All the Best People Die Young by Hannah Gordon

Callie once told me she felt like dying all the time. She couldn’t envision herself living past twenty-one. Said when she dreamt, she was always in her twenties. Never older.

“That means I’ll die young. My dreams always come true.”

All the best people died young, she said. Poets, musicians, actors. Artists struggled. She considered herself an artist in the making.

I liked lying in her bed and listening to British rock bands. She hardly ever stood still, so while I would lie there, letting Morrissey fill the air around me, she would pace her room, trying on random tops that littered the floor or grabbing at odd books, flipping through them briefly before tossing them back to the ground, as if she could never quite find what she was looking for.

Every day after school we’d either drive to my house, where we’d eat Oreos and watch Dr. Phil and Maury until my Mom got home, or we’d go to her house, where her parents were never home. She’d make us banana pancakes, and we’d eat them on the deck, overlooking the lake. Sometimes she’d smoke a cigarette, relics from her last relationship.

“Matt Davies?” I’d asked her when she told me they were official.

“He’s eighteen,” she said, sweeping her lake-soaked hair into a high ponytail. Then, “He can buy us cigarettes, LeAnn.”

Callie lived fast. Walked fast, talked fast, drank faster, smoked faster. It was as if she thought someone was about to take it all away—just like that. When her dad actually did take away her cigarettes, angry tears ran down her face, and she told me, “I can’t wait to fucking move away from here.”

It was assumed I’d just go with her. Like I’d follow her until she died young. I never asked what I was supposed to do after that.

On the weekends we’d steal money from her dad’s sock drawer and take mini road trips. Usually we drove down into Ohio, and we’d laugh at how bare it was. Like life didn’t exist there.

“At least we don’t live here,” she’d tell me, hand out the window, two-dollar sunglasses on, one cigarette in her lip and another tucked behind her ear. I could barely hear her over the roar of the radio and wind.

Callie wanted out of Michigan. She needed out. We lived in the Irish Hills, practically a ghost town, full of run down Wild West theme parks, haunted lighthouses, and men in wife beaters who spit tobacco outside gas stations. They’d whoop and holler whenever we’d stop to fill the car with gas. Callie didn’t care. She’d lean against the car, long legs gleaming in the sun. I’d hunch next to her—wearing all black because she thought it was cool—and scowl at them.

“Men like that don’t deserve your time,” she’d say. “I bet they have daughters our age.”

Callie had daddy issues. That’s what the other kids in class told me.

“Why do you hang out with her?” they’d ask. “She’s a bitch. And she has daddy issues.”

I often wondered if I really loved her. Or if I was just going along with it until something better came along.

One night, she wanted to become blood sisters, so we sliced into our palms and held hands until it ran red down our arms. When we let go, you couldn’t tell which blood was whose, and Callie said this was the whole point.

“Now I’ll be with you always,” she said. “And when I die, I won’t really die, because my blood will flow through your veins.”

She didn’t die young, though. A few years later, she got married. Has a second kid on the way now. I went to the wedding, but I sat in the back, and when it came my turn to congratulate her in the processional, I told her she did it: she made it past twenty-one.

“What?” she said.

“You always used to say—”

“—I was a dumb kid. It’s so good to see you.” She squeezed my hand tightly, and I wanted so badly to check if the scar was still there. I didn’t, though, and just like that, she moved the line along.

One night during junior year, we snuck out of her house and rolled my car to the street, a bottle of jagermeister in her purse. We met up with two of the guys from school and drank the whole bottle that night.

I woke up the next morning to her lips against my ear. “LeAnn. Let’s go.”

The sun was just beginning to rise over the hills, illuminating all the skeletal buildings, empty for twenty years now. Everyone always said how great the Irish Hills were in the eighties. So full of promise. And then it all crashed down.

We crawled in through her basement bedroom window, into bed, dirty clothes still on. The following week, the boy’s mom found a bracelet in the house. That’s how she knew we were there. Callie took the fall, though. Swore to her parents it was just her.

“You didn’t have to do that,” I told her.

“Yeah I did,” she said. “You’d do the same.”

I really didn’t know if I would.

“Hey,” I said that morning in bed.

“What?” she asked, her licorice breath washing over my face.

“Do I look like a movie star when I kiss?” I asked, thinking back to the previous night, how we all kissed each other in the kitchen, laughing at how funny it all seemed.

“No, you look like you,” she responded. But it didn’t sound like a bad thing.

I awoke sometime later. The sun was low, so I assumed it was mid-afternoon. Callie was still asleep next to me, her hand extended across the bed, a jagged scar on her palm, her fingers tangled up in my hair, like she’d been reaching for me.


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Hannah Gordon is a Detroit-based writer, coffee addict, and amateur baker. She is the managing editor of CHEAP POP. Her work can be found in Ellipsis Zine, Maudlin House, WhiskeyPaper, Synaesthesia Magazine, and more. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging out with her cat and watching cooking competitions or TV shows about vampires. You can follow her on Twitter at @_hannahnicole.

 

One Man’s Treasure by Brandy Wilkinson

Jim and Cheryl are not in agreement about the arms. Cheryl spotted them right away: two shiny plastic hands reaching up from the pile of junk on the flea market table, tagged $5 for the mismatched pair. She wants them for the shop displays, but Jim has his eye on a grab-bag of retro pinback buttons instead. That’s inventory he can move, a shoebox-full in one Saturday, if the right group of teens wanders into the shop. But Harmony Street Vintage is nothing without Cheryl’s eye for design, so he relents. She smiles and kisses his cheek, but something about the way she carries the arms, how the fingers tangle in her hair, makes Jim doubt himself.

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He has underestimated the hands, it turns out. Cheryl creates little vignettes around the store, rotating stock every time they go out picking or come across something special at an estate liquidation or tag sale. The hands hold silk scarves in polka dots and paisleys, women’s watches with delicate bands and locked-up gear trains, the occasional small kiss-lock wallet; they peek up through stacks of orange and yellow Bakelite bangles. Cheryl whistles Celine Dion while she works. It is quite a thing to see.

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When Cheryl quits, she tells Jim she’s taken a job as Manager at the big antique store up in Arcadia, effective immediately. That is half the truth. She’s also taken a position as the owner’s new girlfriend. She leaves the hands.

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Jim keeps up the front of the shop, makes sure the stoop is swept and the windows are clean. Two years after Cheryl moves, he uses his pocketknife to peel off the vinyl list of store hours and tapes up a sign that says By Appointment Only in boxy uppercase. The sun quickly fades the black marker, but the sign stays.

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There is one window in the back of the shop, next to the employee entry. The wood trim outside is rotted and when it rains, the paint sloughs off in thick flakes. The glass looks in on the small storage room, the shelves of untagged finds and unsold pieces of one man’s trash. Jim’s desk sits just under the window. The hands sit in the sill and in mid-afternoon, he can feel their shadows cast across his shoulders and face. He knows it’s unlikely that Cheryl will ever come back, but he leaves them there, reaching, waiting, just in case.


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Brandy Wilkinson lives in Indiana. Her flash fiction has appeared in Ellipsis ZineThe Nottingham Review, and Halo Lit Mag. She reads and writes at brandywilkinson.com and tweets @brandy_wilk.

By a Mountain Stream in Northern Spain by Jacqueline Doyle

You couldn’t stop singing. You sat on a boulder by a rushing stream and sang and sang, all the songs you could remember. Folk songs, pop songs, ballads of love gone wrong. Maybe it was some primal comfort for yourself, facing a future alone, or a desperate way to revive his attraction, though he wasn’t even there. The air was damp, the pebbles under your bare feet were cold and wet, the sun was warm on your bare shoulders. The trees surrounding the mountain gorge were lush and green. The other four were back at the campsite and you wished never to see them again, or at least never to see her again— the girl your boyfriend had secretly been sleeping with, the girl’s ex-boyfriend, your college friend, your boyfriend. Five sleeping bags, three BMW motorcycles, a campfire that had gone out. You were half way between Germany and Morocco, somewhere in the Pyrenees, when you discovered the affair. You remember being startled by her baleful looks when the two of you zipped your sleeping bags together. His apologetic glances. Maybe you asked him outright. You’d never been betrayed before and couldn’t fathom what he told you. You were twenty-one. All was tragedy, nothing was farce. It must have been early the next morning that you left them all asleep to wend your way down the narrow rocky path to the swimming hole. It’s hard to remember. You only remember that moment when you sat on the boulder alone in your red and white bikini and sang and sang, your eyes swollen and dry after a night of tears, your heart shocked into stone. You hugged yourself, and rocked and rocked as you sang, barely aware of the beauty surrounding you. Everything was green. The water was so clear that you could see each pebble in the bed of the stream. A yellow butterfly hovered just above you, fluttering, then alighted on your wet hair like a light kiss from the universe.

 


 

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Jacqueline Doyle has flash in Sweet, The Pinch, Quarter After Eight, PANK, Monkeybicycle, matchbook, and Wigleaf, and a chapbook, The Missing Girl, just out with Black Lawrence Press. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found online here and on twitter @doylejacq.

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A Matter of Propriety (Paint Rock, Texas) by Jad Josey

The shop doorbell rang, and a thin man with a wiry, unkempt beard dragged the outside heat and dust with him to the counter. I was organizing the cash in the till, rotating and smoothing the bills into neat stacks. His gaze traveled the length of my body, and then he dug into his lower lip with thumb and forefinger and fished out a small lightbulb shiny with saliva.

“I need one like this,” he said. He set the bulb on the wooden counter. It left a mark like a ripe blackberry.

“I don’t think we have any wet ones,” I said.

The man laid his hands on the counter, veins thick and ropy down to his thin wrists. His fingernails were dirty crescent moons. I wanted to flick the bulb off the counter straight at his lower lip. Instead, I banged the register drawer closed with my hip.

I leaned forward and scanned the plastic signs hanging on either side of the main walkway. “Try looking on aisle two,” I said. “You know, where the sign says lightbulbs.”

The man plucked up the bulb and slid it back into his mouth, running his tongue along his teeth to seat it just right. He turned and ambled down the walkway, stopping just before the first aisle to look back at me. “Go on,” I said, nodding toward the back of the store. “I’ve got things to do up here.”

“You got a mouth on you, girl,” the man said.

“Don’t call me girl.”

 As he turned back toward the aisle, Vee stepped out and hit him square in the face with the small wooden bat. It made a hard, wet sound. He staggered back into a metal rack of beef jerky, his jaw hanging loose at the bottom of his face.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

Vee snorted and pushed a clutch of dark hair off her forehead.

“Your hands are choked up too high, baby,” I said.

She moved her small hands down the bat and stepped into her next swing. The man folded to the linoleum and a corona of blood grew around him. The shop bell dinged, and we both turned toward the sound. An orange tabby stood on its hind legs, front paws pushing against the door. The bell rang again, and the cat squeezed through the thin gap and hopped onto the counter. I opened the till and started emptying the organized bills into my purse.

“Check the bathroom to see if there’s a mop bucket,” I said. “Please.” The cat licked one paw and dragged it over his ear and down his face.

“There’s almost nothing I wouldn’t do for you,” Vee said.

“I aim to find out what that almost nothing is,” I said. Vee smiled and sashayed her hips as she disappeared down the aisle. After she’d gone, I let myself smile back. There are so few people with manners in this world. When you find one, you do whatever it takes to hold on.

 


 

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Jad Josey lives on the central coast of California with his wife and three children (and one massive cat). He loved quinoa before it was trendy. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer TrainPalooka(b)OINKAtticus ReviewJellyfish Review, and elsewhere. Find him lurking on Twitter at @jadjosey or online at www.jadjosey.com.

 

Like Dolphins by Noa Sivan

I ran into a family acquaintance on a whale tour. She was wearing binoculars around her neck.

She said: what happened to you? I heard you became a homeless junkie in the city or something, that you’re a prostitute at the side of the road – someone even told me you OD’d.

And I said: yes, it’s all true.

She pouted. Well, you don’t have to be rude, I was just kidding. People your age have no sense of humor. Your parents, they were funny.

We had just left the harbor in Cabo San Lucas. The rules were simple: no swimming, no feeding, no touching. The whales needed space.

She continued. Seriously now, I heard you gave birth to a stillborn and that’s why you went crazy, got addicted to painkillers, stopped eating. And I’m not one to judge, OK? People have stories, even though I was never a junkie person, but you never know, I still have time. She laughed, almost snortled.

I fiddled with my life jacket.

She said: you don’t talk much now, I can tell. You used to smile a lot, remember? You and the Kirshner boy, like dolphins in love. Are you on vacation? With him? She looked around.

There were no whales in sight.

She brushed my shoulder with her fingertips. Well anyway, that’s nice. A bit of sun. You look so pale and skinny. Hey Isaac! Isaac! Come meet someone special! That’s my bar mitzvah boy, the youngest; you’ve never met him, it was after you left town. He wanted to go whale watching for his birthday, and now I meet you here, what a surprise—Isaac, come!

Nobody came.

She rolled her eyes as if a tornado passed through her brain. Well, he’s probably busy watching whales, he’s obsessed with them, wants to be a whale vet – can you imagine that? A Jewish whale vet? I’m not one to judge, but Abe and I hoped he’ll be a bit more—more—Oh my god, here’s a whale!

She cemented the binoculars to her face. You have to see this.

I didn’t turn around. Instead, I went to the other side of the vessel and took off my life jacket. Then I heard a splash. It was a boy. A perfect redhead boy. Floating on his back alongside the whales. Happy.

 


 

Noa Sivan was born and raised in Israel and is currently living in Granada, Spain. She is a graphic designer and a writer. Her stories have been published in Jellyfish Review, (b)OINK zine, Ellipsis Magazine, FRiGG, and others.

Avoid Random Spaces by Jonathan Cardew

Timmy T. puked into the toilet bowl and saw carrots. “Huh,” he said, pushing his fingers through his hair. He never ate carrots. Never once.

In the bar, Maude was ready to kill him or kiss him. “You’re a twat,” she said. “A complete and utter…” 

She pulled him up close by the scruff of his Lacoste. “Go.”

Timmy T. went, lifting a finger. Funny, because Timmy T. adored Maude.

That night was a big kebab. Oily. With uncalled for hard bits. The hard bits you pull from your teeth.

Timmy T. loved the smell of exhaust fumes. He loved the way it made him feel: lightheaded and queasy. He loved Maude more than anything, but he loved fucking cars, too, which was the roadblock.

 “You fuck another car, Timmy T….”

 He did. He fucked another one. A Volkswagen Beetle, the new kind. Pulled down his pants and put his dick in the exhaust pipe. Kneeled because the pipe was so low.

The night was a big, wet, sloppy portion of curry with chips. It was the carrots in the puke, slimy and orange. Painted onto the sky, under his eyelids. He loved Maude. He loved the slight heat of the pipe. He loved the rocking of the car frame, the give of the wheels, the way Maude used to flick her nails on the soft skin between his balls and bum hole.

He would grasp the car lights and rest his face on the rear window.

Sexual intercourse.

 Timmy T. stomped back to the bar.

Maude was sucking a toothpick. She had a Mai Tai and a bag of crisps, spilled on the bar. She had half-crossed eyes, and knees so skinny and shiny, it broke his heart all over.

“Avoid random spaces,” she said, looking at his left ear or beyond his left ear, concentrating.

Everything about her was concentrating.

“What do you mean?” said Timmy T., sliding in next to her.

He was thankful, therefore his question was soft.

“You heard me,” said Maude.

 


 

Headshot_Jonathan CardewJonathan Cardew’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Passages North, Superstition
Review, JMWW, Smokelong Quarterly, People Holding, 
and Atticus Review, among others. He’s the fiction editor for Connotation Press, contributing books reviewer for Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and interviews editor for (b)OINK. He’s been a finalist in the Best Small Fictions, the Wigleaf Top 50, the Bath Flash Fiction Award, and he won a travel toothbrush once at a boules competition in northern Brittany. Originally from the UK, he lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Half a Minute by Rachael Warecki

His body was especially beautiful naked: lean, hard curves of muscle along his shoulders, the taut slope of his back, sprawled limbs across tangled sheets. She studied the way the squares of light from her bedroom window illuminated the red undertones of his hair. He was perfect, even with his neck broken.

She hadn’t meant to. Hadn’t known she was capable of it, even on accident. But she also hadn’t realized, until an hour ago, that she really was the woman of her husband’s accusations, the kind of woman who’d let her new neighbor corner her into bed. She’d spotted him across the dim-bulbed hallway, pushing a bookshelf through his front doorway, and let him catch her eye. Thinking: her husband would notice the neighbor soon enough, would build his own theories around the square of the man’s jaw and the quickness of his smile, and would take his jealousy out on her, using his imagination as evidence and his hands as judge and jury. It wouldn’t hurt her any worse to look a little. To admire the newcomer as he crossed the hall and leaned against her doorframe. To let him breathe flirtations in her ear. Gentle. Different.

But then he’d put his weight behind that old expression, being forward, each kiss a nudge in the bedroom’s direction, her retreating half-steps as small as she could make them, staying faithful until she’d felt the mattress hit the backs of her thighs. She imagined how it had looked from above: the knight’s angled pursuit, the queen’s slow gambit through the grid of the apartment, allowing herself to topple. Afterward, after they’d climbed back out of bed, she’d twisted her ring around her finger—a thin, cheap band, easy to miss except when it was the only adornment on her body—and felt the alarm hammer of her heart clanging at the edges of her rib cage. She’d lied to herself, let things go too far. She’d told him he had to leave. Now, she’d told him, and kept twisting that wedding band. He’d lunged at her. Not so different, after all, from the men she’d spent a lifetime loving and hating in turn.

She hadn’t flinched or cowered, the way she did with her husband. As if, after so many years, her body had lost the capacity to move backward and forward. Instead, diagonal: a sidestep, her fingers gripping his hair and his temples pulsing between her palms and the heels of her hands against the edges of his eye sockets, and then a desperate, twisting motion as she’d flung him toward the bed, away from her. The crack as his skull collided with the headboard at the wrong angle. The odd, painful L-shape of his neck. And now she leaned against the nightstand, her body as naked as his, though far less beautiful, her hands clasped behind her back, no longer trustworthy.

She heard, too soon, the front door open and shut. Heard the jangle of her husband’s keys as he tossed them into the dish. Heard his whistle—jaunty, quick-tempoed—and knew how quickly those notes would sour as soon as he bulled his way into the bedroom.

Her hands found the nightstand drawer, opened it, fumbled until they grasped the scissors she kept there. The window’s light dappled across the bedsheets. In the other room, her husband’s movements were as slow and deliberate as a king’s: one step at a time, in any direction. He paused, called her name. Started whistling again, took a step toward the bedroom. Thirty more seconds before his tune would change. Half a minute. She clenched the angled blades against her spine and waited.

 


 

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Rachael Warecki’s fiction has previously appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere, and she received a 2014 Best of the Net nomination for flash fiction. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles, has previously attended the Tin House Writers Workshop, and was selected as a 2017 Emerging Voices Fellow at the Wellstone Center. She is currently (perpetually) at work on a novel. More information is available on her website.