and the author of the forthcoming book, Their Own Best Creations: Women Writers in Postwar America. Her fiction has been published in Pithead Chapel, Rejection Letters, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. She lives in Maryland.

State of the Union by Sarah Starr Murphy

Remember that today is picture day for the twins, but they have soccer so their hair should be in braids, pretty enough for photos but sporty enough that their coach doesn’t make another pointed comment. Pack the twins an extra packet of Halloween Oreos as apology for yesterday’s forgotten ice cream money. Try not to remember the fight with Liam last week about continually catering to their every whim, or the email from the twins’ teacher about healthy lunch choices that skirted the edge of body shaming. Don’t look in the mirror. Pour a mug of coffee, remembering the days when coffee wasn’t necessary, when the potential energy of the day was enough to swing the pendulum.

Go upstairs to wake Zack again, even though Liam insists he should rely on his new alarm clock and if he misses the bus, let him suffer the consequences. Hush the twins on the way, because they are buzzing around the dining room table throwing ping-pong balls at each other instead of using them as intended on the table in the basement. Remember that under that table waits a dead mouse, half-eviscerated by the elderly cat, Rufous. Miss the time spent playing with Rufous when he was a kitten, the delight of his orange paws batting at string, the house so hushed his scampering claws on tile were the only morning sound. Remember that Liam, upon discovering the mouse in situ a full week after its demise, described the neglected corpse as a sad commentary on the state of the union. Wince.

Remember the way he buried the twin’s guinea pig last year during a blizzard, his red knit hat bobbling in the howling wind, providing Fluffernut with unabridged, respectful last rites.
Knock six times and wait until Zack grunts but upon opening the door he shrieks like, well, like a teenaged boy whose mom just walked in on him wanking. Slam the door shut on the cliché. Whisper sorry towards the bedroom where Liam groans, trying to sleep off the fog of his twice-weekly night shift at the rehab center. Appreciate that Liam is the rarest kind of decent man, that being with him is the ficklest kind of luck. Realize how long it’s been since he groaned in a way that wasn’t leave me the fuck alone but its opposite.

Return downstairs and discover that Rufous has vomited a trail of fur, grass, and mouse entrails on the carpet. Attempt to hush one twin, who has stepped in it and is screaming like, well, like a kid with mouse brains on her favorite polka-dot socks. Reassure her that the only pair of clean socks left in the house, the despised striped socks, won’t be visible in the school photo. Discover the other twin hiding under the dining table, crying through a darkening shiner. Realize that the twins were throwing not the ping-pong ball, but a clumsy terra-cotta sheep Zack made ages ago in kindergarten, which explains both the black eye and the shards of clay on the floor. Realize that there is no time to hide in the bathroom and cry, because the bus is due in five minutes.

Cry anyway right there in the dining room, holding sharp splinters of lost sheep, until the twins descend in a miasma of child-tears and strawberry shampoo. Hug them and say consoling things and kiss the tops of their heads and somehow get all the lunches into backpacks and the arms into jackets and hats onto heads and they’re out the door. Watch Zack thunder down the stairs, swooping through the kitchen to grab a granola bar and although he won’t make eye contact, he yells goodbye as he runs, one Converse untied, to climb into his buddy’s F-150. Listen to the truck squeal away from the curb and stop behind the twin’s bus, idling at the red light.

Feel the quiet in the house and think about Liam. Glance at a honeymoon photo on the wall, see everything that will be lost and gained by that faded couple, which parts of them will tumble into entirely new beings, which parts of them will vanish. Consider ditching work, slipping between the blue flannel sheets, lying warm and still. Wonder if he’d blink open his hazel eyes and see all the incarnations he has loved.


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Sarah Starr Murphy is a writer and teacher in rural Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in Qu (forthcoming), The Baltimore Review, Pithead Chapel, and other wonderful places. She’s a senior editor for The Forge Literary Magazine and eternally at work on a novel.