Watermelon by Ellen Ellis

When I was four, we grew a watermelon in the backyard garden, under the split-trunk oak. Every morning the screen door would rattle from the passing of my two velcro sandals and the neighbor’s dog would bark as I squatted, square knees and dirty hands, to inspect that watermelon.

It swelled like summer passes, hair grows, knitting knots, so slow you couldn’t tell it was happening until one day it was bigger than I was. Sweet striped shell, vine and leaves. The critters ate all the tomatoes but they left that watermelon alone. Indomitable watermelon, under the sun and the tree and dog’s crossed eyes.

Kelly says I would sit out there next to the watermelon in my little yellow dress, toes in the dirt, talking at rocketship speed to my variegated friend, making squares with my two sky-sweeping hands. Outlining that craggy four-year-old universe to a very good listener.

July I tried to catch it in the act – get up early, tiptoe down the stairs, edge the screen door open far enough so that (holding my breath) I could fit my round kid belly through the gap. The moon, enormous, hung in the hot air. It probably knew how that watermelon just kept growing, but Mom’s following feet kept me from asking.

One morning it sat smug in the sunlight, self-satisfied in its mysteries, and the next it was a crater in the August earth, a severed stem trailing leaves. Our biggest white bowl overflowing with red flesh, a spill staining the tablecloth. Kelly put a whole slice in her mouth at once and the juice ran down her pufferfish cheeks, dripped in red rainspots onto her turned-up collar.


 

EllenEllis

 

Ellen Ellis’ work has been a finalist on Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Top 25, and received the Margaret C. Annan Memorial Prize and SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. She’s based in Chicago, and her story “Noise” was published in Wigleaf. 

That Motherfucking Light / Cuánta Luz by Maria Alejandra Barrios

Me and Pablo just met and we’re both depressed. I’m depressed because I don’t have a visa and I don’t know where I’ll sleep next month. Pablo is depressed because his pot business is too small and he’s scared he is going to get caught.

His real name is not Pablo.

My parents spent a lot of money on a fancy Ivy League education in New York for me. My J1 is about to expire and soon after that, if I don’t get an extension I’m bound to go back home to Colombia. Pablo is from Colombia too but that’s not why he sells drugs. He sells because he’s hanging out with the wrong crowd and he likes easy money. He likes meeting new people every week, too. That’s how we met.

“Fumas?” He asked at a house party in Crown Heights.

“I do now,” I answered, taking the cigarette from his hand.

While I took the first hit, I thought about RCN showing the marihuana cultivos being burned to ashes in the 90’s. I thought about the other Pablo and his reign of violence. I thought about the eight-year-olds selling drugs in Medellin on the streets. I thought about me swearing papi I would never smoke. I thought about me promising it to God when I was little at Catholic School. Pablo interrupts my thoughts:

“That’s not how you smoke. You have to inhale the smoke and hold it until it burns as it tries to get back out.” I thought for a second about papi and god but the thought in my head doesn’t last long. The burning in my throat does.

After we met that night, Pablo and I start hanging out almost every day. We both work mostly at night. He sells his stuff and I think about what will happen if the visa doesn’t get here in time and I will have to go home. I think about where home is. I think about not having a country. I think about how there’s no end in sight. I don’t sleep, and Pablo doesn’t sleep either. So it works out.

“That’s why I’m bad at this business. I’m too scared.”

“I am scared too.”

“And that’s why you don’t do anything. Maybe you should come with me tomorrow.”

The next day we get together to do his round. We speak to all of his clients and smoke with his favorite ones. The last couple of the night offers us chicken. Pablo lights up a joint and says:

“I know what I said yesterday, but you shouldn’t do this. It’s too dangerous. I would rather have you not do anything.”

I imagine the land under my feet splitting in two. I hear my mom’s voice “Come home. You’re spiralling, mija.” I hear the voice of my therapist: “are you sleeping?”

“It’s okay.” He says like he could read my thoughts. I wonder if he can.

Pablo gets caught the next day selling but he doesn’t stay in jail long because it turns out his par-ents have money too. It also turns out his real name is Pablo.

He calls me from prison telling me that he misses me. The week after he comes to my room in Bushwick and kisses me. He kisses my arms, my hair, my forehead and my sunburned chest. In that paisa accent of his, he tells me that he loves me.

“Pablo?” I ask but he doesn’t respond.

Pablo holds my hand. He says he’ll go back to go school for real this time and I don’t say any-thing because I don’t have a plan.

“Pablo,” I say, “Pablo, don’t fall asleep.” But he does.

And I think that Pablo and I don’t have a country but we have something better together, his snores go quiet and all I can hear is the noise of the sirens outside. I hold Pablo’s hand not caring about waking him up. I squeeze his hand harder and prepare for the road ahead.

He wakes up and tells me to go to sleep but I can’t close my eyes. I can feel the land opening up and swallowing me like it does every night. I feel the warmness of the earth and the mud. Except this time, I’m not scared. All I can see is the light.

That motherfucking light of love.


MariaBarrios

Maria Alejandra Barrios is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester, where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. Her fiction has been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center and Caldera Arts Center. She lives in New York and is currently working on her first short story collection and her first novel.

Ted Cruz Tries to Fight a Grackle Over a Single Tortilla Chip by E. Kristin Anderson

and loses, of course. Nobody ever wins a fight with a grackle. At least that’s what Ted is telling himself as he walks back to the picnic table where the rest of his family is pretending to not have been staring at him. Ted knows they were. Who wouldn’t stare at a man chasing a bird through a park? But there’s only so much Ted can take. After the week he’d had? This was a tortilla chip too far. Maybe (as his wife would later insist) it was just one tortilla chip. There are plenty more tortilla chips. Still. Just one can be powerful. Just one vote in the Senate. Just one Tweet. Just one loose button on Ted’s shirt. Just one camera recording when that button pops off. Sometimes just one thing sets everything else in motion. And sometimes that motion is Ted tripping on an old, rotted tennis ball and falling on his ass as a grackle gets away clean to a magnolia tree. It was a female grackle, his older daughter had informed him, shortly before the bird snapped her beak around that one tortilla chip Ted had been about to put in his mouth. He brushes off his grass-stained khakis in an act of futility as he sits back down next to his wife. At least the park isn’t crowded today. It’s almost too quiet and when someone finally crunches down on a pickle, Ted feels like he can breathe again. His younger daughter nudges the bag of chips toward him, but he refuses. Ted feels that bird watching, knows she’s waiting to swoop in again and take what’s his. And he’s never felt less hungry in his life.


 

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E. Kristin Anderson is a poet and glitter enthusiast living mostly at a Starbucks somewhere in Austin, Texas.  She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press), and her work has been published worldwide in many magazines. She is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII (Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is a poetry reader at Cotton Xenomorph and an editorial assistant at Sugared WaterOnce upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.

Honey by Leonora Desar

After my husband died I started drinking coffee. I drank it before but I never liked it, not that much, his death kicked something in me. It’s as if it turned on a secret gene, a gene for liking coffee. I drank it. Then I went out and got some more. There’s this place, like Trader Joe’s, you stand in line and the guy makes you the coffee. He stands behind the counter and wears a shirt, Trader Joe’s. Maybe that’s the name of this place. I forget things. It doesn’t seem important. Like clothes, sometimes you want to put them on and sometimes it feels like too much. Like making the bed, you have to unmake it anyway, so why bother, make it, unmake it, doesn’t it give you such a headache?

I stand in line like that, at this place. Without a stitch. Some people look at me but most don’t, it’s just the way these things go. There are things on line, candles and aromatherapy and cigarettes, the people look at them and not at me. Sometimes they look at a breast and then a cigarette, they look like hey, which is better. Then they choose the cigarette.

I stand here and think about my coffee. It’s hard to stay awake these days. I am falling asleep right now. Some guy has to scoop me up and he tries not to cop a feel, especially with this whole Weinstein thing. He doesn’t want to end up on the cover of Page Six. He smells like alfalfa beans and Brussels sprouts, he has a beard and there’s some gray in it, hiding, I want to pull it with my hands and feel it, I want to pull all that gray out, I want to feel it with my hands.

There are aromatherapy infusions, in little candles, I guess that’s to counter the weight of the cigarettes. The cancer.

The line it goes and goes. It never stops, I think I’m about to get somewhere when we bend the other way. And it reminds me of a car, like on the freeway, I sit back and let myself enjoy it, the ride of it, the bending back and forth. A man catches me, he says woah, and I say woah, and we woah like that together. It sounds like woe woe woe or row row row your boat, my breasts are getting tired, they want to lie down awhile, and then one of them does, it lies down in some honey. It just curls up there. The nipple is long and droopy, it wants someone to suck on it, a person or even a kitten, that will do.

One walks by. There is some white on it, it looks like a little hat, like something my son would wear, if we had one. The cat stops and sniffs. Then he walks away.


 

Headshot_Leonora Desar

Leonora Desar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Passages North, Black Warrior Review Online, Mid-American Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Quarter After Eight, and elsewhere. She won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is a three-time nominee for Best Small Fictions 2019, and has three stories forthcoming in the Best Microfiction anthology.

Roman Candle by Keef

Callie walked past the house, the barn, the piney windbreak, and then through the woods to the prairie. The sky was so clear and blue and cold that her every exhale briefly took flight, like a dove, and then held still: frozen in the air overhead, marking the path back. Her puffy pink coat crinkled and wisped, echoing each crunch as her feet broke through the ice crust on top of the snow.

The roman candle was almost weightless in her hand.

She knew she’d gone far enough when she looked back and couldn’t see the smoke rising from the chimney beyond the forest, and couldn’t hear the traffic on the interstate. She tucked the firework under her arm and pulled out Uncle Sal’s golden zippo.

She’d found it in the attic two weeks before. It wasn’t a roman candle when she found it, just an old cardboard mailing tube with her father’s diploma in it. “More trouble than it was worth,” said dad, when she showed it to him. “Useless, and I’ll be paying for it long after waters rise and the sun burns the crops and we all starve.”

“Hush, dear,” said mother.

“Sorry,” said dad. “Hyperbolically starve us all.”

So Callie left the diploma in the attic and took the tube.

Every time she walked into the living room, her parents turned off the news, but Callie was no fool. She read the internet on her tablet after bedtime. She knew how bad it was, and she knew how much worse it was going to get. She wished she could talk to Uncle Sal about it but he couldn’t cross the border into the states anymore. No one could. Last week, when she and her parents tried to visit him in Toronto for Thanksgiving, the border patrol turned them back and confiscated their passports.

“I should’ve known,” her father said as they drove back home, slapping his hands on the steering wheel. “There wasn’t even a line. We shouldn’t have even tried.”

The temperature on the prairie dropped even further. Callie cleared her throat, and the sound froze in a pocket around her head, echoing in her ears. She took off her glove and spun the wheel on the zippo, watched the flame leap up. She held the flame to the wick. The gnarled old apple trees behind her tilted forward to watch.

That morning, she’d asked her father: “How do you make a roman candle?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I guess you get some sort of propellant, and some sort of explosive, and pack them in there side-by-side.”

“Okay,” said Callie, and she’d gone upstairs to her room to think about it.

In her room, she thought about the border, and Uncle Sal, and the rising oceans and the burning sun. She thought about the men who did whatever they wanted. She thought about her father’s diploma, and the people who knocked on the door, and the time she heard her parents whispering and crying. “2040,” her mother’d whispered. “She’ll be out of college.”

In her room, she pressed her mouth against the opening of the tube and filled it with fire and gasoline. She poured out all her dynamite and napalm and white phosphorus. She pressurized it with all of her gunpowder and pure hydrogen. Then she put on her coat.

The wick flared up.

Deer and rabbits and ground squirrels poked their heads out from between the trees. Foxes stared at her. Cardinals looked down at her from naked branches. The grass gave a tremendous push and broke through the snow to see.

Everything nodded.

The firework rumbled in her hand, then spat. A blue ball of flame spewed out onto the snow, which caught fire. A bright black line of sparks shot into the sky and ignited a cloud. An enormous white disc, brighter than the sun, wobbled a quarter-mile before collapsing into the duck pond, belching smoke and spinning more discs into the air.

The clouds were embers. The air started to catch.

Callie dropped the roman candle to the ground. She sighed, nodded, and closed her eyes.


 

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Keef works and lives in Austin. He’s working on a series of short, sad, spooky, horrible little fables, on the web at horriblelittlefables.com. He’s on twitter @keefdotorg.

Keep Off Lawn by Miranda Divett González

Enough already, Gerard thinks. From his home office over the garage, he watches a speckled Great Dane take a massive crap on his St. Augustine lawn. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.

The Dane is not alone; his owner stands proudly next to him, with a side part in his hair and a pair of glasses that would have gotten him punched in the face back in the sixties. But now those glasses mean he’s trendy, or so Gerard has heard from his daughter, who’s always talking about things he doesn’t understand.

The dog owner is nameless, but Gerard has seen him several times before, perhaps nearing a hundred. He lives just around the corner in one of the smaller houses on the block, a white brick one with dark green shutters.

Sometime around April the Dane decided that Gerard’s lawn was prime pooping ground. October is here now. It is not the first time a dog has crapped on his lawn, but on other occasions an owner might look around nervously and hurry the dog along or even pick up the number two with one of those tiny doggy bags from a roll the size of adding machine paper. But Side Part has zero shame. He’s belligerent.

The first time, Gerard was surprised when Side Part didn’t pick up the poop. Maybe he ran out of bags, he thought, generously. The second time, Gerard was furious but figured it couldn’t possibly happen again. But it did. After the third time, Gerard put up a “Keep Off Lawn” sign that he made using red spray paint and stencils on the reverse of an old Mitt Romney campaign sign. That deterred Side Part for a couple of weeks, but then he was back.

After two more occurrences, Gerard waited for Side Part and the Dane, peeking through the wide-slatted blinds of his office. When he spotted them, he ran down the stairs, burst through the front door, and confronted them.

“Look,” he said, a bit out of breath. “I’ve put up a notice here.” He gestured with an open palm towards the backwards lawn sign.

“Yeah?” Side Part raised his eyebrows, feigning ignorance or surprise.

“I work hard on this lawn, cutting it, fertilizing it, weeding it, maintaining the sprinkler system.”

Side Part blinked behind black-rimmed glasses with lenses the size of coasters. Gerard noticed that his shirt read ‘Think Globally, Act Locally.’

Gerard swallowed hard. “So what I’m saying is, I don’t want your dog pooping on my grass. Got it?”

“Sure,” Side Part said, sauntering off. He made no attempt to remove the steaming brown cow pie on the distressed lawn.

That encounter had kept them away for about a month. But they came back, leaving feces one to two times a week, for months. Gerard had decided that his lot in life was to be a pooper scooper for an animal he didn’t own—a colossal dog who produced as much fecal matter in one go as Gerard did in an entire week. He didn’t even like dogs, but what was he supposed to do? Call the police?

But today, something snaps. Gerard fantasizes about punching Side Part’s lights out, sees the blood spatter on his broken glasses and girly large-buttoned cardigan. But that’s not Gerard’s style.

Instead, he waits for them to leave, picks up and throws away a shovelful of excrement, then goes inside to down a tall, gritty glass of Metamucil. That night, he tells his wife he’s got a project due, and he waits in his office until two a.m.

When his wife is snoring and the neighborhood is still, Gerard leaves the house quietly and paces in the front yard until he feels he’s ready. Finally, it’s time.

He walks briskly over to Side Part’s house and confirms that the windows are dark. No barking from the dog, so it must be inside. He picks a spot next to a viburnum bush that partially blocks him from the view of the street, then drops his jeans and squats against the shrub.

After admiring his deposit, he realizes he has failed to bring toilet paper. No matter. He will change his underwear when he gets home. Pulling his pants up, he decides to take a picture of his work. The phone flashes quickly and the photo is clear.

He traipses awkwardly home, already a little itchy. After he’s in the house and cleaned up, he connects the cable from his phone to the computer and prints out the picture in full color, size eight by eleven. He tapes it next to the window, to the right of his beautifully framed diplomas, and thinks this is his biggest accomplishment yet.


 

Miranda G

Miranda Divett González is an MFA student at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, GNU Journal, and Heart Online. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and three children. Find her on Twitter at @miranda_write.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Lavanya Vasudevan

As we drive back east from Anacortes, we leave the heat and the haze behind. We listen to the rain as it bathes us in coolness, washes the soot out of the skies. You keep your eyes on the road, and I watch my own reflection in the window, the rivulets of water rolling down my cheeks. On the radio, they say that the flames have died; the smoke is clearing; that now, at last, we can breathe again.

The day before, we’d walked out to Crescent Beach with your mother. Ash from the wildfires lay in a black film over the water. “It’s suffocating the poor creatures,” she said. She showed me a starfish clinging to the bottom of a rock, abandoned by the tide. I picked up the empty shell of a shore crab. Perhaps it had moved on to better things. “It’s so nice that he’s found a friend at college,” she told me. “A boy his own age. He never had a brother.” The respirator muffled her voice, and her eyes, like yours, were unreadable. If you were ever going to tell her, the moment was now. But you had already moved on, turning over a different rock, and left us there, alone together, abandoned to the lie.

Three days ago, on the way out to your mother’s house, the clouds had been tinged with red, the sun weak and struggling in the roiling skies. It was a long drive from the U to the ferry landing. I told you I was starving. You refused to stop. You said your mother would have made a big meal for us; she’d be waiting, hungry, so we could eat together; you couldn’t disappoint her like that. When we arrived, after an hour of holding our breath on the boat so we wouldn’t inhale the smoke, and more driving on the wandering island road, there was no one home. She’d left a note for us: she’d gone out to buy respirator masks, and then she was meeting a friend for lunch. You found rotis and warmed them on the stove, your black eyes flickering brown in the light of the flame. When I took a bite, my mouth caught fire. I could hardly breathe.


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Lavanya Vasudevan was born in a large city in South India that has since renamed itself. She is a recovering software engineer who lives near Seattle, Washington and reviews children’s books for Kirkus. Her short fiction has appeared in 100 Word Story, Jellyfish Review, and Pidgeonholes, and is forthcoming from Paper Darts. Find her on Twitter @vanyala.