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.

 


 

Cox_headshot

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.


 

BenN

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.


 

Wendy Oleson_dorothy zbornak headshot

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.

White Noise by Judy Xie

You have gone deaf in one ear, and I have not. Which is not to say that you don’t hear the noise under the sofa. We agree that the noise must go. But our approach to this varies. You say it must be covered, and I say it must be tackled. We say to each other that this noise must go. So we bring our weapons. In your hands you hold the tablecloth, you say that it can be smothered, and I hold my broomstick closely. We approach this noise slowly, and you say I must poke it. I tell you that I do not want to irritate the noise. I tell you to fill the crack. I say that the noise can not stay if there is not enough room. You say the tablecloth is not big enough. And although a broomstick and a tablecloth are two completely separate animals, they remain similar in their static positions. We decide that the noise can be dealt with another day.

I told you a month ago the noise had begun to make a ruckus. But you did not care until the noise began to make a ruckus by your good ear. The noise has learned to growl. I said it must go, but you said it didn’t matter. But now, it won’t stop grumbling during your favorite version of jeopardy. You cannot outscream its answers. It is breathing by your toes, and you say you can’t stand it any longer. We agree that the noise is a monster. Something must be done. So we approach the noise once again. I hold my broomstick close to my chest and you with the tablecloth at the ready. I say it must be poked. We must chase it out with my broom. Chase it into your arms- spread wide with the tablecloth. You say you do not want to touch it, that it is better to fill the crack. You say if I still loved you, I would fight the noise under the sofa. And of course, I still love you. We disagree even about this.

Today the noise decided to make a racket in my purse. At first, I didn’t realize that it was there. The noise made itself known between my nail appointment and walk to town. It began its incessant barking, as I waded past the cluster of people squinting into the dying sun. I blushed at this. I passed all the familiar places, the pizza store between the post office and the library where the view to the north wasn’t clouded by hills. And all this time, I held my hand over my purse, hoping to hush the noise. I moved through the crowds that gathered to watch the distant blue belt of the sky, and I wished madly for the silence, the unblinking in their eyes. Hands over shoulders, warm smiles. And I stood between cars and streets and bushes and lights. I thought that the sidewalk might be some sort of bridge. Some connection. I felt this quickening of possibility, like the touch of some other place. I didn’t know what I expected to discover there.

The noise finally stopped.

I saw you sitting behind the plate glass window of a restaurant on the opposite side of the street. I could see you talking to her from across the table, her face soft and casual. Your hands were cupped together behind the salt shaker, and her shoes stood imprinted on the carpet. You were stroking her left leg with your right foot, your toe arched and padded, curved around her calf. The image was clear.

The noise was quiet.
I held my purse by its belly. And shook out all the noise onto our kitchen table. Saw it for the first time. It was black and spotted with fur stuck on all wrong. It was a whimpering mess. It was disgusting. It didn’t even have eyes. And I thought if I loved you, I would beat out the noise. It must go. It must be tackled. And so I clutched my broomstick close to my chest. Held it up from the wrong end. My knuckles just above the bristles. You said once that the noise was no trouble really. It was small. I swing overhand and underhand. The noise is mangled now, and it looks nothing like when I started.

It looks nothing like when we started.

One foot dragging behind the other. It moves back under the sofa. And I collapse next to it. My head resting where your lap should be. My eyes scan the long lean of the afternoon sun as it slips through the living room blinds, staining our white, painted walls with yellow faded stripes. Think how the windows have stopped talking. Watch as those same stripes turn blue with the evening, bounce off the passing cars. And I sit by the noise. Line up our inhales and exhales perfectly. You know I do this. But you don’t know how much it matters.


 

Judy Xie’s writing has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Rider University, and the Festival of Books. She attends Mountain Lakes High School and has been published in PolyphonyHs, The Colombia Journal, Into the Void, and Noble / Gas Qrtly, among others.

Shopping for One by Hope Henderson

The woman in front of me puts a single chicken breast in brown paper, an ear of fresh corn—its green and sugar scent is loud here—and one baking potato on the belt. The man behind me lays out a fresh roll from the bakery, a plastic envelope of prosciutto, and one big chocolate chip cookie, round and pock-marked, a cellophane-wrapped moon. And my own goods, between the grey barriers? Two tomatoes, one cucumber, a packet of dried red beans. I dash out of line to grab an end-cap avocado, and maybe now they can imagine I am not like them, that mine is a different kind of poverty, that I am bringing this black-skinned gem home to someone, that on top of our every night of beans will be, tonight, this surprise, this prize, this fat, silky I love you that she will put in her mouth over and over. That there between our sagging ceiling and curling linoleum, she flushes with pleasure, and everything, even my heart, fills up—


 

profile pic copy
Hope Henderson is a geneticist and science writer at UC Berkeley. Her literary writing has been published in Jellyfish Review, The Citron Review, and The Hunger Journal, among others. Find her work at hoperhenderson.com and find her on twitter @hoperhenderson.