Stopping by a Store on a Summer Evening by Francisco Delgado

Once the storm cleared, they left for their evening walk. The tree, whose branches scratched and pawed at their front windows only minutes ago, was back in repose. The gutters, overflowing and summoning the smells of garbage and sewage that ran just beneath them, had largely subsided, too. Only a few puddles remained – but not for long, not once an overzealous child or dog leapt into them.

The couple reached their grocery store and, without a word, entered. The doors parted and invited them in without touching them, and they heard the AC before they could hear the music. A song that sounded like Phil Collins, but was definitely not Phil Collins, played on low from somewhere.

Their favorite tea was on sale. For her, its smell brought back the green-blue sea of the Mediterranean, the warmth of the sun right after a couple’s massage on their honeymoon. For him, it brought back this same memory and others: friends gathered at a table, the warmth of being pulled in for a picture, faces livelier in memory than on their dormant social media accounts.

“Are we out of milk?”

“Get it,” looking at the expiration date, “It won’t go to waste.”

Nearby, two middle-aged men in matching chambray shorts talked about the storm. One was in a Martha’s Vineyard t-shirt, the other’s had the name of a university in blue, block lettering across the chest. The couple couldn’t tell if the men were close friends or strangers. If you know someone long enough, don’t they become a little bit of both?

Towards the front, the cashiers were all smiles. Fast hands, faster pleasantries. A customer or two mistook this friendliness for something more, engaging the cashiers in conversation beyond the trendy topic of the moment: the storm that had just aggressively pushed through their neighborhood and left.

“Crazy how fast it moved.”

“When something picks up that quick, it never lasts long.”

The couple’s own cashier was quiet, perhaps too focused on the actions of her hands to make eye contact. Afterwards, each of them wondered if it had been them – especially because the cashier brightened with the next customer.

“Could it have been -?”

“Had to have been.”

“But why?”

Outside, they stared in awe at the neighborhood they had made their own. The neighborhood, especially their moving-in almost a decade ago, had been such an event. Friends visiting, sharing well-wishes and bottles of wine, making soft plans for “next time” and “later” and “soon.” Recently, the neighborhood had become familiar without being cozy, like the Target that had replaced the bookstore or the bank that had replaced a bank.

“Should we keep going? Or head back?” he asked.

“Where to?” she replied.


F Delgado

 

Francisco Delgado is a proud Chamorro and, through his maternal grandmother, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca (Wolf clan). He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) and lives in Queens with his wife and their son. His creative work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Pithead Chapel, Lammergeier, and Wigleaf, and he is the author of the chapbook Adolescence, Secondhand (Honeysuckle Press, 2018).

Bones Passing Through by Stephen Ground

He asks for the bill.

I’ve been watching them. Grubby, tired. Eating slower than you’d expect from bony, glass-eyed ones like these. Beneath the patchy beard and mask, his eyes twinkle like fresh pennies. Like mine. Impossible, and I know it, yet I’m transfixed by the invisible weight hunching his shoulders, familiar grimness clenched in his jaw. Austere stillness found in cornered spiders and predators waiting to pounce. The boy’s brightness gleams through his smudged coat of unbathed weeks. Pink cheeks cut the tarnish.

I waddle behind the counter, slow since it’s the lull before bars close and hooligans start lusting for bacon. Resting on my elbows, I tally their order from memory: basket of fries, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a lemonade I’d refilled twice on the diner’s dime. My candles might cost more than my cake, but the mind’s sharp from years of nights with Sajak and Trebek, gulping jars of Nutella with a spoon when I should’ve been finding companionship, maybe love. Planting roots. Wisdom displayed on the bare mantle and walls of my musty, rented room.

I punch in the order and the register jams, like every other damn time. I hiss all the things I’d like to do to Mr. O’Neill, his tight wallet, and his seventh wife who, big surprise, got the morning manager job I deserved despite never working a day in her life. Somehow she’s the laziest one yet, which I never thought I’d say after Number Four. No, instead I get another season rising at sunset to sling coffee for folks who don’t want it known they exist, then trying to sleep after ten hours on my feet sweating like a heifer on a hamster wheel, daylight bleating through janky blinds I can’t afford to replace. I slam the side of the register with the heel of my hand and the chit judders free, streaked and bleary. Scanning the diner, I pluck a well-earned wedgie, subtle and quick, then wander towards their table, straightening cutlery and flicking crumbs to the floor off vacant ones. I present the bill facedown to the man with a fistful of probably-stale pineapple candies.

Thanks, he says, eyes averted. Hesitating to check the damage.

Don’t worry, I say, nudging it closer. I took care of you.

Thanks, he says again, hesitating a moment longer before sliding the candies to the boy and snatching the bill, cradling it behind cupped hands like I wasn’t the one who rang it in. Inscrutable panic deep in his eyes knocks me through a wormhole: I’m sixty-seven and seventeen in the same breath, overcome with no-tears shampoo and disappointment, flashes of tiny hands and distant, tinkling laughter. I’m staring at his trembling fingers clutching the crumpled bill. Dirty nails, knuckles swollen and red.

You okay, ma’am?

Blinking hard, I smile wearily at the boy. He looks like him, too, beneath the grime, the chips and holes in his cautious grin. How I imagine he would’ve, anyways. Though if you asked me to bet a slow night’s tips, I wouldn’t.

The bell over the door clangs and a wave of college drunks crashes in, swept by riptides of cheap beer and failed conquests. I wait for them to settle in a corner booth then pass by, dropping menus and mugs, splashing them full without asking like the Ken Jennings of caffeinating assholes. The bell clangs again; a ball of grimy, crinkled bills and sprinkles of small change holler like cannon fire next to the mostly-empty basket of fries, the mug streaked like gas station porcelain. A crumpled napkin sags in the dregs of the third lemonade.

I glance out the window at the parking lot; the glistening, humming street crammed full of emptiness. In another world – a fair one, if such a thing exists – I could’ve been clocking out at dawn and heading to their place for breakfast, having coffee poured for me, then strolling hand-in-hand with the boy to a school he hates, chatting about the little girl who drives him crazy. I just wish I’d been told sometimes chances come once, and fairness is illusion fueled by the desperate. In reality, the only fair comes around in the fall, the sparkling midway luring booze bags from the diner like half-priced domestics for a few nights, at least. I like that fair. I believe in it.

The clutch of drunks are hungry and fading, their booth a nest of sloppy three a.m. chaos I get paid the bottom legal dollar to wrangle, plus tips. Sliding a pad from my apron, I brace for omelette orders no self-respecting human would sniff without a pistol pressed to their temple; drop my weight on my good hip and poise my trusty ballpoint. Forcing a smile, I patiently scribble garbled orders with one eye and watch out the window with the other. Like any good mother could.

 


Stephen G

Stephen Ground is a short fiction writer, poet, and screenwriter based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he’s co-founded Pearson House Films. After graduating from York University, he moved to a remote, isolated community in northernmost Saskatchewan, filling years of long, dark nights by reading books and trying to write one. His work has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, Sky Island Journal, Typishly, and elsewhere, and is a 2021 Best Small Fictions nominee. Find more at www.stephenground.com.

Something Like Happy by Emily Devane

I came here with a body full of poison and hair loose in its sockets. The thrill of standing by the harbour is something else. Better than Disneyland, you say. Of course, I reply, of course.

Gulls screech like newborn babes and the air has a taste to it like sweat, like tears, like life at its gritty best. And we say yes: to ice cream with sprinkles and sky-blue candyfloss; to hours of digging holes in the sand and skipping over the waves, our skin staying just the right side of pink, our lungs stinging, singing with the salt; to crabbing beside the harbour wall; to feeding our two penny pieces into the metal-guzzling machines at the arcade, watching the forwards and backwards until they’re all gone.

By the caravan with the genuine Romany inside, I wonder if, with one look, she’ll avert her eyes, knowing my fate.

We climb the steps and I’m breathless but I don’t make a fuss because today is an illusion and it matters, more than anything, to be normal.

A stranger takes a photograph of us in the picture-postcard cemetery, its tombstones rakish as ageing teeth. Our faces beam with the relief of the fearful. For now, we are saying, this is okay, this can be done. And though the wind whips my hair into tangled knots and my scalp tingles with the losses to come and my life is too short to count, we are something like happy, and that is enough.


EmilyD

Emily Devane is a writer and teacher from Yorkshire, U.K. Her stories have won prizes, including the Bath Flash Fiction Prize, and have been widely published. Emily was a Word Factory apprentice and a Northern Writer’s Award winner. She is an editor at Saboteur-nominated online journal FlashBack Fiction.

Perennials by Mike Wilson

Here’s what my dad saw before he died: a lawn mower, an engine hoist with an empty chain that dangled like some sort of antique gallows, a rusted out motor home, and the house I grew up in. He’d been living in the motor home.

Dad died spraying weeds. My wife found him five days after he died, his body curled up into a ball behind the mower, near the spot where the wildflowers show up every year. His fingers were wrapped around the nozzle of the sprayer he’d filled with old engine oil to kill some brush near the fence line. A clump of choke weed grabbed at his legs, as if the earth were trying to absorb him. He would have laughed at this detail. He would have quoted the Bible, would have said, “That’s some Ecclesiastes shit right there.”

Here’s what he would not have liked: the notion that some critters had picked at him before Holly found him. He would have hated the thought that parts of his face had been eaten and shit out by opossums or raccoons or field rats or especially birds. Of all the types of shit, he hated bird shit the most. Here’s another thing he wouldn’t have liked: that I’ve slept the last two nights on the back porch. He would have been furious with me for the reason Holly kicked me out of our home. He would have said, “What the hell’s the matter with you? Didn’t I tell you not to fuck up your life?” He would have said this like it was that easy, like he hadn’t paid me this advice as we sat drinking on that porch when I was thirteen. A year older than he was when he started, so maybe he figured it was progress.

Holly’s feet crunch over the dirt and gravel as she walks around to the back porch to find me where she knew she’d find me. I fake like I’m asleep and I hear her stop, can feel her sizing me up, can feel her holding her breath, trying to figure out what she’s seeing, if I’m still me or if I’ve become a thing, like Dad. “Don’t do that to me,” she says, seeing right through me, like she always has. I sit up.

“Will you go in there with me?” I say.

She looks at me like she wants to leave, like she’s seen all she needs to see and doesn’t need anything more. I’m surprised when she says, “Okay.”

This is what we see inside the motor home: a tin pot full of red beans and rice on the stove; an old pair of jeans laid out over the arm of the sofa; yellowed white bath towels on the floor that still smell of vomit; work boots by the door; a thrift store paperback face down beside a paper plate with crumbs scattered like bird shot; a styrofoam cup with a few ounces of gin at the bottom; pill bottles; his wallet.

I open the cabinets and they are bare except for a few canned goods and mouse droppings. Of all the kinds of shit, I have always hate rodent pellets the most. Holly stands near the door as I grab a can of Vienna sausages. In all the years we’ve been together, with all our history behind us, those decades, it has come down to this: this is what I have to offer her amongst the dirt and dust and dried vomit and crumbs and old booze. I say, “Are you hungry? I could heat these up for us?” She laughs even though I’m not trying to be funny.

“I’d rather starve,” she says.

I take his wallet and we walk back outside.

Here is what he did: he made a sandwich and poured himself a drink and ate his lunch and then took enough oxy to kill two or three men. Then he went outside to spray the weeds.

Here’s what I do: I walk with my wife while she’s still my wife. I focus on every step as if I’m learning to walk drunk again for the first time, even though it’s been weeks since I’ve had anything. She walks me to the spot where she found him. Oil rests atop the mud puddles. If I ever tell this story to someone who doesn’t know better I’ll make this part into a happy ending. I’ll tell how she took me back. I’ll make a joke about it, say she gave me three second chances and thank God because it finally stuck. I’ll talk about how the wildflowers keep growing out there despite the oil Dad sowed into the ground. I’ll say that he left a note in his wallet, one that explained everything and said goodbye. I won’t say that what I really found was a grocery list. I won’t tell what really happened. I hate that ending.


Mike W

Mike Wilson has had work appear in The Adirondack Review, The Allegheny Review, American Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Cleveland Review, Litro, Midwestern Gothic, Potomac Review, Roanoke Review, The Rumpus, Tweed’s, and on NPR.

Our Ongoing Moment by Nick Black

KELSEY’S MOTHER

I’m painting a garden wall when her mother calls, and she laughs at my never seen in all our years together enterprise. “You really are bored, aren’t you?”

The truth is I’m far from bored, my mind’s geysering ‘round the clock, rolling my eyes back and forth behind their lids as I pray for sleep to come take me.  I was hoping physical activity might help after Kelsey pointed out one night that I was jumping from foot to foot, in the kitchen. I started with push ups and now have unliquid biceps for the first time in my life.  I got into the push ups over-zealously for a few weeks until I hurt my back and now they’re the size of small oranges. As I’ve not done any since, they’re also shrinking, slowly, like oranges left on a fruit bowl. I consider asking Megan, Kelsey’s mother, if she wants to see them while she can but it seems somehow inappropriate.

“You want to see my arms?” I ask. “They got big.” What the hell, she saw more than that, back when.

“Not especially,” she replies. The theory that Past, Present and Future coexist, their separateness a fallacy, a limitation of our perception, there just one constant ongoing moment?  Scientifically proven by the tone of those two words.

We discuss when Kelsey might go back which doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. The present expanding to the horizon in all directions.


THE INSTAGRAM CHALLENGE

Kelsey shows me the photo. I pull a face.

“What?!”

“I thought the idea’s to show solidarity against patriarchal legislature and the murder of women. You look like you’re put out they’ve cancelled ‘Dawson’s Creek.”

I see the blank, stop myself from explaining what Dawson’s Creek was.

She turns the screen to herself, muses, says “I like it.”

“It’s a good photo, I just don’t see how it… Maybe submit an angrier one?   Where you look like you’re fighting!” I throw a pose and feel foolish.

“No,” she says. “I like this one. I’m leaving it.” Backpockets the phone.

“You do look really nice in it,” I insist. “Will you send me a copy?”

Both of us dying deaths here.


WORK

She spends most of each day working in her room, wrapped in a blanket. It’s late July. If she’s not on a chair, in the blanket, she’s under the duvet, laptop on her stomach. I’ve given up talking about long term damage to her posture.

“I’m making tea. You want some?”

She takes her headset off. I repeat myself.

“Please. And a biscuit.”

Does she ever cocoon, in the blanket, under the duvet?

“Go,” she says, “I’ve got another call.”

I nudge the door to behind me.


REAPPEARANCE

I have an idea for a novel or a film or I don’t know what, if only I could figure out where to start it. A young kid, late teens, early twenties, turns up at home having disappeared for a day or so after a party. None of his friends who went with him saw him leave so they’d assumed he’d walked home on his own or caught a ride from someone else. The party’s on some farmland, remote. He could easily have staggered off drunk, stoned, into the fields to sleep off whatever, nobody’s especially worried about him until he reappears and his face is scratched up, his clothes scorched, slightly, like a hot iron had been sat on them for too long in several places. That and the fact that, when asked where he’s been, he tells his family he was abducted by a UFO, which makes them really mad, why can’t he ever tell the truth and so on. His older brother, convinced he knows what’s going on and what’s always been going on, thinks another guy’s involved, and maybe it turned sour, these not being the most liberal parts they’re living in. The plot thickens when it transpires that a girl who was at the party has also not been seen in days. The kid, instantly a suspect, tells the police, “yeah, I saw her on the UFO, I didn’t know who she was” but of course nobody believes him only, for lack of a body, neither can they arrest him for any crime. She never turns up, dead or alive. His whole life thereafter, he’s treated as a freak and possible girl murderer, struggles to hold down a job, stares into the night sky for hours, is a general mess.

“My god,” Kelsey says when I tell her my idea. “This really happened to you, didn’t it?”


LESS

I decide I’m maybe drinking too much tea and start to cut down. I tentatively restart the push ups. The oranges already look less dried up.

I decide to do the garden fence, since there’s paint left over. Many of the slats cross over like my bottom teeth and, if you stand in the right spot, you can watch the neighbours sunbathe, except the same gaps mean that they’d see you back. Were you to do that. I do my best to straighten the boards.

I’d barely started with the painting when Kelsey startles me. I can’t recall the last time I saw her in direct sunlight. Her eyes don’t seem too familiar with it either so I toss her my sunglasses, which she misses, and one of the lens cracks on the paving but the gesture, I feel, is appreciated and she puts them on. The cracked lens outright falls out the frame but she more or less fumbles it back in.

“You missed a bit,” she says, wonk eyed.  I stand there.  She stands there.

She comes and takes the brush from my hand.


NBlack

Nick Black’s writing has been published in lit mags including Okay Donkey, Splonk, Ellipsis Zine, Entropy, Bending Genres, and Jellyfish Review. He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.

Bird Dog Studios, 1962 by Alice Kaltman

Josie kneels on knees scuffed raw. She tilts her chin upwards as if to take communion. Her bright blue eyes—her ma’s eyes—are lasered at the bulbous silver microphone perched like a hornet’s nest on the stand in front of her.

Pa sits in a dark corner of the recording studio watching her, as always, his brown eyes steeled and rimmed with weary. The pittance of black hair still on his head is slicked back; pink scalp announces itself in alternating stripes. He’s worn his best shirt for this recording session because Bird Dog Studios are Big Time. His button down is bleached and starched so hard Josie could swear she had heard a crack each time Pa turned the steering wheel of the truck as they drove the four long hours towards this place. Towards this opportunity. Pa wouldn’t even crack a window for fear the churned dust from the dirt roads would sully his shirt’s startling whiteness. Josie got droopy from the stalled, hot air inside the truck, nearly fainted, and only felt back to herself once Pa got her a Pepsi from the soda machine in the Bird Dog lounge.

The sound engineer, a nice man who looks like Mr. Payard, her fifth teacher at the school she no longer attends—because it would be a sin to send Josie to school when she has what Pa tells everyone is “a heavenly calling”—adjusts the knobs and dials on the black box attached to the mike. There’s the pop, sizzle, fizz, and sharp tang of electric current on the verge of disaster. But only the verge.

“We’re good to go again, Sweetheart,” nods the nice man. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Mr. Payard had also been nice. He’d told Josie’s ma that Josie was bright the one and only day her ma picked her up from school like the other mothers did all the time. “Whip smart that one”, he’d said, and her mother gasped as if Mr. Payard knew about Pa’s whips, saved for special occasions. Josie squeezed her mother’s arm and consoled, “Not real whips, Mama. All Mr. Payard means is that I’m a good student.”

Now in the still air of Bird Dog’s recording studio, Josie raises her arms, sticky palms clenched. She inhales the deep suck of air her pa likes to tell people is Josie’s way of taking in the Holy Spirit. Sweat stains halo her armpits, ripening the slippery polyester of Josie’s Sunday best. The crimson sash around her waist binds her tighter than a trussed turkey, but there’s no time to adjust. Josie sings her pure little heart out. Voice as sweet as sun-ripened peaches. Voice like an angel. Voice like an exhilarated dove.

Josie gives herself over to song. She doesn’t know what, if anything, she’s channeling. All she knows is she’s singing for Ma, back home. Josie hits perfectly pitched high C’s then drops to a register so low it even shakes the blanketed boards of the studio walls. She imagines her ma bent over the ironing board, or the sink, or the toilet. Scrubbing, pressing, mending. Trying to keep things in order, to save the threadbare, to stretch the dinner of grits with an old cans of beans, to make due so that when Josie and Pa return he won’t have any dark reasons in him. So her ma won’t have to bend over in agony, and Josie won’t have to shut her mouth, her eyes, her ears, after all have been wide, wide open here in Memphis, at Bird Dog Recording Studio where the room is filled with the perfumed notes of hallelujahs and nothing can ever go wrong.


alice_headshot_glasses_

Alice Kaltman is the author of the story collection Staggerwing, and the novels Wavehouse and The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh. Her new novel, Dawg Towne is forthcoming in April 2021 from word west. Her stories appear in numerous journals including Hobart, Whiskey Paper, Joyland, and BULL: Men’s Fiction, and in the anthologies The Pleasure You Suffer, On Montauk, and Feckless Cunt. Alice lives, writes, and surfs in Brooklyn and Montauk, NY.

Sucker by Chelsea Stickle

We’re reaching through the chain-link fence to get at the tiny yellow honeysuckles when Macy remembers something. Her eyes are sparkling like her mother has promised her afterschool ice cream for no reason. I drag the honeysuckle to my mouth and continue the charade. I suck and suck the way Macy taught me, but I never taste anything. Not really.

Between slurps Macy tells me that she found out there’s a way to learn if you’ll ever get cancer. You just have to see if your hand is bigger than your face. It seems too easy, but Macy’s dad is a doctor. My dad’s an accountant.

I dump my flower in the crumpled pile at my knees, and lean back onto my heels. The trouble with knowing what’s coming is that there are fewer surprises. My fingers spread and my palm covered in love lines and family truths comes closer to whisper what my life will be. Full of birthday parties and midnight kisses and ice cream cake, I hope. Even when I’m old.

My life line rapidly accelerates. Macy’s hand is covering mine like she’s pieing me. One of my fingers is in my eye. My nose feels wrong. The sting reverberates in waves across my face. Only a little faster than my brain understanding what just happened.

The smack is loud enough to get the attention of the girls playing horses nearby but not loud enough for Ms. Cunningham to notice. The girls go into hysterics, falling over each other like they weren’t about to ride each other.

Macy retracts revealing a face full of unbridled glee. Their laughter is her afterschool ice cream and today she’s getting two generous scoops of mint chip. She twirls the flower on her skort and sticks it in her mouth like a prize. The discarded yellow flowers on the woodchips around her, a flower crown.


Chelsea Stickle lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her black rabbit George and an army of houseplants. Her flash fiction appears in Monkeybicycle, The Molotov Cocktail, matchbook, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. She’s a reader for Pidgeonholes. Read more at chelseastickle.com/stories or find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

Mentholatum by Ross McMeekin

The morning after Steve Lando discovered he was going to be a father, he and Teddy Nguyen drove Highway 2 through Gold Bar and Index up to Steven’s Pass to go snowboarding. The weather was dry until they hit Skykomish, when sleet started to fall, which slowly turned into a thick wet snow as they made their way further up the mountain.

Teddy rolled down his window to flick ash from a cigarette. The truck tires spun for a quick moment on the snow before catching. They were halfway through listening to Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil” when Teddy turned down the music and screamed. Teddy could do a good David Lee Roth animal howl, though there were very few people who could appreciate it.

Teddy turned down the music. “Lando, you’re bumming me out. I can feel your vibes. They’re gross.” He changed lanes to pass a Suburban that was going twenty through the packed snow.

“Relax,” said Steve. He turned the music back up. He worried about what a person should listen to around a child and at what volume. He didn’t know what one did with a child. He’d never even held one.

“Get it together, motherfucker,” yelled Teddy over the music. “Today we ride. Park and pow!” He slapped the wheel with his palm.

Steve hadn’t mentioned the pregnancy to Teddy, or anyone else. When his girlfriend Mona had told him the news, they’d stayed up late talking. The only way he could describe the conversation was that it felt like a phone interview, with all the silent pauses, the awkwardness. It was tough to put to words feelings you didn’t recognize. He’d managed it by being polite and asking questions, and letting Mona do most the talking, which she’d seemed grateful to do, or at least willing. After he left her apartment, all he could think to do was lift weights, so he went to 24 Hour Fitness and worked out until he could barely move.

They parked along the side of the road a quarter mile away and slowly trudged toward the slopes in their boots, snow piled up high and dirty beside the road. They planned to meet up with their friend Barney, who taught lessons in the morning and worked the afternoon shift at the Jupiter Express chairlift, which ran up nearly fifteen hundred vertical feet in four minutes. After spending most of the morning in the backcountry on the far side of the mountain, they found Barney at the chairlift and got in line.

The lift attendant wore a beard tied into braids and was eating popcorn from a bag. Steve could smell the butter, which reminded him of movie nights when he was a child. He wondered how old a child had to be to watch movies.

It was their turn to get on the lift. The three of them hustled up to the red line and waited for the chair to swoop around and pick them up. A single got in next to them to fill out the fourth seat, a boy in skis and a parka that had a patch of the Nordic cross on the breast. Steve wondered how old he was but didn’t ask, because when he was a kid he’d always wished he was older, and admitting his actual age was always a letdown.

They all sat down and the chair rushed them up the mountain, lifting them through the tree line. Out past the lifts was a steep face covered in the scattered lumps and depressions of a mogul run. To the sides were evergreen trees laced with snow. Steve watched two skiers traverse the cat trails snaking between the trees. How long before you could teach a kid to snowboard?

“The air up here is like a drug,” said Teddy.

“I took Sudafed last night,” said the boy. “I had a cold but now it’s gone.”

“Well here’s something for you,” said Teddy. “Hockey players used to take handfuls of Sudafed before games, to give them energy. That’s because the same drugs that are in Sudafed are also in meth. Do you know what meth is?”

“Let’s not talk about meth,” said Steve.

“They keep the meth Sudafed behind the counter now,” said Barney, pulling one of his gloves tight. “They have to see your I.D. if you want to buy it. And they’ll only sell you that one package.”

“I play hockey,” said the boy.

“I almost forgot,” said Teddy. He took off his glove and dug around in his pocket. He handed what looked like tightly-wrapped candies to each of them, including the boy. “Mentholatum cough drops,” he said. The boy looked nervous. “They’re fine. They’re cough drops. Suck on them for a few seconds then open your mouth to the cold. It’ll feel like ice fairies are dancing inside.”

Steve removed his gloves and slid them into his pockets and unwrapped the lozenge. It was marbled white, slightly translucent, like the ice covering the lake of the winter cabin he’d visit once a year with his family, the lake he’d learned to skate on, and then hockey, with Teddy. He popped the lozenge into his mouth and sucked. He opened his mouth and felt the sharp cold. But there was also a warmth in his stomach and neck: this would be a trick a father would show a child.


Ross McMeekin

Ross McMeekin’s stories have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Redivider, Tin House Flash Fiction Fridays, and X-R-A-Y. His debut novel, The Hummingbirds (Skyhorse), came out in 2018.

Seeping by Lucy Smith

In those small, empty hours, you find your hand putting the milk bottle in the oven, the cornflakes in the cupboard under the sink. 

A cat flashes its eyes at you from the top of the back garden fence and you know, through the window, that it sees. It sees the soul is out of you. There’s nothing inside your skin. It’s the time of the night when you could do anything. 

Slumped on the kitchen stool, you look at your fingers like they belong to something else.

The soul has to wash back in, on the shush of the dawn, when the oily sky spreads its pink and blue. Until then the streets run in dark threads from your gate. 

Your son sleeps in the room above. His soul is also out to play at this time of night. His head is filled with dreams of dark water; cold sharks sliding past his skin, red and yellow fish. There’s a diver ahead in a thick suit that covers everything but the hands, which are his dad’s.

You can’t dream anymore, because you can’t sleep. Your fingers are too cold to feel, and the cornflakes are left soggy on the counter, as your bare feet move towards the back door.  

Later, you will retrace your steps, wash up your bowl, make your son’s breakfast. Until then it’s just your toes on wet grit, ivy growing in chaos down the black alley, the glowing eyes of animals, the unshakeable chill. 


Lucy_Smith

Lucy Smith is a flash fiction, prose poem, and short story writer from North West England, currently based in Cardiff, Wales, where she has completed an MA in Creative Writing, two artist residencies, and co-written an audio story. She is the creator of Talking Ink, a podcast in association with Seren Books, showcasing flash fiction writers and poets and featuring music from local artists. Her fiction has been published by Palm-Sized Press and won awards from Legend Press and Lancaster University. Find out more on her website: lucysmithwriter.wordpress.com Continue reading “Seeping by Lucy Smith”

Remember the Sonics by D.H. Valdez

One late August afternoon, Roger Ruiz sat on a bench atop a hill that overlooked his former high school. He was wearing a white Sonics jersey, which is significant to the story because it is always nice to remember the Sonics and because in a few moments, the jersey would be covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash.

He was smoking a cigarette and was mildly concerned that this would be the one that sent him over the threshold into addiction. But more than this, his thoughts were on Mr. Garza, his former teacher who he had seen earlier in the day at the grocery store. Roger had put a loaf of rye bread in front of his face to avoid being seen. He loved Mr. Garza and was not sure why he did it. The reflexive act disturbed him enough to go atop the hill to smoke and contemplate and reflect.

Roger dropped his cigarette and made an attempt to put it out but his foot missed the still-smoldering butt. Oblivious to his mistake, he reached for another cigarette. The brown grass that had been burnt from the hot Seattle summer caught quickly. A fire about the size of the palm of a hand sprung from the earth. Startled, Roger stood up from the bench but rose too quickly and clumsily, causing him to trip. The fire grew to two palms.

Now on his back, he needed to act quickly. He aimed his body for the fire. He rolled over the flames and successfully put it out. His waxy Sonics jersey was now covered with dirt and trace amounts of ash. Everything was under control but he fled the scene, zipping down the hill towards his former school.

Later while on a jog, Mr. Garza ran slowly up to where Roger had recently been. He noticed a strange patch on the slanted face of the hill. A clean circle of dirt exposed around a blackened perimeter of barbecued grass. He patted the back of his head. The spot reminded him of his balding hair. He finished his run.

Rain poured heavy in Seattle that September. The grass on the hill greened much quicker than most years. The burnt patch began to heal, to grow.

One weekend that fall, Mr. Garza bought a Sonics hat at the mall. He took the tag off and placed it on his head immediately. The hat made him feel much better about his appearance. As he was heading back to his car he noticed Roger shopping at another store but didn’t move to say hello, thinking back to the time weeks before when he had seen him hiding behind a loaf of bread. As he remembered this, he saw Roger smiling and coming his way.

“Hey Mr. Garza!” Roger said. The two shook hands.


D.H._Valdez

D.H. Valdez teaches Social Studies at his former high school. He holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching from the University of Washington. He and his wife Holly grew up together in Seattle and continue to live in the city. They are avid sports fans and desperately await the return of the Sonics. Valdez has previously been published in Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Citron Review.