Friday Soup by Riham Adly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not yet.” I say.

The ghost cat should have the soup instead.


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

Ernest Borgnine by Ian Anderson

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


 

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

Dandelion Skin by Jenny Wong

“Tim, what color’s the sun?”

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

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

“No reason,” I say.

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

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

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

They greet each other in their brotherly way.

“Loser.”

“Jerk.”

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

#

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

“Does your hair ever burn?”

My eyes snap open, “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shut up,” Tim rolls his eyes.

“Put your arm next to hers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How?”

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

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

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

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


 

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

Remember What? by Meg Tuite

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

The Synchronicity of Water by Sabrina Hicks

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

See, the leak you have is here.

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

Should be an easy fix, he says.

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

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

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

Oh? Not an easy fix?

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry to be so much trouble.

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

Pastime by Suzanne McWhorter

The game of baseball is inimitable among its sports companions in that the frequency of physicality varies, the experience unique to each player, each game. While instances of hard contact do occur, much of the physical interaction between players is light and in passing. It is, in fact, entirely possible that a single player could play through an entire game without ever being touched by another person.

In the morning, you turn your body sideways to pass between me and the counter on your way to the coffee pot. The burst of air created by the motion highlights the space between our skin, my arms erupting in goosebumps, each follicle of hair desperate for contact.

At dinner you bring a plate of lasagna to me in the living room while I watch the ballgame from the couch. I reach to take it from your hand, but you quickly, deftly turn away to set it on the coffee table. Instead of looking at the screen, you ask me the score and what inning it is. We briefly talk about how our pitching has been dominant, but we are still struggling. After another at-bat, I turn to ask about your day, but you are already in the other room.

In bed, I stay awake for an hour or so, listening to you fall into a deep sleep. In the silence, I reach out and press the tips of my fingers against your back; your skin quivers under my touch.

There is an inherent defensive nature to baseball. Other sports often place the priority, and indeed much of the glory, on offense. And in a sense, this is true for baseball as well, as the home run is still king among plays, and the great sluggers are often those most notably immortalized. However, where other sports exhibit equality on the field—an equal number of players on either side—baseball presents a defensive front against a lone batter, who must analyze the alignment of the fielders, the arm angle of the pitcher, and the speed and direction of the ball. Alone he must face this onslaught, the collective held-breath of the crowd an expectation that outweighs the 26.2% chance he has of success.

Before I even push back the covers to get up, you are already explaining to me why you have not done things I have not yet asked you to do. You lay out your work schedule, the friend you’ve agreed to help move, how tired you’ll be at the end of the day. You are already frustrated about the anger that is still hours away.

You arrive home as I am heading out the front door. You are an hour early, and I was supposed to be gone twenty minutes ago. I hold up one hand to keep you from blocking me in the drive and your face twists in question. Your window is down and I yell that there are leftovers in the fridge, that I’m sure I told you I wouldn’t be home tonight, that I’m running late and need to go. You put the car in reverse, slowly backing out while I watch your mind racing forward, full speed.

You do not say a word as I slide into bed, but I see that your eyes are open. On your inhale, I decide not to let you ask me where I’ve been. I remind you that I rarely go out, that I miss my friends, that they need me. When you start to reply, I shift the conversation slightly, not so far that it no longer connects to the previous, but just enough that whatever your comment may have been, it is no longer relevant.

The roaring outbursts of the crowd in a baseball stadium are all the more startling when compared to the long stretches of silence. During an at-bat, a fan in the last row of the upper deck can hear clearly the sound of the umpire calling balls and strikes. The crack of the bat against a ninety miles-per-hour fastball often comes so suddenly and violently, that even in this excitement, there is often a delay in vocal reaction, the voice of the crowd near atrophied in the moment it is needed most.

In the morning your hands are shaky from the restless sleep the old chair in the den provided you. I want to ask you why you did not come to bed, but the stillness in the room is broken instead by the sound of your coffee cup hitting the ground. Though the splash of hot liquid against my bare legs is painful, my voice has already forgotten how to cry out.

In the afternoon, I work from home, and the steady sound of the keyboard is a comforting metronome. I am in the middle of a sentence when my phone rings. You are calling me, which is unusual, and the shrillness of the generic ringtone freezes me in place. By the time I gather myself to answer, you have given up. I turn the phone to silent and resume typing.

In bed I lay alone, with eyes closed and ears straining to find any signs of life in the universe. I try to remember the rhythm and volume of your breath, the sound of your skin against cheap sheets. I wait for the creak of the third step from the top, or the turn of a key in the front door lock. But the only sound is that of a timid breeze outside the open window, and even it stops short of coming through the screen, afraid to enter for the sake of its own survival.


 

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Suzanne McWhorter is a graduate of the NEOMFA in Cleveland, Ohio. She is currently teaching English at various universities in the Cleveland area while continuing to write. Her work has appeared in Jenny Magazine, the Pea River Journal, and Embodied Effigies.

Palliative Care by Lauren Hummel

It was called a mille-feuille, the last cake she made for me. The layered cake of sugar and cocoa and almonds, the one she made for my fourteenth birthday, tasted like air, like nothing, as she withered into her own dust of a skeleton, cells relentlessly dividing from the inside, lumping together into masses on her knuckles, her knees, and her hips. The growths poked out like ganglions and she winced with every step taken, every fist made. She sat on the reclined La-ZBoy chair, her papery eyelids closed, the lashes had already fallen out. Her breath made a wheezing noise, like when I blew hard into a kazoo for my eleventh birthday.

Six months after my thirteenth birthday, when the drops of blood appeared in the lining of my underwear and when the blood appeared in the sink of her vanity, her face changed. The whites of her eyes, like beautiful porcelain, were now red and brown, burst capillaries spoiling the good china. It began with a radiating heat, from the crown of her head to the inside of her ear canal, the lymph nodes swollen. Cluster headaches paralyzed the right half, and pain emanated from within her brain to the back of her pooled eyes.

She told me, but I already knew. Dad was out for a drive. It was evening. The sun was setting. Lavender smeared across the blush sky, pink and purple swirled into beautiful, custard clouds. Wisps floated away, like specters moving off to distant lands. She was at the threshold of my room. I was doing yoga on my worn mat, inhaling to reach, exhaling to expand, stretching upwards vertebrae by vertebrae. She spoke the word “cancer,” which I traced on my forearm in loops and lines. She collapsed as the sun made its final descent.

A whisper descended onto the house, a perpetual hour extended into hushes. Dad sighed as he left rooms, a short intake of oxygen and a long breath out. It was the same breath she used to growl out when she shifted from down dog to forward fold, knees bent forgivingly, shoulders pulled away from her pink ears. She bowed and pressed her hands, praying back the health. Yoga didn’t help; neither did the aromatherapy nor the acupuncture nor the chemo nor the surgery. For a while it was sedatives, so her nights could stretch out. She woke up screaming, forgetting she was riddled with tumours. Then nothing kept her eyes closed through the pain. Dad snored on the couch downstairs.

So I massaged her.

I knelt beside the chair and pressed gently into her hands, kneading them like she kneaded the bread dough when she was well. I knew where the pressure points were, which knuckle was the most sensitive. I worked around them, rubbing my beds of my fingers into the hardened shells of the tumours in her hands. First the index, then the middle finger, then the ring finger, and finally, the pinky finger. The thumb I couldn’t touch. It remained in a crooked stance, frozen bent, flexing for a fist or something more. If I kneaded her hands, transference of my life to hers could be made. Maybe my love could cure these hardened abnormalities.

A spell fell over the air, a magic held. On the legs was where I could relax my pressure. I pushed my weight into the wasted muscles. I rubbed in circles and squares and triangles. She fell into a light sleep, her breathing slowed to the point where I brought my ear to her chest to make sure the lungs were inflating. I returned to her legs. Connect the dots–joints to femurs back to hips. I wrote words on her skin in cursive and coils–my name, her name, I love you, don’t die, please stay, one more cake please, tell me about my birth again, tell me how you named me, don’t die, not yet. I chanted a poem and traces lines of the runes. Their shapes and lines imbued with power to bring back the dying. I carved and coloured, so she will walk and talk. Writing those words into her body as a message, a plea, a prayer of grace to make her better. To flush the skin to its reddish hue, to place the varicose veins back into the circulatory system. I collected the words and carried them to her, but they were jumbled with other words invading in. I mixed them up with words like pain management, radiation, chemotherapy, handkerchief, wig, hospice, palliative. I chanted others like sugar, kiss, spoon, rose, caring, breakfast, daughter, mother, love, love, love.

I laid my head on her lap, a soft blanket laid across, as I migrated from knee to ankle, ankle to toe. The big toe was out of bounds territory, the worst of them all, worse than the thumbs. I detected the borders of the tumour, its bumpy skin visible through the invisible husk of a person. The tendons that fanned out from the spoke of her joint to the cusps of her toes were draped in the thinnest skin of all. The atlas of her veins was rubbery as I rubbed my fingertips over the vessels and nerves. I felt the sludge of the blood pulsing through.

She startled awake and moaned as I poured like milk flowed from a dirty cup to a clean glass. The muscles of her cheeks twitched as she tried to smile. I asked if she wanted me to make her anything to eat, I’d bake for her, her favourite, a honey cake with strawberries, but she shook her head. Three bent fingers combed through my hair and she weaved my hair into a braid, into layers like the cake she made for me, like strands of cocoa, like the glazing on top of a silken head, into a lasting act of love before she turned and made the final passing into the creamy clouds.


 

Lauren_Hummel_HeadshotLauren Hummel is an emerging writer with an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Toronto. She earned a Masters of Arts degree with distinction in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Gloucestershire. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Evansville Review, Heritage: New Writing VIII anthology and For Women Who Roar magazine. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Horsemouth and Aquariumhead by Elizabeth Turner

The woman with the horse mouth sighs; she tries delicately, but with that mouth, whatever comes out is a snort. Her gait is rather equine—her head posts up and down as she strides. She is waiting for the man with the aquarium head—no further instructions other than ​you’ll know him when you see him​, and if he’s been given any instructions about her, they’d be the same. She doesn’t know what an aquarium head will look like—rectangular with attachments? Like the treasure chest at the bottom of many tanks? But when he finally arrives, she knows. His head is green tinted glass, like something found on the beach, and beautiful. He’s filled with water weeds, wavy grasses, fish darting about, and behind all that was a pair of moony human eyes. She whinnies, trying to portray a sense of recognition and excitement, but she knows that all he probably sees are her yellowing teeth. He takes her hand and leads her away. ​I am walking down the street with a man with an aquarium head!​ she thinks, and then wonders how he breathes. When he turns his head to look for cars, she sees the gills pinkly flapping behind his ears. She blushes above her horsey snout and shoves a sugar cube in her mouth. She wonders how he eats, and where they are going. The man with the aquarium head takes them up a hill and down another to a bench overlooking the city; smog curls around the middles of buildings like tutus. She is sweating a little and bends to drink from a hose placed to fill a communal dog bowl. Then he hands her a book–​Spells to Counteract​. He pats the seat next to him. On a small pad of paper he writes, ​how did it happen to you? ​and pushes it towards her. The woman with the horsemouth ruffles the pages, sighs again, and dollops them with greenish spit. ​Work. Jealousy, ​she writes. ​I dated the boss. I didn’t know there were witches there.​ The man with the aquarium head nods and writes again, ​Everyone was a witch? No,​ she scrawls. ​Just two. A man and a woman. We had a company performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.​ Bubbles pop at the top of his head as he starts to laugh. The woman with the horse mouth begins to laugh, too; she whinnies and snorts. ​They didn’t even get the right animal! ​The man with the aquarium head reaches into a pocket and pulls out a canister. He shakes it at his new friend. Standing up, she unlatches the top of his head, and the greenish glass sparkles in the sun. She sprinkles in flakes of food. The bench is in the shade and the city fuzzes in the late afternoon. She knows just when to stop.


 

Turner_ElizabethElizabeth Horner Turner’s poems can be found or are forthcoming in Cutbank, Fairy Tale Review, Gulf Coast, Nightjar Review, and semicolon literary journal, among others. She’s been awarded a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and was selected as a Poetry Scholar for the Tin House Writer’s Workshop. Her chapbook, The Tales of Flaxie Char, was published through dancing girl press. She lives in San Francisco. She tweets (sometimes) at: @LHornerT

She Says by M.J. Iuppa

The recipe for lime Jello with canned peaches and shredded carrots is a family secret. She says this with a slight smile on her face as her pin-straight, mousy brown hair falls over her eyes. No one knows if it’s side salad or dessert, so it stays on the kitchen table weeping a bit in its green Pyrex bowl. She says this recipe is her growing up in the heartland. Still, she just couldn’t wait to leave her family; and now, they have left her, one by one, without a proper so long. This too is hard to swallow.


 

MJM.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past thirty years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.