My Mama Wanted a Zebra by Francine Witte

But all she got was a stupid cow.

So there she stands in the backyard, paintbrush in hand. Gotta make the best of things, she is muttering.

She stripes white paint on the side of the cow. The sirloin side. The part of a cow I have eaten hamburgers from.

The cow turns its still-cow head to her as if to say, paint me all you want, I’m still gonna moo and give milk.

Mama hears this cow thought loud and clear. She puts down the paintbrush and walks around to face the cow head-on. “Look,” she says out loud to the cow. “I could tell you stories of how pretty I was born. You can’t see it anymore.”

And then she says, “there was music in my fingers, that also got leaked out.”

Mama gives up and goes back to painting. You gotta give some things time, she is muttering. She decides if all else fails, she will have to take off her dress and show the cow the stripes that are painted on her own side.


 

FWitte

Francine Witte’s full length book of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This, has just been published by Blue Light Press, where it was the first place winner for the Blue Light Press Award. Her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind, is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction. Her second full length collection of poetry, The Theory of Flesh, was recently published by Kelsay books. She lives in NYC.

Commute by Andrea Rinard

At the stoplight, I think about turning left instead of right and going who-knows-where but definitely not to my office. Then it turns green, and I move along my path just like every weekday morning. Once I merge onto the highway, the idea of turning the steering wheel ever so slightly and letting the car wander into the other lane occurs to me again. I don’t want to die; maybe just a couple of broken bones and a black eye or something. A coma would be nice as long as there are no brain injuries. I side-eye the car next to me and it’s a woman with a toddler in the back seat, and she’s smiling and the little boy is smiling and I’m not a monster so I keep going.

Last night Dan said, “Let’s go out!” as if getting all the stuff in the diaper bag and making sure there’s something uploaded on the iPad and getting two kids in the car before we’re starving and grouchy is so easy. I told him I wasn’t hungry and waved at them all from the doorway. “I’m going to get the house cleaned up,” I’d said, and Dan smiled too big and said too quickly that the house could definitely use a good cleaning, so not long after they left, I was standing in the backyard with two hamsters in my hands. “Be free,” I whispered before setting them down gently on the side of the fence that the realtor called a conservation area but we know is really a wet patch of wildness. I walked back to the house, not thinking about owls and snakes, planning on blaming the disappearance on my daughter who cried and cried and cried when I told her gently, “You must have left the cage open.”

My exit is coming up, and I put on my blinker, but my gaze lifts to the sign above the endless line of red eyes staring back at me. I could head south and keep going. By four o’clock I could be in Key West where no one would care if I never wore a bra again. But I keep going the way I always go. My sensible car is like that ride at Disney World, the one with the cars that go round and round on the track to nowhere while kids grip their little steering wheels as if they truly believe they could drive right to the castle if they wanted to.

I ride down the ramp to the gridlock of downtown toward the parking garage, hoping that my spot on the third floor next to the breezeway isn’t taken again today. My life narrows to a pinpoint in front of me, and I squeeze myself into it for one more day, wishing there was someone to put me on the other side of my fence.


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Andrea Rinard is a Florida native, long-time high school English teacher, and emerging writer. She enjoys the luxury of being in the graduate certificate program in creative writing at the University of South Florida and is also an alumnus of the Yale Writer’s Workshop. Her work can be found in The Jellyfish Review, Prometheus Dreaming, Crack the Spine, and Spelk. You can read more of Andrea’s work at writerinard.com and follow her on Twitter @aprinard.

I Wouldn’t Give Up by Kyra Kondis

The new girl at school is the missing girl, the one from the back of the milk cartons we get with lunch. My friends don’t believe me but I’m sure of it. How do you know? they ask. How can that be true? I show them the milk carton and they say, Don’t be stupid, Ann. That looks nothing like her.

The girl is quiet. Her arms and legs and body are thin like she’s been running a lot, and I wonder if she left on purpose or if someone took her. Maybe if they took her, she isn’t allowed to tell anyone. I imagine her family on the opposite coast, lighting candles every night and crying and waiting for her to come back. She thinks about them and is too sad to speak. I wish I could say to her, hey, I know what’s going on. You can talk to me.

The girl has soft brown hair and brown eyes. The photo on the milk carton is in black and white, but if it were in color, I’m sure it would capture that softness and brownness, maybe not perfectly, but as well as it could. I wonder how come our principal hasn’t recognized her, why he hasn’t called the police. I wonder if it’s a negotiation thing, like he has to pretend not to realize so he can make a deal with the captor. I wonder who else is in on it.

The girl is surprisingly good at kickball, and I think this is self-defense, like she’s preparing to bust herself out. When it’s my turn to be pitcher in gym class, I always give her curveballs, so she can get better at being ready for anything. If she misses or hits it out of bounds, she stamps her foot in frustration, and I smile my most encouraging smile, so she knows that I get it. I understand.

The girl is never picked up in a car. She always takes the bus, or if the weather’s good, she walks, stopping to buy Hot Cheetos from the corner store that the cooler sixth graders say they shoplift from. I wonder if it hurts, that fleeting bit of freedom before she goes home, if it can even be called home. I walk behind her for a little while, to make sure she doesn’t go missing again, even though I live in the other direction. If she ever noticed me, I’d have to pretend not to see her, because saying nothing is better than saying something dumb, especially to a girl who’s missing.

And then, she isn’t on the milk cartons anymore. Instead, it’s a little boy with an overgrown bowl cut, a rat tail slung over his shoulder. It’s sad, how people gave up like that—the police, the milk carton makers, the FBI.

There, my friends say, you can stop obsessing now, it was obviously someone else. I nod and blush and eat my cafeteria pizza, but look for her out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t give up on you, I think, as if we’re telepathically linked.


KKondis

Kyra Kondis is an MFA candidate in fiction at George Mason University. She is also the proud owner of three (3) small cacti and is the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak Journal. Some of her work can be found in Matchbook, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf, and at her website, kyrakondis.com.

Rehearsal by Nuala O’Connor

Marty’s car was a hearse, so that was the first turn on. Then there were his maroon lips, so girlish, so startling against his waxy skin.

Mother was appalled, of course. “He’s three times your age,” she said.

“Get knotted,” I said, and drove around with Marty in that Cadillac with its curtained windows where the dead used to lie.

At night, we parked behind Tesco and, in the coffin space, Marty peeled off my fishnets, restricto-knicks, and double F bra. And with those wine-bright lips he drank me down, plundered from every inch of me, while I lay under him, thinking of soil.


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Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. In 2019 she won the James Joyce Quarterly competition to write the missing story from Dubliners, “Ulysses.” Her fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was recently published to critical acclaim. She is currently writing a bio-fictional novel about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at new flash e-zine Splonk. www.nualaoconnor.com

Propitiation by David Drury

The universe works in threes, and while at home alone on a Saturday I was triangulated into an act of violence. I did not act alone, but some burden of responsibility falls to me. As they say, “It takes three to triangle.”

My wife’s sister had been staying all week with her three daughters. She was going through a painful divorce. She needed the support and her daughters, our nieces, needed a get-away.

“While the nieces would love to see you get a pedicure,” my wife said after breakfast, “they think you might get bored.” I helped load the five of them into the car and off they went. The smallest niece, Olivia, left behind her palm-sized turtle, “Puppy,” so I was not entirely alone. I started the dishwasher and opened all the curtains. I laid on top of the bed doing snow angels from the waist down while reading a book from the waist up, as one does who is not accustomed to having the house all to themselves.

I watched the birds lining the wire outside the window. One, two, four, eight, ten. I had never seen so many. The wire sagged into a smile. I was not sure the line could hold them. And what were they staring at? Something in the yard. I traced the line of their stare, but the walls got in my eyes.

Just as I nodded off for a nap, the birds got to chirping and wouldn’t stop. I heard the neighbor children playing in our yard. That must be it. I might have gone to the window and stared the kids back into their own yard, but the nieces had given me a renewed appreciation for the spirit of youth. I lay there with my eyes open. One of the birds turned her head and looked at me. After we held eye contact for a moment, she rolled forward off the wire. I heard her hit the pavement, and flap her broken wings against the house.

I sat up and went outside, only to find that I had forgotten to turn off the hose. Water and potting soil cascaded from the planter to the porch, down the walk, and into the yard, where it had had turned our new garden into a pond. Then I saw it.

Puppy the turtle must have gotten out while I wasn’t paying attention. The neighbor kids had found her, flipped her onto her back, and placed a heavy rock on her belly. The rock was holding her underwater in the now flooded garden. As it turns out, a turtle can drown faster than dry out.

I brought the dead turtle inside and set her body on a washcloth on the center of my bed. I began searching for words inside of me that might begin to explain death to a four-year old. Was I so shallow as to pretend this wasn’t my fault?

I heard the girls pull up in the driveway. As they got out, they began to shriek. I had forgotten about the bird. I wondered if the bird had taken a nosedive to call my attention to the turtle. Little good that did, I thought. As the girls came inside, I felt that I should be the one laid out on a burial cloth. I looked to Puppy, but the washcloth was empty.


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David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio, twice published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and appears in ZYZZYVA, Paper Darts, Jellyfish Review, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. He has a Master’s degree in Christian Studies from Regent College, University of British Columbia. Visit Daviddruryauthor.com.

Far from Home by Shasta Grant

Every day she brings her son to see the turtles. He carries a small jar of turtle food in his hands. She dislikes leaving the apartment and the comfort of the air conditioning, entering this foreign world, but these small trips down to the guardhouse she can manage. The turtles weren’t there when they moved here a year ago. One day she came home from the grocery store, shopping bags digging into her palms, and saw the plastic container outside the guardhouse.

She was about to walk past it. She nodded to the security guard; she couldn’t wave because of the bags in her hands. Then she saw a little head poke above the lip of the container. She found turtles inside, some swimming in the water, others perched on rocks. The container was the type you might use for under-the-bed storage, sweaters tucked away until winter but there was no winter here.

The guard shuffled out of his little house, which did not have air conditioning, just a fan mounted on a wall. This seemed cruel to her and she thought one day she would talk to the apartment manager about it, but it seemed to be common in Singapore: these old men sitting inside guardhouses with no air conditioning. They weren’t capable of guarding much of anything. This particular man spent seemingly half of his shift in the bathroom, the other half asleep in his house. Cars would arrive at the gate and honk until he woke up, startled, perhaps unaware of where he was, of how much time had passed.

She asked if the turtles were his and he said yes, smiling, revealing the few teeth he had left. He seemed so proud of the turtles. She nodded and continued on to her apartment, walking three flights of stairs because the elevator was broken.

Since then, every afternoon she and her son walk down to feed the turtles. He is three and this small daily adventure is thrilling. He had been asking for a pet, but she did not want to get one, didn’t want the responsibility of another living thing, but in this small way, he has many pets now. Although they belong to the guard, her son has named them: Lenny, Bob, Jeff, Linda, and Jack. She does not know where he comes up with these names. There had been a Susan as well, but she died the first week.

Her son sprinkles the turtle food into the plastic container. Mostly the turtles seem uninterested in the food from the small jar her son carries. She thinks maybe the guard fishes the pellets out after they leave, maybe he feeds them something entirely different, lettuce or worms, she has no idea what turtles are supposed to eat other than this jar of food from the pet store.

Every day that she makes this trip downstairs with her son, she worries that another turtle will be dead. She offered to replace Susan, but the guard waved her off, saying, “these things happen.” And she knows this is true, knows her son must learn these things too. She wonders about the guard sometimes, about his life: where does he live, does he have a family, was he a young man once? What does he dream about when he falls asleep at the gate?

Each turtle will die eventually, she knows. One day they will come down to the guardhouse and find no container. Or maybe one day they will come down and find no old man. Maybe then, they will pick up the container of turtles and take it home, carry it up the stairs carefully so the water doesn’t slosh out. They will look online for information, maybe she’ll brave the heat and take her son to the library. Together they will learn how to care for turtles, what to feed them, how to keep them safe. Together they will make a new habitat.


 

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Shasta Grant is the author of GATHER US UP AND BRING US HOME (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow. Her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, MonkeyBicycle, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and has been awarded residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project. She lives in Singapore and Indianapolis.

 

Monsoon by Victoria Miller

She couldn’t escape the creosote scent of that summer, even years later. It stalked her in the tunnel as she scurried to catch a train, it drifted through the crowds when she spoke at a convention, and it hid in the pocket of the suit she nearly bought her son. She never told anyone about it.

Their first breakfast together they shared a Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity. He’d sat down across from her. Or maybe she’d sat across from him? After so many years, she couldn’t remember who arrived first, but she couldn’t forget the way the skin on the back of her legs stuck to the blue vinyl cushions, and the feel of his hand caressing hers when he called her pretty. No one had ever used that word to describe her before.

When she looked in the mirror that night, she saw that her bulbous nose—a genetic gift from her grandfather—didn’t look so horrible on her face.

Her mouth parched from the long days in an empty house, his visits became a sparkling oasis. Her friends all left Phoenix that summer—they went to expensive camps in the mountains and visited out of state grandparents. But her mom worked two jobs.

She would wait for him beneath the sparse shade of a palo verde, stepping out of her purple flip flops and pressing her feet onto the hot sidewalk. She counted how long it took for her calloused soles to burn. He always picked her up a few blocks from her house, but he rarely arrived on time.

They went to his apartment often, but she only saw his roommates once. He seemed surprised to find them watching baseball in the living room that day, and rushed her up to his bedroom without an introduction. She still wondered whether they’d known, or if there had been others like her.

He kept a gun on his bookshelf. It felt heavy in her hand: hands he liked because they were “small and soft.” When she picked up the badge, sitting next to the gun’s holster, light reflected off the golden insignia and flickered across his bedroom ceiling. She trusted him.

At night, she would lie in bed with the phone pressed close to her ear, listening to him describe afternoons spent drinking Corona’s on his best friend’s houseboat in Lake Havasu. She twirled her finger in and out of the spiral cord, and pictured diving into the sun-rippled waters. She wanted to join him at the lake, go on a double date, or meet his younger brother. She wanted to be included in his life. “Maybe later,” he always said.

He promised to teach her to drive the next summer, when she’d be old enough for a permit.

One evening they raced through the streets in his dust-blue Toyota pickup, chasing the monsoon as it rolled across the valley. Rain crashed overhead, then subsided. Blue and purple bolts of lightning danced in the sky and guided their course. Her hesitation and insecurity dissolved beneath the storm and, wanting more, she leaned over to kiss him. He pushed her back. “We agreed,” he said, “not on the lips.”

For her birthday, he took her to a restaurant on top of North Mountain. They shared a meal her mom could never have afforded. The waiter slid her chair in for her, folded her napkin when she stood up, and returned their leftovers wrapped in a tin foil swan. The setting sun painted fuchsia clouds, and fire flickered on the horizon.

He bought her a dress for homecoming which she wore just once—when she modeled for him in his bedroom. “I love you,” she said.

Should she have known better?

He never returned her calls again. She did not go to the dance. The dress hung in her closet, his stains unwashed, until she moved away for college.


 

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Victoria Miller has a BA in comparative literature from UC Berkeley, and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She spends her days producing video games where she often finds herself juggling flame-engulfed-chainsaws and excel sheets. When she’s not slurping the best ramen in LA or proclaiming her hatred of olives, she finds time to work on short stories and her first novel. Find her on Twitter @tigrvix