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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

Signs of Life by Audrey Carroll

She thought of it as a kind of game: every time she thought of the dead, she needed to fill her house with something living. It started simply enough with potted basil, potted violets, potted Venus flytraps, things with roots and the safety of soil and nothing but sunshine. They need not worry about drowning because they only ever got the right amount of water; they need not worry about withering, because the house was always climate controlled. But then she moved on to fish and mollusks. It started with a small platy, then a snail, then another snail, then dalmatian mollies that gave birth and ate their babies all in the same day and she decided to count all of the babies’ deaths as one so that she did not have to buy two dozen living things as penance for thinking about the dead. Instead, she bought a small potted peace lily. But then, after she’d bought as many small things as seemed possible and her thoughts of the dead lingered for longer moments that sometimes lasted for entire afternoons, she moved up to bigger animals—dogs, cats, birds, and even a particularly friendly bearded dragon that an old co-worker was looking to rehome. She filled the place so fully that it seemed every inch of floor was coated in something or someone. It was difficult to see around the place because of the collection of Ficuses, ferns, and bamboo that made the place so lush with green, that made it so easy to breathe. She had chuckled to herself about her mother’s favorite saying with the forest and the trees, and then she’d needed to feed the dogs and immediately go to the store and pick up a catfish for one of the aquariums. She had no cause to leave the house except for supplies, no one to speak to or answer to. Her hours were monopolized by care, her hands so busy watering and cleaning and preparing that she hardly had time to think of the dead. The place looked like an island from a picture book she’d read as a child, one about wild things, one about escape. If she took off her glasses, the rooms around her blurred. Nothing had walls or boundaries. All there was was wild green and animals chattering away. The place was so full of life that thinking of the opposite was impossible. And then, one day, she smelled the faintest hint of decay. She left to bring back something living. But when she returned, the rotting stench was worse. She had surrounded herself with so much life that she could not find the source of decomposition, as though it were mocking her. And every moment of every day she thought about the dead, but now there was no escape. She could not leave to bring back more life, to cover up the worsening signs of death. She had no choice but to live among the expiration, a reminder of it dawning again and again with each stubborn breath that her own lungs demanded.


Author_PhotoAudrey T. Carroll is a Best of the Net nominee, the editor of Musing the Margins: Essays on Craft (Human/Kind Press, 2020), and the author of Queen of Pentacles (Choose the Sword Press, 2016). Her work has been published or is forthcoming in (mac)ro(mic), Miracle Monocle, The Broken Plate, Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, So to Speak, and others. She is a bi/queer and disabled/chronically ill writer who serves as a Diversity & Inclusion Editor for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

How We Were Fiction by Sacha Bissonnette

In a way, it was my fault. We always hosted on Fridays. It became our thing. It was convenient. Our friends and their friends would come to us, and we barely had to move as we drank. If we did leave, it was down the street to the college bar that smelled of chemical cleaner and patchouli.

I asked June to stop annoying our friends with her stories. I told her to write them down and do something else with them. I told her she was just randomly spouting them, and for who?

“I do it for me. For us.”

But really, I was jealous. I could never hold court like she could; the ruby-red wine in her crystal glass would swoosh up to the brim the more animated her stories became, but would never spill. Newcomers with ironed collars, wide brimmed hats and clear glasses would corner me later. Was she single? “I need more ice,” I’d say, burying my head in the freezer, until either the trays were empty or my glass was just ice.

The way June ushered us into place reminded me of my mother. Story time carried weight in my family. Mother read us Hughes and Dumas, her tired brown hands slowly flipping through the battered pages of the stories. My brothers and I all knew how they ended, but we couldn’t get to sleep without them. I would stay up the longest, to hear them end, before I could fall asleep.

“Good night sweet princes,” she’d whispered, as we all got a kiss, from youngest to oldest, the same order every time.

I met June a week before my mother’s passing. I had difficulty with the order of things, of grief, and paperwork and finances. I attempted to write a eulogy before I spoke to any family. I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to arrange my mother’s life into a single story. June helped me through the process, and I fell in love with her for it. She rewrote the eulogy and made my mother sound like the heroine of a Great American Novel. Which she was to us.

June had an order to her stories. When she had us all seated on the couch or the floor, she would shoot me a glance to make sure I was paying attention. I would stare back in mock attentiveness. I was there, wasn’t I?

The first story was always about a woman who kept a bowl of seeds under her sink. She would try and grow them when she was feeling lucky, but often she didn’t feel lucky. Once a month she would reach into the bowl and pull out three seeds. She did this for a year, exactly twelve months of growing. Okra to morning glories to fennel. One day, she came upon a seed that wouldn’t grow. This little seed got all the attention. She forgot to care for and water the other plants. Eventually they died. The seed grew into a beautiful orange flower that gave off an awful smell. The stench was so bad that the woman ripped the plant from its pot and threw it out the window.

This story always got mixed reactions. I asked June to cheer up her material when people started to drink. I said that people can’t handle these dark endings, but she refused to break her sacred order. It was always, always her opener.

The second story was about these twins in the Midwest. As June’s wine disappeared, she played up her narration. There would be accents and wild hand gestures. As people finished their drinks, I’d jump in and play second fiddle.

The twins were the sons of an infamous bank robber. They adored their Daddy and wanted to be bad just like him. Daddy taught the twins to crack safes, but they could only manage with the other’s help. Their adeptness was a blessing, but their curse was to need each other. See, the twins only rarely got along. During one fateful heist, they began to bicker. When the cops showed up, they were wrestling on the floor, but as they saw the police, they both reached for their guns. We acted out the firefight to the whoops and whistles of our audience. Some nights, the twins went down in a blaze of glory. Other nights, they snuck out the back of the bank.

Cliché, but I didn’t care. It was fun. June looked at me differently when I was up there, bank robbing and gun slinging with her.

The third and final story was never the same, except for the ending. On some nights, June danced. She looked truly beautiful as she swayed in front of those watching with bated breath or half-shut eyelids. She asked, but often begged, the crowd to join in. There was singing, too. Sometimes a beautiful rendition of St. James Infirmary, sometimes it was The Song That Never Ends, until she broke into an uncontrollable sob. Someone would signal me to peel her up off the floor and bring her to bed. She would fake sleeping until I was done tucking her in as tight as I could. Every time, as I turned, she would ask,

“Do you still love me?”

“Yes,” I always answered, unsure of whether this was part of the performance.

“Only when we’re bank robbing and gun slinging? Only in our stories?”

“No,” I answered, annoyed by the same questions I heard every Friday.

A trial separation was what she wanted and I agreed. I booked a stay at a hotel to give her space. By the second week, I ran out of boxers. I popped by and found her lying on the hardwood floor, surrounded by papers, writing with intent. Seeing her there, it became clear that it was my fault. She had been carrying the burden of our story all by herself. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pen.


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Sacha Bissonnette is a short story writer from Ottawa, Canada. He is reader for the Wigleaf top 50 series. His work has appeared in Wigleaf, Lunch Ticket, SmokeLong, and Cease, Cows, among other places. He has upcoming short fiction in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Ruminate, BULL, and Terrain.org. He is currently working on a short fiction anthology with the help of a National Canada Council for the Arts grant, an Ontario Arts Grant, and a Youth In Culture Ottawa Grant, and was recently selected for the Writer’s Union of Canada – BIPOC Writer’s Connect mentorship. He loves film and comfort food and tweets @sjohnb9

The Middle Ages by Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

Their tour would start any moment now, and though Randi wanted to get in line in the church courtyard, Gwen stood her ground, insisting that they wait for the homo sapien to arrive.

“I’m sure there’s another later,” Gwen lied vaguely, scanning the street even as the guide started collecting tickets, even as he announced that this was, indeed, his last group of the day. When Randi, who had arranged their schedule so carefully, checking and rechecking the reservations, confirmations, reminded her that this was their last chance to go inside, Gwen was flippant.  “Aren’t we a little old for skeletons anyway?” she asked, ignoring the fact that she herself was the one to show Randi the skulls in the tour book in the first place, to propose they go see them on the one free afternoon of their 9th grade trip to Dublin. But this was back when Gwen still cared about doing things with Randi, back before discovering the homo sapien and his lurid, sucking mouth on the back of a bus to the Cliffs of Moher they shared with their brother school.

When all the stubs were collected, the guide turned to Randi and Gwen, asked if they were joining, and though Randi wanted more than anything to queue up, to see those human remains (some of which, she remembered with a pang, dated back to the Middle Ages!), out of loyalty to Gwen, she demurred, No, thank you.

The crypt creaked open, and Randi watched the tourists file down, two by two, the whole world, it seemed, determined to couple up around her. Even in the still of night, pairs of quiet footfalls while Randi pretended to sleep. The flash of hall light as Gwen unlocked the door, and one shadow on the wall became two, as the homo sapien crept into their room, into Gwen’s bed. Though each morning she made herself promise to ask Gwen what she and the homo sapien did in the quiet, in the dark, Randi kept curiously losing her nerve, as if she were afraid of what she might learn. When the last visitor disappeared into the recesses of the crypt, Randi found herself a little relieved. She both did and did not want to get a glimpse of those bodies stripped of life down below. She dared herself to stand on tiptoe, to crane her neck. She couldn’t see any bones from up here, but she imagined she could smell them, the must of accumulated years, the tang of skin bitten away, the tiny microbes that had nibbled it still present in the air now wafting towards her. It galvanized her, she imagined, the essence of old souls. She would do it, she decided. She would ask Gwen for the truth. But when she turned to do so, the homo sapien was bounding through the gates in long strides, and Gwen was stepping forward to greet him, to pull him close, too close, in the shadows of the courtyard. As their lips opened, as the flesh of their faces rubbed and touched, the guide shut the crypt behind him, and Randi sealed her own mouth, trapping in there the last little dregs of the dead.


DutempleauthorpicAlyson Mosquera Dutemple’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Passages North, DIAGRAM, Wigleaf, and Pithead Chapel, among others, and recently received an Honorable Mention for Cincinnati Review‘s 2021 Robert and Adele Schiff Award. She works as an editorial consultant and creative writing instructor in New Jersey and holds an MFA in fiction from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Find her on Twitter @swellspoken and at www.alysondutemple.com.

Mother’s Obake Shivers Under Your Bed by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

It’s waiting to reach its impossibly long arms for the shirt you ripped at recess, the one you
weren’t supposed to wear to school. It wants to trace its knife sharp fingers through
notebooks filled with the hundreds of I won’t draw in my notebooks during class lines you
had to write because you were caught drawing in your math, English, social studies, science
notebooks again and again. It’s ready to drool over the jeans you bled through, nestling its
heart shaped head, veined and bumpy like the red anthuriums in your mother’s garden, in the rusty bloom. It craves the tears you’ll shed when your mother finds these things under your bed. Its spindly arms and legs ready to grab you and hold you safe among your hidden things.

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Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, The Razor, Milk Candy Review, Cotton Xenomorph, and Atlas + Alice. She is in Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2022, and the Wigleaf Top 50 of 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.