Catholic School Girl by Jeanine Skowronski

I’ve been trying to grow wings, which sounds crazy, I know, except Cara has a pair. I swear. She shows them to me every time we change for gym class. They’re small — just two fuzzy, little knuckles raised about three inches below the nape of her neck — but her mom, who’s president of the PTA, promises they’ll get bigger with a little holy water, so, after school, Cara and I sneak into the church’s vestibule, dunk our fingers in a font and bless our shoulder blades.

In Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ seventh grade class, we learn religion. She tells us we believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She tells us only men can wash the pope’s feet. She tells us Paul fell off his horse and Lot’s wife turned to salt after God drowned the earth and everything wasn’t hunky-dory. She tells us Lucifer had wings, until he didn’t, and now we (unlike him) better not get seduced by evil. She won’t tell us, but I’m pretty sure Satan lives underneath the girls’ bathroom, the one between the two kindergartens. The tiles give off a heat that seeps through your penny-loafers, even when you avoid the cracks. I try not to go in there, the same way I avoid the fourth floor and Marnie Levinsworth. This school is full of monsters and ghosts.

Cara and I loiter in the back stairwell. She runs a finger across my back and frowns. You need something stronger than holy water, she says, and hands me a shampoo-sized bottle of chrism. Blessed by Pope John Paul II, it reads. Cara’s mom got it when they saw him say mass at Giants Stadium.
Two drops before bed, Cara suggests, but I never take the oil out of my backpack. I feel too guilty to use it.

Whenever Evan Merkle misbehaves, Sister Jerome Gaudentius flings an eraser at him. She keeps a set, just in case, lined up on her desk: fat, yellow rectangles, pink pencil toppers, a translucent watermelon wedge particularly good at leaving juicy, red welts. Once Evan learns to duck, so do we.

Cara tells me that my wings won’t grow because I think too much. It doesn’t matter how much oil (or water) I use; it doesn’t matter if I only say an even number of Hail Marys before bed. Your mind has got to be light, she says, like a feather.
Maybe, I say, except wings aren’t all fluff. They’re also flesh and blood and bones that’ll break if you ever crash down to earth. Something to carry, you know, not just something that carries you.
Cara blinks at me a few times. Marnie Levinsworth has had wings since fifth grade, she finally says.
OK, I say, even though we both know Marnie Levinsworth’s wings aren’t real.

Sister Jerome Gaudentius’ pulls me out of lunch to tell me to eat more. She remembers back in first grade, I used to toss the crusts of my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches underneath the cafeteria tables. She remembers, last week, I passed out in gym class and my mom showed up with orange juice. I tell her she’s wrong because she is. I’m not starving myself. I don’t tell her I’m always a little sad.

Before First Friday mass, Evan Merkle whispers that his sister Liz said that Monsignor Kasprowicz once told her that if you try to smuggle a Eucharist out of church, it’ll turn to blood in your pocket. No one believes him, not really, not even Cara, but during communion, most of our class takes the wafers with their tongues. I don’t take communion at all.

Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because my parents weren’t married in a church. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I don’t like Marnie Levinsworth. Or Sister Mary Gaudentius. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because I can’t write the Our Father on graph paper without touching any horizontal lines. Sometimes, I think I’m going to hell because the other 7th grade girls deserve wings more than I do. I can’t remember the last time I thought I was going to heaven.


Jeanine Skowronski is a writer based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Tiny Molecules, Complete Sentence, Crow & Cross Keys, Lunate Fiction, and Fewer than 500.

Strategy by Kari Treese

We started playing monopoly in bed at night when we canceled cable and tired of the
DVD’s we owned. The TV loomed in the dark hanging above the dresser.

I always picked the shoe, you the car. I let you be the banker once, but it took you so long
to count change, I relented and took over. I think it isn’t that you can’t count change quickly, but
that you prefer to let me take the role that demands more labor.

For the last three nights in a row, you win monopoly by purchasing every property you
land on, even when this seems unwise. Last night, when I turned out my light, I whispered into
the newly dark room, “I’m never playing monopoly with you again.”

I hate to lose. You know this. Tonight, I try your strategy. I buy everything I land on: Park
Place, Marvin Gardens, Pennsylvania Ave, Illinois, the electric company, and two railroads. I
think I’m off to a great start until I see the spread of cards littering your side of the bed. When
you hit free parking right after I get stuck in jail, I know I’m beat.

You have enough paper cash over there to start stacking houses and hotels on the triplet
of pale blues and that annoying pair of purple you managed to acquire by chance.
I wait three turns before I ask, “Are you letting me win?”

“No,” you say. But I think you are lying because you grin when you say this. “Playing
cautious,” you say when I roll my eyes. “Because it looks like you’ve got a good chance.”

I know you are lying when you say this too because you can see the cards and the money
dwindling from under the board on my side of the bed. “Don’t let me win,” I say.

You buy hotels the next turn. When I roll an eight, I throw up my hands and stomp to the
living room. You get me to return by telling me, “It’s chance, love.”

“I don’t need you to tell me how the game works,” I mutter while I follow you back to
the bedroom.

The next night, when I open the box, the car is missing. You say, “I don’t want to play if I
can’t be the car. I’m always the car.”

“Just be a different piece. The hat or the dog?”

“No,” you say. You suggest a list of other games I don’t want to play because I want to
beat you just once.

We settle on backgammon, because it’s quick and we’ve wasted half an hour. I beat you
three times before we turn out the lights and I know you tried. It was you who threw up your
hands in the last game when I had you skunked with two pieces still on the bar.

I find the car a month later when I’m vacuuming under your side of the bed. I think about
placing it back in the box, inviting you to play tonight. I rub my fingers over the bumps and
grooves. I’ve beat you in nearly every game since we quit monopoly. I’m stingier with strategy
than you.

When the car plunks into the toilet, I think about how you said “It’s chance, love.” I tip
the handle and watch the car swirl out of sight.

2725B219-91FD-4242-9A7C-1872375D76AB_1_201_a (1)

Kari Treese is a writer and math enthusiast currently living in Middle Tennessee. Her work has appeared in CHEAP POP, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Lunch Ticket, BULL, and others. She tweets @kari_treese.

My Secret Life as a Chain Smoker by Quinn Forlini

When I was six, a man at the corner store force-fed me cigarettes: four in a row that first day, and it was enough. I tried to fight it, pursed my lips and turned my face away as he came at me with the sputtering flame, but my arms were about as thick and breakable as matchsticks. And something clicked with the nicotine, all my organs danced to that sultry song, and my body leaned into the next inhale like a plant bends toward light. Soon I couldn’t stop long enough to brush my teeth. I became a prisoner of my patio at home, where my parents spoke to me through the screen door as I lined up lit cigarettes like disintegrating finger bones. And okay, all that was a dream. But this is true: in 1975, my grandfather got a Marlboro sample pack in the mail. He didn’t smoke, so he gave them to my father, who was eighteen and breathed his first cigarette that afternoon. States away, my mother had started in eighth grade when friends struck a match against the brick in the back of the school, huddled in rain. I’m fascinated by the ease of these beginnings. I, too, crave this small drama, want the tiny violence of something in a back pocket kept ready to burn, to crush with the sole of my shoe. Each cigarette a blank, helpless voodoo doll of myself, my piecemeal insides crinkling like brown tobacco paper. What do I have to blame for what’s broken? I want something inside me to keep catching fire. I want to let my pollution bloom. So when I need another, I triumph. I strangle their throats between my fingers. I murder them one by one.


Quinn Forlini (she/her) has writing published or forthcoming in Catapult, X-R-A-Y, Jellyfish Review, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA from the University of Virginia and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

A Sequence of May Days by Elizabeth Fletcher

After Sudha Balagopal’s “Life Times Nine”


That was the birthday you hired the ponies. Never mind that I thought ponies were for babies. You grinned, delighted with yourself, dark circles cradling your eyes, oblivious I was withering inside. Even then I knew you were making up for the year you spent crying in your bedroom after Tommy died. Making up for all the grilled cheese sandwiches I burned to keep us fed when dad was on the road. For drifting around as a phantom mother who longed more for the child she’d lost rather than the one in front of her. 



I’d been waiting for this birthday for years, ever since a girl in third grade returned from winter break with dainty amethysts dotting her earlobes. As her studs turned to hoops and dangles, I wheedled more for my own pierced ears. Twelve, you said, spinning a tale of this rite of passage that would begin with Chunky Monkey pancakes. A girls’ day, you said. Finally, I thought, something my dead brother couldn’t overshadow. On the day I officially out-aged your firstborn, you popped two blueberry-flavored Eggos into the toaster for me. You stood at the counter while I ate, drinking coffee in your faded blue bathrobe. After a few sips, you told me to wipe the scowl off my face. You’d forgotten your promise. Or maybe you remembered but hoped that I hadn’t. We drove to the mall that afternoon in silence, the windows rolled down in the unseasonable heat. As we walked across the parking lot, you said my hair was a mess. I combed it with my fingers, pulling at tangles. The piercing gun sent the gold vermeil post through skin and soft tissue. Such relief. Tears ran down my face and I didn’t have to explain myself. 



I was rinsing my juice glass of pulp when you asked if I had any special requests for my birthday dinner. No, I answered. I told you and dad last week that I had plans with my boyfriend. He can join us, you said, it’s your last birthday at home. My jaw set, choking back a torrent of words. Your need hung in the silence, your eyes somehow sad even when they were smiling. Then I saw it, the flicker of judgment, the unspoken comparison to your sainted boy Tommy who would have grown up to choose family over a significant other. I stormed out.



I’d been home for two days after ten months in France, crabby from jet lag and forming my mouth around clunky English words. My internship wouldn’t start for three weeks, and this would mark the longest stretch I’d been at home since the summer after my freshman year. I’d picked a school on the East Coast and time abroad to put miles between us, between the way I’d never live well enough for two. Before you even offered birthday wishes, you sighed and said you wished Tommy—never Tom or Thomas—could be here with us. Merde, mom, don’t you ever get tired of clinging to your grief? You have no idea what it’s like, your voice scalpel-sharp. You’re right, I said. But it wasn’t as if dad—as if I—didn’t miss him too. Yet we moved beyond carrying just our grief. You? That’s all you have to show for yourself.



I was in the full-bloom of pregnancy, counting down to birth day. The baby I already loved beyond words kicked and pushed as though trying to create more space within the tight embrace of my belly. I dialed your home number, both familiar and foreign. I’d only called dad’s office in the past two years, the one channel of communication carrying news big and small: my elopement, dad’s hernia surgery, your volunteer work in the NICU, the neighbor’s cat scaring off the songbirds. I rubbed my bulge—unsure which child inside I was attempting to soothe more. You answered. Heart in my throat, my voice unnatural, I said, Mom, it’s me. I heard muffled sobs on your end of the line.



This year marked milestones for both of us: I now qualified for “Over the Hill” cards and you qualified for Medicare. You suggested we celebrate my birthday with a long weekend in Chicago, mother and daughter. After check-in, you went for ice. I found you thirty minutes later, sans ice bucket, at the far end of the opposite beige wing, trying your key card in every door. The next morning, as I was putting earrings in, you said that Tommy had been coming at night to steal money from your purse. I sat hard on the bed, treating you as I treated my daughter Amalie, now a teen, asking careful questions, marshalling myself to stay calm as I listened more than talked. That afternoon, after our stroll to Lincoln Park, you napped. I stepped into the hall, called dad and said, something’s terribly wrong.



You remembered. I’ll never know if you did it on your own or if you asked nursing staff for help, but you called to wish me a happy birthday. You sounded cheerful, your voice warm and honeyed. I told you that dad had sent me a beautiful bouquet of tulips from the both of you. I’d already dropped in pennies from the year Tommy had been born, the kind with ninety-five percent copper, into the water to prevent drooping stems. I glanced at the arrangement, the soft pink petals catching a shaft of sunlight, an emergence akin to hope. I told you that Amalie was driving down for the weekend and, along with her father, promised me breakfast in bed. You told me how lucky I was to have such a loving daughter, how sorry you were that you hadn’t remembered my birthday. But mom, I said, you did remember. You called me. You said you didn’t think so though you hoped I didn’t feel like an afterthought. You said, happy birthday, I’m sorry.



Elizabeth Fletcher writes and teaches yoga in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Leaping Clear, The Nonconformist, Tiferet, Gone Lawn, Flash Frog, and more. She can be found online at or on Twitter @esfletcher.

Totems by Matthew Zanoni Müller

With the kids out of the house Stacy took up pottery while Rick took out his skis to mix business and pleasure on trips to the Rockies. “Can you believe it,” he said, “they use dynamite to start avalanches, to control the inevitable.” She made plates that came out long and wobbly. “They look like someone played Frisbee with them,” she told her teacher. “At least they’re playing,” he said. Everyone laughed.

In Utah, all the roads through the passes were closed the next year and Rick was stuck at the lodge. “This is the dream,” he said. “I’m happiest out here on the slopes in all this white.” She imagined it like a kind of heaven. Where was she happiest? The earth seemed to close in around her, encase her in glass, blue marble that it was. She made bowls and bowls and bowls, imagined filling each one up. They escaped the cabinets, lined the shelves and windowsills, cradled the nothing that was always there.

The next year she couldn’t have had a thirst big enough for all the cups that lined up on every nightstand and countertop and end table. The year after that she had exhausted dishware, so she planted brightly glazed decorative mushrooms that grew on metal stakes in her garden. They would never fade. This was when Rick disappeared. Buried in white. “The inflatable saved me,” he said after the rescue a day later. “I floated right up to the surface.”

The following year she started on the totems, nothing religious, just shapes: a red ball, stacked on a blue ring, on top of flaming wings. Rick made the poles. The totems filled the rooms with undefined ritual. He broke his left leg on a tree trunk going off-trail and lay around the house amid the towers of her clay cosmos, the pinwheels and flowers and four-pointed crowns. The grotesque smiles of the planet’s faces. He was her only congregant. “Church,” he said. “I’m at church.” She flicked him lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “You go off into the snow for that.”

The next year his tracker sent out another signal. Ski patrol went out to find him under the white. They just kept digging and digging while she waited for the call, for the inflatable to engage and raise him up again. Days passed and still they could not find him. In the empty silence she imagined him in the white, searched for him through it as though it were the emptiness on her wobbly plates, the emptiness in the bowls she’d thrown, the cups that lined her shelves. She imagined him growing right out of the ground like the mushrooms in her garden, saw him twisting through the cosmos somewhere out there among her totems, and the more she looked for him, the more she realized he could be anywhere in it, anywhere at all. Even everywhere.


Matthew Zanoni Müller is a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction and a community college professor. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including BULL, Southeast Review, The Boiler Journal, Hippocampus, and others. He lives in Western Massachusetts. To learn more about his writing, please visit:

Daylight Savings by Fiona McKay

Ten minutes waiting in line. She snips them, pastes them into the app on her device, and is more than halfway up the line. Another maybe three minutes, she estimates, snips those, and is rewarded by reaching the top of the queue. She’s getting so much better at estimating these things now, and there are bonuses if you got it spot on—you could double or even treble your time, it’s been said, though she hasn’t, yet. But every day she’s improving.

This morning at breakfast, she estimates that it would take Emily seven minutes to eat her cereal. It takes eight, but that had been a pretty good call, and leaves her with only one minute of staring at a small girl picking up each individual cheerio with her spoon, draining the milk off, and eating it. Seven minutes saved. Seven minutes of not watching that. Seven minutes of not tamping down the desire to yell ‘would you just eat the damn cereal already’ over and over until they are all crying. And seven minutes banked for later, to use as she pleases.

There have been some issues that need to be smoothed out, and the manufacturers are aware of them, they say on their website, and are working on it. There are glitches. Users report fuzzy feelings after they snip. That hasn’t happened to her, but she has felt some jolts, and some confusion. She would be sitting with her device, calculating the snip and hoping the kids wouldn’t disturb her calculations, and once she has snipped, there would be a slightly jagged hole—her on one side of it, the children on the other, staring across, puzzled. Something she’s meant to answer, maybe, or something she should have noticed. Something. It only lasts for a second, less than a second, though maybe these intervals are getting longer, the more she snips. Maybe. Emily and Tom looking at her for a fraction longer each time, as though she isn’t quite there.

After she drops them to school, she runs errands and straightens the house, snipping as she goes, watching the minutes build up in the app, watching it glow and pulse. After she collects them from school, and only snips a little during snack and homework, she feels her joy begin to gather in her, like a secret. The sun is shining, and the kids are happy to play in the garden. In this moment, their heads are bent over some small insect that moves on Tom’s arm—a beetle or a butterfly maybe, and Emily holds her soft arm out to take whatever it is. This is the perfect moment—nobody is fighting, or shouting, or bleeding from grazed knees. Quietly, she closes the back door.

She makes coffee and takes down the best biscuits from their hiding place, takes out the book she had been saving. But first, she opens the app. Three hours, it says. Three whole hours snipped and stitched together out of all the tiny pieces of wasted time during the day. If she looks closely at the screen where all her minutes are stored, she can see Emily staring at her as she spoons up cereal, Tom prodding her arm during homework, all those little moments. She presses the button that says Use Time Now, and all the memories vanish. The day greys around the edges, the way it always does during the Time-Use phase. She tries to remember breakfast, and what had annoyed her. Something about cereal. Something about reading practice at homework later in the day. No, it’s gone, entirely gone. For a moment, a small pain presses through her chest and she thinks she might cry, for some reason. Then it is gone, and she opens her book and settles down to read, uninterrupted, for the next three hours. Three hours while the clock stands still, while the world stands still, before the next minute turns.


Fiona McKay lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and daughter. She is a flash fiction writer and is also querying a novel. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words in various places, including: Reflex Fiction, Janus Literary, Scrawl Place, EllipsisZine, The Birdseed, Twin Pies, Bath Flash. Tweets about writing at @fionaemckayryan

The Cost of Helium by Kinneson Lalor

When we go to court, I agree to tell the truth. I tell them when we met, a cubic metre of helium cost one dollar and seventy-five cents. I wore a new skirt that crept up when I walked from my desk to the lab and I spent the day pushing it back over my knees. I dragged a nauseating feeling I shouldn’t be there, like still being half-drunk as the sun rises.

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. That’s what my PhD was in. And his. We measured magnetic fields around atomic nuclei, compounds contracting invisible lines with exclusive gravities. We were scientists. We believed our tissues were the same, that atoms from our hearts would resonate.

Laboratories account for ten percent of helium use. Superconducting magnets need liquid helium to keep them super cold. Four point two Kelvin. It sounds bearable when you measure it like that. But in celsius, it’s nearly three hundred degrees below zero.

I was planning our wedding when the first shortage came. I didn’t mourn the loss of the balloon arch. Our supervisor needed to move the magnet, but the groom-to-be got to finish his thesis first. I could finish mine after. There was no helium to waste so the magnet was transported at cryogenic temperatures. We got married. I could finish my thesis soon. I peed on a stick. The magnet broke in transit. The stick showed a plus. For once, I couldn’t do the maths.

Helium comes from decaying radioactive substances. It’s very light. Released, it goes up and up and up into space. Gone. Like no other material on earth, it cannot come back. I drove around all day looking for balloons for her fifth birthday. I don’t recall where he was. Not there.

The judge is a man. I explain I wanted to be doing experiments, not scrambling to keep the instruments alive. The government hoarded the stocks then flooded the market. New helium is only found in natural gas wells but fracking is more lucrative. In the shale formations, where rocks split into thin layers under pressure, you only find oil, molasses-thick. It has a rainbow shine that disappears every time you try to get closer. I never finished my PhD. I raised a daughter.

Helium Shortage 3.0 was all politics. Russia, Qatar, Tanzania. That’s where helium will come from in the future. No one trusted the supply. A cubic metre of helium cost seven US dollars. But she was too old for balloons by then and I developed an instrument with improved insulation and integrated cold heads to recondense the helium, recycle it. A new machine that didn’t need replenishing. It made money. He wants his share.

The judge looks bored but not the kind of bored where you could joke about it. He doesn’t understand. Not the cost of absence from a market, not how things break when you move them in their incorrect state. Not the cost of helium in divorce proceedings. He thinks coming up with an idea while ironing pleats in a school skirt is because of the opportunity to iron, not despite it. He rules. The injustice sits like lead on my lungs. I cannot breathe.

I’m a scientist. I know lead. Have felt it. Always. When I was twenty-one and pushed my skirt back over my knees. When I watched our daughter roll hers up and take photos in the mirror.

Lead. Galvanised and cold. But it’s so malleable I thought I was making shallows with the smallest of pressures. And maybe I did. But it’s also dense and hard and immoveable in bulk.

Lead. It’s almost a win to know its name.

Because I know it tarnishes upon exposure. I know its isotopes are the end products of radioactive elements. And I know helium comes from radioactive decay.

Helium. Of celebrations and balloons.

Helium. The cost of lightness.

Our daughter will graduate tomorrow. I was feeling sentimental for the things I’d lost so I bought balloons. And I will blow each one up. With nothing but my lungs.


Kinneson Lalor is a mathematician and writer living in the UK. Her work has appeared in places like the BFFA Shortlist, Reflex Fiction, and Cease, Cows, won #1KWHC 2021, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and is included Best Microfiction 2022. You can find her, her dog, and her chickens on Twitter (@KinnesonLalor), Instagram (@kinneson.lalor), or via

How We Survive by K.B. Carle

We survive on vegetables from gardens we make in the backyards of strangers.

Blasting music with all the windows open, raiding closets, setting food bowls on porches just in case our tabby, rottweiler, ferret, hamster, or goldfish come home.

We are the last people on Earth.

You say this every night before you go to your room and I go to mine in a house that was never ours.

We survive on secrets.

Over breakfast I admit that sometimes I wish you’d come to my room. You say you wish you’d known sooner. That you’ve met someone and wasn’t sure when to tell me. I try to remember all the times we’ve been apart, wonder how you managed to meet someone when we are the last people on earth.

I want you to meet her, you say, and I nod because I don’t know what else to do.

We survive on a series of miscommunications.

You take me to the nearby sex shop and tell me her name’s Lorraine. I look for evidence of another human, someone I could be friends with. Someone I could envy, address hateful letters to that I’ll never send but burn in the fire pit while you sleep. Someone I could have rebound sex with—to stop pretending like you and I have ever had sex. I start building a life with this woman you’ve met named Lorraine.

You walk to the display window (I take a moment to admire your ass and think maybe I have a chance) and carry a mannequin towards me.

Meet Lorraine, you say.

We survive on fuck ups and moments of doubt.

Like how did I fuck up this badly? How did you fuck a—Lorraine?

Lorraine has blue hair and eyes that never shut. She’s wearing a black latex catsuit that accentuates her hips and legs in a way I can’t hate, and is made of fucking plaster.

Don’t embarrass me, you hiss.

I shake her hand. Nice to meet you, I say, while thinking about all the things I didn’t do that drove you to Lorraine.

We survive on privacy.

Lorraine starts coming home with you after we meet, and I hear you two through the walls. You tell her about your life before we were the last people on earth, and everyone you miss. I hear you two having sex when I’m trying to sleep. Sometimes, I hear my door creak open and think you’ve come to apologize. Instead, I see Lorraine, leaning in the doorframe, naked and frozen in her shop window pose.


We survive on new experiences.

You ask me to move out. Say, it’s nothing personal, just that you and Lorraine need your privacy. I consider telling you about Lorraine in my doorway but you’re babbling about how new everything is with her. You hear birds singing (there are none), music playing (you keep Rick Rolling me), and everything is so much brighter. It’s not. It’s not because, as the last people on earth, everything is still the same.

We survive on small moments.

Since being evicted, I’ve decided to house hop. I want to find this brightness—or newness—you’ve found so I migrate from one house to the next. Somehow you find me, and I think I feel a little bit of that brightness you’ve found.

Lorraine’s throwing a party, you say, and hand me an invitation.

I invite you inside. You back away.

Sorry, Lorraine’s waiting.

We survive on disappointments.

I find a dress in someone’s basement that fits and heels that I hope I can walk in. Your house is somehow crowded by the time I arrive. Lorraine is wearing a pink tutu over a red leather catsuit, and she’s surrounded by other mannequins I recognize from department stories and the sex shop. Even the one from the auto body shop is here. I make my way over to him and try to start a conversation, but he doesn’t respond, so I lean against him and imagine our lives together.

We survive on possibilities.

My husband—the mannequin from the auto body shop—would address me as his partner instead of wife. He would take my last name, never comment on my age, how many pills I take, the diapers I’ll eventually need. He’d hold my hand, kiss me often, and tell me how much he loves me. He’d tell me he loves me so often that I’d forget about the party, Lorraine, and you asking Lorraine to marry you.

We survive on the promise of the future.

You invite me to the wedding, and I come. Lorraine wears a white pantsuit and you—a wedding gown. The mannequin from the auto body shop is there but he sits far away from me. You whisper your vows, kiss Lorraine, and announce that you are now Mr. Lorraine. You thank everyone for coming. You thank me for coming. I have a few drinks and make my way to the backyard. You find me, like you always do, and ask if you can have a taste.

We survive on missed opportunities.

You ask why we—I tell you I don’t know. That’s a lie, but you’ve had one too many, and this conversation seems inappropriate on your wedding night. I tell you I’m leaving, and you tell me you know. You say you’ve noticed all the times I’ve moved, each time farther away from you; how I flirted with the guy from the auto body shop only to now pretend he doesn’t exist.

I tell you I think you’re beautiful. Handsome. That I don’t know which you would prefer.

I guess that’s why we never—

I press my finger to your lips. You’re crying, which shouldn’t be happening. I look for Lorraine. You grab my hand and I know, if you asked me to stay, my answer would destroy everything.


K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her stories have appeared in HAD Magazine, Good River Review, Waxwing Magazine, and have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She can be found online at or on Twitter @kbcarle.

Traci with an i by Veronica Klash

When the man points the gun at Traci, she’s a saguaro. Not only in look, but in texture. She seems prickly, like if you touched her it would sting. And if Traci is a saguaro I am a succulent at her feet, small with smooth edges. He tells her to keep her hands up and give him all the money. He’s shaky. She’s not. Well which one is it? Do you want my hands up or do you want the money? I can’t get the money with my hands up. She sneers at his response before he gets the words out. Bitch, just give me the fucking money. Traci hits a button and the register pops open with mechanical violence and a ding. She grabs two fistfuls of crumpled bills and smacks them down on the counter. You happy now, genius? The man looks at me, standing next to Traci behind the register, and I almost shrug. We almost share a moment where I would’ve said, yeah I know, she’s out there, man. But when you’re frozen in fear you don’t shrug and you don’t share a moment with the man who’s seconds away from making you piss your pants. He crams the money in his pockets and runs.

After we finish describing the man to the police, Traci pulls a 40 from the fridge and we walk out. The police know we’re not 21, but they either don’t notice or don’t care. The asphalt is slick from the rain. It’s dark out and the siren lights look like bright alien fruit reflected in puddles.

In between swigs Traci says, fuck that job, I was going to quit anyway, fuck that place, fuck that nasty burnt gasoline smell. I kinda like that smell. And I kinda like that job. I wonder how much I’d still like it if Traci wasn’t there. If I had to clean out the slushee machine without Traci singing into a Twinkie in the background. Then Traci asks, do you wanna go to the lake? I know it’s not really a question.

I drive us past walls of trees and borders of shrubs fortifying the road. They repaved last year so now all the potholes are gone, but I still swerve to avoid them. Traci’s pushing buttons trying to find a station that isn’t static. Can you believe that asshole? She asks after giving up on the radio and turning her attention to the window. The guy with the gun? We’ve seen worse, I say. Remember that one tweaker that kept touching his balls? Traci laughs. I try not to sound desperate, but the question falls out of my mouth and my voice vibrates like a fridge on its last legs: Are you really going to quit? Traci’s still playing with the window. Maybe. You should quit too. We should quit together, that’ll show ‘em. She’s right, but it’s not like I have a choice. Mom can’t pay the bills without my help. And Traci’s even worse off. She’s got brothers. All I say in response is, stop that, you’ll break the window.

When we were kids I was afraid to go in the lake because I thought there’d be leeches in there. Tracey—back then she spelled it with an EY, just like me—held my hand the whole time. She didn’t make fun or try to freak me out. She held my hand and smiled. Our legs and arms worked extra hard below the murky water, churning bubbles to the surface, making up for our entwined limbs. My center was gooey and pliant, like mac and cheese straight from the oven.  Back then we both had daddies. I technically still do, but I haven’t seen him in a while.

We’re alone at the lake. I park the car as close to the edge as I can, leaving the headlights on. We throw our clothes in the backseat and Traci, bathed in ghostly glow, runs to the water. I walk over, sidestepping cigarette butts and shattered beer bottles. There’s red lipstick around one of the butts. The shattered glass glints in the sand and I think about the girls who stand outside the club across from the gas station. They shimmer in the dark too. They come in before their shifts to buy gum and cigarettes. They look Traci up and down and tell her she could make good money. They don’t talk to me.

Tracey became Traci with an i right about the time she stopped stuffing her bra. She was filling enough. I asked her why she didn’t like being Tracey with an EY anymore, and she said that things were different, which meant that her name should be different. At the end of her statement, as if for emphasis, one of the spaghetti straps on her black top slid down her shoulder. I was about to reach out to fix it, instead I nodded and pretended to understand what the hell she was talking about. Things didn’t feel different to me.

Traci and I float. The water is so warm we can’t tell where our bodies stop and it begins. When our fingers graze, that mac and cheese heat is in my belly, even though I’m not afraid of leeches anymore. I know there’s other darkness that can pull you under.


Veronica Klash loves living in Las Vegas and writing in her living room. You can read her work in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is currently in hibernation, working on a short story collection. Find her tweets @veronicaklash.

I Want To Talk About Boundaries But Instead We Say Goodbye by Cole Beauchamp

As soon as the car stops, we tumble out like fish from a net, gasping in the salty air. I shake myself free of tension from missed turns and what do those parking signs say and dread that Mica’s about to be sick in the car again.

The shingle shifts under our feet, wedging small stones between flesh and the flip flops I’ve rescued from the back of the wardrobe. The twins are in lime green jelly shoes – an Asda special.

“Careful” I shout, but it’s too late. Mica and Jonah are squealing down to the water, two short, stout bodies in rainbow tie-dye short sets. I watch Mica’s hair whip in the sea breeze and wish I’d plaited it. It will be a nest of tangles by midday.

Jonah turns his head this way and that, as if to say – where did all the buildings go? As far as I know, it’s the first time they’ve seen the sea. But there’s only so much the adoption files can tell you.

Gillian and I are lounging in the sun, bellies full of fish and chips, debating the best route home when it happens. Amongst the roar of water on stone and screaming seagulls, I hear a thin cry. Scanning the beach, I see a grey-haired woman hobbling towards me with Mica in tow. Mica’s rubbing her eyes, mewing like a cat. Another legacy: neglected children learn quickly not to bother making too much noise.

“She toppled over and wanted her mummy.” The woman has smart hair, the kind that’s cut in a salon, and linen trousers with a neatly pressed crease. It’s a look that takes me back to my mother’s Tuesday Bridge: four sets of cardigans and pearls turning in perfect synchrony to scrutinize me and find me lacking.

Jonah bounces up to me. “She was running in the water and I said don’t do that, be careful like Mummy said, but she wasn’t listening Mummy, even though I told her.”

“I don’t think she’s hurt. Just a shock,” the woman says.

I scan Mica for injuries – she’s soaked through, her knee badly grazed – and embrace her. Mica plops down into my lap, dripping cold water into my sun-warmed legs. Her hair tickles my face as I kiss the top of her head while Gillian cleans Mica’s knee. I’m grateful we’re at the stage where she lets us. For the first three months, she’d scream every time we tried to put on a plaster. Imagine that on a public beach.

“Left Dad at home then? Girls’ day out?” the woman says.

I try to decipher whether she’s making conversation, being nosy, or deliberately stirring. Gillian rubs antiseptic lotion onto Mica’s knee.

Jonah pipes up. “We don’t have a daddy at home.”

I laugh at his puffed-up chest, his earnest face. Off he goes, a train chugging down the track. “We have a Mummy and a Gilly. And before that we were at Susannah’s. But I didn’t have my own bedroom there and now I do. I like firemen. Do you like firemen?”

Once the plaster is on Mica’s leg, Gillian and I stand to fold the blanket and stash our things in the beach bag. Some days you don’t mind being an ambassador; today I don’t feel like explaining a thing.

“Firemen are nice,” continues Jonah. “Really nice. If you come to our car, I can show you my firemen. I like firemen because-”

“Jonah.” I give him the look, the look that says don’t overshare. That we are family, but she is a stranger. She doesn’t need to hear about what happened with his birth family.

“It’s okay,” she says.

I want to say, it’s not okay. These kids need boundaries. They need to learn not to throw themselves at anyone who glances their way. That I hope we are teaching them to feel loved, to be safe, but there are no guarantees with the start they’ve had.

“You’re a stranger,” Mica says.

I feel a surge of pride. An odd thing to take pride in, perhaps, but I am on the verge of tears. It is sinking in. Although my mother used boundaries to keep me out, I’m using mine to keep strangers out.

“Well that’s not a very nice thing to say.” The woman bristles, looking at Mica the way the Bridge gang used to look at me.

“Time to go,” I say briskly. It’s too much to ask, understanding another’s intent. It’s enough to define your own boundaries, corral your own demons. “Now what do we say to nice strangers who help us?”

“Thank you,” the twins say in unison, heads bobbing.

The woman says “You’re welcome” but the smile on her face wavers. We’re an odd-shaped piece in her puzzle.

It doesn’t matter. We know who we are to each other. “Say goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Mica and Jonah shout, on familiar territory now. They know about departures. They know how to say goodbye.

Cole Beauchamp is a copywriter by day and a fiction writer by night. She’s been published in Ellipsis Zine, Dead Skunk, and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in London with her girlfriend, two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. You can find her on twitter at @nomad_sw18