When Home is Not an Option by Naz Knudsen

Burning coals glow red atop the golden plate. The friendly café owner props the Hookah next to us by the planters of mauve and red lilies. My mom nods her thank you. I whisper mine. You say, “Merci,” and with it, watch my parents beam in your sweet attempt to speak Farsi. Our Turkish host chimes in, “Teşekkür.”

We flew across the ocean and over the seas, you and I, to meet my parents somewhere in between. I wanted you to experience a place akin to where I grew up—a city cloaked in honking horns and exhaust smoke, where drivers color outside the lines, and dark brown eyes are framed with deep wrinkles of smiles.

Winding the cobblestone paths to the Galata Tower, we wander in and out of shops tucked into ancient walls. We practice our negotiation tactics with the amiable shopkeepers; we resist buying a large rug with hues that mimic the mood of the Blue Mosque watching over the Old City and its red-tiled rooftops. In the bazaar, you linger near the fragrant heaps of herbs and spice. I am drawn to the kaleidoscope of shawls and scarves. My fingertips run along the gleaming threads of silk. On a shelf next to the amber bracelets and opal rings, an orange tabby is soundly asleep. Ceiling fans lift the heat from our cheeks, the delicate fabrics dance. Blue and gold, sage and silver shimmer with the slightest breeze.

We find our way to the water. Near the bridges across the Bosporus, we settle in at a café hidden in a narrow alley, where old Maple trees shelter the travelers and the local passersby. Between the Black and Marmara Seas, Europe, and Asia, the four of us gather. We smoke Hookah, drink from thin-waisted teacups, and savor little Turkish Delights. My mom cuts into the flaky layers of Baklava, and I long for that hint of bitterness that almond paste leaves behind. “Iranian Baklava is different…it’s concentrated and intense, better , I think,” I say. You disagree, but I can trace a faint smile in the depth of your blue eyes. My dad laughs, and you roll the dice. The rug-covered cushions feel intimate, rough, just right against my bare legs.
Bubbles form in the base, loud at first, but soon they fade into the clinking of teacups. The sound of the checkers hitting the edges of the wood brings back memories long forgotten: the times my grandfather used to challenge my dad to a game of backgammon with a bit of bantering on the side.

Hagia Sophia, with all its charm, awaits us somewhere beyond this street. I sip on the hot tea with a perfect note of cardamom and think, perhaps tomorrow. Today, I want to be in-between.


NazbKnudsen

Naz Knudsen is an Iranian American writer and filmmaker. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Mayday Magazine, and she has a flash piece forthcoming in an anthology by Alternating Current Press. Previously, her translations have been published in Farsi. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches storytelling and film editing. You can find her on Twitter, @nazbk.

Exhausted by Brenden Layte

It spits and heaves from the bus downtown. You’ll notice men looking at your mother strangely and feel scared, so you’ll focus on the Velcro on your scuffed-up dinosaur shoes. When you go by Rural Cemetery, there will be a three-decker that your great grandmother lives in. You’ll announce the importance of this location to everyone on the bus. In another couple years you’ll find out that she walked the same route the bus takes before school every morning to deliver her family’s daily piece work when she wasn’t much older than you.

It fills the street behind you from an ancient panel truck, somehow still in one piece. The seats and frame will creak and bounce while you’re delivering nuts to the city’s dive bars with your father. He’ll get dirty wads of cash and you’ll get a few bags of pistachios, maybe even some red ones. In one bar, there will be an old-timer, a friend of your grandfather’s—the one who killed one of his kids and brutalized the others. You’ll sit at the bar and stare at pickled eggs floating through vinegar that hasn’t been clear during your lifetime while your dad jokes about how he could take his dad now that they’re both older and the old man at the bar will just laugh and shake his head. You’ll wonder why anyone would care about this but one day you’ll understand.

It fills your lungs because somebody thought it was a good idea to put an enclosed train platform next to the opening of an expressway tunnel. You’ll wait here bloodied to get the last train home from punk shows when you’re 15. Or you’ll be 19, fiddling with a discman, sad about a girl, reading a book that you don’t like all that much but has the right affectation, and you’ll already be nostalgic more often than you should be. You’ll be waiting to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas or maybe even Easter if it’s before your grandmother is too frail to pick up a ham or cut through a turnip.

It sputters from tuk-tuks outside an after-hours club. It’ll be five or six in the morning, and you’ll have been at this for days now. You’ll think that you’re probably ready to go home, but you might just end up in a flophouse downtown again. You’ll be looking around too much because a man that was wearing an all-white suit kept grabbing your friend and she kept telling him to fuck off, and you were high so you threw a drink at him and fucked up his white clothes which caused a scene and so you swiped through the converging bodies to get a few hits in. So now you’ll be outside coming down and nervously fidgeting with a cigarette you won’t be sure about lighting and drivers will descend on you with promises to take you to places where you can keep whatever this is, because it’s clearly not a party anymore, going.

It hovers low like fog, casting a gray-brown filter over everything, even the waves lapping at the posts barely holding the dock above the water. You’ll walk past the boats to the end and wonder what it would feel like if the pylons broke and the dock just floated out into the ocean with you on it, untethered and sinking. You’ll have woken up in a broken-down old bathroom stall, your clothes wet with something that hopefully came from you and coarse with sand. You’ll have stumbled out, bought a beer, and sipped at it while taking in the first light of day under a banana tree. Then you’ll have stripped off your clothes until you stood naked and alone on the beach, walking into cerulean surf set ablaze.


Layte_photoBrenden Layte (he/him) is an editor of educational materials, a linguist, and a writer. His work has previously appeared in places like Entropy, Ellipsis Zine, Pithead Chapel, and the Forge Literary Magazine. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with his girlfriend and a cat that was described as “terrifying” the last time he went to the vet. He tweets at @b_layted.

Dogcalling by Sage Tyrtle

I was waiting to cross the street when I heard humans barking. I turned, and a convertible Mustang full of young men howled with laughter. One screamed, “Only a dog would look if they heard barking, you fucking ugly dog!”

I didn’t say anything.

The barking got bigger, faster, the terriers transformed into Great Danes. Two men half-stood in their seats, spit spewing with every bark. The light changed and the Mustang sped off, shrieks of “ugly dog” and “fucking dog” drifting back on the wind.

That wasn’t the first time a stranger called me ugly. It wasn’t even the hundredth time. The first time I was five. A blonde girl examined me, her impeccable nose almost touching my cheek. She said, “What’s wrong with your face? You’re so ugly.”

I was born in 1972 with a cleft palate. Put your finger right under your nose. Trace down to your lip, following the line of your philtrum. I was born without a philtrum. I was born without that connection, and the split, the cleft, ran right through the roof of my mouth.

I was born looking like a little kid drew a cat’s mouth on a human face. And the surgeons did their best, but it was still 1972. I have a scarred upper lip and a smushed-in nose. In North America, surgery’s improved so much that I never see a young person who looks like me. But every once in awhile I’ll see a stranger my age, with the same scar, the same nose. And I always feel this hot flush of joy, have to stop myself from running to them, to hugging them tight, to shouting, “Hello! We look the same! We’re from the same place!”

After the Mustang sped away I wondered why that moment, a drop in an ocean of nasty moments, was such a gut punch. Perhaps it was the calculated script. A car full of young men who had figured out the perfect way to get women to “admit” to being ugly, and when their plan worked their rapture was grotesque.

I wonder what would have happened if I’d shouted too. “Driver guy, you have brown hair!” or “Baseball hat guy, your dad was never kind!” or “Hey you in the backseat, you put sedatives in Solo cups at frat parties!”

I wonder what would have happened if I’d turned into a harpy and flown at them. Majestic wings breaking arms, razor talons drawing blood, beak pecking out eyes. Their gleeful barks turning to screams.

But instead I leaned on the telephone pole, dizzy with rage. I waited another light cycle before crossing the street.

As I got older, I discovered that being beautiful was no better. One friend told me about being the only person on the subway car when a drunk man got on. He sat next to her, he asked her out. She said no. She said no, but she was very nice, because it was a long way between stops, and it was 1 AM, and she was afraid. The man kept telling her how beautiful she was, while she weighed which would put her in more danger: staying on the empty subway car, or exiting and being followed. What saved her in the end was how drunk the guy was. She got off, was able to run up the stairs much faster than he could, and lost herself in a big crowd of people heading home from the bars. They’re angry when I’m ugly and dogcall. They’re angry when she’s beautiful and catcall. The game is rigged and all I’m trying to do is, you know, walk to the fucking library.

In 1991, I met my husband Todd on the internet. The baby internet, the internet that was just words on a screen. No images. No video. He told me he loved me before he knew what I looked like. He fell in love with my words, and I fell in love with his.

Many years later, I was walking with Todd and our son down the street in Montreal. We were laughing, all three of us, and a young man slowly passing us in a car shouted something. His Quebecois accent was thick, and I called, “Sorry, what? I couldn’t hear you,” and then kicked myself for being so foolish as to ask.

The man called again, “What a beautiful family! You are a beautiful family!” and we all laughed with delight. But that’s not the best thing a stranger ever said to me.

I’d just finished telling a story on stage in which I said everything I wish someone had said to me when I was a teenager. When I was waking up every day and chanting, “You ugly fuck, you should die,” in the mirror.

There are a lot of words in that story, but they all mean the same thing: you are worthwhile.

My husband was waiting as I packed up my props, and a seventeen-year-old girl came walking up to me. She whispered, “Hi. Um, I just wanted to say thank you. For the things that you said in your story.”

I told her how much her words meant to me. I asked if I could give her a hug, and we hugged for a long time, and I didn’t know how to say it but I hoped she understood that what I wanted to tell her was this: I was you, once. And someday, you’re going to be me.

After she left, I burst into tears. I cried on the sidewalk and on the subway and on the bus. I cried and cried. I cried so hard that two women sitting on the bus glared at my poor innocent husband, which made me giggle and then sob even harder.

I turned to the window, taking deep breaths. For a moment I saw the ghost of a Mustang convertible before it fell away into the darkness.


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Sage Tyrtle’s work is available or upcoming in X-R-A-Y, The Offing, and Apex among others. She’s told stories on stages all over the world and her words have been featured on NPR, CBC, and PBS. She runs a free online writing group open to everyone. Twitter: @sagetyrtle

Eggshells by Elizabeth Koster

Ravenous at midnight, I shuffle to the fridge, crack the shell of a hardboiled egg, peel it over the trash. I bite into half, take a crust of bread, leave the rest.

Some evenings, I make eggs for dinner–they’re easy and require little thought. Mornings, I wipe my pan, pour new oil, and turn on the fire until it click-click-clicks.

Stacked against the wall are cookbooks I used when I was with Matt. He made pork chops with glazed string beans, roast chicken with rosemary. On his second visit, he arrived with a bouquet of tulips and a carton of eggs.

A new photo on his Facebook page shows a spry, sparkling blond atop Mount Taurus, where we had once climbed. Did he hold her hips as they kissed, before they picnicked on the cliffs above the Hudson?

I hike with a friend and her husband who love to cook. They try to decide whose soup was better the other weekend–his pumpkin or her squash. The nutmeg in yours was so good, she says. But the cardamom in yours, he says, his hand brushing against hers, added even more warmth. 

I get up to crack eggs into a cup. The oil warms in the pan.

On the last hike we’d taken, we walked in silence as our boots crunched over rocks. Matt didn’t know what to say about my mother’s declining health, her cancer that had spread into her bones.

She’d sat hunched in her bedroom as I sliced her a peach.

The eggs bubble and pop as I look for something to add, something more than just salt.  I see a wedge of Brie. I toss in pieces and see them shimmer, lift the trembling mass onto a plate.

My mother had once sat perched with spoon to my infant mouth.

I add pomegranate seeds. Truffle oil. Dried dill. Sea salt.

I lifted the peach to her lips.

“Mom,” she called to me, mashing the fruit on her tongue.

I take my plate to the table, raise my fork. The seeds burst in my teeth and are sweet against the Brie’s salt. I break the yolk with my mouth and taste its rich silk.


EK_ColdSpring

Elizabeth Koster’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in River Teeth, Hobart, and The New York Times “Modern Love” column. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Columbia University and has taught creative writing in public schools, nonprofits, and a program for incarcerated women on Rikers Island.

She Should See This by Nadia Staikos

The cousins have been taking turns in the backseats of different cars as we zig our way across the States; the parents switch us up so siblings won’t fight and drive them up the wall. There are gummy bears in this uncle’s car. My cousin eats them by first biting off every tiny appendage, one at a time; ear, ear, arm, arm, leg, leg. Body. Chew. She’s the eldest, and she doles them out at the same pace in which she eats them, and I sit with the aftertaste of each one for a while before I get another, watching the scenery whip by.

It’s 1990. When someone has to pee or gets hungry, a message is written in big letters on a piece of paper and gets held up in a window. The driver pulls up beside each car long enough for the passengers to read the message, then takes the lead, everyone following behind them to the next gas station or to pull off on the shoulder. We’re in a constant state of picnic; trunks are popped open and out come blankets, coolers full of food. The moms take the kids to pee in the trees while the dads have a beer and look at maps.

“M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.” Another aunt is in the front seat of this car, and so now we all know how to spell Mississippi. My little brother repeats it over and over again, and he’s only five years old, so everyone thinks it’s so great, but enough already, we get it. There was an oversight, and we’ve ended up in the same vehicle. There’s a cousin buffer between us, listening to a Walkman.

“Holy cow,” my aunt says, every time we pass fields of cattle. I feel like my giggles are expected, and I pray for no more cows.

“How do you get from Canada to Las Vegas?” Everyone keeps asking my brother, every day.

“You just follow the yellow line on the road,” he explains, earnest.

 

My dad’s brother is driving this car. Things get tense in the front seat.

“Look at him,” my uncle says, angry. “What is he doing?” He has a voice that sits comfortably in anger, but I can tell something is really wrong. I crane my neck around the headrest, trying to see through the windshield. My family’s car is ahead of us, my dad at the wheel. I’m not sure about the rules of driving, but I see my dad has pulled into the next lane. He’s driving so fast, right towards the oncoming traffic. “That son-of-a-bitch is going to get everyone killed!” I feel heat prickle through me. Grown-ups can’t get mad like that, not at other grown-ups. My dad swings the car back into the right lane and my uncle swears with relief. My aunt is fiddling with the radar detector. I stare out the window, turned to hide my face, hot with shame. I refuse to speak.

When we make the next stop I run to my parents, and now I couldn’t speak even if I wanted to. My tears won’t stop. He almost got them all killed, and words were yelled, like yelled about him, and he was a son-of-a-bitch, and what did that make me?

 

Everyone is getting out of the car, but I keep my eyes closed.

“She’s going to miss it. She should see this.”

“Let her sleep,” my mother’s voice decides over the sounds of belt buckles clicking, chunking door handles, excited children stretching legs. I can feel eyes on me, expectant, but I’m good at pretending. I’m thrilled by how good I am at pretending. My cousins slide out, bouncing the seat, but I don’t move an inch. I’m a daughter-of-a-son-of-a-bitch, doing what I want. The doors close and the voices are muted by glass and steel. Our fleet has pulled over to see something beautiful; they’re gathering for a family photo that I’ll be missing from, smiles stretching like the Nevada desert. I stay still, listen to myself breathe.


 

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Nadia Staikos (she/her) lives in Toronto with her two children. Her work has previously appeared in perhappened, (mac)ro(mic), Fudoki, and elsewhere. She is prose editor at Chestnut Review, and is currently working on her first novel. Find her on Twitter @NadiaStaikos.

 

Still Chewing On It by S.P. Venkat

“What did you have for lunch?” she asks, over Zoom. I promise, I wasn’t watching the whole class. I had other things to do. But I caught that. I stop and listen. What will he say? Will he tell her the truth?

“Rice and dal,” he says plainly.

I realize I’m holding my breath. Waiting to hear what she says. To hear what the others say. Will they allow it?

I am transported back to the school canteen, where my beloved puri and potato are currently being sneered at. “What’s that yellow mush?” One of them ask me. She is not really interested in the answer.

To have my meal thus slandered, hurt. But I also see what they see. A sad curled up little circle of oily bread in my lunchbox. And a square of unrecognizable, save for the peas, yellow mash.

Under their scrutiny, I am ashamed. They don’t know how tasty it is. The chewy bread is so satisfying, even cold. I’d been looking forward to it all morning. It’s a different but equal pleasure as leftovers. A pleasure twice anticipated and twice savored.

I tear off some puri, scoop up the potato and eat it. My mouth is watering with pleasure. But my heart isn’t in it. I try to be nonchalant, and it seems to have worked. They’ve moved on to other topics. They don’t really care. But look at me, 27 years later, remembering and still hurting. I’m still chewing on it.

I think of a story a friend once told me. It had been a similar thing with a teacher asking each child to state their favorite foods. “Rice and yogurt,” one boy had said. The teacher shook their head. “That’s not a real meal, honey.” The boy had looked crestfallen, my friend told me.

I imagine him baffled. If it wasn’t a real meal, why did he eat it every day? And love it so much? My friend had been there, another fellow yogurt-rice eater. But she’d stayed silent. She’d let him swallow the humiliation alone.

“Well, what did you say?” I’d asked at the end of the story.

“About what?” she’d asked.

“As your favorite food.”

“Oh, I don’t remember. Probably pizza.”

I don’t blame her. I probably would have done the same. It’s not a big deal. Whatever, right? But why did she tell me this story, so many years later?

I’m watching a documentary on Netflix. It’s hosted by a famous chef. He is of Korean descent. He’s got a famous restaurant in New York City. There’s this one segment where they film him in his parent’s house.

He’s asked about what he ate as a child. And he talks about how embarrassing it was to bring his home food to school. This guy? Are you kidding me? That food has literally made him a millionaire. A household name. But he still remembers having his food called stinky. When he talks about the taunting, his eyes wander. He doesn’t look at the interviewer or the food. I shake my head in disbelief. He shouldn’t be holding on to this, but clearly, he does.

Back in the present, I am still looking at the screen. “Rice and dal?” the teacher asks. I brace myself.

“That’s your favorite, right?” she asks tentatively and smiles.

He nods. No big deal to him. Or her. She’s already moved on to the next child. Anyway, half of them aren’t even listening. Distance learning with 5-year-olds is a mess.

It was all so matter of fact. I am relieved. No, it’s not just relief. I am grateful. I breathe again.


Smita_Profile_Pic_09.2021S. P. Venkat is a writer and comedian obsessed with the idea of displaced and reforged identities, aka immigrant lives. She also creates interactive comedy experiments, like her viral “Parenting in a Pandemic Simulator” which was featured in the Huffington Post. She is currently working on her first novel, Fired Up, which is a finalist in the SparkPress STEP contest for BIPOC writers. Find out more at http://www.almostfavorite.com.

That Which We Call a Rose by Samantha Costanzo Carleton

SAMANTHA

My mom thought Samantha meant strong: The female Samson, destroyer of limits and all variations of “no.” But it means listener instead, and I listened to her lest I take half a step outside of the route she mapped. I strained so hard to hear that when I finally did become strong, it surprised her. I tore up the tracks with my own bare hands and told her no—no, thank you. Now I listen for signs in the sound of autumn leaves, for something that falls in my fingers and melts like a snowflake.

MARIE

In Paris, I thought of Marie, but we’d never been that close. She belonged to nearly every girl in school—the ones who didn’t get diamonds, at least. My sister was given Francesca. So unique! said the other Something-Maries. I didn’t expect to love Paris, the city that slumbered in every heart like Marie stuck in so many names. But something in me understood the gardens right away, the river and the islands and the stone. I have only ever lived near water, after all.

LUCY

The confirmation teacher told us all to pick new names, and I don’t think he ever said why. We took classes but lacked understanding, said prayers because we should. I looked it up. A new name stood for change and maturation, like an oak. It meant we were standing on roots. I knew who I wanted to be right away. For me, it had always been Lucy: a name that meant light in the darkness of winter, a flicker of faith buried deep and begging for air. There is no Santa Esperanza, but one day, I’ll name a daughter after hope.

COSTANZO

Once upon a time there were five Costanzo brothers, all rascals who snuck into golf courses at night and slid down sloping greens on blocks of ice they stole from their jobs at Foster’s Freeze. Then one of them said the wrong thing, and one of them threatened a war, and that was the end of them all for so long, I forgot I was also Italian. I was cien por ciento Cubana instead, no hyphen-American there—just Cuban like Granmamá Lily, who always dropped the S’s at the end of Spanish words. Well, maybe 95 percent. I have always been my father’s daughter, after all. We feel too much and think too much and yet, we still believe the world is mostly good.

CARLETON

I worried, at first, if I was committing treason, and then, I didn’t care. I chose the season and colors and cake. I wrote a check for the photographer with money I made myself, and handing it to her felt like taking one last look at where I’d been. I chose the man and the life and three names, performed the surgical procedure to remove and rearrange them and then stitch them in a line. I wanted to mark the transition with more than a dress and a party. I wanted it to show like tattooed ink. I’m sorry, Marie (just a little). But love is a decision.


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Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a writer from Boston. Her work has been published in The Cabinet of Heed and Full House Literary Magazine. She really wants to know your middle name.

Palace Tent by Lindsey Harding

Night falls as we make our way back from the bathhouse on crunchy gravel, teeth brushed but little else clean. Our tent is a palace, a gray nylon dome for a dozen. We number just six. Even on tippy toes or jumping, I struggle to hang the lantern from the center ring. The kids cheer when I do, when soft light fills the tent, enough for us to read while the youngest plays with a plastic alligator.

Later, after we close our books and click the lantern off, a stuffed turtle casts wavy bands of blue light from its shell across the tent walls. We quiet one by one. The youngest resists. He’s three and shark-like, moving, always moving. Now he makes his way from one sleeping pad to the next, from one sibling’s side to another’s. Plastic alligator in hand. Then blanket in hand. Then blanket wrapped around his body like a cocoon. Eventually he comes to me, hands empty. “Can I lay on top of you?” he asks. I am to be his sleeping pad, he my blanket.

Someday, I think, he’ll be too big for this. He’ll need and want more space, like his brother across the tent, body unfurled, frugal now, bones and muscles only. “Sure, buddy,” I say, rolling onto my back, releasing my arms from my sleeping bag. “Come here.” He crawls on. His head rests on my chest, and a hand flutters to my hair. His fingers comb the ends, a ritual that pulls us both toward sleep. I wrap my arms around him and hold fast. His weight against me, the swirling blue lights, all of us here in this one place with cicadas calling from the woods and whispers of night’s coolness—peace settles upon us, dense as the dark. My nose smarts.

When all is calm, all is dark, a memory, like a knife, slips through this peace in a single cut. Yesterday in the car, we had stopped for to-go burgers and fries and drinks. One drink, root beer to the brim, fell between the seats, a pass from one brother’s hand to other’s incomplete. I had raged at this spill as liquid soaked the already stained carpet, splashed onto stuffed animals and jackets scattered on the floorboards. “What is wrong with you?” I screamed. “You’re nine years old. This is ridiculous.” Meanwhile, both boys cried, the younger one for the drink lost and the older one because of me, my sudden temper, my disappointment.

In the tent, bathed in watery blue, the youngest breathes, and I feel his breath as my own. Someday, I wonder, will I yell at him the way I yelled at his brother? Will I make him cry, too? A spilled drink was all, is nothing. Ten feet away, the older boy sleeps, arms and legs flung about, deer limbs. I must have held him like this once, years ago.

I feel in this moment a multiplicity, the echo of bodies against mine, words reverberating across time. In this cavernous tent, there’s room for our family now and then, all the thens since we became a family. There’s room, too, for the distance time commands and the growing bodies, the expanding lives our children lead, will lead, will lead them away, further and further, from us. This space yawns before me even as the baby tucks his knees to my ribs, his breath on my arm humid, insistent.

The turtle light shuts off, its automatic timer expired. The tent disappears. We are both inside and outside among the droning insects, the cracking branches, the star-filled night. Time, too, becomes diffuse: I yell again while I hold tight to me what I cannot bear to lose while I apologize in the morning.

“I’m so sorry,” I say the next day, the breakfast fire spitting smoke and white ash as you throw sparks. “I was wrong to yell like that in the car, and I’m sorry.” I feed wood shards and dryer lint into the haze. You grit your teeth and strike the magnesium rod again. A flame steadies, holds. “Yes,” we cheer as the fire begins to crackle, to roar, its heat climbing to our palms, our cheeks as we stare into its blue center, where I can see all the fires we’ve made and put out.

Soon we’ll eat oatmeal and Pop-Tarts while the three-year-old roasts the marshmallows that remain. And later, we’ll take down our palace tent, tuck it back into its canvas bag to store until next time. But I’ll imagine the dome remains around us after we put out this fire and head home, contracting and expanding to fit us, the shape of us, as we grow.


LHarding

Lindsey Harding is the Director of the Writing Intensive Program at the University of Georgia. Her flash fiction and stories have appeared in CRAFT, apt, Spry, Soundings Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Boiler, and others. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and four children.

The Ravine by Genia Blum

KIEV

In September, the foliage turned yellow and red. Bodies fell, clothed only in fear, into the ravine, the pit, the abyss.

Naked flesh on naked flesh, warm blood, excrement—hell stinking beneath sand and earth.

All night, the bonfires flared, smoke rising into God’s desolate kingdom; a hundred thousand souls and more, tracing runes between the stars.

MUNICH

Every evening after Vespers, as altar candles flickered, pious sisters hunched over stacks of newspapers in the cloister’s vaulted hall, scissors opening and closing, snip-snip, click-clack.

They’d warned the children not to play in the verboten ruin that separated Schloss Nymphenburg from their reinstated convent school. Lucifer could snatch them up and drag them to an inferno under the crater where an Allied bomb had hit the palace. The attack destroyed the royal chapel, converted by the Nazis to an infirmary, and Mater Sekundilla had perished, as did a nameless patient who’d survived the Eastern Front.

The school’s lavatory was an unlit purgatory: wet floors, no soap or towels, no toilet roll, only unfinished wooden boxes filled with squares of inky newsprint—reminders of the trivial deprivations of the recent war.

Wimpled nuns worked their rusty shears, and Jesus glared from His crucifix on the wall, begrudging His forgiveness, tallying each snip-snip, click-clack.

WINNIPEG

The name escaped my parents’ throats with a soft, fricative “G.” They’d christened me “Evgenia” in a ceremony at Saints Vladimir and Olga Cathedral, but always addressed me by the diminutive “Genia,” with the inflection that led people to assume they were mispronouncing the far more common “Jeannie.” My schoolteacher called me that in class, which made me feel pleasantly ordinary. She also suggested my parents stop speaking Ukrainian at home, warning them of the foreign accent I’d acquire. Never. My mother bristled. We lost everything else.

After the war, my parents rescued consonants, vowels, a trail of syllables. They spoke and prayed in their mother tongue, worshipped their God in a church erected by immigrants, and denied the concept of collective blame.

The hymns and litany of the Divine Liturgy resound in a gilded nave; the sun pierces stained glass windows exalting rulers and saints, The Blessed Virgin of the Cossacks, Kiev’s Golden Domes.

Illuminated by colored light, dust ascends into incense-filled air: ashes from across the ocean, from the ravine, the scar, the abyss, where flakes of white bone remain.


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Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian writer, translator, and dancer. Her work has appeared widely in literary journals, both online and in print, and she has received several Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. “Slaves of Dance,” based on excerpts from her memoir in progress, Escape Artists, was named a “Notable” in The Best American Essays 2019. Find @geniablum on Twitter and Instagram, or visit her website: www.geniablum.com.

What We Omit by Victoria Buitron

Someone asks me if I’ve ever fallen on a hike.

The question conjures the sounds my body has made when I’ve lost my footing. A sudden scrape of boots on loose rock, the clash of hiking poles pinging against each other, the grunt from my chest once I realize what’s happening. I remember my last fall on Hunter Mountain. I’m descending on an October day, close to the summit, where the ecology differs from the trail’s first thousand feet. Here mushrooms the color of fog with splotches of pink line the path, and beyond them the damp moss reigns like bright algae, taking over most of the downed wood. Before the fall, I stop to stare at a worm-like creature, covered with white fuzz, making its way on a thin twig. Then, I’m on the ground, my butt wet and poles stiff at my sides, the throb of recently broken veins spreading.

I want to answer with Of course I’ve fallen. It’s like asking if I’ve ever had a falling out with a friend. Haven’t we all? I withhold my gut answer in case it’ll sound too curt, but before I can speak, my almost-response evokes another memory that swoops in hastily and leaves just as fast.

I’m in the country I was born in, before I’ve ever climbed a mountain, when I only understand boots as a fashion choice and not a means to protect the feet. I’m in the parking lot in the town of Durán, Ecuador—after its yearly music festival—staring at my best friend in the back seat of a van as she tells me there’s no space. I’d mentioned weeks before that I needed a ride to our town after the concert. I didn’t merely say Save me a spot. I laid out the plan. I’d be going with some high school friends, but they all lived in the town I went to school in, not in the town I lived in. I asked her to let the driver know I’d pay the roundtrip fee although I was just hitching a ride back home. She assured me she’d spoken with him, but on that night, she snuggles in the back seat next to her boyfriend and tells me it’s not her call. There’s no space she says. I know the Ecuadorian coast is always warm, but in my memory I’m wearing a light sweater and still feel a profound chill.

The van speeds away like bikers would swoop by me on trails in years to come. Panicked, I walk around, calling others with the slim data I have left on my Nokia phone. Then, a familiar face, the son of somebody my father knows. Hi, I’m Victoria, I know you I say. I’ll pay you all the money I have. Just don’t leave me here in this parking lot, I almost say. I get in the truck—a stranger among boys and men. The silence is piercing, as if they know there’s been a recent end to my most profound friendship. As if I would shatter if they ask me more than my name. She left me. She left me. Half an hour later, when only the headlights on the highway light the path, I wonder what would have happened if the man driving didn’t let me fit in between him and another boy in the front seat. I picture myself ambulating in an empty parking lot, hiding in the shadows, waiting for an uncle to make the hour-long trip as I stumble between fear and anger and sadness.

I know what it means to lose touch, even to ghost, but this is my first falling out. We fall out like a fledgling plummets from its nest, we fall out like how the rubbish manages to tumble from the trailhead garbage bin in a harsh wind, we fall out like how a dead tree thumps on dense snow during a storm. She left, continuing on the path in front of me without looking back. We still see each other; that same week she’s in my house. Not because I’ve invited her to talk or because she’s there to apologize. Our families are friends, confidants, kinfolk, and years will pass with us unable to avoid each other. I’m never able to retrace the steps to how it was before, unwilling to make space for her again.

I’ve fallen I answer. I’ve fallen hard.


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Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. Her work has been featured or is upcoming in Entropy, Bare Life Review, Bending Genres, and more.