The Corner of My Eye by Doris Cheng

I saw Meredith at breakfast today. It had been two, maybe three years since I’d seen her—really looked at her, that is. She usually resided in my peripheral vision, like a dust mote floating in the corner of my eye.

“Hi, Mom,” she said.

I was overcome. I loved my girl so much. “Honey, how did you sleep? How are things at school? Tell me everything.” I noticed her hair was in a complicated French braid; she must have learned to do that on her own.

She proceeded to tell me all about a fifth-grade project that involved toothpicks and copper wire and teeny tiny robots. There was some sort of classroom drama. I tried to pay attention. But I was packing her little sisters’ lunches and trying to remember who needed to bring their violin and who needed to return their library book. The dog tipped over the garbage pail and I had to wrestle a chicken bone from its mouth. I know I missed some details. But I thought, thank God I never have to worry about Meredith.

Around then Hallie’s anxiety got so bad she began levitating. I had to meet with the principal and child psychologist and drive her to a social skills group twice a week so she could play board games and practice keeping both feet on the ground. On top of that Fiona developed amblyopia. Her left eye starting rolling around in her head like a greasy marble in a ball socket. When I wasn’t driving Hallie to therapy I was on the Internet researching “levitation treatment” and “child has loose eyeball.”

I ran into Meredith in the kitchen. I’d come in to fix myself a cup of tea and saw her peering into the refrigerator.

“What’s going on, sweetie?” I was happy she was there. I hadn’t seen her in a while though I knew she was around. I could tell she’d gotten taller and more womanly.

“Nothing much. Everything’s fine.” She closed the fridge door. “We’re out of yogurt.”

“Sorry. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to get to the store. Your sisters, their appointments—”

She told me it was no biggie. She was understanding, full of grace. I told her I was grateful to have an independent and resourceful daughter who always did what was expected of her. I hugged her.

I’m kind of fuzzy on Meredith’s high school years. I remember her little sisters were putting me through the wringer. Hallie needed gravitational therapy, which meant I had to tie cans of soup to her feet every night and force her into a heavy-footed walk. Fiona’s doctor recommended she get a mechanical eye. I was buried in insurance paperwork and probably a little depressed. I think Meredith played field hockey. Or maybe it was lacrosse. I vaguely recall there being a stick of some sort. Whatever it was, I’m sure she did well because she’s a team player. Other kids might drink at parties and throw up on people’s lawns, but not her. She’s too considerate for that.

I passed her on the stairs from time to time. Each time she was more self-possessed than the last. Sometimes I felt a hand reach its way inside me and strum a high minor chord along my rib cage. The note reverberated in my chest cavity.

The last time I saw her was in the spring of her senior year. Or maybe she had already graduated, I can’t say for sure. I woke up, looked out the window, and saw her in the yard tending a roaring flame. She was inflating a hot air balloon.

I ran downstairs. By the time I got outside she was already in the basket. The balloon began to float upward.

“Come down, Meredith!” I told her she had to let me know where she was going. She wasn’t licensed and besides, she would need a warmer jacket if she was going to spend time in the stratosphere.

Meredith untied the ropes. She tossed out some ballast and the balloon began to climb. I shouted at her to be careful. I wanted her to know that a mother’s love is infinite, but I wasn’t sure if she could hear me at that point.

She waved. The balloon crested the tree line and found an air current. A sudden gust took it up and away. I couldn’t tell if she was smiling. She kept waving until she was just a dot on the horizon, no bigger than a dust mote. The dog started barking and I turned to shush it. When I looked for her again she was gone.


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Doris W. Cheng is a Taiwanese American fiction writer. She received an MA in English Literature from Columbia University and teaches fiction and poetry in NY and NJ. Her stories are forthcoming or have appeared in New Orleans Review, Witness, Berkeley Fiction Review, The Normal School, The Cincinnati Review miCRo, The Pinch, and other literary magazines. She is an alumna of Tin House and the recipient of a 2020 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grant for feminist fiction. http://www.doriswcheng.com

You Will, You Will, You Will by Jad Josey

The stippled frost on the south side of the neighbor’s roof means it will be too cold to surf comfortably, not without a hood and booties. This will not sway you. Your fingers will turn ghost-white beneath the not-white sea foam, beneath the too-white clouds stacked from horizon to horizon, beneath the white-hot sun burning where you cannot see it.

When the wild turkey stops in front of your car, his rectrices fanned wide and proud, you will collect his gesture as a sign. It will be days before you remember this sign, but it will matter again. You will carry the moment and shape it behind your eyes until it shines the way that suits you best.

There will never be a way back to your heart. When someone asks me how I know this, the silence with which I answer will break me in some small, nearly imperceptible way. I will hope they do not notice my undoing. I will hope, at least, for the kindness of their pretending not to see.

The ocean will be alive and swirling. A seal will follow close behind as you paddle through the dense bulb kelp destined to be gone by spring, ripped from its mooring by the plain hands of the sea. The seal will rise from the buoyant, salty water, taller than you expect, and then it will vanish in the way that memories often do.

You will stop using the rearview mirror unless absolutely necessary. Seeing the world moving away from you, the image flipped askance, has always felt unnerving to you. You will commit yourself to this ritual.

You will always remember the last time we saw each other, how you left with so few words. You will not recall the things left unsaid, but you will endure the echo of their absence. The casual cruelness of your silence will ring louder than whatever you might have spoken.

You will paddle for some of the bigger set waves. You will pull back at the last moment, offshore wind blinding you with sea spray, the reef draining beneath the almost-inevitable drop. You will regret the decision, but you will not regret having a choice.

You will long for love until it shows up, and then you will sigh, you will exhale, you will tap your white fingers on the steering wheel as you watch it recede in the rearview mirror. (I know what I said earlier, but this is one of the few times it will make sense to use the mirror.)

You will maintain your contempt for birds, especially large flocks of birds, no matter the kind. Their contact with the sky too reckless, hollow feathers too garish. Unless the bird is a wild turkey with iridescent tail feathers. Even then, you will tolerate it only because it offers you a sign.

A fleet of pelicans will glide along the scoop of an ocean swell, bending their arc toward you, the tips of their wings nearly touching the surface. You will slash your arm into the sea, the torrent of water impotent against them. They will carry on unperturbed. It will be the only thing at which you fail today.


Jad Josey resides on the central coast of California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Glimmer Train, Passages North, CutBank, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. Read more at http://www.jadjosey.com or reach out on Twitter @jadjosey.

Fusarium oxysporum by Noa Covo

My uncle was buried as his banana fields burned. We left his house empty and sat shiva in the city. It was cramped in the apartment, visitors squeezing in on couches that could barely hold their weight, but none of us suggested we should have stayed in his house and watch his life’s work go up in flames.

When I was a child, my uncle used to take me to conferences. His scientist friends would invite him, the ones that used his banana fields to do experiments. They didn’t really have a choice in the matter, as my uncle and his neighbor Joseph were the only two banana farmers around. My uncle would go in an unbuttoned checkered shirt and drink cup after cup of free coffee and tell everyone they didn’t know shit, that the fungus would get here, eventually, that it would mutate, that it would kill his bananas and then he’d die of grief. I asked him once how he thought the fungus should be stopped, and he gave me a withering look and told me it was the scientists’ job to figure it out, not his. The scientists liked telling me things when my uncle was distracted. Maybe they thought I had potential.

My uncle knew his wife would leave for the city after he died. He told her that wouldn’t save her, that if the fungus didn’t get her, he would haunt her for the rest of her days. The fungus fascinated him. He kept close tabs on any plant disease that could possibly be a mutated version, he printed out articles and studies and read them in bed at night. The fungus hadn’t gotten anybody’s crops but his. It didn’t even get into his neighbor’s, Joseph, a man my uncle hated. He used to drive in his tractor to where his field ended and Joseph’s began and spit right over the line.

The day after the shiva ended, I returned to my uncle’s house with some gasoline in the trunk. I went to the shed and found the keys to the tractor. I drove until I reached the end of the field, where Joseph’s field began. I dumped the gasoline. I lit a match.

Joseph’s bananas were surprisingly flammable. They shriveled up in the heat and dropped to the ground. I wondered what the scientists would do, now that all the local banana fields had been burnt up. I decided I didn’t care. They didn’t know anything, didn’t even know to tell me how flammable bananas were, how easily whole lives could be consumed.


Noa Covo’s work has been published in Jellyfish Review, Okay Donkey, Hayden’s Ferry Review online, and trampset. Her micro-chapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press.

The Breakfast Triptych by Alexandra Kessler

I.      The first thing I remember is disgust. As a child, breakfasts of my lazy mother’s undercooked bacon while Arthur played on PBS Kids. I could eat happily while the animated characters talked, frolicked, Arthur’d, but could not bear to do so during commercials, where real human actors drove Hondas and digitally penetrated Floam. My bacon was made from the stuff of the people-actors—meatfatgrease—and it was like I was eating them. Jellied bites of the dull woman spooning Dannon yogurt into her clammy mouth. I chewed her tendons, the look in her dumb eyes, pleading. Covered my plate with paper napkin until the safe, textureless cartoon people came back. The ones without an appetite for themselves. My neighbor, very fat, stood shirtless in his front yard, staring directly into the sun. Frying. I studied art history in college and once went to Madrid to see Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych at the Prado. In Spain, there is special meat. Jamón ibérico de bellota. Pigs who only ever ate acorns. In the Triptych, silverywhite bodies squirmed and helixed. Twisted into spooky shapes by their avowal to fleshy consumption. But the figures themselves were clean, lean-limbed, pellucid. The devouring is acceptable if you are beautiful. I bought a ham and egg sandwich from a boy behind a counter and he watched me eat the whole thing, standing there in the store. I threw it up on the curb. In the left 1 panel of the Triptych, Adam touches his toes to God’s toes and God holds Eve’s wrist. Linked organs. Constant digestion. I bought another sandwich and could not taste acorns, only the lame salt of myself.

II.      Pete and I make fun of his wife. She’s a chef, and ugly. Pictures of her on his instagram— her greasy little eyes. Her smile like a happy face finger-poked into the meatloaf to make a stupid child laugh. It was never about her being beautiful, Pete says. He’s maybe embarrassed, but I understand: she’s kept him fed. I stand on her kitchen counter with my bare feet. Drink her half and-half. I play with her knives. I’m gonna slice you into pork chops, I say. Lick the blade. Pete laughs, but his body is scared. He says, get down. Years ago, he was mugged and stabbed while stumbling drunk down the street eating a 7/11 bacon egg and cheese. He is writing an essay about it, and I want to take him to Spain. I show him the wikipedia page for Bosch’s Triptych. He looks at me instead of the painting. Puts my thumb in his mouth and bites. His pointed canines dent me. His wife keeps her knives so sharp that you don’t even feel it when they cut you. Pete says he loves me. That he could swallow me whole. His wife is away, filming a cooking competition show called Bringing Home The Bacon. Pete and I get a week alone together. I worry that we’ll pickle but I risk it. He grabs the knife from my hands and holds it against his belly. He’s drunk. I’ve gotten so fat, he says. Plumped up for the slaughter. His eyes are sad and varmint. I just wish I had met you first, he says, and it’s worse for all of us that he means it. The first night we spent together I said I wouldn’t make him breakfast in the morning. I never learned to cook right. Good, he said, I’m sick of all the fucking breakfasts.

III.      Pete’s wife comes in last on Bringing Home The Bacon. Dead last, cut the first round. Your handling of this meat, the judge said, lacked a hunger for trancendence. She didn’t have enough time, but this is the game. She thought she’d carmalize edges, maple glaze, cook all the way through. She doesn’t understand how it’s so easy for other people. The chef who beat her, licking his wet lips. She drives away from the studio. It is late at night and early in the morning. Her raw face in the rearview mirror, oil-burned hands. On the side of the empty road, a 24-hour diner. She eats a plate of eggs and bacon while watching commercials on the streaked wall-mounted TV: husband and wife share some Tropicana. Sunny suburban kitchen. On her phone, no calls from Pete. The waiter brings her an extra side of bacon. Why not, he says, it’s just between you and me. Out the window, the sun rises. She feels the tilt of the world. The waiter watches her, the diner fills with their bodies. Dense and rare. It’s a new day, the waiter says, you have to start it off right. Her stomach shifts. She’s not hungry anymore, but she chokes it all down.


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Alexandra Kessler’s short stories have appeared in such venues as JoylandJuxtaProse, Maudlin House, The Boiler, and Pigeon Pages. She was the recipient of the 2014 Lizette Woodworth Reese Award for Fiction, the 2016 Ross Feld Award, and the 2017 Lainoff Prize for Fiction. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology nominee. She lives in New York City and is at work on a novel.

The House on Hwy 18, Probably October 1999 by Brett Biebel

When I was 12, my dad spent a week camped out in the backyard. My brother and I would bring him Hamburger Helper and these little packets of ketchup we stole from the McDonald’s down the street. We’d talk about spaceships. Constellations. The night Ritchie Valens fell from the sky, and he said someday he’d show us where it happened, and we could leave flowers, and he’d never done it, but the drive really wasn’t all that far.

Except, that fourth night, we didn’t bring him anything. Could only see his shadow hunched over inside of the tent. My brother had found a dirty magazine in the dumpster behind the gas station, and we sat on his bed looking at it. Some of the pages were torn out. One of them had an ad for Campari. The women looked like they were from California or Florida or some place with lots of fruit and no snow, and my brother said someday his wife was going to look like that, and maybe mine would too. Only uglier. With fewer teeth. Definitely smaller tits. Then he said who was he kidding, and I wasn’t ever getting married, and his pal Lamar told him I was probably gay. I said I wasn’t. He rolled his eyes. I watched them moving around inside his head and realized he looked nothing like Dad, that it was only their laughs that sounded the same.


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Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Chautauqua, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press. You can follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.

Before the Apocalypse, the Loss by Kara Vernor

Mom bought me Wilbur Mohammad’s Geo Metro for eight hundred dollars, an electric blue stick shift, a flea of a car. Wilbur’s down the road from us, and I’d been seeing that car in his front yard my whole life. It’s like her to give me what I can’t say I need.

The backseats are flipped forward and weighted with my duffel bag, two backpacks, stuffed Walmart bags, and a milk crate of my books. I’m about to drive 2,203 miles. It might well be the first time this car rolls over the Duplin County line.

Mom and I are propped against the driver’s side looking at our front porch, the unlatched screen door all the way open and tapping against the house. Beyond the door is the couch where she caught me having sex with my first boyfriend while she was supposed to be at work, recording for the family court. I heard her weeping that night in her bedroom like she was the one who had something to feel sorry for. When I woke the next morning, there was a box of condoms under my pillow.

But no matter where—porch, living room, or kitchen table—when I have said what I need, she hasn’t heard it. I told her I want to breathe air that doesn’t reek of hog bowels. You can’t Glade the whole outdoors. I told her I need to plant beans in soil that isn’t saturated with hog shit after every hurricane when the sewage lagoons at the industrial farms overflow. I begged her to make a new home with me, this woman who hears and refuses to hear, who tells me I’m beautiful when my face is knobby with pimples, who holds my cold feet against her warm stomach in winter. My Uncle David tried talking to her, too, swore he had room enough for the both of us in Tucson.

“You could get sick here,” I say again and grab hold of her hand at my side. Her fingers and mine are the same: long with inelegant knuckles. I tell her just three days ago there was another baby who was born blue.

“You’ve got your A.A. and you’re headed off to start your life, and you want to take me with you?” She shakes her head like she’s seen it all, like nothing makes any sense anymore. Same as when she insists the water is fine. The Earth isn’t getting hotter. The value of the house she bought all by herself hasn’t dropped because of the smell.

On the way to Arizona I sleep in efficiency motels. I ask a man at a diner to buy me a bottle of vodka and I dance for him on the orange bedspread in my room, my body limitless. I stretch on the side of the highway when I need a break, and the semis pull their horns. I watch out the window as fields flip by, the ones growing crops that feed the animals people eat without thinking. I drive with the window down an inch to let in the fresh air, and I listen to the rustle of my earrings, the ones I made from the shards of a conch shell mom dropped on the floor of the thrift store after she’d put it to her ear and heard a howling.


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Kara Vernor’s fiction and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, and her writing has been included in The Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Her chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.

My Husband Bought a River by Mileva Anastasiadou

But now he is drowning.

He bought that river for me. He wanted to feel my pain, to know me better, he claims, but he’s on the verge of falling apart, because he can’t handle water, not like I do. He used to be calm, composed. I was the wreck up until now and he’d do his best to keep us together, he was the glue that kept the edifice standing. Collapse is the new normal and the glue can’t do much now, now that the ship we’ve been sailing on is falling to pieces. In fact, he wished to show me how good he can be, an expert at everything, he wanted it all.

But now he has nothing.

Husband holds on to me, like I’m his anchor, an anchor buried deep in the waters that drown him. He’s not familiar with waters that run deep, he’s dead frightened, shouting and yelling, but I can’t hear him, I’ve been drowning for long, I’m used to drowning, to endings, to danger. He’s been hopeful for long, afloat, but he can’t buy safety, he can’t swim now, now that the river is his to handle. He’s been the optimist, the joyful, the happy one.

But now he is desperate.

Remember the angst, the panic attacks, impending doom knocking at the door, for no apparent reason. Now there is a reason, I tell him. Now fear is justified. Justified fear is less frightening, it lessens anxiety, makes sense, soothes the pain, blessed are those who can breathe underwater, who walk proudly in chaos and all is back to normal, my kind of normal, now that the earth does not feel like home, now that we’re both drowning and life is beautifully terrifying.


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Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Flash Flood, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Open Pen, and others.

Safety Drill by Cortney Phillips Meriwether

On the morning of the final bus-safety drill of the school year, Gina Thornton felt sick to her stomach. They were supposed to always dress appropriately for bus drill days—no slip-on shoes, no dresses—but she forgot about Ms. Sharon’s announcement. Or maybe she was talking to Colleen and didn’t hear it. Or maybe the two-way radio crackled at the wrong time. Either way, Gina Thornton was wearing a skirt.

Their bus, Bus 720, always got the best safety rating in all of Willow Creek Elementary. It was a real point of pride for the northside kids—everyone took the drills very seriously. This was partly because they loved Ms. Sharon and partly because jumping off the back of the bus was a thrill. One time, their rating was so high that Ms. Sharon let them listen to Q94 during the ride home instead of the usual Sheryl Crow tape.

That day, when Ms. Sharon flipped the alarm, the other students stood up, ready to go. But Gina’s bare thighs were melded to the thick gray-green vinyl of the seat. We have to go, Colleen told her, looking down at Gina’s skirt with a wince. It’ll be over quick, Colleen said. Just jump.

The two designated fifth grade boys unlatched the back door and hopped out first. And the one who wore the Scottie Pippin jersey over a white t-shirt at least once a week? He’d once spent an entire bus ride trying to snap her choker necklace and pull her hair. He always called her Va-Gina. Now she was expected to stand above him in her skirt? Let him grab her hand and elbow? Help her jump to fake safety?

Colleen went first, bending her knees and reaching out to the boys as they reached up to her, effortlessly floating down and landing softly, guided by their grip. And so Gina moved to the edge, trying to tuck her skirt between her knees as she squatted, not looking at the one in the red jersey, even when she realized too late that the hand supposed to take her elbow and lift her forward—the same hand that reached between the seats and pinched at her neck that first and last time she wore the choker—was up her skirt and cupping her underwear before she even realized she was in the air.

The ground hit harder than the last drill, the impact shooting up through her knees, but Gina took off running like she was supposed to, reaching the sidewalk next to the bus loop faster than she ever had. Ms. Sharon glanced at her, barely seeing her before looking down to her clipboard to check her off. Got you, she said. You’re safe.


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Cortney Phillips Meriwether received her MFA in Creative Writing from NC State in 2012 and has been working as a writer and editor ever since. Her work has been published by Wigleaf, CHEAP POP, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She serves as a reader for Fractured Lit and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and son.

Blind Wolf Teeth by Michael B. Tager

For my AARP birthday, Bea took me to Surprise Valley. “We’ll find some hot springs,” she said as the 447 crested into the valley’s basin. “There’s supposed to be horses. Like Assateague Island.”

“Those are ponies.”

“Same thing,” she said.

“Those are ponies.” I put venom into the word like I was trying to kill something, and Bea sucked her teeth and let me alone while I watched the vast mountains. I wanted to feel something, but all I saw was emptiness and the Law and Order marathon I was missing and Bea’s blue vest that made her look like a Walmart greeter. She’d almost popped me when I told her that, but she still wore it.

I muttered passive aggressiveness, affronted at the idea that ponies were the same as horses, but really I just didn’t want this to be my AARP birthday. I resented everything, from the ache in my jaw to the wildflowers, creeks and hills. Somewhere out there were towns filled with people who weren’t getting older, and roaming herds of horses under the sun that thought they were free.

I thought about telling her all that, maybe apologizing for my tone, but I could tell she was done listening to me.
Eventually, we parked by the trail markers. “Get out, you old fool,” Bea said, rummaging in the back for canteens, tents, trail mix and who knows what else. She was always over-prepared. On our honeymoon, I brought a backpack with a couple changes of clothes and my razor. She brought two suitcases, the second filled with all the shit I’d forgotten.

Maybe I rely on her to be my memory, but I have other qualities. I know where to find the salt and how much olive oil to use, how to prune the roses and how to get the knot out of her back that visits just under her shoulder blades.
Bea waited patiently while I did frou-frou Yoga that I had to admit soothed the fire in my back muscles to a low broil. I can lift our grandchildren and run after the ice cream truck, but the kinks come out slower these days. At my checkup last week, the doctor said I’ll eventually need a new vertebrae and maybe new teeth. No wonder I have the grumps.

Eventually we walked towards the mountains and muttered at one another, not real conversation, just a reminder that we were alive. Over the hours, other hikers passed or sometimes we passed, and we waved and nodded and they nodded and waved, speaking the silent language of the out-and-about.

“I have to admit,” I told Bea while admiring the sky, “I feel better.”

“Happy birthday, fool.” She put her arm around my waist.

We stopped at a clear lake alongside a young family. The woman looked too young to be a mother, but she breastfed and texted and admonished her brood simultaneously, so she was clearly old enough. We got to talking and the middle child told us about the wild horses. “Some have fangs.”

“What do you mean?” I squatted despite my legs’ protest. Children deserved to be looked in the eye by their elders.
She played with the bead at the end of her braids. She glanced at her father, who nodded. “Some horses have teeth-like fangs in the back of their mouth but they’re just blind wolf teeth.” I could tell she didn’t quite know what she was saying. Neither did I.

“Like wisdom teeth? Those come in when you’re older,” I offered.

“Ok,” she said, and lost interest in me because where we were bugs crawled and clouds lived in the sky.

On the second leg, we passed mostly young folks, though one couple had whiter hair than us. They jogged in spandex, wiry muscles defying the sun.

Bea whistled when they faded into the dust. “We should take up running. Or squash. I used to play squash.

“I didn’t know that,” I said, thinking about the dusty barbells in the basement.

“You don’t know everything about me.” She winked, and I remembered why I loved her.

At our campsite, I roasted corn and chicken in our open fire while Bea rubbed her feet and asked my opinion of the day.

“Best birthday in years.”

Bea grinned and she patted the ground flat in order to lay down and put her head in my lap. While the food cooled, I stroked her hair in the dwindling light. My left hand snuck under her arm and rubbed her breast. She giggled and said, “What in the world are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Depends on what you think about it.”

She laughed and her eyes sparked in the firelight. She took my hand and led me to the tent.

Later, half-asleep, I stumbled out of the tent in my jockeys to relieve my bladder. I hoped I didn’t glow in the light of the full moon but also, what did I care? I walked some distance and looked around and saw nothing in the emptiness.
Mid-stream, I heard a snort and heavy footsteps and I turned.

The palomino regarded me with ancient eyes and pawed the ground. Its mouth hung open. Its teeth were cracked and a deep yellow. Some were missing. I reached out a hand to touch it, but it snuffled at me and flared its lips.

I stepped back and tried to calm it. “Shhh.” Its knees quivered and it did the little dance horses do in order to sit. I could see its eyes, filmed over with cataracts. I knew it was a wild animal, but I stretched out my hand again, out of a need for connection. It whinnied but didn’t stop me. Its nose was warm and soft, and I felt its heart beat slowly.

In the light of the moon, I saw a single tooth in the corner of its mouth shaped like a jagged tear. “Hello there,” I said, surprised at how steady my heart was, how calm I felt in the face of an ending life.


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Michael B. Tager is a writer and editor. His work can be found at michaelbtager.com. He is mostly vegetables.

She Could Have Been Queen by Lucy Zhang

cinderella

The dove laced up the back of the golden dress, pulling and tugging with its beak until her waist vanished to a pinprick beneath the organza. The shoulder straps led to a beaded, sweetheart neckline; iridescent beads adorned the bodice; rhinestone banners trailed the skirt’s horsehair hems. When she spun, the heavy fabric lagged behind her rotation, shimmering and then blinding when it caught up to her circular acceleration, and so it was only natural that the prince failed to remember her face and had to rely on the slipper she left behind. Maybe if the prince had looked a bit closer, saw the stain of blood where the back of her ankle had rubbed against the shoe, investigated the strands of hair on the palace steps, he could’ve matched the DNA, spared all the girls’ foot amputations to fit the delicate slipper. By the time he found the slipper, she had powdered soot onto her cheeks like foundation and finished rinsing a bowl of lentils to cook with onion and garlic over a fire, her appetite peaked after all the dancing. She poked a tree branch at the fire and watched its flames lick the bottom of the pot. Lentil stew: nutritious, delicious, the real secret behind her Claritin clear skin besides exfoliating properties of ash. After she fell asleep to a full stomach, the prince slipped the shoe on her foot and whisked her away so they could get married. And when she came to, pores clear, nails polished, hair trimmed of split ends, she had become a princess.

sleeping beauty

She slept on linen sheets covering feather beds softer than the morning snow (before soldiers marched their muddied boots to the castle and shook off blood and sweat from their swords and foreheads). An ornamented canopy hung above her head, embroidered with their family emblem, a weasel whose long and slender body made its legs seem disproportionately short, whose creamy white belly clashed against its red coat as it stood tall, with nowhere to burrow, and watched. She woke to the curtains drawn around the bed, her bare legs blanketed by shadow, his hand rubbing her stomach and then gliding from a bullet wound of a belly button to her breasts, like memory foam, capturing his fingerprints in a snapshot of time. She woke to whispers of my princess, my princess, and when he allowed her to speak, she whispered back yes, papa. When she failed to wake one morning, her index finger bruised and bloodied from a spindle’s puncture–the largest spindle she could find, the king knelt by her bed and brushed his lips and nose over her thighs, calves, toes and placed a tiara on her head, parting locks of hair so they surrounded her head like a halo. The queen offered her own–the one she had worn when they were first engaged–a diadem crammed with seven pear-shaped aquamarines and rose-cut diamonds and no room for romance. He scoffed as he fingered the hem of his daughter’s dress, not for my darling girl.

snow white

The day before she lost her virginity, she dissolved Epsom salt in a cup of warm water and swallowed. She began her fast that morning, flushed the toxins from her intestine, sucked in her flesh with a gasping fish-on-land inhale as she glimpsed her side profile in the mirror across her bed, and felt clean and airy and empty as she went about her day. The night she lost her virginity, she remained still, moving only as directed, counting poisoned combs and apples like sheep. The day after she lost her virginity, her lady-in-waiting asked if it hurt and she responded truthfully: she didn’t remember, for she had been too concerned about sucking in her hollow belly, wiping her mouth and face and thighs dry when she thought he wasn’t watching, plaiting her hair to the side so she wouldn’t need to re-straighten it the next morning. On subsequent nights, she wondered if the late queen ever caught a glimpse of the panting body above her slight frame and if she thought the reflection beautiful.


LucyZ

Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She is an editor for Heavy Feather Review and assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.