Totems by Matthew Zanoni Müller

With the kids out of the house Stacy took up pottery while Rick took out his skis to mix business and pleasure on trips to the Rockies. “Can you believe it,” he said, “they use dynamite to start avalanches, to control the inevitable.” She made plates that came out long and wobbly. “They look like someone played Frisbee with them,” she told her teacher. “At least they’re playing,” he said. Everyone laughed.

In Utah, all the roads through the passes were closed the next year and Rick was stuck at the lodge. “This is the dream,” he said. “I’m happiest out here on the slopes in all this white.” She imagined it like a kind of heaven. Where was she happiest? The earth seemed to close in around her, encase her in glass, blue marble that it was. She made bowls and bowls and bowls, imagined filling each one up. They escaped the cabinets, lined the shelves and windowsills, cradled the nothing that was always there.

The next year she couldn’t have had a thirst big enough for all the cups that lined up on every nightstand and countertop and end table. The year after that she had exhausted dishware, so she planted brightly glazed decorative mushrooms that grew on metal stakes in her garden. They would never fade. This was when Rick disappeared. Buried in white. “The inflatable saved me,” he said after the rescue a day later. “I floated right up to the surface.”

The following year she started on the totems, nothing religious, just shapes: a red ball, stacked on a blue ring, on top of flaming wings. Rick made the poles. The totems filled the rooms with undefined ritual. He broke his left leg on a tree trunk going off-trail and lay around the house amid the towers of her clay cosmos, the pinwheels and flowers and four-pointed crowns. The grotesque smiles of the planet’s faces. He was her only congregant. “Church,” he said. “I’m at church.” She flicked him lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “You go off into the snow for that.”

The next year his tracker sent out another signal. Ski patrol went out to find him under the white. They just kept digging and digging while she waited for the call, for the inflatable to engage and raise him up again. Days passed and still they could not find him. In the empty silence she imagined him in the white, searched for him through it as though it were the emptiness on her wobbly plates, the emptiness in the bowls she’d thrown, the cups that lined her shelves. She imagined him growing right out of the ground like the mushrooms in her garden, saw him twisting through the cosmos somewhere out there among her totems, and the more she looked for him, the more she realized he could be anywhere in it, anywhere at all. Even everywhere.


Author_Photo_21

Matthew Zanoni Müller is a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction and a community college professor. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including BULL, Southeast Review, The Boiler Journal, Hippocampus, and others. He lives in Western Massachusetts. To learn more about his writing, please visit: www.matthewzanonimuller.com

Daylight Savings by Fiona McKay

Ten minutes waiting in line. She snips them, pastes them into the app on her device, and is more than halfway up the line. Another maybe three minutes, she estimates, snips those, and is rewarded by reaching the top of the queue. She’s getting so much better at estimating these things now, and there are bonuses if you got it spot on—you could double or even treble your time, it’s been said, though she hasn’t, yet. But every day she’s improving.

This morning at breakfast, she estimates that it would take Emily seven minutes to eat her cereal. It takes eight, but that had been a pretty good call, and leaves her with only one minute of staring at a small girl picking up each individual cheerio with her spoon, draining the milk off, and eating it. Seven minutes saved. Seven minutes of not watching that. Seven minutes of not tamping down the desire to yell ‘would you just eat the damn cereal already’ over and over until they are all crying. And seven minutes banked for later, to use as she pleases.

There have been some issues that need to be smoothed out, and the manufacturers are aware of them, they say on their website, and are working on it. There are glitches. Users report fuzzy feelings after they snip. That hasn’t happened to her, but she has felt some jolts, and some confusion. She would be sitting with her device, calculating the snip and hoping the kids wouldn’t disturb her calculations, and once she has snipped, there would be a slightly jagged hole—her on one side of it, the children on the other, staring across, puzzled. Something she’s meant to answer, maybe, or something she should have noticed. Something. It only lasts for a second, less than a second, though maybe these intervals are getting longer, the more she snips. Maybe. Emily and Tom looking at her for a fraction longer each time, as though she isn’t quite there.

After she drops them to school, she runs errands and straightens the house, snipping as she goes, watching the minutes build up in the app, watching it glow and pulse. After she collects them from school, and only snips a little during snack and homework, she feels her joy begin to gather in her, like a secret. The sun is shining, and the kids are happy to play in the garden. In this moment, their heads are bent over some small insect that moves on Tom’s arm—a beetle or a butterfly maybe, and Emily holds her soft arm out to take whatever it is. This is the perfect moment—nobody is fighting, or shouting, or bleeding from grazed knees. Quietly, she closes the back door.

She makes coffee and takes down the best biscuits from their hiding place, takes out the book she had been saving. But first, she opens the app. Three hours, it says. Three whole hours snipped and stitched together out of all the tiny pieces of wasted time during the day. If she looks closely at the screen where all her minutes are stored, she can see Emily staring at her as she spoons up cereal, Tom prodding her arm during homework, all those little moments. She presses the button that says Use Time Now, and all the memories vanish. The day greys around the edges, the way it always does during the Time-Use phase. She tries to remember breakfast, and what had annoyed her. Something about cereal. Something about reading practice at homework later in the day. No, it’s gone, entirely gone. For a moment, a small pain presses through her chest and she thinks she might cry, for some reason. Then it is gone, and she opens her book and settles down to read, uninterrupted, for the next three hours. Three hours while the clock stands still, while the world stands still, before the next minute turns.


3332D9F2-F3B7-4D0A-89DD-472DA083BDE3

Fiona McKay lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and daughter. She is a flash fiction writer and is also querying a novel. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words in various places, including: Reflex Fiction, Janus Literary, Scrawl Place, EllipsisZine, The Birdseed, Twin Pies, Bath Flash. Tweets about writing at @fionaemckayryan

The Cost of Helium by Kinneson Lalor

When we go to court, I agree to tell the truth. I tell them when we met, a cubic metre of helium cost one dollar and seventy-five cents. I wore a new skirt that crept up when I walked from my desk to the lab and I spent the day pushing it back over my knees. I dragged a nauseating feeling I shouldn’t be there, like still being half-drunk as the sun rises.

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. That’s what my PhD was in. And his. We measured magnetic fields around atomic nuclei, compounds contracting invisible lines with exclusive gravities. We were scientists. We believed our tissues were the same, that atoms from our hearts would resonate.

Laboratories account for ten percent of helium use. Superconducting magnets need liquid helium to keep them super cold. Four point two Kelvin. It sounds bearable when you measure it like that. But in celsius, it’s nearly three hundred degrees below zero.

I was planning our wedding when the first shortage came. I didn’t mourn the loss of the balloon arch. Our supervisor needed to move the magnet, but the groom-to-be got to finish his thesis first. I could finish mine after. There was no helium to waste so the magnet was transported at cryogenic temperatures. We got married. I could finish my thesis soon. I peed on a stick. The magnet broke in transit. The stick showed a plus. For once, I couldn’t do the maths.

Helium comes from decaying radioactive substances. It’s very light. Released, it goes up and up and up into space. Gone. Like no other material on earth, it cannot come back. I drove around all day looking for balloons for her fifth birthday. I don’t recall where he was. Not there.

The judge is a man. I explain I wanted to be doing experiments, not scrambling to keep the instruments alive. The government hoarded the stocks then flooded the market. New helium is only found in natural gas wells but fracking is more lucrative. In the shale formations, where rocks split into thin layers under pressure, you only find oil, molasses-thick. It has a rainbow shine that disappears every time you try to get closer. I never finished my PhD. I raised a daughter.

Helium Shortage 3.0 was all politics. Russia, Qatar, Tanzania. That’s where helium will come from in the future. No one trusted the supply. A cubic metre of helium cost seven US dollars. But she was too old for balloons by then and I developed an instrument with improved insulation and integrated cold heads to recondense the helium, recycle it. A new machine that didn’t need replenishing. It made money. He wants his share.

The judge looks bored but not the kind of bored where you could joke about it. He doesn’t understand. Not the cost of absence from a market, not how things break when you move them in their incorrect state. Not the cost of helium in divorce proceedings. He thinks coming up with an idea while ironing pleats in a school skirt is because of the opportunity to iron, not despite it. He rules. The injustice sits like lead on my lungs. I cannot breathe.

I’m a scientist. I know lead. Have felt it. Always. When I was twenty-one and pushed my skirt back over my knees. When I watched our daughter roll hers up and take photos in the mirror.

Lead. Galvanised and cold. But it’s so malleable I thought I was making shallows with the smallest of pressures. And maybe I did. But it’s also dense and hard and immoveable in bulk.

Lead. It’s almost a win to know its name.

Because I know it tarnishes upon exposure. I know its isotopes are the end products of radioactive elements. And I know helium comes from radioactive decay.

Helium. Of celebrations and balloons.

Helium. The cost of lightness.

Our daughter will graduate tomorrow. I was feeling sentimental for the things I’d lost so I bought balloons. And I will blow each one up. With nothing but my lungs.


KinnesonLalor

Kinneson Lalor is a mathematician and writer living in the UK. Her work has appeared in places like the BFFA Shortlist, Reflex Fiction, and Cease, Cows, won #1KWHC 2021, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and is included Best Microfiction 2022. You can find her, her dog, and her chickens on Twitter (@KinnesonLalor), Instagram (@kinneson.lalor), or via http://www.kinnesonlalor.com.

How We Survive by K.B. Carle

We survive on vegetables from gardens we make in the backyards of strangers.

Blasting music with all the windows open, raiding closets, setting food bowls on porches just in case our tabby, rottweiler, ferret, hamster, or goldfish come home.

We are the last people on Earth.

You say this every night before you go to your room and I go to mine in a house that was never ours.

We survive on secrets.

Over breakfast I admit that sometimes I wish you’d come to my room. You say you wish you’d known sooner. That you’ve met someone and wasn’t sure when to tell me. I try to remember all the times we’ve been apart, wonder how you managed to meet someone when we are the last people on earth.

I want you to meet her, you say, and I nod because I don’t know what else to do.

We survive on a series of miscommunications.

You take me to the nearby sex shop and tell me her name’s Lorraine. I look for evidence of another human, someone I could be friends with. Someone I could envy, address hateful letters to that I’ll never send but burn in the fire pit while you sleep. Someone I could have rebound sex with—to stop pretending like you and I have ever had sex. I start building a life with this woman you’ve met named Lorraine.

You walk to the display window (I take a moment to admire your ass and think maybe I have a chance) and carry a mannequin towards me.

Meet Lorraine, you say.

We survive on fuck ups and moments of doubt.

Like how did I fuck up this badly? How did you fuck a—Lorraine?

Lorraine has blue hair and eyes that never shut. She’s wearing a black latex catsuit that accentuates her hips and legs in a way I can’t hate, and is made of fucking plaster.

Don’t embarrass me, you hiss.

I shake her hand. Nice to meet you, I say, while thinking about all the things I didn’t do that drove you to Lorraine.

We survive on privacy.

Lorraine starts coming home with you after we meet, and I hear you two through the walls. You tell her about your life before we were the last people on earth, and everyone you miss. I hear you two having sex when I’m trying to sleep. Sometimes, I hear my door creak open and think you’ve come to apologize. Instead, I see Lorraine, leaning in the doorframe, naked and frozen in her shop window pose.

 

We survive on new experiences.

You ask me to move out. Say, it’s nothing personal, just that you and Lorraine need your privacy. I consider telling you about Lorraine in my doorway but you’re babbling about how new everything is with her. You hear birds singing (there are none), music playing (you keep Rick Rolling me), and everything is so much brighter. It’s not. It’s not because, as the last people on earth, everything is still the same.

We survive on small moments.

Since being evicted, I’ve decided to house hop. I want to find this brightness—or newness—you’ve found so I migrate from one house to the next. Somehow you find me, and I think I feel a little bit of that brightness you’ve found.

Lorraine’s throwing a party, you say, and hand me an invitation.

I invite you inside. You back away.

Sorry, Lorraine’s waiting.

We survive on disappointments.

I find a dress in someone’s basement that fits and heels that I hope I can walk in. Your house is somehow crowded by the time I arrive. Lorraine is wearing a pink tutu over a red leather catsuit, and she’s surrounded by other mannequins I recognize from department stories and the sex shop. Even the one from the auto body shop is here. I make my way over to him and try to start a conversation, but he doesn’t respond, so I lean against him and imagine our lives together.

We survive on possibilities.

My husband—the mannequin from the auto body shop—would address me as his partner instead of wife. He would take my last name, never comment on my age, how many pills I take, the diapers I’ll eventually need. He’d hold my hand, kiss me often, and tell me how much he loves me. He’d tell me he loves me so often that I’d forget about the party, Lorraine, and you asking Lorraine to marry you.

We survive on the promise of the future.

You invite me to the wedding, and I come. Lorraine wears a white pantsuit and you—a wedding gown. The mannequin from the auto body shop is there but he sits far away from me. You whisper your vows, kiss Lorraine, and announce that you are now Mr. Lorraine. You thank everyone for coming. You thank me for coming. I have a few drinks and make my way to the backyard. You find me, like you always do, and ask if you can have a taste.

We survive on missed opportunities.

You ask why we—I tell you I don’t know. That’s a lie, but you’ve had one too many, and this conversation seems inappropriate on your wedding night. I tell you I’m leaving, and you tell me you know. You say you’ve noticed all the times I’ve moved, each time farther away from you; how I flirted with the guy from the auto body shop only to now pretend he doesn’t exist.

I tell you I think you’re beautiful. Handsome. That I don’t know which you would prefer.

I guess that’s why we never—

I press my finger to your lips. You’re crying, which shouldn’t be happening. I look for Lorraine. You grab my hand and I know, if you asked me to stay, my answer would destroy everything.


K.B._Brick_Wall_2

K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her stories have appeared in HAD Magazine, Good River Review, Waxwing Magazine, and have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She can be found online at http://kbcarle.com or on Twitter @kbcarle.

Traci with an i by Veronica Klash

When the man points the gun at Traci, she’s a saguaro. Not only in look, but in texture. She seems prickly, like if you touched her it would sting. And if Traci is a saguaro I am a succulent at her feet, small with smooth edges. He tells her to keep her hands up and give him all the money. He’s shaky. She’s not. Well which one is it? Do you want my hands up or do you want the money? I can’t get the money with my hands up. She sneers at his response before he gets the words out. Bitch, just give me the fucking money. Traci hits a button and the register pops open with mechanical violence and a ding. She grabs two fistfuls of crumpled bills and smacks them down on the counter. You happy now, genius? The man looks at me, standing next to Traci behind the register, and I almost shrug. We almost share a moment where I would’ve said, yeah I know, she’s out there, man. But when you’re frozen in fear you don’t shrug and you don’t share a moment with the man who’s seconds away from making you piss your pants. He crams the money in his pockets and runs.

After we finish describing the man to the police, Traci pulls a 40 from the fridge and we walk out. The police know we’re not 21, but they either don’t notice or don’t care. The asphalt is slick from the rain. It’s dark out and the siren lights look like bright alien fruit reflected in puddles.

In between swigs Traci says, fuck that job, I was going to quit anyway, fuck that place, fuck that nasty burnt gasoline smell. I kinda like that smell. And I kinda like that job. I wonder how much I’d still like it if Traci wasn’t there. If I had to clean out the slushee machine without Traci singing into a Twinkie in the background. Then Traci asks, do you wanna go to the lake? I know it’s not really a question.

I drive us past walls of trees and borders of shrubs fortifying the road. They repaved last year so now all the potholes are gone, but I still swerve to avoid them. Traci’s pushing buttons trying to find a station that isn’t static. Can you believe that asshole? She asks after giving up on the radio and turning her attention to the window. The guy with the gun? We’ve seen worse, I say. Remember that one tweaker that kept touching his balls? Traci laughs. I try not to sound desperate, but the question falls out of my mouth and my voice vibrates like a fridge on its last legs: Are you really going to quit? Traci’s still playing with the window. Maybe. You should quit too. We should quit together, that’ll show ‘em. She’s right, but it’s not like I have a choice. Mom can’t pay the bills without my help. And Traci’s even worse off. She’s got brothers. All I say in response is, stop that, you’ll break the window.

When we were kids I was afraid to go in the lake because I thought there’d be leeches in there. Tracey—back then she spelled it with an EY, just like me—held my hand the whole time. She didn’t make fun or try to freak me out. She held my hand and smiled. Our legs and arms worked extra hard below the murky water, churning bubbles to the surface, making up for our entwined limbs. My center was gooey and pliant, like mac and cheese straight from the oven.  Back then we both had daddies. I technically still do, but I haven’t seen him in a while.

We’re alone at the lake. I park the car as close to the edge as I can, leaving the headlights on. We throw our clothes in the backseat and Traci, bathed in ghostly glow, runs to the water. I walk over, sidestepping cigarette butts and shattered beer bottles. There’s red lipstick around one of the butts. The shattered glass glints in the sand and I think about the girls who stand outside the club across from the gas station. They shimmer in the dark too. They come in before their shifts to buy gum and cigarettes. They look Traci up and down and tell her she could make good money. They don’t talk to me.

Tracey became Traci with an i right about the time she stopped stuffing her bra. She was filling enough. I asked her why she didn’t like being Tracey with an EY anymore, and she said that things were different, which meant that her name should be different. At the end of her statement, as if for emphasis, one of the spaghetti straps on her black top slid down her shoulder. I was about to reach out to fix it, instead I nodded and pretended to understand what the hell she was talking about. Things didn’t feel different to me.

Traci and I float. The water is so warm we can’t tell where our bodies stop and it begins. When our fingers graze, that mac and cheese heat is in my belly, even though I’m not afraid of leeches anymore. I know there’s other darkness that can pull you under.


VeronicaK2

Veronica Klash loves living in Las Vegas and writing in her living room. You can read her work in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is currently in hibernation, working on a short story collection. Find her tweets @veronicaklash.

I Want To Talk About Boundaries But Instead We Say Goodbye by Cole Beauchamp

As soon as the car stops, we tumble out like fish from a net, gasping in the salty air. I shake myself free of tension from missed turns and what do those parking signs say and dread that Mica’s about to be sick in the car again.

The shingle shifts under our feet, wedging small stones between flesh and the flip flops I’ve rescued from the back of the wardrobe. The twins are in lime green jelly shoes – an Asda special.

“Careful” I shout, but it’s too late. Mica and Jonah are squealing down to the water, two short, stout bodies in rainbow tie-dye short sets. I watch Mica’s hair whip in the sea breeze and wish I’d plaited it. It will be a nest of tangles by midday.

Jonah turns his head this way and that, as if to say – where did all the buildings go? As far as I know, it’s the first time they’ve seen the sea. But there’s only so much the adoption files can tell you.

Gillian and I are lounging in the sun, bellies full of fish and chips, debating the best route home when it happens. Amongst the roar of water on stone and screaming seagulls, I hear a thin cry. Scanning the beach, I see a grey-haired woman hobbling towards me with Mica in tow. Mica’s rubbing her eyes, mewing like a cat. Another legacy: neglected children learn quickly not to bother making too much noise.

“She toppled over and wanted her mummy.” The woman has smart hair, the kind that’s cut in a salon, and linen trousers with a neatly pressed crease. It’s a look that takes me back to my mother’s Tuesday Bridge: four sets of cardigans and pearls turning in perfect synchrony to scrutinize me and find me lacking.

Jonah bounces up to me. “She was running in the water and I said don’t do that, be careful like Mummy said, but she wasn’t listening Mummy, even though I told her.”

“I don’t think she’s hurt. Just a shock,” the woman says.

I scan Mica for injuries – she’s soaked through, her knee badly grazed – and embrace her. Mica plops down into my lap, dripping cold water into my sun-warmed legs. Her hair tickles my face as I kiss the top of her head while Gillian cleans Mica’s knee. I’m grateful we’re at the stage where she lets us. For the first three months, she’d scream every time we tried to put on a plaster. Imagine that on a public beach.

“Left Dad at home then? Girls’ day out?” the woman says.

I try to decipher whether she’s making conversation, being nosy, or deliberately stirring. Gillian rubs antiseptic lotion onto Mica’s knee.

Jonah pipes up. “We don’t have a daddy at home.”

I laugh at his puffed-up chest, his earnest face. Off he goes, a train chugging down the track. “We have a Mummy and a Gilly. And before that we were at Susannah’s. But I didn’t have my own bedroom there and now I do. I like firemen. Do you like firemen?”

Once the plaster is on Mica’s leg, Gillian and I stand to fold the blanket and stash our things in the beach bag. Some days you don’t mind being an ambassador; today I don’t feel like explaining a thing.

“Firemen are nice,” continues Jonah. “Really nice. If you come to our car, I can show you my firemen. I like firemen because-”

“Jonah.” I give him the look, the look that says don’t overshare. That we are family, but she is a stranger. She doesn’t need to hear about what happened with his birth family.

“It’s okay,” she says.

I want to say, it’s not okay. These kids need boundaries. They need to learn not to throw themselves at anyone who glances their way. That I hope we are teaching them to feel loved, to be safe, but there are no guarantees with the start they’ve had.

“You’re a stranger,” Mica says.

I feel a surge of pride. An odd thing to take pride in, perhaps, but I am on the verge of tears. It is sinking in. Although my mother used boundaries to keep me out, I’m using mine to keep strangers out.

“Well that’s not a very nice thing to say.” The woman bristles, looking at Mica the way the Bridge gang used to look at me.

“Time to go,” I say briskly. It’s too much to ask, understanding another’s intent. It’s enough to define your own boundaries, corral your own demons. “Now what do we say to nice strangers who help us?”

“Thank you,” the twins say in unison, heads bobbing.

The woman says “You’re welcome” but the smile on her face wavers. We’re an odd-shaped piece in her puzzle.

It doesn’t matter. We know who we are to each other. “Say goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Mica and Jonah shout, on familiar territory now. They know about departures. They know how to say goodbye.


IMG-20220323-WA0009
Cole Beauchamp is a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. She’s been published in Ellipsis Zine, Dead Skunk, and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in London with her girlfriend, two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. You can find her on twitter at @nomad_sw18

How We Are Formed by Patience Mackarness

SEDIMENTARY

Blue marl, greensand, greywacke. At the blackboard, your teacher looks like he’s tasting the names. Jonno murmurs Grey Wacky! and all of you laugh because it’s true, the teacher’s old and a bit weird.

You’re inching along a high spine of rock, in battering wind. The teacher yells back that it’s tuff, formed 450 million years ago, carved out in the last Ice Age. Lin’s nearly blown into the storm-grey tarn below. Jonno puts out an arm to steady her. You’re in no danger of being blown away.

Lin is asked for every dance. The colour of her hair is pyrite, fool’s gold.

IGNEOUS

Dartmoor is a granite batholith, an extrusion of molten rock from deep in the crust. Extrude means push out. Like a turd, Jonno says, and everyone titters.

You’re all huddled beside the River Dart in the rain, with dripping clipboards and school-issue kagoules that smell of wet tent. When you slip down the bank, your already sodden jeans slimed with mud, Jonno leads a falsetto chorus of The Hippopotamus Song.

Pumice scrapes dead skin from footsoles. It’s spongey-light and feels fake, but it was born in a volcano.

COASTAL EROSION

Waves smash into cracks, split them wider. Hydraulic action and frost-shattering blast out caves. Bits of cliff plunge into the sea, leave pillars and arches, then nothing. The sea keeps on pounding till the whole coast is pulverized.

You’re by the wall in the lineup of rejects, again. Late in the the evening slow tracks play, the disco lights stop flashing, couples move close, Angie and Je t’aime pulse through the gym. Lin and Jonno sway, melt together in the dark. You can’t look away.

METAMORPHIC

Metamorphosis means changing into something else. White marble. Lapis-lazuli.

There’s another dance, punks and tarts this time. Most of the boys go as punks and the girls as tarts, but you hang safety pins round your neck and a razorblade from your belt. You outline your eyes in silver-green, your lips in black. You hold your nose and drink a soup of mushrooms you found growing on the football pitch. Jonno laughs and calls you a stoner. You pogo and swear, knock into other dancers on purpose. People have to look twice, to be sure it’s you. Later, the disco lights turn to fireworks, spell out secret messages on the sky.

A HOUSE BUILT ON SAND

The teacher takes a group of you to a country estate. Greensand lies beneath, but this isn’t a field trip. There’s singing, and lots of people fall to their knees in tears and are born again. You don’t fall down, though afterwards you wish you had, because Lin’s eyes are unfocused and dreamy, and she says her heart is full of Jesus. Jonno’s less mean afterwards, you don’t know if that’s because of Lin or Jesus.

CONTINENTAL DRIFT

Exams are over, everyone’s waiting for results. You know yours will be bad. Lots of people have university places waiting, but you’re going backpacking in India.

People say, India alone, wow! Aren’t you scared?

You are, but you shrug.

People say, What will you do there?

You’ll see the mountains of the Sub-Himalayan Range. You’ll see the Ganges delta where three tectonic plates meet.

You’ll gather cannabis, growing wild on a hillside near Simla. You’ll lose weight, and your virginity. You’ll catch amoebic dysentery, buy an orange sari, sit at the feet of a man with a silky beard who smells like incense.

You’ll come home. People will look twice, to be sure it’s you.


Patience_Mackarness

Patience Mackarness lives and writes in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published by Brilliant Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/

Here I Relate Her Short Marriage to an Artist in Ten Chapters by Vikram Masson

I
In the video, they look so serene circling the wood-fired flame: sparks skitter like fireflies; two brahmins drone mantras in Sanskrit; mothers and aunties look on. She wore diamond earrings shaped like jasmine buds. He painted a pointillist mural of pink flamingos and displayed it in the reception hall. “Blessings to the couple, blessings, blessings!” her tipsy father said, hoisting up a silver flute of Veuve Clicquot. He died of a stroke a few weeks later.

II
Early on, you knew something was amiss — dishes went undone almost every night and gifts from the wedding: a Le Creuset pan, gargoyle salt and pepper shakers, Waterford Crystal bowls, sat unopened on high, shadowed shelves.

III
He paints all day, mixing aquamarine, a touch of burnt umber and titanium white for his cotton clouds, and a ceaseless array of cloud paintings clutter up the apartment walls. At night, while she worked, he drinks rare tequila with lime and discusses fourth wave feminism with women on Twitter. She grew impatient one day and swiped the debit card from his wallet. Soon the wedding diamonds disappeared.

IV
Her grandmother had peered out from thick-lensed rhinestone glasses and said, “Don’t marry a dreamer.”

V
“You don’t respect him,” is what her doctor said when she asked, “How can I bring back the fire?” It was worse than all that. Secretly she wonders why she loathes so handsome a man’s odor, why she longs to sleep in a separate room.

VI
She strikes a match against her husband’s glass and sand head, igniting the white phosphorus, burning the sulfur, until he turns into a specter of crackling flame that diminishes in an instant to a smoky stump.

VII
She doesn’t actually do that, but dreams about that and is happy.

VII
It was the new man’s glance and his long, delicate fingers. How quickly, she thought: his fingers skating along the hot runnels made by her bra straps, the enchanting whiff of expensive cologne. This is the first time she’s spent a night away from the apartment; she insists on staying on top.

IX
How pathetic, she thought, seeing her husband next morning — his arms flecked with dragon’s blood and a rare Indian yellow (a paint made from the urine of cows fed mango leaves). He’s staring at the dull morning sun; he’s weeping.

X
They part uneventfully. Dust, paint rags, unopened coupon packs, empty bottles, and a single ladder left near where the unopened gifts were, on the high, shadowed shelves.


Vikram_Masson_Photo

Vikram Masson writes at the intersection of faith, identity and culture. His poems have been featured or are forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, Glass, Juked, Prometheus Dreaming, Rust + Moth, and Without a Doubt: poems illuminating faith (NYQ Books).

Nitrogen Narcosis by Zoe Raine

We pull the rusting boat out of the weeds. It takes us an hour of searching the dark to find what we had abandoned years ago. I don’t remember who gave us the boat, or if we bought it, do you? Earlier, we laid on our sides, facing away from each other, wondering if the other was awake.

Do you wanna go fishing? You asked.

That sounds nice, I said.

I thought you meant “sometime,” the place we put things that we’ll never get around to— but then I felt you get out of bed.

Spiders crawl over our hands while we drag the cold metal toward the lapping waves. It doesn’t look like it will stay afloat, but I focus on the sound of sifting sand. My nightgown dips into the lake, and I like how it clings to my legs as I steady myself in the canoe. You give us the last push before jumping in. We have no paddle. We have no fishing poles, either. The clouds are covering all the stars, and I can’t seem to find the moon. After settling into the metal and rocking with the waves, I can feel that you’re looking at me, and I wonder if you’re also nostalgic about when we loved each other every day.

We almost don’t notice the leak in the boat, the water rushing in from the sides. Submerged up to our waists, we smile, and then we laugh. Hard. Even with headlamps blinding each other, we find the other’s eyes through blurred vision and burning cheeks, and we don’t look down at the water creeping to our ribs. The cold shows our breath between us, fogging the beams of light. Our headlamps don’t go out once we’re under water, and I watch the shapes of light and darkness dance in flecks around us. Your muffled voice melts into a kaleidoscope dream. Our lungs fill with the lake, and we make bubbles— laughing out the last of our air.


IMG_4646

Zoe Raine is an MFA candidate at Western Washington University (recently trading Michigan snow for Washington rain). She found her love of literary magazines through interning at Passages North and is now a fiction editor for Bellingham Review and reader for Fractured Lit. Her work is featured (or forthcoming) in The Hunger, Maudlin House, and A Velvet Giant. (Photo credit: Elation Studio)

wandluv.com by Aimee Parkison & Meg Pokrass

Rhiannon says she’ll find us a good deli open for breakfast, but she’s not saying when. Abracadabra, I call her privately, plunking a bagel emoticon between us. Long blue hair, ruby lips, crackery smile.

“Hiya,” she says, and my phone rings like a bell through the night. “What did you say your given name is, anyway? I’m not interested in your avatar name.”

“David… Dave.”

“David, I like it,” she says. “A trustworthy. Old-fashioned. Name.”

“What’s yours?” I say.

“Rhiannon, of course. I don’t do avatars, David.”

There are things I don’t do, too. For example, I don’t say that I’m wearing a weighted shirt, excited to know what dating a real witch is like. What been taken by the wind feels like. But I’m sure that finding the right witch can only bring me luck.

***

Tonight, my night terrors transform a wall of dark bedroom into a computer screen displaying code for wandluv.com

Lilith, the old hag, the crone, and Rhiannon flicker as wandluv.com opens onto screens with multiple matches in parallel universes. So many Davids and Daves are looking for Rhiannon.

Are she and I lovers from a past life destined to keep returning to each other?

Braided in bats, streaked with moonlit, the night sky of her long blue hair tickles my face until I hear a song-shadow avatar whisper my name. I wake again at night in the dark room to the old hag staring down at me with loving eyes. Who is she? Is she really her? I see the crone Lilith, sitting on my chest, holding me down, whispering, Rhiannon.

***

“Sorry I disappeared, just very busy. Sometimes I’m here, other times I’m not, David my friend.”

“Is that like phantom limb?” I ask. “Like having feelings in your feet when your feet are missing?”

“A bit like that,” she inserts a wide-eyed emoticon. “I’m a bit like a missing foot myself, I guess. And hey, here’s a question for you. Do you know how my Wigtown ancestors were murdered, David?”

“Nope,” I say. I’m standing at the window, watching the starless sky.

“I’ll weave it for you someday,” she texts, inserting a winky eyed face.

I lay there and listen for sounds in the universe, for texts from more cute witches. So far, no dates. Abracadabra wants me to hang around? I google “Wigtown witches”.

But it’s too late. She’s gone. Will you ever win? I think.

***

In emailed photographs, her spinal tattoo is the Tree of Life.

The trunk branches between ribs.

Birds rest in branches.

Inky birds hide in the night sky of her hair.

Tattoo birds break free of her skin.

Skin flies from bones.

Blood rains as bones become tree.

***

I’ve attempted to console myself with HeavenlyWitch.com, a randy new witchsexchat app. The world is frothing with sexy, desperate witches. Needy, disgusting, untraceable. And not a one like Rhiannon.

But then suddenly she’s back!

“Long time, no see, Davey-o,” she says, poking a sad-faced smiley into my saddened bachelor’s life.

This time, she admits she doesn’t quite understand my profile photo.

“Why is your smile triangular, David?” she asks.

“Anyway. If we meet for breakfast, David,” she says, “I’d like some basic protections.”

“Open-air delis are good,” I say.

I describe for her how I prefer my breakfasts, make myself relatable. “I’m a bit too keen on the bad stuff. For example, salt, and pork fat,” I say. I insert a smiley moon emoticon, a fat-faced friendly one. “I probably need myself a healthy witch to reform me,” I write. “Can you please just promise me a bit of your heaven?”

“I like to see a man enjoy himself,” she says, which I believe means yes.

***

Her web of illusions spiders inside me.

She shuffles tarot cards, the sun and moon kissing her palms. The chariot and star brush fingers.

I want to kiss her ruby lips and slip my tongue into her smile.  Instead, I ask what it’s like to burn at the stake as villagers stare in longing while the executioner shows the flame, holding the torch high so everyone can see your face. The fire touches straw stacked beneath you.  Your hair smokes. You feel heat rising to your toes and smell the scent of your flesh searing as the crowd cheers, Rhiannon.

“I’m burning,” I whisper as Rhiannon rises from ashes like a star exploding light.

“Burning?” she whispers.

After that much pain, terror is bliss.

“Sorry, Dave,” she whispers. “I have to ghost you, again.”

“Anything you want, anything at all.”

Back to wandluv.com. Avatars flicker in blue light. She kisses the devil and romances the hanged man before climbing the tower to make death her lover. With spells whispered like names of strangers from another land, witches enter cloud castles before spinning the wheel of time.

***

One night, right out of my turned-off phone, she sends me a few naked selfies.  The older the woman, the stronger the magic.  The naked crone ages in reverse, becoming a young woman twirling on a stage.  Swirling her body inside a black-lace shawl of dark diamonds, she becomes the night.

In my dream, I’m seeing the murders from the sky. I can’t help looking down at the Solway Firth, can’t help crying like rain. Watching the scalps of the staked witches, some old, some young. Hearing every one of their screams as the tide creeps in, each of them dangling at the lip of the Irish sea. One of them is Rhiannon. I rescue her right before the water laps over those beautiful blue lips. I unwind her easily, fly her home to my cat. Brew her up some valerian root tea to calm her down before telling her all about my unusual, very human magic. I can’t save you witches, I say. You live in the world of my imagination, like missing dreams. She kisses me then. I can taste a tidal basin, salty and deep, like a spell.


Aimee_Parkison_2019_Utah_High_School_class_visitAimee Parkison is widely published and the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, the Kurt Vonnegut Prize from North American Review, the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship, a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, a Writers at Work Fellowship, a Puffin Foundation Fellowship, and a William Randolph Hearst Creative Artists Fellowship. She currently teaches creative writing and literature in the MFA/Ph.D. program at Oklahoma State University.

Meg_Pokrass_author_photoMeg Pokrass is the author of seven collections of flash fiction and prose poetry, and her work has appeared in hundreds of literary publications and best-of anthologies, including the Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50, and is forthcoming in the 2023 Norton anthology Flash Fiction America, edited by Sherrie Flick, James Thomas, and John Dufresne. Meg is the Founding Editor of the Best Microfiction anthology series. She lives in Northern England and wears many hats.