Seeping by Lucy Smith

In those small, empty hours, you find your hand putting the milk bottle in the oven, the cornflakes in the cupboard under the sink. 

A cat flashes its eyes at you from the top of the back garden fence and you know, through the window, that it sees. It sees the soul is out of you. There’s nothing inside your skin. It’s the time of the night when you could do anything. 

Slumped on the kitchen stool, you look at your fingers like they belong to something else.

The soul has to wash back in, on the shush of the dawn, when the oily sky spreads its pink and blue. Until then the streets run in dark threads from your gate. 

Your son sleeps in the room above. His soul is also out to play at this time of night. His head is filled with dreams of dark water; cold sharks sliding past his skin, red and yellow fish. There’s a diver ahead in a thick suit that covers everything but the hands, which are his dad’s.

You can’t dream anymore, because you can’t sleep. Your fingers are too cold to feel, and the cornflakes are left soggy on the counter, as your bare feet move towards the back door.  

Later, you will retrace your steps, wash up your bowl, make your son’s breakfast. Until then it’s just your toes on wet grit, ivy growing in chaos down the black alley, the glowing eyes of animals, the unshakeable chill. 


Lucy_Smith

Lucy Smith is a flash fiction, prose poem, and short story writer from North West England, currently based in Cardiff, Wales, where she has completed an MA in Creative Writing, two artist residencies, and co-written an audio story. She is the creator of Talking Ink, a podcast in association with Seren Books, showcasing flash fiction writers and poets and featuring music from local artists. Her fiction has been published by Palm-Sized Press and won awards from Legend Press and Lancaster University. Find out more on her website: lucysmithwriter.wordpress.com Continue reading “Seeping by Lucy Smith”

Remember the Sonics by D.H. Valdez

One late August afternoon, Roger Ruiz sat on a bench atop a hill that overlooked his former high school. He was wearing a white Sonics jersey, which is significant to the story because it is always nice to remember the Sonics and because in a few moments, the jersey would be covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash.

He was smoking a cigarette and was mildly concerned that this would be the one that sent him over the threshold into addiction. But more than this, his thoughts were on Mr. Garza, his former teacher who he had seen earlier in the day at the grocery store. Roger had put a loaf of rye bread in front of his face to avoid being seen. He loved Mr. Garza and was not sure why he did it. The reflexive act disturbed him enough to go atop the hill to smoke and contemplate and reflect.

Roger dropped his cigarette and made an attempt to put it out but his foot missed the still-smoldering butt. Oblivious to his mistake, he reached for another cigarette. The brown grass that had been burnt from the hot Seattle summer caught quickly. A fire about the size of the palm of a hand sprung from the earth. Startled, Roger stood up from the bench but rose too quickly and clumsily, causing him to trip. The fire grew to two palms.

Now on his back, he needed to act quickly. He aimed his body for the fire. He rolled over the flames and successfully put it out. His waxy Sonics jersey was now covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash. Everything was under control but he fled the scene, zipping down the hill towards his former school.

Later while on a jog, Mr. Garza ran slowly up to where Roger had recently been. He noticed a strange patch on the slanted face of the hill. A clean circle of dirt exposed around a blackened perimeter of barbecued grass. He patted the back of his head. The spot reminded him of his balding hair. He finished his run.

Rain poured heavy in Seattle that September. The grass on the hill greened much quicker than most years. The burnt patch began to heal, to grow.

One weekend that fall, Mr. Garza bought a Sonics hat at the mall. He took the tag off and placed it on his head immediately. The hat made him feel much better about his appearance. As he was heading back to his car he noticed Roger shopping at another store but didn’t move to say hello, thinking back to the time weeks before when he had seen him hiding behind a loaf of bread. As he remembered this, he saw Roger smiling and coming his way.

“Hey Mr. Garza!” Roger said. The two shook hands.


D.H._Valdez

D.H. Valdez teaches Social Studies at his former high school. He holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Washington. He and his wife Holly grew up together in Seattle and continue to live in the city. They are avid sports fans and desperately await the return of the Sonics. Valdez has previously been published in Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Citron Review.

The Field of Dead Girls by Cassandra de Alba

A potter’s field held unwanted bodies. Some Puritans did not mark their graves, viewing their dead as blessed to have transcended their sinful husks, to have achieved perfection without the weight of flesh holding them to earth.

The dead girls can float, but they still sin.

Where are the bodies of the dead girls? In the basements of houses and trunks of abandoned cars. In the woods, mostly, covered over with leaves or under a few flimsy inches of earth. In pieces in an oil drum, cinderblocked to a riverbed, dumped off embankments on nights with no moon. The dead girls don’t see this as transcendence. The dead girls want their bodies back.

What do the dead girls see? Milk-film over their blinking eyes. A world gone on without them, a thousand petty dramas playing to an audience of the not-bereft. A wave endlessly arguing with the shoreline, stealing a few grains of sand every time.

The living dare each other to walk through the field of dead girls, though of course they can’t see anything but air. Only the sense that something is wrong, air charged with grief like a storm is always coming. The field where no grass grows, only patches of low bramble with fat, untouched berries. The kind of quiet that hums danger into your ears, fills them with a warning you can’t parse. At night it’s never quite dark, even when the Pizza Hut’s lights shut off and the nail techs are counting their tips in their cars. Anyone alive who walks through that place feels claustrophobic even out in the open, their skin seeming to tighten over their bones. And anyone who isn’t would see how the dead girls follow them in a glowing swarm, pressing from all sides, desperate for warmth.

Most of the dead girls are cold. They can feel the rush of the polluted river, the snow promising itself to the mountainside, the wet of the pine needles’ slow, sympathetic rot. The chill of their urgent loneliness even surrounded by the only others who understand their not-life. It’s no wonder the grass refuses to grow.

The dead girls whose bones are buried unmarked claim to be colder than the rest of them. They have new names in the living world, called for the landscape their body was plucked from – Juniper Mountain Doe, Horseshoe Creek – or the human trappings that still clung to it – Cerulean Jacket, Twin Rose Tattoo. These girls make incantations of their true names, pace the perimeter whispering: Lucinda. Lucinda. Lucinda. Maria. Maria. Maria. I was. I was. I am. Some of them are afraid they’ll forget. Others are imagining their voices as radio waves, arcing over the miles until they reach what remains of their source.

Some of the dead girls know they’ll never be found. There will be no cemetery plot, no epitaph – no one who would think to compose one, no human alive up late agonizing over a lost friend. The way the found blink out of the field, some of the forever-missing blinked out of life. No one mourns.

The lucky girls only stay a few days. Barely have time to turn around, see the spot that could be eternity, make a few friends and they’re gone. A car pulled from the quarry like a bad tooth. A door broken open into a bloody room. No one knows where they go next, only that it must be better than here. There is no sense in missing them, now that they’ve been found.

The oldest dead girls remember when the building’s foundation was dug, watching the men lift their dirty shirts to wipe sweat from their foreheads. And before that, when the road was paved in stinking asphalt, and before that, when the cart-tamped dirt was covered in broken stone. And before that, when it was only a few of them and sky and pine in every direction, when they still could have thought this might be paradise.


AuthorPhoto_credit_GennaRose_NethercottCassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, smoking glue gun, and Spy Kids Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016) and ORB (Reality Hands, 2018) are about deer and the moon, respectively, and Ugly/Sad was released by Glass Poetry Press in 2020. She is a co-host at the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge and an associate editor at Pizza Pi Press.

Geophagia by Patience Mackarness

Chalky soils are the most delicious, you say, taking a pinch from the earth bank as we pass.

We’ve come along this sunken lane because Mum’s long gone, Dad only just, and it seems like we need to start being sisters again. The lane leads to Sunset Hill, where we always played. Its high banks are thick with primroses, like the times we’d pick them to decorate the church, but here beneath the exposed roots of an oak tree there’s a dry hollow, like a small cave. Having smacked your lips over its fine yellowish soil, you reach up for a handful of dark humus, rich as fruit pudding. Shreds of wet leaf and insect-casings stick to your chin as you munch. You swallow, breathe Yesss!

Dirt must be a superfood; you look more fabulous than ever. My mouth tastes like ashes.

Why can’t you be more like your sister? That was Mum, in the last days when she’d forgotten tact and fairness, her lifelong principle of treating us both equally. Because I can’t fucking compete, I didn’t say. Later, to my therapist, I blurted out all the things you did more and better than me: friendship, parties, sports. Sex, obviously.

She has a joyful spirit, Dad said at your first wedding. She opens her arms wide and embraces life.

That’s not all she opens wide, I didn’t say.

Our parents didn’t know half of what I knew about you. The shoplifting, the vandalism, the magic mushroom omelettes, the high-powered business trips that turned into orgies.

Or perhaps they did.

Even when your marriages failed it was spectacular, crash-and-burn. I try to remember what Dad said about me at my wedding. I think it was something about my cooking.

We’ve reached the top of Sunset Hill, named not for its west-facing aspect but for the pinkness of its soil. You sigh, God, I’ve missed this! You fall to your knees by a scraped-out depression, between clumps of tough grass. It looks as if a dog’s been scrabbling after rabbits, or maybe a badger. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? you ask me.

Oddly, it does.

You wet your forefinger, pick up a line of rosy dirt. Look, you whisper. Just a dusting is all it takes. On the very tip of your tongue. You demonstrate. Your eyes roll in ecstasy. I kneel by you, reach out a fingertip.

You go, Isn’t it amazing?

And it is.


 

2018

Patience Mackarness lives and writes partly in an elderly VW camper van, partly in a cottage in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published or accepted by Lunch Ticket, Dime Show Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Coachella Review, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/

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.


 

Dan photo

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.

 

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.


 

Tara_Campbell_Photo_by_Anna_Dewitt_Carson

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.