Velcro Shoes by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

At nine—I can’t stop the trips and falls, the scrapes of my knees against concrete. I like the burn and the drum of my blood gushing out of me. I am split skin. My father teaches me to tie my shoes. Because he’s tired of watching me fall. Or, because he’s tired of picking me up. Hands me the left shoe: “Do as I do?” he says, using the right shoe as an example. And I do what he does—until my mid-twenties, when I’ve pushed everyone I love away, too. He forms two loops with each of the laces, crosses them, pushes one through the opening, pulls tight. “Only one can go through. The other can’t. Entiendes?” And I didn’t know then it was our farewell. I get good at making it seem like my shoes are tied—I tuck the laces into the bottom of my shoes, into my socks, press on the aglets with my heels. I fall and I am split skin and gushing blood. My mother gets me a new pair of Velcro shoes “para que no batalles,” she says. That’s what my mother does best—use bandaids when I need stitches. She wipes my knees to keep me from spilling out. When all I want is to make the gash bigger and bigger and bigger and watch all of me spill over my mother, over my father, until I am everything and nothing. She slaps my hand away because “that’s how you get scars”—picking at scabs growing over wounds. She never tells me all the other ways I’ll scar. And she’ll never slap my hand again, busy with her own scabs. The loops and hooks of my Velcro shoes keep me from falling but at school I’m the wetback, spic baby who can’t tie her shoes. And there aren’t any ways to explain that my parents did what they could. And we’ll never ever feel like enough. And there aren’t enough knots, or hooks, or loops to hold me together. I trip, and fall, and gush. I am split skin. Until I learn I am the one who can go through.


 

SARodriguez_HeadshotSonia Alejandra Rodriguez is a Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. She is an immigrant of Juarez, Mexico and raised in Cicero, IL. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, Hispanecdotes, Everyday Fiction, Acentos Review, Newtown Literary, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, No Tender Fences: Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry, and Longreads.

Context! by Jose Hernandez Diaz

A man in a Mars Volta shirt skated in the city. He was going to the flea market. He was going to buy a pair of gloves. It wasn’t that cold in Los Angeles, but he rode his skateboard late at night, so he needed the gloves. He arrived at the Swapmeet and bought a churro. He ate it. Then he found the vendor with the gloves. He paid $2 for the gloves. He wore them at night when he went out to paint the city with a neon green can of spray paint. He wrote the word:

Context!

On a wall. In the middle of the city. He took a photo. Then he wrote Southeast Los Angeles beneath the tag. When he finished, he skated back home beneath the moonlight. Spring was on the way; he was looking forward to that.

 


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Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. He is the author of a collection of prose poems: The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Huizache, Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, Poetry, Southeast Review, among others. He has served as poetry editor for Lunch Ticket and editorial intern for Floricanto Press.

December by Evan Nicholls

In \  my dream \

He rented a double-windowed farmhouse on the other side of Rokeby–– a flat road between two fields, our road–– and one time I saw him go out and walk his cat after a rainstorm, when the gravel was chalky and white. The cat was on a leash. December was a silent old man. I only learned about him through reading his lips, and reading lips makes understanding a person tedious, though you could say all understanding is tedium.

I watched him \  from the seat of my grandmother’s window  \ flannel curtain \ pulled up to my chest \

This was when I was a child. I was waiting for December to open the front of the farmhouse–– he would walk his cat up the road because he would always have it shit on up the road at the cul-de-sac. And then I was there behind his clapboard legs. I watched while the black cat put its bum in the sky and lowered its mouth to some chalk white water in a pothole puddle, lapping, lap, lap. Then December lowered his catmouth to the water, too. Lapping.

I have told you \ something special here \

For my life, I will never know what the old man got out of the road. But these are facts. December lost his wife young in some violence, before he had lived across from us on Rokeby. He died nine years ago–– I remembered after waking up. The black cat was named Jet Lee. And I am twenty one years old. December’s house caught fire during another rainstorm, when he had an episode of the heart loading the wood stove. Our house got torn down for rot. My grandmother is dead.

I do not know \ what it means \


 

Evan w_ Farm Hat, LibraryEvan Nicholls is from the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Fauquier County, Virginia. He has work appearing or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Third Coast, Passages North, Mud Season Review, and The Shallow Ends, among others. He tweets at @nicholls_evan. Find more of his work at evannichollswrites.wordpress.com.

She Says by M.J. Iuppa

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


 

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

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.


 

ReshmaRuia-photo

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.”

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.

//

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.