Fairest by Star Su

The jungle gym in the strip mall was transformed into a tea party café overnight. Mushroom foam and plastic lily pads were plucked from the mud-rubber ground, rolled over by periwinkle marble and re-planted with three-legged chairs, aquamarine gems in the backing. She suggests fairy lights and smoothie names to the manager, tastes rare cheesecake and chocolate mousse, licks the cream clean from the acetate ring. They do a soft opening with his daughter’s fifth birthday, sending invitations sealed with rainbow wax, cardstock recycled from a time when she still wrote love letters. Her handwriting is beautiful when she presses the gel pens hard.

The parents sign permission waivers and receipts with pens from their own purses, pass her unwrapped gifts, ask her if the nail salon next door is any good. She tells them her stepmother swears by it. The manager squeezes her shoulder, promises to be back before cake. He thinks she can handle this alone. She is proud of this.

The seven little girls are hungry and carsick from the carpool, three of them were laid in the trunk they tell her. They forget their aches momentarily when they see the dress-up closet, running their fingers on the cherrywood knobs, rose-gold birds and willow branches embedded on the mirrors. She lets them pull out the vanity, spill creams and serums across the floor, the air flush with primrose and neroli. She watches from behind the counter, reminds herself that distance is the fulcrum of love. They will come to her soon.

Her father’s secret ingredient for a rainy day was maple syrup sweetening a milkshake when he was home long enough to use the refrigerator. She empties a bag of frozen organic strawberries into the blender, punctures a carton of cream with her keys, and wraps her hands around the maple syrup’s neck. The children twirl around as they drink, condensation slipping down their palms onto shirts with tags still on, each one more than her week’s paycheck. She unlocks the drawers at the top of the dress-up closet, taking down gowns that could be mistaken for the real thing, clouds of chiffon and organza sleeves. Only two of the seven girls fight. Scissors cut paper, rock cleans soft hands again. Loser wears the polyester Mulan dress, the only one without a petticoat. She braids their hair, a four-stranded waterfall, securing it first with clear elastics, then with sparkling pins or soft ribbons, their choice. They ask who taught her? and she answers, my stepmama. It is easier to invent a stepmother than to remember an absent mother.

She zips the seven girls into their outfits, making sure the thermostat sends a warm breeze through the changing room. The strip mall will charge them more for this, but she doesn’t care, doesn’t want any of them catching a cold. She fetches scepters, capes, slippers, clip-on earrings, until she calls the girls not by their name tags, but only, yes princess. When they are hungry again, she passes silver spoons around, unfurls crown-printed napkins on their laps, heats up quiche and spaghetti bread bowls, cookie-cuts vegetables into a bouquet of flowers. She promises them cake if they each eat three carrots, two cauliflower florets, one stalk of celery.

When the birthday girl makes her wish, the parking lot has emptied. The parents must have found the wine cellar in the complex across the street, or fallen asleep after macaroni grill, toenails still drying in their foam separator. She is afraid of going to the bathroom, a ten-minute walk down several sticky-floored corridors to Applebee’s. There are seven of them, but the girls are still young, young enough to think magic should anything strange happen. She forgets store policy and lets them unwrap the gifts. They have moved on from words to thanking her with lip-glossed kisses.

Birthday girl chooses the last wrapped gift. The tissue paper opens, closes like wings. In their wake, there is a basket of apples. A new variety. She has seen neat pyramids of them at the grocery store, from the same company that engineered cotton candy grapes and cake-batter pumpkins. Skeins of lollipop red, gold flecks. The stem is ordinary, brown and shriveled. She is as excited as the girls to try them. The seven argue, holding the apples to the buttered light, before choosing the largest, most perfect orb for her. They let her go first, lips cracking as she lodges teeth into tart skin.


Star Su grew up in Ann Arbor and currently an undergraduate at Brown. Her fiction is in or forthcoming in Waxwing, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly. She reads for Split Lip Magazine. Find her on Twitter: @stars_su.

Why Did the Morandi Bridge (14.08.18) by Zoë Meager

Of all the things unknotting themselves in the garden, he brings me this armful of hopeful white blooms. I haven’t got the heart to tell him that pear blossom is not a picking flower. So for now we are happy as dogs. We sit on the front porch, dipping our toes in the sun while on his phone, an Italian bridge collapses.

“Bridge is an Italian card game,” he tells me, and I’m thinking about moving, one player at a time.

In Genoa, at least 39 people have died, says the news. At least. As if time did not know any other way of passing. As if it never knew how easy it is to be a wide-mouthed river, swallowing years whole.

We walk the narrow hallway and from my arms the pear blossom reaches out to brush the walls, and some parts of it shake loose and make a trail to remember where we have been.

On the kitchen bench is too much rhubarb. He finds a recipe from the greasy pages of Cooking for One, because it’s the only one new enough to be in metric and neither of us are handy at converting.

“My mother used to wash the stones from rice,” he tells me, and with a clumsy elbow the flour for our crumble goes rushing to the floor. Now we’re dipping our toes in the white-starred galaxy, each writing our names, separately, then rubbing them out. It would be different with rice, I think, you might make the effort to rinse it. With flour you would only get glue.

After lunch, I settle the blooming sticks into a vase on the kitchen table where we can look upon them kindly. By tomorrow, it will all have fallen apart in a spinning shower of petals. And tomorrow, his stoneless mother will arrive, run her fingers through the white drifts on the tabletop and ask me again, “Aren’t you looking forward to the pears?”


Zoë Meager is from Aotearoa New Zealand. Her work has appeared abroad in publications including Granta and Overland, and locally in Turbine | Kapohau, Landfall, and Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. There’s more at zoemeager.com

On the Way to School, a Storm by Katie Cortese

My son stares out his window, a question on his lips about blues and grays while bronze threads stitch the clouds together overhead. When we pass the Wells Fargo, the blades of its ornamental windmill blur in the wind.

“Molecules,” I say, and “refraction,” pointing up toward the sun, which is blotted out behind an endless slab of altostratus.

“But where’s the blue now?” he insists, fingers rubbing as if to conjure the color. Scientist’s son, raised on a diet of doubt. “Where’d it go?”

“Nowhere,” I say, when I should say everywhere. “It’s up there still. Above the storm.”

He frowns, unwilling to take my word. “Why is the sky blue anyway?” he says. There’s defeat in his voice. He knows this answer. He’s asked me before.

“The sky is every color,” I say, like always, “but blue waves are shorter and smaller, so that’s mostly what we see.”

Even if it’s the correct answer, it’s the wrong one, and tears come. It’s visible, the continent of questions massing within his ribs that he lacks the diction to release.

“Rods,” I say, fingering my necklace of polished stone. “Cones,” I say, “perception.” But those words are wrong too. They stoke the rumbles within him the way a blend of water and sand and 600 kinds of poison can force gas and oil to the head of a well. What we don’t see inside the belly of the earth while we’re hunting our treasures are the fissures that prime faults to slip, triggering tremors that rock the places where we sleep at night and grow our food and raise the kids we try to make better than we are.

Tears marble his cheeks while one hand claws at his chest. “But that’s not—” he tries. “It’s not what I think.”

“Okay. What’s your theory?” We are almost to his daycare. In an hour I’ll stand in the bottom of an auditorium filled with three hundred bent heads, a pointillist painting too dim to discern.

“Well, the earth’s round,” he starts, “and it spins. So some parts turn upside down.”

“Sort of,” I say, “but gravity—”

“So when it spins, I think the ocean falls into the sky, and the sky falls back in the ocean. Blue and blue,” he says, palms up.

The light before us turns red, and I stop beside a coupe where a woman wields a wand to magic her lashes longer. My son’s eyes find mine in the mirror. He is frozen, waiting for me to correct him. A tear still clings to his jaw, but when I smile, his lips part too.

“Blue and blue,” I say. “Blue and blue, blue and blue forever.”

I don’t notice the light change, but he does, his finger a twirling turbine. “Come on, Mom,” he says. “Let’s go.”

As the first drops fall, I comply, and when thunder snarls behind us, it’s a tiger’s low purr from somewhere out of sight, still many miles away.


Katie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015) and Make Way for Her and Other Stories (University Press of Kentucky, 2018). Her work has recently appeared in VIDA Review, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Blackbird, and The Baltimore Review, among other journals. She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.

The Corner of My Eye by Doris Cheng

I saw Meredith at breakfast today. It had been two, maybe three years since I’d seen her—really looked at her, that is. She usually resided in my peripheral vision, like a dust mote floating in the corner of my eye.

“Hi, Mom,” she said.

I was overcome. I loved my girl so much. “Honey, how did you sleep? How are things at school? Tell me everything.” I noticed her hair was in a complicated French braid; she must have learned to do that on her own.

She proceeded to tell me all about a fifth-grade project that involved toothpicks and copper wire and teeny tiny robots. There was some sort of classroom drama. I tried to pay attention. But I was packing her little sisters’ lunches and trying to remember who needed to bring their violin and who needed to return their library book. The dog tipped over the garbage pail and I had to wrestle a chicken bone from its mouth. I know I missed some details. But I thought, thank God I never have to worry about Meredith.

Around then Hallie’s anxiety got so bad she began levitating. I had to meet with the principal and child psychologist and drive her to a social skills group twice a week so she could play board games and practice keeping both feet on the ground. On top of that Fiona developed amblyopia. Her left eye starting rolling around in her head like a greasy marble in a ball socket. When I wasn’t driving Hallie to therapy I was on the Internet researching “levitation treatment” and “child has loose eyeball.”

I ran into Meredith in the kitchen. I’d come in to fix myself a cup of tea and saw her peering into the refrigerator.

“What’s going on, sweetie?” I was happy she was there. I hadn’t seen her in a while though I knew she was around. I could tell she’d gotten taller and more womanly.

“Nothing much. Everything’s fine.” She closed the fridge door. “We’re out of yogurt.”

“Sorry. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to get to the store. Your sisters, their appointments—”

She told me it was no biggie. She was understanding, full of grace. I told her I was grateful to have an independent and resourceful daughter who always did what was expected of her. I hugged her.

I’m kind of fuzzy on Meredith’s high school years. I remember her little sisters were putting me through the wringer. Hallie needed gravitational therapy, which meant I had to tie cans of soup to her feet every night and force her into a heavy-footed walk. Fiona’s doctor recommended she get a mechanical eye. I was buried in insurance paperwork and probably a little depressed. I think Meredith played field hockey. Or maybe it was lacrosse. I vaguely recall there being a stick of some sort. Whatever it was, I’m sure she did well because she’s a team player. Other kids might drink at parties and throw up on people’s lawns, but not her. She’s too considerate for that.

I passed her on the stairs from time to time. Each time she was more self-possessed than the last. Sometimes I felt a hand reach its way inside me and strum a high minor chord along my rib cage. The note reverberated in my chest cavity.

The last time I saw her was in the spring of her senior year. Or maybe she had already graduated, I can’t say for sure. I woke up, looked out the window, and saw her in the yard tending a roaring flame. She was inflating a hot air balloon.

I ran downstairs. By the time I got outside she was already in the basket. The balloon began to float upward.

“Come down, Meredith!” I told her she had to let me know where she was going. She wasn’t licensed and besides, she would need a warmer jacket if she was going to spend time in the stratosphere.

Meredith untied the ropes. She tossed out some ballast and the balloon began to climb. I shouted at her to be careful. I wanted her to know that a mother’s love is infinite, but I wasn’t sure if she could hear me at that point.

She waved. The balloon crested the tree line and found an air current. A sudden gust took it up and away. I couldn’t tell if she was smiling. She kept waving until she was just a dot on the horizon, no bigger than a dust mote. The dog started barking and I turned to shush it. When I looked for her again she was gone.


Doris W. Cheng is a Taiwanese American fiction writer. She received an MA in English Literature from Columbia University and teaches fiction and poetry in NY and NJ. Her stories are forthcoming or have appeared in New Orleans Review, Witness, Berkeley Fiction Review, The Normal School, The Cincinnati Review miCRo, The Pinch, and other literary magazines. She is an alumna of Tin House and the recipient of a 2020 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grant for feminist fiction. http://www.doriswcheng.com

You Will, You Will, You Will by Jad Josey

The stippled frost on the south side of the neighbor’s roof means it will be too cold to surf comfortably, not without a hood and booties. This will not sway you. Your fingers will turn ghost-white beneath the not-white sea foam, beneath the too-white clouds stacked from horizon to horizon, beneath the white-hot sun burning where you cannot see it.

When the wild turkey stops in front of your car, his rectrices fanned wide and proud, you will collect his gesture as a sign. It will be days before you remember this sign, but it will matter again. You will carry the moment and shape it behind your eyes until it shines the way that suits you best.

There will never be a way back to your heart. When someone asks me how I know this, the silence with which I answer will break me in some small, nearly imperceptible way. I will hope they do not notice my undoing. I will hope, at least, for the kindness of their pretending not to see.

The ocean will be alive and swirling. A seal will follow close behind as you paddle through the dense bulb kelp destined to be gone by spring, ripped from its mooring by the plain hands of the sea. The seal will rise from the buoyant, salty water, taller than you expect, and then it will vanish in the way that memories often do.

You will stop using the rearview mirror unless absolutely necessary. Seeing the world moving away from you, the image flipped askance, has always felt unnerving to you. You will commit yourself to this ritual.

You will always remember the last time we saw each other, how you left with so few words. You will not recall the things left unsaid, but you will endure the echo of their absence. The casual cruelness of your silence will ring louder than whatever you might have spoken.

You will paddle for some of the bigger set waves. You will pull back at the last moment, offshore wind blinding you with sea spray, the reef draining beneath the almost-inevitable drop. You will regret the decision, but you will not regret having a choice.

You will long for love until it shows up, and then you will sigh, you will exhale, you will tap your white fingers on the steering wheel as you watch it recede in the rearview mirror. (I know what I said earlier, but this is one of the few times it will make sense to use the mirror.)

You will maintain your contempt for birds, especially large flocks of birds, no matter the kind. Their contact with the sky too reckless, hollow feathers too garish. Unless the bird is a wild turkey with iridescent tail feathers. Even then, you will tolerate it only because it offers you a sign.

A fleet of pelicans will glide along the scoop of an ocean swell, bending their arc toward you, the tips of their wings nearly touching the surface. You will slash your arm into the sea, the torrent of water impotent against them. They will carry on unperturbed. It will be the only thing at which you fail today.

Jad Josey resides on the central coast of California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Glimmer Train, Passages North, CutBank, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. Read more at http://www.jadjosey.com or reach out on Twitter @jadjosey.

Fusarium oxysporum by Noa Covo

My uncle was buried as his banana fields burned. We left his house empty and sat shiva in the city. It was cramped in the apartment, visitors squeezing in on couches that could barely hold their weight, but none of us suggested we should have stayed in his house and watch his life’s work go up in flames.

When I was a child, my uncle used to take me to conferences. His scientist friends would invite him, the ones that used his banana fields to do experiments. They didn’t really have a choice in the matter, as my uncle and his neighbor Joseph were the only two banana farmers around. My uncle would go in an unbuttoned checkered shirt and drink cup after cup of free coffee and tell everyone they didn’t know shit, that the fungus would get here, eventually, that it would mutate, that it would kill his bananas and then he’d die of grief. I asked him once how he thought the fungus should be stopped, and he gave me a withering look and told me it was the scientists’ job to figure it out, not his. The scientists liked telling me things when my uncle was distracted. Maybe they thought I had potential.

My uncle knew his wife would leave for the city after he died. He told her that wouldn’t save her, that if the fungus didn’t get her, he would haunt her for the rest of her days. The fungus fascinated him. He kept close tabs on any plant disease that could possibly be a mutated version, he printed out articles and studies and read them in bed at night. The fungus hadn’t gotten anybody’s crops but his. It didn’t even get into his neighbor’s, Joseph, a man my uncle hated. He used to drive in his tractor to where his field ended and Joseph’s began and spit right over the line.

The day after the shiva ended, I returned to my uncle’s house with some gasoline in the trunk. I went to the shed and found the keys to the tractor. I drove until I reached the end of the field, where Joseph’s field began. I dumped the gasoline. I lit a match.

Joseph’s bananas were surprisingly flammable. They shriveled up in the heat and dropped to the ground. I wondered what the scientists would do, now that all the local banana fields had been burnt up. I decided I didn’t care. They didn’t know anything, didn’t even know to tell me how flammable bananas were, how easily whole lives could be consumed.

Noa Covo’s work has been published in Jellyfish Review, Okay Donkey, Hayden’s Ferry Review online, and trampset. Her micro-chapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press.

The Breakfast Triptych by Alexandra Kessler

I.      The first thing I remember is disgust. As a child, breakfasts of my lazy mother’s undercooked bacon while Arthur played on PBS Kids. I could eat happily while the animated characters talked, frolicked, Arthur’d, but could not bear to do so during commercials, where real human actors drove Hondas and digitally penetrated Floam. My bacon was made from the stuff of the people-actors—meatfatgrease—and it was like I was eating them. Jellied bites of the dull woman spooning Dannon yogurt into her clammy mouth. I chewed her tendons, the look in her dumb eyes, pleading. Covered my plate with paper napkin until the safe, textureless cartoon people came back. The ones without an appetite for themselves. My neighbor, very fat, stood shirtless in his front yard, staring directly into the sun. Frying. I studied art history in college and once went to Madrid to see Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych at the Prado. In Spain, there is special meat. Jamón ibérico de bellota. Pigs who only ever ate acorns. In the Triptych, silverywhite bodies squirmed and helixed. Twisted into spooky shapes by their avowal to fleshy consumption. But the figures themselves were clean, lean-limbed, pellucid. The devouring is acceptable if you are beautiful. I bought a ham and egg sandwich from a boy behind a counter and he watched me eat the whole thing, standing there in the store. I threw it up on the curb. In the left 1 panel of the Triptych, Adam touches his toes to God’s toes and God holds Eve’s wrist. Linked organs. Constant digestion. I bought another sandwich and could not taste acorns, only the lame salt of myself.

II.      Pete and I make fun of his wife. She’s a chef, and ugly. Pictures of her on his instagram— her greasy little eyes. Her smile like a happy face finger-poked into the meatloaf to make a stupid child laugh. It was never about her being beautiful, Pete says. He’s maybe embarrassed, but I understand: she’s kept him fed. I stand on her kitchen counter with my bare feet. Drink her half and-half. I play with her knives. I’m gonna slice you into pork chops, I say. Lick the blade. Pete laughs, but his body is scared. He says, get down. Years ago, he was mugged and stabbed while stumbling drunk down the street eating a 7/11 bacon egg and cheese. He is writing an essay about it, and I want to take him to Spain. I show him the wikipedia page for Bosch’s Triptych. He looks at me instead of the painting. Puts my thumb in his mouth and bites. His pointed canines dent me. His wife keeps her knives so sharp that you don’t even feel it when they cut you. Pete says he loves me. That he could swallow me whole. His wife is away, filming a cooking competition show called Bringing Home The Bacon. Pete and I get a week alone together. I worry that we’ll pickle but I risk it. He grabs the knife from my hands and holds it against his belly. He’s drunk. I’ve gotten so fat, he says. Plumped up for the slaughter. His eyes are sad and varmint. I just wish I had met you first, he says, and it’s worse for all of us that he means it. The first night we spent together I said I wouldn’t make him breakfast in the morning. I never learned to cook right. Good, he said, I’m sick of all the fucking breakfasts.

III.      Pete’s wife comes in last on Bringing Home The Bacon. Dead last, cut the first round. Your handling of this meat, the judge said, lacked a hunger for trancendence. She didn’t have enough time, but this is the game. She thought she’d carmalize edges, maple glaze, cook all the way through. She doesn’t understand how it’s so easy for other people. The chef who beat her, licking his wet lips. She drives away from the studio. It is late at night and early in the morning. Her raw face in the rearview mirror, oil-burned hands. On the side of the empty road, a 24-hour diner. She eats a plate of eggs and bacon while watching commercials on the streaked wall-mounted TV: husband and wife share some Tropicana. Sunny suburban kitchen. On her phone, no calls from Pete. The waiter brings her an extra side of bacon. Why not, he says, it’s just between you and me. Out the window, the sun rises. She feels the tilt of the world. The waiter watches her, the diner fills with their bodies. Dense and rare. It’s a new day, the waiter says, you have to start it off right. Her stomach shifts. She’s not hungry anymore, but she chokes it all down.


Alexandra Kessler’s short stories have appeared in such venues as JoylandJuxtaProse, Maudlin House, The Boiler, and Pigeon Pages. She was the recipient of the 2014 Lizette Woodworth Reese Award for Fiction, the 2016 Ross Feld Award, and the 2017 Lainoff Prize for Fiction. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology nominee. She lives in New York City and is at work on a novel.

The House on Hwy 18, Probably October 1999 by Brett Biebel

When I was 12, my dad spent a week camped out in the backyard. My brother and I would bring him Hamburger Helper and these little packets of ketchup we stole from the McDonald’s down the street. We’d talk about spaceships. Constellations. The night Ritchie Valens fell from the sky, and he said someday he’d show us where it happened, and we could leave flowers, and he’d never done it, but the drive really wasn’t all that far.

Except, that fourth night, we didn’t bring him anything. Could only see his shadow hunched over inside of the tent. My brother had found a dirty magazine in the dumpster behind the gas station, and we sat on his bed looking at it. Some of the pages were torn out. One of them had an ad for Campari. The women looked like they were from California or Florida or some place with lots of fruit and no snow, and my brother said someday his wife was going to look like that, and maybe mine would too. Only uglier. With fewer teeth. Definitely smaller tits. Then he said who was he kidding, and I wasn’t ever getting married, and his pal Lamar told him I was probably gay. I said I wasn’t. He rolled his eyes. I watched them moving around inside his head and realized he looked nothing like Dad, that it was only their laughs that sounded the same.


Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Chautauqua, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, will be published in December 2020 by Split/Lip Press. You can follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.

Before the Apocalypse, the Loss by Kara Vernor

Mom bought me Wilbur Mohammad’s Geo Metro for eight hundred dollars, an electric blue stick shift, a flea of a car. Wilbur’s down the road from us, and I’d been seeing that car in his front yard my whole life. It’s like her to give me what I can’t say I need.

The backseats are flipped forward and weighted with my duffel bag, two backpacks, stuffed Walmart bags, and a milk crate of my books. I’m about to drive 2,203 miles. It might well be the first time this car rolls over the Duplin County line.

Mom and I are propped against the driver’s side looking at our front porch, the unlatched screen door all the way open and tapping against the house. Beyond the door is the couch where she caught me having sex with my first boyfriend while she was supposed to be at work, recording for the family court. I heard her weeping that night in her bedroom like she was the one who had something to feel sorry for. When I woke the next morning, there was a box of condoms under my pillow.

But no matter where—porch, living room, or kitchen table—when I have said what I need, she hasn’t heard it. I told her I want to breathe air that doesn’t reek of hog bowels. You can’t Glade the whole outdoors. I told her I need to plant beans in soil that isn’t saturated with hog shit after every hurricane when the sewage lagoons at the industrial farms overflow. I begged her to make a new home with me, this woman who hears and refuses to hear, who tells me I’m beautiful when my face is knobby with pimples, who holds my cold feet against her warm stomach in winter. My Uncle David tried talking to her, too, swore he had room enough for the both of us in Tucson.

“You could get sick here,” I say again and grab hold of her hand at my side. Her fingers and mine are the same: long with inelegant knuckles. I tell her just three days ago there was another baby who was born blue.

“You’ve got your A.A. and you’re headed off to start your life, and you want to take me with you?” She shakes her head like she’s seen it all, like nothing makes any sense anymore. Same as when she insists the water is fine. The Earth isn’t getting hotter. The value of the house she bought all by herself hasn’t dropped because of the smell.

On the way to Arizona I sleep in efficiency motels. I ask a man at a diner to buy me a bottle of vodka and I dance for him on the orange bedspread in my room, my body limitless. I stretch on the side of the highway when I need a break, and the semis pull their horns. I watch out the window as fields flip by, the ones growing crops that feed the animals people eat without thinking. I drive with the window down an inch to let in the fresh air, and I listen to the rustle of my earrings, the ones I made from the shards of a conch shell mom dropped on the floor of the thrift store after she’d put it to her ear and heard a howling.


Kara Vernor’s fiction and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, Gulf Coast, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She has received support from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, and her writing has been included in The Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Her chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.

My Husband Bought a River by Mileva Anastasiadou

But now he is drowning.

He bought that river for me. He wanted to feel my pain, to know me better, he claims, but he’s on the verge of falling apart, because he can’t handle water, not like I do. He used to be calm, composed. I was the wreck up until now and he’d do his best to keep us together, he was the glue that kept the edifice standing. Collapse is the new normal and the glue can’t do much now, now that the ship we’ve been sailing on is falling to pieces. In fact, he wished to show me how good he can be, an expert at everything, he wanted it all.

But now he has nothing.

Husband holds on to me, like I’m his anchor, an anchor buried deep in the waters that drown him. He’s not familiar with waters that run deep, he’s dead frightened, shouting and yelling, but I can’t hear him, I’ve been drowning for long, I’m used to drowning, to endings, to danger. He’s been hopeful for long, afloat, but he can’t buy safety, he can’t swim now, now that the river is his to handle. He’s been the optimist, the joyful, the happy one.

But now he is desperate.

Remember the angst, the panic attacks, impending doom knocking at the door, for no apparent reason. Now there is a reason, I tell him. Now fear is justified. Justified fear is less frightening, it lessens anxiety, makes sense, soothes the pain, blessed are those who can breathe underwater, who walk proudly in chaos and all is back to normal, my kind of normal, now that the earth does not feel like home, now that we’re both drowning and life is beautifully terrifying.


Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Flash Flood, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Open Pen, and others.