When Someone Cuts the Tulips from My Front Yard in the Middle of the Night by Christine Taylor

I wonder if they think the world already has too many flowers. Five tulip stems, the heads severed clean by an apparently sharp blade, are left to quiver in the breeze. These five tulips burst from the ground outside the stone-walled flower bed, bulbs gone stray after decades of confinement. I planted those flowers when I was six-years-old, removed the bulbs from the mesh-net bag my father handed to me as gingerly as a six-year-old can. While I watched holding a small spade, my mother dug the first hole, planted the first bulb. Her thin fingers patted the dirt firm. Then I dug and planted. Dug. Planted. After bearing the heavy winter, those bulbs pushed into spring red, glorious. Decades later, I’ve moved on to dahlias, dusty miller, marigolds. Yet the tulips persist.


 

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Christine Taylor identifies as multiracial and is an English teacher and librarian residing in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She is the EIC of Kissing Dynamite: A Journal of Poetry and the author of The Queen City (Broken Sleep Books, 2019). Christine has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her work appears in Glass, Turtle Island Responds, Haibun Today, and The Rumpus among others. Right now, she’s probably covered in cat hair and drinking a martini. Visit her at www.christinetayloronline.com.

Sunday Morning Girl by Gabriela Gonzales

i am his Sunday morning girl. he picks me up in his ugly blue car, water cup in hand, hangover dripping off his wet hair—he took a cold shower this morning.

a Sunday morning girl wears dresses, floral perfume, and nice shoes. she is not pretty, maybe, but she tries to look pretty. a Sunday morning girl carries her bible in her purse. a bible all marked up and crumpled—if you ask, she could recite verses for you. you don’t try to kiss a Sunday morning girl. you don’t try to touch a Sunday morning girl. you don’t drink wine out of bags or do shots off the fire escape with a Sunday morning girl. you tell her all of the stories, or most of them—enough that she can set you at ease, but you cannot taint a Sunday morning girl. Sunday morning girls are always snow and pure and clean.

i look at him like galaxies and he looks at me like the church doors he opens once a week. he runs the red light while i cover my eyes and laugh and it just makes him feel so exciting.

you show a Sunday morning girl the aftermath of the party, but you do not invite her. a Sunday morning girl helps you clean your fish tank. you open the liquor cabinet in front of her and you serve her black tea. this is how you drink wine out of bags you say, this is how you do shots off the fire escape, you say, here is your shot glass, you say. it’s in the shape of a tiny brown coffee cup. here is black tea and black tea and black tea. ask a Sunday morning girl to sit on the porch with you and watch the flowers fall off the trees like glitter on the blank canvas sidewalk in front of your house—she makes this place look so quaint and pretty, doesn’t she?

he says, “it’s fucking stupid, right?” and then he looks in my eyes and he say “hecking, i meant hecking,” i mean, i didn’t think less of him when he cursed. i didn’t notice until he corrected himself. i’m 21 and have heard worse.

a Sunday morning girl remembers. sometimes she remembers things that you have long since forgotten. a Sunday morning girl puts her hand on your arm when you become bright red. she puts her hand on your arm when you become a pastel shade of yourself. a Sunday morning girl breathes like she has been practicing. a Sunday morning girl always orders tea. never caffeinated. but you make her black tea while you laugh in the kitchen and her hands shake. here is black tea and black tea and black tea and even her excitement is like dust off an attic-ed trunk, like your nose pressed against the pages of an old leather-bound book. a Sunday morning girl watches you while you speak, memorizes the shapes your mouth makes, smiles she smiles she smiles at the way you move. a Sunday morning girl is learning to love you and learning that you are human and understanding and not understanding them at the same time. mouth on the rim of your old mug, sipping black tea, no honey, tastes sweet.

there are stories of the people who fill his house on late nights. i am aware that there is a difference between the people he asks for on a friday night and the people he asks for on a sunday morning. there are midnights, sometimes, when i want to know what would happen if our minds were gone together, what his body would be like on mine, what one am tastes like on his lips and they ring cognitively dissonant with walking down 8th after church, with braiding dandelions into my hair while he watches, with recounting childhood stories, an open envelope for his secrets, his secrets, his secrets, black tea, so sober, in his kitchen, in his ugly blue car, on his front porch, i can’t stop laughing when he talks, i laugh so hard i cry alone in my room when he drops me off because i am not laughing anymore when i am alone in my room, laughing when he talks because those eyes glow, laughing when he talks because sunday mornings make me happy, because i am happy in dresses, watching flowers fall, drinking black tea, i am happy i am happy with my hand on his arm, i am happy with me like this with him, i am happy with you.

you can break the heart of a Sunday morning girl because she won’t leave. a Sunday morning girl cannot touch your face and then pretend she doesn’t remember the feeling of your skin against her hands. a Sunday morning girl remembers your fingers interlocked in hers. a Sunday morning girl misses you when the sun rises and at midday. a Sunday morning girl has no replacements in her back pocket. a Sunday morning girl waits for you to come back. even if you don’t come back. even if you take so long to come back. a Sunday morning girl prays with her eyes closed. it’s always for you.


 

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Gabriela Gonzales is a Creative Writing major at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee who writes about the beautiful tragedy of human communication. Her work has been featured in the Live Poet’s Society of New Jersey, the Belmont Literary Journal, Awakened Voices Literary Magazine, and formercactus. She really appreciates giraffes, the oxford comma, and babies dressed like hipsters.

My Dada Is A Bird by Adam Trodd

Ice crunch. Teeth tingle. Mama says it will crack enamel. Mama says lots of rules. You’re like a human rocking chair. Haw haw I rock more. She haw haws too and holds me warm, her arms across my belly like a soft belt and we rock rock rock together our shadow two shapes and one loving on the summer wall. Lemonade cutting our tongues when we sip it ooh not enough sugar. Yellow taste still alive when I lick my lips later. There is everywhere colours. Frank is lavender and helps me sleep cos of his songs in a gentle river voice. He’s not my Dada no cos Dada flew away that time. I love Frank. His palm on my forehead is a cool stone. Conor is charcoal that is dark but still orange on the inside like a hot stove. Conor burns and bellows so like a bull sometimes I think my ears will split. He says I should stay in respite and never come home again, retard. Words hissing and soft falling like grey ash on me while Mama and Frank are busy. I draw pictures of Dada who is free with the wings of a dove, the sun behind the whiteness of him and sky the colour of his old Ford Escort around him. Dada had to be free Mama says and Frank just nods before walking away. When I am in bed Conor whispers to me Dada jumped off the balcony because he couldn’t stand having a girl like me. But I don’t believe him because when I shut my eyes my Dada is flying so free in the light of a million lemon suns and he gives me a crown that shimmers like the sea.


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Adam Trodd’s fiction and poetry have appeared in publications such as The Irish Times, The Incubator Journal, Crannóg, Banshee, The Molotov Cocktail, Ellipsis, The Launchpad and The Caterpillar, as well as the Bath Flash Fiction and National Flash Fiction Day anthologies. He won the inaugural Benedict Kiely Short Story Competition and the Book of Kells Creative Writing Competition as well as being one of the selected poets for Ireland’s first Poetry Jukebox installation in Belfast. He was a Best Small Fictions 2018 nominee and is part of the XBorders:Accord project with the Irish Writers Centre. He lives and works in Dublin.

Close Down by Stefani Cox

The girl at the bar has words for me, wants to see the draft version of her story. She’ll tell me anything, anxious to escape a dark, sticky room of clustered hands and wicked moonshine.

Tap tap tap until I find her face again. Pay attention. These syllables can curl and arc like boomerangs. Don’t miss a one.

A man walks over all questing eyes and roving digits. I am an ordinary body, she says, the extraordinary ones go home by three. When the check arrives, he leaves alone.

Girl hurls a cocktail that will or will not implode, green vodka, tumbled olive. I apologize to the owner, as I pull her to the door, cheeks red at the embarrassment of night.

 


 

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Stefani Cox is a speculative fiction writer and poet based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published to LeVar Burton Reads, PodCastle, The Mantle, Mirror Dance, and FIYAH, among other outlets. She’s also an alumna of the VONA/Voices workshops and has served as an associate editor for PodCastle. Find her on Twitter @stefanicox or her website stefanicox.com.

A Mrs. Dalloway Kind of Day by Reshma Ruia

Nose buried in a bouquet of flowers. She strides through the park. The distant hum of traffic. A bee’s snore in her ear. Easy enough to be happy. Toss a coin. Swipe a card. Buy the dress. The shoes. The jewels clap away spider web shadows. Lurking in the rooms. The hurt. The bruise. The dripping faucet of an eye. They belonged to another day. If only she could run back to her ten-year-old self. Chasing butterflies on the village green. Cheeks freckled with sunshine not age. A heart somersaulting in joy. Limbs dripping youth.


 

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Reshma Ruia is a writer based in Manchester, England. She has a Masters with Distinction and a PhD in Creative Writing from Manchester University. Her first novel is called Something Black in the Lentil Soup. Her second novel, A Mouthful of Silence, was shortlisted for the 2014 SI Leeds literary Prize. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in various international journals and anthologies and also commissioned for Radio 4. She is the co-founder of a writers collective that aims to encourage emerging British South Asian voices.

On My Day Off by Benjamin Niespodziany

On My Day Off I was getting my hair cut when my wife, a midwife, called. I let it go to voicemail. In the voicemail she said, “You have an envelope waiting for you at home.” She said she was afraid, said she didn’t like how it felt in her hands. I told her to please place it on the table before leaving for work. My wife worked nights. “I’ll be home in a bit.”

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I paid the barber in good bread and silence: the same amount since I first started seeing him nineteen years ago. Almost two decades of haircuts and we’d never said a word to each other. I hoped to never know his name, considered him to be one of my best friends. The earth spins just fine sometimes.

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After my hair cut, I walked to my car down the street and noticed a struggling veteran with handfuls of roses that sat in a bucket of juice. He held a sign that said, Free Hugs But Not Free Flowers. I bought a dozen reds and hugged the man twice. Twelve flowers to bring home for my wife.

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Our divorced friends used to come over for dinner and couldn’t believe that my wife and I were still together. They rolled their wedding rings down our hallway and laughed at me as I chased after the gold in hurried silence, thinking about how my uncle once placed his wedding ring into the church basket’s offering. He called it his contribution. He called it his shed.

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On the car ride home from my hair cut, I saw a wolf fighting both a man and a dog. Two against one. I stopped my car and offered to help. I recognized the man from fencing. The wolf was really aggressive. I had a sword in the trunk of my car. “Brand new thing!” I shouted at the man. I was still trying to find ways to use my sword ever since buying it a few months prior. My wife didn’t understand the purchase. Asked its expiration date. The man yelled, “Go on, get the hell out of here! This is between me, my dog, and this wolf! Don’t bring swords into a personal matter!” The man’s leg was bleeding pretty bad. I noticed a dead owl in the front yard. Sitting still to the side of their battle. Its eyes open wide. Was it their prize? Like always, I didn’t ask questions. Like always, I said nothing. I got back in my car and kept driving.

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By the time I arrived home, I’d forgotten all about the envelope described by my wife while I was getting my hair cut for some bread and some silence. The letter was the first thing I noticed when I walked inside. It was on the table as I’d asked, and it sat next to a burning candle, one I’d never seen, one that dripped with wax a bit too freely. The power was out, the place more silent than a mime fight. Usually my wife left music playing for me. An entrance song. Smooth jazz. “Honey?” She was probably already at work. An acclaimed midwife who used to be a nurse. “Honey?” I heard nothing. For the first time all day, I cleaned my glasses. “Honey?” I placed her flowers in a vase and opened the letter with my sword, something to be read slowly by candlelight, something to close out my only day off in months.


 

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Benjamin Niespodziany is a night librarian at the University of Chicago. He runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas] and has had work published in Pithead Chapel, Cheap Pop, HOOT Review, Ghost City Press, and a handful of others.

What We Deserve by Wendy Oleson

We deserved new snow that morning, snow that had fallen all night, accumulating, blanketing, heavy and wet. We wanted it coated with ice, a slick shell perfect for sledding and canceling school. Hadn’t we earned this after what happened with Mr. Hendricks and Teena Paige Rodgers? Our minds forever corrupted by the Newsweek and baseball bat, the complicit schnauzer and Eric’s pant-load of a dad emailing everybody the FBI report? To be swallowed by snow forts, pelted by snow balls, and warmed in the sun’s reflection was to be healed. And given our circumstances, our need, the stakes higher than Mr. Hendricks in that report, we can’t overstate how it felt to see, from our bedroom window that morning, the heavy, gleaming porcelain bathtub under the oak tree, hunkered on dry, winter-dead grass.

Upon closer inspection, it didn’t gleam. There was the chalky skin Danny licked on a dare—not so remarkable, we’d cleaned toilets and tubs, weren’t strangers to soap scum—but the hair got to us. They weren’t our hairs or our mothers’ or brothers’ or even grandfathers’. Hair, many, many hairs missing their owners; hairs of the guilty and the victimized, the sick and confused, the inexplicably happy—who knew?—all these possible hairs comingling in our yard. After months of talk of DNA evidence, every local news broadcast a reminder, this bathtub flashed crime scene. The hairs were long and short, curly and straight. Alphabets of hair could be written, topographic maps drawn. But all we could think of were the corresponding bodies, their bereft follicles.

If there had been snow, could the tub have served as a sled? If there had been snow, could we have seen the footprints and/or tire tracks that led to the tub’s deposit under our tree, right on the hallowed spot (one of us realized with a shudder) Mittens and Marley were lain to rest? We’re left with too many questions and another day of school. Four more hours of standardized testing so they can know what we know. Pencil shavings and spent eraser flecks, Mr. Hendricks’s unsealed classroom taken over by Mrs. Briggs, and the knowledge like a half-popped kernel in our guts that nobody gets what they deserve.


 

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Wendy Oleson is author of Please Find Us (winner of the Gertrude Press 2017 Fiction Chapbook Contest) and Our Daughter and Other Stories (winner of the Map Literary 2016 Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award). Her flash has most recently appeared in The Tahoma Review, Moon City Review, and Copper Nickel. She teaches for the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension and Washington State at Tri-Cities. Wendy lives with her wife in Walla Walla, WA.