The French Film of Your Life Is in Black and White by Cathy Ulrich

You’re the star of an obscure French indie flick. Arty even for arthouse. Lately, you’ve been seeing this girl who’s into that sort of thing. She’s not the sort of girl you usually date. She smokes e-cigs and drinks espressos, wears short skirts all the time, never flosses. She has the shiniest brown hair. She’s let you kiss her twice, her tongue fluttering up against your mouth, soft and surprised. She invites you to a film festival showing the works of a lesser-known French director.

He has a certain je ne sais quoi, she says.

The first film comes up. You’re nestled in close to your new girlfriend, not quite holding hands, fingers nearly brushing. The hair on the back of your knuckles rises at the lights go down.

A familiar face fills the screen, and your arthouse girl nudges your shoulder.

Is that you?

It is, you say. I think it is.

The film is just you doing a series of mundane things: putting on stockings, painting your toenails, brushing your teeth. Your favorite scene is a shot of you applying liquid eyeliner and, in the mirror’s reflection, the image of the man filming you with his phone is captured. He’s wearing a beret; he must be the French director.

Why didn’t you tell me, your girlfriend whispers.

There is no dialogue in your movie, only a series of intertitles written in French. You can’t read French, can’t speak it. Your girlfriend’s mouth moves as she whispers the words. You find them so beautiful: the words, her breath, her mouth.

On the screen, you are stepping out of the apartment into the sunshine. You squint and adjust the waistband of your skirt.

A French intertitle flashes across the screen. The font, you think, is very nice.

What does it say? you whisper to your girlfriend.

Shh, she says. She lifts your hand to her mouth and kisses it, her lips caressing each finger in its turn. You sigh and shift in your seat. On the screen, you do the same.

The final shot of the movie is you standing alone on the sidewalk, holding a balloon. There’s no color in the film, but you think the balloon is red. In films like this, the balloon is always red.

But you have never stood alone on the sidewalk and held a balloon.

You lean over to mention this to your girlfriend, but she shushes you again, hands you a red balloon.

A man gave this to me for you, she says. Take it, go on.

You take the balloon. On the screen, a light breeze rustles your skirt.

Now what? you say to your girlfriend, but she only arches her eyebrows in response.

All right, you say, all right, and slide out of your seat and leave the theater. You stand on the sidewalk outside and hold the red balloon in your hand. After a while, finally, you let it go.

 


 

cathy pic 2016 - 1 - edit

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. She likes silent movies. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Split Lip Magazine, The Airgonaut, and Booth.

First Date by J. Bradley

Him

She doesn’t remember what it’s like to swim, the mermaid tells you after she finishes the first bottle of wine by herself. The mermaid says it’s the only way she can feel underwater as she uncorks the second bottle. You’re not sure if you should reach across the table to hold her hand. You want to caress where you think her gills used to be. You think it’s the neck but you didn’t pay attention during sex ed about the biology of merpeople.

You cough up something oily and you’ve gotten used to this. You have always coughed up something oily for as long as you remember. You ignore the burn in your throat, in your lungs. Your parents barely remember what it was like for them to breathe tolerable air, drink tolerable water. You barely remember what it was like to be human, your body a greenhouse of cancer, like all the other non-mutated humans.

It is 9:03 pm. You try and get the mermaid’s attention. You want to point out a star that you think you can see through the haze of still wheezing smoke stacks. You hope after she sees the star that she’ll offer you at least a glass of wine. You like this mermaid. You hush the impatience on your tongue and in your hands.

Her

You told everyone in second grade that you were really a mermaid. They believed you once you rolled up your pants and showed them your fused legs, the scaly psoriasis all over them. When your classmates asked what happened to your gills, you tell them how your father took them away when you decided to live with your mother on land. When your classmates asked you what it was like to live underwater, you tell them how your father took those memories away so you wouldn’t need to miss him. Your best friend, the one with the melting face, huggedyou and then everyone in class agreed that yes, you were really a mermaid.

Boys started paying attention to you more than the other girls who had two legs, or even one leg, under the full moon of their hormones. You discovered they were more interested in the mythology you made from your body than who you were when their hands wandered during slow dances at school district sanctioned dating events. You slapped their hands away, warned them how her father would curse them. Boys stopped paying attention to you after that, except the boy who coughed up oil.

You agreed to hang out with this boy, the one who coughed up oil, when he said he wanted to just talk and get to know you, when he promised to sit on his hands to prevent his impatience from getting to them. You steal two bottles of your mother’s wine, tell the boy how the only way you can remember what it was like to feel underwater is by drinking the wine. The boy sits on his hands even after you polish off the first bottle and open the second. The boy starts blurring. He takes his right hand out from beneath him, points at the sky, says, “Look at the scar,” but you think that’s impossible, because there are no scars in the sky.


J. Bradley is the author of The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016) and the Yelp review prose poem collection Pick How You Will Revise A Memory (Robocup Press, 2016). He lives at jbradleywrites.com.

Tinnitus by Sophie van Llewyn

The small piece of white cloth on the back seat was like a dark speck on my retina. A black hole, sucking all the air from my lungs. I looked at my wife, full of hope that she wouldn’t see it, but in a heartbeat she had it in her hand. For a moment, she looked at it as if she didn’t know what it was, but then she brought it to her nose and took a deep breath. The smell of old, coagulated milk must have been disgusting, but she smiled for the first time in weeks.

Did you know that a newborn’s heart rate is 100 to 205 beats per minute?

At home, she could pretend that she didn’t notice the clumsy way in which I had hidden the absences. The tiny bed had clawed itself into the lacquered parquet when I yanked it out, but she ignored the scratches. She didn’t see the empty shelves in the baby blue closet in the spare room. Nor the clotted dust, lingering after the diaper changing table had been removed. With so many things now gone, the house breathed again, but not in relief. It was more of a heavy panting.

A baby’s respiratory rate is 30-53 breaths per minute. 

But a burp cloth is harder to ignore than an absence. She pocketed it and smiled again, reassuringly.

Severe depression has to be treated in a specialised institution.

She helped me lift the crate with the books from the trunk and told me to go ahead, saying that she’d lock the car herself.

I stopped in front of the door, remembering that I didn’t have a key. It was the sounds that made me turn.

Tinnitus is a condition that causes you to hear ringing in the ear.

After testing me in all possible ways, the doctors say that there’s nothing physically wrong with me. That it’s tinnitus. But it’s not. It’s screeching tires and a blunt thud.

 


 

Sophie

Sophie van Llewyn lives in Germany. Her prose has been published by Flash FrontierThe Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, Halo, and Hermeneutic Chaos Journal, among others and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently polishing her novella-in-flash.

Correspondence by Christina Dalcher

Not email. Not texts. Not the pings and chimes of electric bricks, relentless in their announcements. Instead, the metal clap of a mailbox, rusty flag hinging down for another spin of the earth, mailman trucking through summer’s fire and winter’s ice. Little girls running down driveways to collect birthday cards from Gran, all glittery poems and well-wishes, five-dollar-bill tucked inside, crisp from the bank. The slow wait for pen pal letters, fat loopy scrawls, bulging hearts, words like dreamboat, whose lexical frequency plummeted before your breasts swelled. Words that smudge when tears fall. Stamps.

Missives, unerasable, from a boy on the other side of the ocean, now a man who may be living or not—the gods of Google don’t tell. Locks of hair, soft as his skin, careful when you open me up, I might blow away. Sometimes, when the house is quiet, take them out of the old stationery case, the one you bought when there was no money to buy anything, when cotton sheets and water-cut edges were more delicious than dinner. A fair trade.

Ink (medium point, chunky, blue like a midnight ocean) smearing from the southpaw push of a pen. Crumple it up if the words hang; start over. Seal kisses with spit and dispatch them for other eyes to see, tie in bundles, secrete in cigar boxes. Your only copies, no longer yours to read.

Trips to the post office, key in hand, maybe today. Slide silver blades or pink fingernails into the corner of his heart and peel it open. Write back in cryptic cursive and lick your stamps, tasting sticky-sweetness. Say I love you. See if it returns. Not in emoticons. In sounds. Amore. Je t’aime. Liebchen.

Pieces of him exist, hiding inside yellowed envelopes. The ones that say lire and francs and marks and sleep forever in dark drawers.

 


 

Tine in an Old Boat

Christina Dalcher weaves words and mixes morphemes from her home in the American South. Her short work appears in Bartleby Snopes, McSweeney’s, and New South Journal, among others. Find her at christinadalcher.com or @CVDalcher.

The Fat Lady’s Hands by Kyle Hemmings

The Fat Lady, who bangs the piano keys every night in some blue room of smoke & cut lips & cheap-brandy breaths, brings me her damaged hands. I inspect them, tell her that they are beyond repair. Too much squeezing, too much groping, too much coldness, too much neglect, too many strangers with kind faces who only wanted to use you for your hands, is what I tell her.

I imagine these one-night scavengers scribbling phone numbers onto her hands, leaving only runny lines of dried incomprehensible ink by morning.

I want to use the words virgins & tenors & virtuosos. But that would be too much, would leak out of context.

I ask her if she’s tried using vinegar solutions. She says she’s tried everything.

Please, she says, my hands no longer recognize me, they are as deformed as the ugly little men who pay me off the books with faded bills & some loose change. I live in an apartment that is a cardboard box that folds whenever I’m feeling flat & lonely . When it rains, the ceiling, the walls leak. The floors become soggy. They squeak as if trying to speak, as if trying to say Don’t you know what this apartment is made of? How long do you think it will take before every room collapses?

What it comes down to, she says—my hands can no longer hold water.

I agree to take her damaged hands for the last time. I promise to massage them, soak them in a jar of rose water & mixed sloes & some exotic herbs from nameless rain forests. She thanks me & leaves. For a moment, the world is once again her private lounge of smiling, invited guests.

She will play the piano tonight with porcelain-white hands, unblemished mute hands, hands with no history, no life lines, no hint of brittle bone, but as on other nights, everyone will be blind & tone deaf, acting as if they never ruined anyone’s hands. They will be too drunk to carry a tune. Driving home, they will not stop at red or orange signs. In the morning, they will confess to whomever lies next to them that they have driven all night, listening to The Fat Lady’s song. They have driven an entire lifetime in denial. They have driven an entire lifetime with ruined hands.

 


 

KylePicKyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest collections of poetry/prose are Future Wars (from Another New Calligraphy) and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies,  manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.

Mickey Rourke by A.E. Weisgerber

Karen liked the Flair pen – unforgiving, indelible felt-tipped ink – and here is what she could make it do: unfurl a ribbon candy of ovals and slashes that ached sweet words like a toothache that only Mickey Rourke would share. Maybe he’d find the note tucked in a booth where the only other thing was the metal tether missing a phone book, or dropped on a dirty bench, looking too clean to be garbage. He’d read it and squint his approval, and he’d blow out some cigarette smoke with a little laugh and throw her note in the gutter thinking, yeah. She wanted so little. At The Loop Lounge, a dingy place with pulsing music where streetcars once reversed direction, there was a boy with long blond hair whose smile could make her as disarmed as Venus de Milo. She thought he was a poet, and treated him as such. At the Loop, there was also the owner who could always find her because she’d be at the edge of her circle of friends. The owner did not have a disarming smile, but could squint his approval, and his laughter would blow cigarette smoke upward when he liked what Karen said. Meeting Mickey Rourke never seemed a stretch to her, with her bangling earrings and liquid eyeliner and patented dance move that nobody else looked right doing. The sub-woofer pulse permeated the building, the coat check, the bathroom with its needle-strewn floor. That poet never got past the sixth grade. The owner, Bruce, called himself Ruth at home. She would laugh while blowing out cigarette smoke to the rafters. She wrote her last note to Mickey Rourke on the Loop’s bathroom wall. More like scraped, really; it was a crummy Bic. I ain’t no bird, Mickey Rourke. The corn is green.

 


 

AEWeisgerber headshot copyA.E. Weisgerber reads for Pithead Chapel and Wigleaf, and is a Reynolds Journalism Fellow at Kent State University. Her recent fiction has/will appear in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarDIAGRAM, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She’s a current nominee for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and The Pushcart Prize. She keeps information current at http://anneweisgerber.com.

 

 

 

Red ‘N Wolf by Tyrese L. Coleman

Wolf dragged Red away from the bones. “You don’t need to see those.”

She let him walk her outside. Red took one last look at it: a five room rancher, half brick half siding, a planter with fake flowers out front, two open cans of molded tuna on the porch left to feed stray kittens that’ll never be cats, the cross still standing inside, against the front window. Grandma’s stretched voice in a sermon is the ear worm Red can’t ever shake off. She damned Red, a loose girl — when you lay with dogs, you get fleas. Now proof: the absence of blood between Red’s legs and her Grandmother’s dry, dirty bones.

She put a hand to her throat. Screaming had sucked air from her body she was now desperate to gulp back in. She panted, filling herself breath by shallow breath. “How could you let it get that out of control?”

“You told me to eat her.”

“But…I didn’t tell you to kill her.”

Wolf ignored this and put his arm around her.

“She was my grandmother, for goodness sake.”

Red turned from the fish-caked, rusting silver can. Her stomach jerked — Oh God, not that, not that, not that. She thought about the blood, not pregnancy blood, her grandmother’s blood and her stomach quivered again. Grandma was smug, a look of satisfaction on her face right before Wolf bit into it.  Red will always hold on to that “I told you so” smirk when the guilt rises in her gut, solid like the baby she couldn’t admit was there. Red grabbed Wolf’s slick paw and jerked him forward, deciding never to see that house again. They ran. Red’s dogged breathing alerted the world to their presence, to her condition. She wouldn’t last much longer. Wolf bent over, motioning to get on his back and ride. She did, clutching the fur around his neck, wet gray spikes piercing the space between her fingers. He did not stop until they reached another road, another city, another planet, she hoped he would never stop — don’t stop, don’t stop, she whispered.

They reached a wooded clearing deep in a forest on the other side of the world. Red sat beside a large tree and plucked a leaf from inside her hair. “What now?”

Wolf dropped to his haunches and inhaled the fresh sweat between her thighs, a long pull of her earthen ripeness that lifted him from the ground like a cartoon dog, eyes closed in rapture. This is why she fell for him, why she went along with his insane ideas. Her neck bent backward as she laughed with such a loud hysterical sobbing sound it made her belly shake and moan.

After, Wolf staggered around, spent, then ran a paw through his hair, and thought out loud, “I can eat the baby too.”  

“No.” She said.

But why not? She thought. Why not?

 


 

tyreseTyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, and attorney. She is also the fiction editor for District Lit and an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. A 2016 Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a nonfiction scholar at Virginia Quarterly Review’s 2016 Writer’s Conference, her prose has appeared in several publications, including PANK, Buzzfeed, Brevity, The Rumpus, Hobart, listed in Wigleaf’s Top 50 (very) short fictions, and forthcoming at the Kenyon Review. She lives in the Washington D.C. metro area, and can be reached at tyresecoleman.com.