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.

Friday Soup by Riham Adly

You know I’m allergic to legumes, my husband says every time I offer him a steaming bowl of soup. My seven-year old parrots her daddy’s words. She’s her daddy’s daughter just like I was my daddy’s girl.

Time stops every Friday at exactly 5:38 p.m. By now, I’ve realized that shaking the clocks or even changing their batteries won’t push forward the minutes or the seconds of the hour. In the kitchen I steal a look at the wall clock and feign indifference. Right now-I tell myself, I’m preoccupied with the aroma of my nicely simmering lentil soupa childhood staple refused by everyone in this house.

Daddy liked his lentils hot hot hot. Tongue-biting hot. Chili powder, curry, and cumin did the trick, but too much or too little killed the magic of those rare Friday sit downs at the dinner table. Mother never liked daddy or his lentils. They’re like forest fires burning what’s left of me, she used to say.

The cat meows right outside the kitchen door, he’s like a fickle ghost, sometimes really there, sometimes not.  I pour some soup and go to the cat, but I’m not sure the ghost cat should have it. Maybe no one should have it. I make a detour and head to the living room. I tiptoe barefoot like a nervous dancer. The tiles are cold, cold, cold.

I blink a couple of times in the darkness lit by the glow of the 55 inch flat smart TV. I squint real hard to make out the face in the plaid orange and red pajamas. My girl’s sleepy frame sits in the nook of those arms belonging to the face in the plaid orange and red pajamas. The sofa they’re occupying is an inflamed shade of red I never approved of.

In my memories our sofa had a chronic dusty brown kind of color, facing a much smaller and not so smart television with the face in the pajamas slurping my mother’s hot soup.

I take a deep breath. Today is a good day, I tell myself.  TODAY IS A GOOD DAY. I insist.

“Dinner’s ready yet, Hon?”  The face asks.  I wonder if my little girl will forgive me if one day we all sit down in the kitchen with the dead clock and have lentil soup…If one day my fantasies come true and the face I see now that is her father and my husband is in love with my soup so much, he drinks it all in one go.

Mother said it was the damn lentils that killed him. She didn’t really say damn, and she’d never really dare mention the lentils, I did that. I forgive you, I wanted to say so many times when it was her time to go, but did I?

“Hon? Dinner? It’s about time.” Husband turns to me, eyes on the bowl of soup in my hands.

“Not yet.” I say.

The ghost cat should have the soup instead.


 

RADLYRiham Adly is a fiction writer/ translator from Egypt. Her work has appeared in The Citron Review, Flash Back, Vestal Review, The Connotation Press, Bending Genres, New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Frontier, and Ellipsis zine among others. Her stories have received nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Her work was also chosen for inclusion in the Best Microfiction 2020.

You Don’t Know What’s Important Yet by Meghan Phillips

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents makes house calls. She will come to your mom and dad’s. They’ll be waiting for her on the other side of the front door like they used to wait for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. They will think she looks professional in her cardigan, so they’ll have no problem leading her up to your old bedroom. Your dad will offer tea or coffee, maybe water with a lemon slice, but she’ll decline. The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents won’t want to risk damage to the collection by bringing in unneeded liquids. This will make her seem even more professional. Your dad will smile at her, noticing how her sweater hangs like parentheses for her breasts. Your mom will smile at her, noticing she isn’t much older than you are now.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents told you it’s probably better if you’re not around when she comes to collect your materials. She said sometimes in the middle of a pack out—that’s what she called it, a pack out—the patron gets overwhelmed. She said the documents are already vulnerable. She treats them like they’re already damaged. She said she doesn’t want you to compromise the collection.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will start with the lunch box under your bed. It’s full of notes from your best friend from middle school, notes passed in the hall between classes, under desks in Language Arts. You saved them even though you stopped being friends after she made the field hockey team in tenth grade. They’re written in sparkly purple gel ink and folded into footballs. The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will unfold each one like she’s opening a present and wants to save the wrapping. She will check each one for damage then file them in acid-free folders, one for each year.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will catalog every picture in your night table drawer. Ones of your high school boyfriend in a tux, in a car, in a pirate costume. Ones of you and your friend Deirdre, who slept over every Friday night and moved to Colorado the day after graduation. Ones you don’t remember taking of boys and girls you don’t remember kissing. She will slide each one into a Mylar sleeve. Stack each one in an archival box. Paste on a label in her neat all-caps: PHOTOS.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will take down your posters and collages using a micro spatula. She will roll them into long cardboard tubes. She will enclose your teddy bear in an acrylic cube and catalog your school notebooks and papers. One box for each grade. She will box old gym shoes, stretched out hair ties with their matted nests of dead strands, the crumpled, half-unwrapped tampons from the bottom of your purse. Each item dutifully filed and labeled.

The Archivist of Vulnerable Documents will leave your parents’ house with a hand cart stacked higher than her head. She will shake their hands and drink a single glass of tap water. She will not ask for help.

When you see your room, you’ll be surprised by how empty it feels. You will trace your finger along the faded edges of the wallpaper where your posters hung. You will rub your palms inside the night table drawer, feeling for a shiny print. You will look under your bed and only find an orphaned sock. You will start to cry, sloppy and fast, then you will remember what the Archivist of Vulnerable Documents said about water.

In her email, the Archivist of Vulnerable Documents told you that papers and photos are the most vulnerable materials. The most in need of protection from disaster. When you asked her what kind of disaster she meant, she said: in the end, all disasters are water disasters.


 

542A4609Meghan Phillips is a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her flash fiction chapbook Abstinence Only is forthcoming from Barrelhouse Books. You can find her writing at meghan-phillips.com and her tweets @mcarphil.

Ernest Borgnine by Ian Anderson

Being a new parent is a lot of talk about who the baby looks like. It’s you. No, it’s you. That’s your chin. But that’s your nose, and you’re both wrong because actually the baby looks like Ernest Borgnine but with less hair and less teeth. Before this you were married, and that was a lot of talk about food. What to make for dinner, and what to take out for dinner tomorrow, and what to get at the store for dinner next week. No one has any good ideas, and you’re just mad that the other can’t decide. But that was before, and now you look at eyes conspiratorially. An ear never held so much mystery. Later, inevitably, the talk will turn to money because that’s where all talk is leading. Where did it go? and How do we get more?  You probably need the money to get more food, but again, no one will have any answers. At some point, one of you will joke about selling the baby, and it’s a joke, but it’s really the best plan. After all, the baby is where the money’s gone, and it’s not likely to recoup anything. The ROI on babies is dismally low. You’re better off investing in penny stocks, really, but it was just a joke, and no one will take it too seriously. Besides, one day you will be old and someone will have to look after you. The talk will be Should we hide his car keys? and Is it time to put Mom in a home? and if you’re lucky enough to make it, you’ll be a burden on your children. They’ll end up changing your diapers. There’s a beautiful sentiment there, if you really want to know, and you’ll miss it all if you actually sell the baby, no matter who she looks like.


 

Ian Anderson is a writer and designer living in Baltimore, MD, with his wife and daughter. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at Mason Jar Press, and his work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, JMWW, Okay Donkey, Five : 2 : One Magazine, and elsewhere. When not writing, designing, running a press, being a husband or father, he is listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. He tweets about that and other things from @ianandersonetc.

Dandelion Skin by Jenny Wong

“Tim, what color’s the sun?”

I’m lying with my best friend in his backyard.  The grass is damp beneath our backs, freshly shorn, the aftermath of his father’s Saturday morning lawn-care rituals.

“Golden,” he murmurs, his blue eyes closed. “Sometimes orange.  Why?”

“No reason,” I say.

Tim chuckles, “You always have a reason.”  He scratches his chest and I listen to the raspy sound his t-shirt makes against his skin.

He’s right.  When I was young, I used to think the sun was clear, colorless.  That was before kindergarten and crayons, when the teachers didn’t believe that any drawings had a sun in the sky unless there was a round yellow circle with spider legs shooting out of it, which I thought looked unbelievable and a little creepy.

The screen door slides open and slams shut, shuddering.  Speaking of things that were unbelievable and creepy. Tim’s older brother, Brett, stomps out onto the deck, all barefoot and hairy teenage legs, topped with cargo shorts and a Minos football jersey.

They greet each other in their brotherly way.

“Loser.”

“Jerk.”

I don’t get a greeting.  Brett hasn’t said my name in two years, since that night when the three of us played soccer in their backyard.  Tim was in goal, I was defending, and Brett was on the offensive.  For the most part, Tim and I were doing pretty good warding off Brett’s superior soccer skills, until a wild rebound off the trunk of one of the crab apple trees sent Brett and me running full tilt towards the ball.  I reached the ball first, but Brett was a good 15 pounds heavier.  When our bodies collided, I went flying into the fence boards.

I’d never seen stars in daylight before.  It was like the time Tim dumped silver sparkles into a container of black paint during kindergarten craft time.  A few moments, a galaxy flooded my vision, then darkness.

It’s been said that star light is white, and that the sun can be yellow, orange or red, even though it’s also a star.  Our closest one, in fact.

#

“It was an accident,” Brett said to their dad while I sat on their beige couch, ice pack against a plum-sized bruise on my forehead, wads of kleenex stuffed up my nose, trying not to bleed onto their flower throw pillows. “I didn’t see Zhi.”

Despite my silence and Tim’s insistence otherwise, those were the official words uttered to my parents when their dad dropped me off at home that night.

Brett pretended not to notice me as he recounted his side of the story, but we both knew that just before impact, he looked me right in the eye.

#

Brett sniffles, sucking back his spring post-nasal drip.  I keep my eyes closed, try to pretend he’s not there, but I can feel his shadow on my face and find myself imagining white crusts forming around the dark rims of his nostrils.

“Does your hair ever burn?”

My eyes snap open, “What?”

Brett grins, a gapped-toothed T-Rex grin.  “Your hair’s black.  Black things absorb heat.”

All things considered, we probably should’ve applauded him for retaining a science fact, but my hands stay at my side, fingers curling under the dark caves of my palms.

“Get lost, jerk,” Tim says, he’s cracked one eye open, watching.

“I’ll bet it’s hot,” Brett says in a sing-song voice as he reaches out towards my head.

I go to swat his hand away, but Tim beats me to it. A loud smack echoes in the yard.

Brett’s eyes widen as he shakes out his hand, then he shrugs. “Didn’t want to touch her anyways.”

“Shut up,” Tim rolls his eyes.

“Put your arm next to hers.”

I don’t know where Brett’s recent interest in science and the natural world is coming from, but I want it to stop right now.  I wait for Tim to ignore him, to shrug or suggest anything else.  But instead, Tim sits up, turns his back to us for a moment, scratches his arm, and then holds it out and says, “Fine.”

I line up my arm next to his, the hairs on our skin buzz with closeness.  I close my eyes.  I don’t want to see what Brett sees.

“Well,” Tim says, a weird tone in his voice.  “That’s an odd color.”

In my mind, I’m once again thrown into the air.  I hold my breath, bracing for impact.

“What the…”  Brett says, his voice squeaking high, phlegm catching in the back of his throat.

Curiosity halts my imagined downfall.  There’s my arm, skinny and tanned next to Tim’s, whose freckled arm isn’t tanned, but suffused with a bright gold tinge.

Brett looks down at his own arm then at Tim’s, his mouth gaping like a fish tasting the burn of air for the first time.  He sniffs once more and retreats back into the familiar comfort of their dim, pollen-free house.

Tim grins at me and holds up the head of a ragged dandelion flower and laughs, tossing the worn-out petals over his shoulder.

I try to chuckle, but it stalls in my throat.  I always thought Tim never noticed.  He did, he just didn’t care.

Then Tim says, all serious, “You were tricking me, Zhi.”

“How?”

“About the color of the sun,” Tim leans back onto his elbows as he looks at me, freckles across his nose, blond wavy hair falling away from his eyes.  “I remember now.  Last month’s bio class,” he says. “Sunlight has all sorts of colors.”

“Ah, you’re too smart, Tim,” I say, turning my face away, voice casual.

We lay back down on the grass.  Somehow, the space between him and me feels further, a growing distance of knowledge.  The warm rays soak into our cheeks, pulling the pigments of our ancestors to the surface.

I reach down, pull up a blade of grass, nibble on the bitter-soft white of the root.


 

Jenny_WongJenny Wong is a writer, traveler, and occasional business analyst. She resides in the foothills of Alberta, Canada and tweets @jenwithwords. She is currently attempting to create a poetry collection about locations and regularly visits her local boxing studio. Publications include 3 Elements Review, Grain, Vallum, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, The Stillwater Review, Atlas & Alice and elsewhere.

Remember What? by Meg Tuite

We walk the streets of cities. We run through subways and catch trains to somebody’s house, not ours. We stand outside liquor stores and badger strangers to buy us beer. We lay out at a beach laden with old men in speedos and hard-ons. Guys in windows expose their dicks and we laugh. No one touches us. Every day, after school, is adventure. We beat each other up. Boy versus girl. Over and over. Winners end up going steady. The guy produces a piece of shit ring for one of us to wear. We disappear. We steal rings from shops.

Home is where black and blue resonate love. We don’t talk family. That is for pathetic girls who hang on to charred childhoods as if we aren’t rage peeled away. Step back. Give us another beer. We’ll tell the story. That man in the park we call a tumor in our throat flutters as he knocks us to our knees and grips the back of our heads behind the bushes. Others under lampposts while their friends watch.

What happens en route to wherever? Jacked up on jizz and angel dust. Guys with vans rack up surf; drown-pelt-sog our faces with the spit of them. Now there, snitty girls. We’ll throw you out, easy as dumping an empty can. Go home to Mommy and nighty-nights. Quick with your ‘no’s’ and tremoring silent tears. Hedging your bets on aftershave aching bores who saturate the sheen of protection and adoration. Not here, bitch.

We rock handjobs and blowjobs in the dark from boys who buy movie tickets, while they stiff like company banging out another night of ‘faster, faster’ whacking their junk into cinema. Handfuls of girls disappear over the years. Cops call them ‘cold cases’ when no one gives a shit.

We crack beers and idle around the dead. That one was a smear of memory. She winnowed through footsteps and chitchat. Another was an inferno from her screened window. Her body was discovered three weeks later under a batch of leaves off a backroad.

“Fuck that,” we say. “Those girls were already on their way out,” says one. “Waiting for Daddy to save them,” says another. “They didn’t even know what to look for.” We nod. Ram into each other in the van and stare out into moving blurs that pass us.


 

Meg_Tuite_2019_copy_2Meg Tuite is author of four story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches writing retreats and online classes hosted by Bending Genres. She is also the fiction editor of Bending Genres and associate editor at Narrative Magazine. http://megtuite.com

The Synchronicity of Water by Sabrina Hicks

I know what saves me. Adjust my pitch. Cadence must be mirrored back. Smile, smile, smile.

See, the leak you have is here.

Oh yes, I say, as if this is a new development and not the very reason I have let this man with eyes spaced wide like a shark into my apartment. He scanned my body twice, once when I let him in, and now. He’s late, missed his window by two hours, but I’d been working from home and honestly, it’s no big deal.

Should be an easy fix, he says.

I’m relieved when he ducks his head under the kitchen sink.

The faucet sprang a leak after Mikel said we wanted different things. Intangible things like space, which is never correctly calibrated until one person disappears. He put his cereal bowl in the sink and left, letting the vitamin-enriched circles harden on the edges like open mouths. The wait, don’t go lodged in my throat. When I ran the water, I could hear the echo of a drip, drip, drip.

Actually, this should all be replaced. The plumber pokes his head out of the underbelly of the sink and looks up at me.

Oh? Not an easy fix?

There’s a curl to his lip so slight I wonder if I’ve imagined it. Still, my eyes take stock. There’s a toaster I could slam into his head. I have knives nestled in a block of wood two paces away. I imagine my fingers are magnets, drawing their steel. A heavy flashlight rests in a drawer next to him; a pen on the counter I can jam into his throat.

The metal pipes here are old and corroded. They should really be replaced with plastic. 

Mikel wasn’t handy. I unclogged the toilets, replaced light fixtures, assembled the Ikea furniture. He was the cook, the communicator, the keeper of our social calendar.

The walls creak their dry bones. The clock chimes a quarter-hour beat. The large man stands, towers over me, and I laugh and back away.

I’m sorry to be so much trouble.

I’m at the front door, already opening it. I’m out of sync, didn’t time things well. I have rushed him. He’s standing with his few tools still scattered. I haven’t offered him a drink. He’s perspiring. I’m being silly, doubting my senses once again, wondering if I’ll ever get it right. If I’ll ever be able to tell the good guys from the bad.

Yeah, not as easy as I’d thought. I can show you if you want.

He stands and waits for my response and I am frozen there with my back holding open the door and the hallway is empty and it would take three lunges for him to get to me and maybe I’d make it to my neighbor’s door, but he’s never home in the day, and the woman on the other side of me is a recluse and rumored to be old and I can’t imagine her opening the door. I don’t know what he’s waiting for as he stares at me so I smile. I smile and manage a laugh. Oh, that’s okay. I’ll call your company and set up another time to get them replaced. And the words are like butter melting off my tongue but leave a slick aftertaste that make me want to gag because something is off as he stares at me. But I’ve never been right about these things. Wasn’t right three years ago when I drank too much and passed out near a guy who I thought was a friend and woke with a dull throb between my legs and was silenced with he’s a good guy, a solid guy, a coach-his-daughter’s-hockey-team guy. And all I see are the birds outside my window springing to other dimensions, perching high in the trees, putting distance between them and whatever it is they want to fly away from, and I envy them.

My phone rings by my laptop. But to get it, I have to release the door and make my way to the kitchen table past him, and I don’t think I should close this opening to the outside, to the stairs. Right now, I can grow wings. Right now, I can fly away. And we stand like this for what seems like a long time, long enough to notice he has no nametag and his eyes hold onto a dull anger, and I make a noise, a piercing trill, and the recluse, whom I’ve never seen before, opens her door and hurries over to me in her old lady robe and slippers and unkempt hair, and as she does, the plumber, whose name I never got, packs his bag quickly, squeezes by us and down the stairs, never leaving a bill or a card or even instructions.

The old woman looks down the stairs at the man fleeing, and then, Are you all right? Her eyes are kind and cloudy with cataracts, and as soon as I nod I’m okay, my body releases a tremble that I’ve held in my bones, calcified from the years of smiles that were never really smiles, but the protective tissue built up and up and up catching fire. She douses it with an embrace, holds my bones together so they don’t fall to the floor, crumble into ash, and we stay like this until she slowly releases me, her muscles giving way and mine taking over and before I find words—because really there are no words, no words for so many things—she is back in her apartment, and I am back in mine, and the birds are back to my windowsill singing over the drip, drip, drip.


 

HicksSabrina Hicks lives in Arizona. Her work has appeared in Matchbook, Pithead Chapel, Pidgeonholes, MoonPark Review, The Sunlight Press, Ellipsis Zine, Writer’s Digest, and other publications. More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.