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.


geniablum-1200px

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.

Instructions for Fucking Your Postpartum Wife by Megan Pillow

1)  First, get the groceries. Get the baby when he cries. Get a clutch of flowers, and make sure they’re the wild ones. These, the ones that waver when your car wings past, the ones that seem to be stretching toward you with every stem and every filament.

2)  Forget your hands, your mouth. Forget that ancient come-on that you used back when it was just the two of you. Grab her breasts while she’s cooking, and she will become a stinging nettle. Put your hand down her pants when she’s washing the dishes, and she will become a man o’ war. If she lets you, touch her hair by hair and inch by delicate inch. Expect nothing.

3)  Imagine that you, instead, are the one who gave birth and every day is marked and made by baby. All day, the kick of his doughy little legs into the soft of your stomach, the cry after cry, the endless shushing and burping over the drone of the home improvement shows in Toronto or Waco or Orange County. There is love, there is love, so sharp and unceasing that you feel the cut of it all the way to your bones. There is also the constant weight of him, the yank and the clutch, hour after hour. You have become the glassy window the baby smears his lips against, the railing on the stairs where the polish has all worn down. Deep beneath the press of him, deep beneath the blade of your love, you know you are never free, you know you never will be.

4)  Let her sleep and sleep and sleep.

5)  If there is a bird, sing to it. If there is a children’s television show playing, turn it off. If there is open sky, if there is open air, make love to the both of them first. Fill your lungs. Tuck the shine under your skin. Take them to her as an offering. Let the breath and light begin to bring her back.

6)  Consider the people she’s told you about. Consider the people she hasn’t. The chiropractor who cried as she fucked him. The barista with the two different-color eyes who bit your wife’s fingers when she came. The doctoral student who told her he was married right after he put the condom on, who she’d liked a little more in that moment because it was the first honest thing he’d said. The neighbor whose testicle she’d found a mass in while giving him a blow job, the neighbor who said she was lying and who slapped her hand away.

7)  Consider that she is circling the edge of it, a dulling, a breaking down. Consider that she has been here before, the penny clutched in the hot of a hand, the worn brass doorknob, constantly turning.

8)  Imagine doling out your skin, your hunger, your hurt. Imagine what she has done with her worn-out body to keep you fed.

9)  Consider the people she fantasizes about while breastfeeding in the peach-soft light of morning. Consider the people who will ask no questions. Out there, somewhere, there is a someone who won’t pass her like she’s a piece of furniture on their way to go play video games. Out there is a someone who will tell her for a solid hour she is beautiful, no matter how soft her stomach, no matter what underwear she’s wearing. Consider, consider that those someones are just a text, a call, a handful of houses away.

10)  If she lets you, lay her down.

11)  Let her tell you where. Let her say that the only antidote to too much touch is more of it where the hands of a child will never go. Spread her legs and run your tongue along the inside of her thigh like a blade of grass, like the blade of a knife. Whisper between her legs you are the gloss over all of the universe, you are the fire and the light, you are everything, everything, burning. When she shivers, bury your tongue and your fingers inside her. Let her clutch the pillow. Let the roar and rush of her breath tell you the tempo that will take the pain away.

12)  And if her body is a house, then it is still haunted, and you must enter it slowly.

13)  And if her body is a sanctuary, then you must worship the whole of it.

14)  And if her body is the nucleus of the atom of your love, then you wait for her to beg you. You wait for her to tell you yes yes yes. And then you fuck her until she feels new again, until she is burnished, until her skin is gleaming.


Lipstick_headshot

Megan Pillow is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Believer, Passages North, TriQuarterly, and Gay Magazine.

Essential Parenting Terms by Lauren D. Woods

1.  Time:  That which is always lacking. That which my own parents lavished on me, but which I can never wrest enough of, to be generous enough, to stop hoarding and make more of—see #2

2.  An Effort:  Trying hard. Like when I draw out letters for you to copy in purple marker, but you scribble over the page, rip it to shreds, and leave purple-colored scraps scattered around the living room. You must know I’m doing my best to ensure your life won’t turn out—see #3.

3.  Bad:  The kind of mom you call me when I make—see #2.

4.  Good:  The kind of mom you call me when I’m on the phone and let you start dinner with chocolate ice cream and sprinkles that you shake on yourself, because I’m on a work call, or a personal call, and I wish I were making more—see #1, because what I’m really feeling is—see #5.

5.  Sorry:  When I think of how you don’t live in a home with two parents, how little I give you sometimes in terms of—see #1, and that makes me afraid you won’t see this home as—see #4.

6.  Love:  Watching you sleeping in the bedroom you share with your brother and me in our apartment, with your mouth parted open, hair splayed on your pillow, legs longer than they seemed to be a week ago, which is also when I feel—see #7.

7.  Fear:  The feeling that your childhood will be harder than my early years with a mom and dad and comfortable house in the suburbs. The feeling that you will notice the hours I am working, or on the phone, or only halfway present, that I have not been generous, the feeling that when you rip apart those purple letters, you are expressing some deeper brokenness I cannot fix. The cost of—see #6.

8.  Anger:  The feeling I get when your teachers tell me you don’t want to practice your letters, that you’re distracted and have stopped listening. When they pause and ask gently if things are all right at home, a feeling that is based in—see #7. Please forgive me for not making enough—see #1.


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Lauren D. Woods is a Virginia-based writer of fiction and CNF, with work in Hobart, the Offing, Forge Literary Magazine, and other journals.

Reimagining: In Which I’m Not a Picky Eater & I Eat by Moisés Delgado

I top my tacos de asada / al pastor / lengua / cachete / adobada / carnitas with sal & limón, cilantro, cebolla, aguacates, salsa verde & salsa roja, eat both tortillas, half a rábano, the entire serrano, & when I ask for another three tacos mamá doesn’t wait for the sound of an empty stomach, doesn’t ask ¿Will you ever love yourself?

 


Moisés R. Delgado is a queer Latinx writer from the Midwest. His prose appears in or is forthcoming from The Pinch, Puerto del Sol, Passages North, Pidgeonholes, Homology Lit, and elsewhere. Moisés can often be found dancing on the moon.

Welcome to Treasure Island, Florida by Joyce Wheatley

Until the drawbridge opened, we idled on the Causeway and marveled at the monstrous Buccaneer, like one of those humongous bright balloons in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. His saber sliced cerulean sky, a Sunshine pirate greeting on a road to Paradise.

We joked about our final stop, this last resort of turquoise pools, abundant sun, alligators, Geckos and Palmetto bugs—indeed, every sort of crawler! Sea gulls called, crying over parking lots, Tyrone Square Mall, Winn Dixie, 7/11, palms. Salty Gulf breezes blew sand in everything. Transients and friends with names like Jinx and SuSu, natives of sun and storms, children born of heat and hurricanes, wafted cannabis and citrus. In Judy’s yard, grapefruits grew, big as melons, their juice profuse, sticky pink, and she told us in her Lakeland drawl of Spook Hill and vehicles rolling in reverse.

Which is where I find myself, going backyards up an incline, returning to a place and time, defying gravity and reason, somewhere so many decades gone––beaches of honeyed scents, coconut and mango, lotions slathered in lazy half-circles on each other’s back, and the newspaper was free if the sun didn’t shine.


 

WheatleyJoyce

Joyce Wheatley is a librarian in a public library in Upstate New York. She writes brief stories, poems and recollections.

 

On the Wall by Annette Covrigaru

I’m born in a gap of unreality. It’s April 30th ‘92 and my mother, lulled by visions of inferno on an overhead T.V. the night prior, awakes to a daughter and feigns surprise. Maybe, then, I’m born in a lie created by the contrast of her knowing to my father’s unknowing. Perhaps gender is the real lie.

Anyway.

I’m raised in a concept born from war. It’s 1947 and, at the hands of Levitt & Sons, houses sprout on the grassy outskirts of New York City. The American Suburb, The American Family, The American Dream. This symbiotic trio is toxic:

“The tenant agrees not to permit the premises to be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”[1]

Roughly ten and a half miles northwest of Levittown – a twenty-minute drive, give or take, says Google Maps – is my childhood home.

*

I’m shown a picture of Emmett Till’s open casket in an 8th grade elective history class. It’s 2006 and I wonder how this history can possibly be elective. I wonder if my parents have seen this yet. I learn the word “gerrymander” and am told that’s how we live.

“How else can one of the best performing public schools in New York be right down the street from one of the worst?” the teacher rhetorically ask/informs.

I look out the window, single-story, as they all are, onto the manicured grounds. Out at the back of the centerpiece placard that, on the front, dons the school name and motto, “Seek the Truth.” Out past the fences and gates safekeeping it all, to a cluster of students smoking cigarettes, teenagers swaying in boredom, seeking reprieve.

*

It’s my half-birthday – the day before Halloween – senior year. I’m walking down one of the few sunlit hallways in my high school overlooking the Craig Grumet Soccer Field next to the Brandon Lustig Baseball Field, both respectively memorialized after two students who died in car accidents four years apart. I pass my middle school boyfriend’s younger brother dressed as Flavor Flav, the oversized clock necklace a giveaway. He’s in blackface, but I don’t know that’s what it’s called yet. I only know the feeling of seeing him, of my spine disintegrating, the debris rising up to my throat in a lump I can’t swallow. I know that soon after, Dr. Feeney, the new principal, confronts him and demands he Wash it off or leave, and that he does, in fact, choose to wash it off, only to spend the rest of that Friday complaining how It’s so unfair! with the majority of the school’s majority white students in agreement, asking, repeatedly, What’s the big deal?

*

I grow in a culture of egoism. A week after my Woodstock themed Senior Party held in the high school’s cafeteria converted into a Peace & Love caricature, and also a week after a classic suburban house party where I’m sexually assaulted – but I don’t know that’s what it’s called yet – I go to my first of many Sublime (with Rome) concerts at Jones Beach. My two best friends and I pregame with fruit punch 4Lokos in the parking and shoot a litany of duck faced photos on my baby pink digital camera.

In the amphitheater, I look out over the Atlantic, the sky and tides merging in the pink-orange light to blue-purple hues, and, gradually, to night. I hear for the first time “April 29, 1992” and think of my mother in a hospital bed, awaiting the arrival of a daughter, of a child who will eventually forfeit the role of daughter to be whole, but nobody can name that yet. I imagine my mother awaiting wholeness while watching these sung scenes on the news.

 

But if you look at the street, it wasn’t about Rodney King 

And this fucked up situation, and these fucked up police

It’s about coming up and staying on top

And screaming, “187 on a motherfuckin’ cop”

It’s not in the paper, it’s on the wall…

 

When I’m dropped off home later that night, I inform/ask her, “The Rodney King Riots were the day before I was born,” and she says, “Oh, you’re right!” blowing steam off a mug of mint tea and disappearing upstairs.

 

[1] Lambert, Bruce. “At 50, Levittown Contends With Its Legacy of Bias.” The New York Times 28 Dec. 1997: A23. Web. 9 Sept. 2019.


 

Annette+PhotoAnnette Covrigaru is a gay, bigender American-Israeli writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. They were awarded a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices Nonfiction Fellowship in 2014, a Home School Hudson 2019 Poetry Residency, and earned an M.A. in Holocaust Studies from the University of Haifa. Their nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Entropy, Hobart, Cosmonauts Avenue, and FIVE:2:ONE, among others, and are collected at http://www.annettecovrigaru.com. Annette’s debut chapbook, Reality, In Bloom, is forthcoming in 2020 with Ursus Americanus Press.

The Armadillo by Joaquin Fernandez

I still don’t know if I want the story to be true.

At eight years old, my asthma was at its worst. I remember staring at the ceiling the day after I got out of the hospital, sweating through my t-shirt, anxious and breathless and anxious about being breathless. I can’t remember if it was April or June or September, some indistinguishable month in the endless Florida summer of my childhood, but I remember the heat as if it were still pressing down on me. I was propped up on couch cushions in my twin bed, watching the brown thumb of my chubby body contract and expand, contract and expand, never finding quite enough air to clear the rasp from my wheezing.

Just like me.

My mother spoke to me, as always, in a clear, enunciated spanish, the secret ever-present language of my youth. It would be decades before I realized that she spoke a version that read as rich and educated, almost off-putting in its formality. Growing up poor, it was easy to forget that she had once been wealthy.

She put a damp cloth on my forehead, as if I had a fever. In South Florida, the fever was everywhere, I just felt it more, like a broken bellows pulling only heat with my every struggling breath. She frowned at me in a way that made me want to feel better. She hated that I hated the part that came next. I knew where she was going when she left the room.

She came back holding a big covered pot with a tight fitting lid, pluming a trail of smoke behind her as she entered. She had done this every night for a month, following the bruja across the street’s instructions to the letter. Eucalyptus leaf and Vaporub boiled for twenty minutes. Lid off, under the bed, let the steam rise through me.

Te digo un cuento?
Can I tell you a story?

She held my hand while the world went hazy. My glasses fogged. My eyes watered. My lungs burned, bright and sharp with every cautious breath. The smell was an assault. When I inhaled I could feel the parts of myself that didn’t work. I coughed. Every night, I coughed, exhilarated with relief. I could feel the steam razing the asthma out of me with every painful inhalation.

Can I tell you a story about my asthma? In Colombia?

My mother squeezed my hand and I could see her there in the house she grew up in. It was a house I’d never been in, in a country I’ve never been to. I could see her as my grandfather led her down the stairs into the basement.

Some days my breathing was worse than yours is now. But in Colombia, do you know what the cure was?

I could see the cigarette dangling from my grandfathers lips, a man I’d never meet, living forever mid-laugh in page after page of black and white photo albums.

What’s the word for armadillo in english? Is it armadillo?

When she tells me the story, I can see it, hanging from a beam by leftover clothesline. Was it even struggling? She tells me it wasn’t. She tells me it didn’t look real until her father cut its throat with a kitchen knife. She tells me about how calm he was holding the armadillo still with one hand, his other hand maneuvering to catch the spraying drip of something fully trapped still trying to run. She tells me that’s when it struggled. She tells me that it screamed until it didn’t. She never tells me why she didn’t run. When her father turns and offers her the glass, she makes sure to tell me she didn’t hesitate. She makes sure to tell me she drank it all at once, like medicine.

Do you know what it tasted like? Fresh milk.

After the story, she kisses me on the forehead and I can feel it linger for a long time after she leaves. After the story, she turns out the light and I pretend not to hear the back door click closed when she steps out to smoke her secret cigarettes. After the story, I can see her, staring at the glass in her father’s hand while it fills with blood. I can see her growing more and more certain of what will come next. I can see the little girl that would grow into my mother step forward and take the glass and know what she had to, had to, had to do.

I’ve told that story a hundred times, told it to everyone who’s ever met my mother. When I tell that story while she’s in the room, she always laughs at the end. I don’t know if she’s laughing at us for believing her. I don’t know if she’s laughing out of nervousness, like whistling past a graveyard. I don’t know if she’s laughing about a lifetime of locked up secrets or a million more impossible everyday stories from the parallel universe of her youth in a different time, a world away. I still don’t know why she never hesitated. I still don’t know why she didn’t run.

I still don’t know if I want the story to be true.


 

FernandezJoaquin Fernandez is a recovering filmmaker and South Florida native perpetually tinkering with his first novel. His work has appeared in Okay Donkey, Cotton Xenomorph, Cheap Pop, and Pidgeonholes among others. He’s guest edited special issues for Kissing Dynamite and X-R-A-Y Magazine in addition to editing for the Radix Media anthology AFTERMATH. He can be found on Twitter @Joaqertxranger and on his website joaquinfernandezwrites.com.

You Know This Has To Be True, Or Else You’ll Dissolve, Too by Hannah Grieco

Your four-year-old holds your cheeks tightly in his tiny hands and whispers, “Kill me, mommy.” You shake your head, no, never. You pull away and he screams, “I WANT TO DIE.”


Later, a diagnosis appears and you hate yourself, your parenting, everything you ever did and said that fragmented your child. You go back in time and place your hands over his. I will love you forever, you whisper. I’m your safe harbor, you say.


It takes years. It takes setting yourself on fire. It takes being almost positive you won’t live through this. It takes living through this. It takes emptying your charred body of all it knew and fire-proofing the remaining shell. Now you are ready to learn, to forget what you were taught before. Now you remember how to breathe, to walk, to smile cracked lips.


Your daughters wait at a distance, watch you burn and reemerge, your face the same but different. They mirror how you stand. How you hold out your arms. How you bury your dread and stay intact.


Were you ever a good parent? Was there one day you did this right? Where you held them close and whispered and it was enough, it was good, they felt loved?


You wake up in a panic, your youngest asleep curled into you, your dream about her older sister clogging your throat. The four of you stood in the backyard of a house you never owned. Your middle child screamed and tore out her hair. She slapped you across the face. She pulled a gun from her pocket and shot her big brother while he begged her to love him. She ran into the woods and you knew you would never see her again.


You pour water into the bowl of cereal. You burn the toast. The last thin thread connecting you to this kitchen, this house, pulls tight and then tighter. It will break any second.


You take your children to school, stopping for doughnuts on the way. The powdered sugar on your son’s upper lip is so perfect that you reach for it with the tip of your pointer finger. He ducks at the last minute and blows you a kiss. Offers you a bite, even though it’s his favorite, even though he’s starving.


For every down there is an up. For every dark hole, a ladder reaching toward a distant ball of something shimmering. You know this has to be true or else you’ll dissolve, too.


You listen as your children eat dinner and talk about their day. They laugh, tell stories about friends, complain about school. You hold your breath and incise this moment into something fleshy that now grows inside you. You repeat their words out loud to yourself so they don’t fade, but they are gone the next day. You poke the swollen scab to remind yourself that good things happen.


You kiss your husband for the first time in months.


You and your son in his big kid bed at 3AM, your phone and his iPad blending blue light, two islands, his hand on your arm. A bridge. He is hallucinating again. The meds aren’t working again. You kiss his forehead until he collapses, boneless, his mouth open, into an infant’s sleep. You close your eyes, at last, and lean back against the wall.


This morning you wake up to a love poem typed by young fingers into your phone. Your son gets dressed for school, recites the poem as you read it. He smiles like any other kid. Your daughters run in and hug-attack him, three human pups rolling around the floor, squeals rising until you back out of the room and go downstairs. You turn on the coffee machine. You pack their lunches. You are not empty, you whisper as you pour coffee. People don’t dissolve, you say as you stir in sugar.


hgrieco

Hannah Grieco is a writer, advocate, and teacher in Arlington, VA. She can be found online at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter at @writesloud.