Propitiation by David Drury

The universe works in threes, and while at home alone on a Saturday I was triangulated into an act of violence. I did not act alone, but some burden of responsibility falls to me. As they say, “It takes three to triangle.”

My wife’s sister had been staying all week with her three daughters. She was going through a painful divorce. She needed the support and her daughters, our nieces, needed a get-away.

“While the nieces would love to see you get a pedicure,” my wife said after breakfast, “they think you might get bored.” I helped load the five of them into the car and off they went. The smallest niece, Olivia, left behind her palm-sized turtle, “Puppy,” so I was not entirely alone. I started the dishwasher and opened all the curtains. I laid on top of the bed doing snow angels from the waist down while reading a book from the waist up, as one does who is not accustomed to having the house all to themselves.

I watched the birds lining the wire outside the window. One, two, four, eight, ten. I had never seen so many. The wire sagged into a smile. I was not sure the line could hold them. And what were they staring at? Something in the yard. I traced the line of their stare, but the walls got in my eyes.

Just as I nodded off for a nap, the birds got to chirping and wouldn’t stop. I heard the neighbor children playing in our yard. That must be it. I might have gone to the window and stared the kids back into their own yard, but the nieces had given me a renewed appreciation for the spirit of youth. I lay there with my eyes open. One of the birds turned her head and looked at me. After we held eye contact for a moment, she rolled forward off the wire. I heard her hit the pavement, and flap her broken wings against the house.

I sat up and went outside, only to find that I had forgotten to turn off the hose. Water and potting soil cascaded from the planter to the porch, down the walk, and into the yard, where it had had turned our new garden into a pond. Then I saw it.

Puppy the turtle must have gotten out while I wasn’t paying attention. The neighbor kids had found her, flipped her onto her back, and placed a heavy rock on her belly. The rock was holding her underwater in the now flooded garden. As it turns out, a turtle can drown faster than dry out.

I brought the dead turtle inside and set her body on a washcloth on the center of my bed. I began searching for words inside of me that might begin to explain death to a four-year old. Was I so shallow as to pretend this wasn’t my fault?

I heard the girls pull up in the driveway. As they got out, they began to shriek. I had forgotten about the bird. I wondered if the bird had taken a nosedive to call my attention to the turtle. Little good that did, I thought. As the girls came inside, I felt that I should be the one laid out on a burial cloth. I looked to Puppy, but the washcloth was empty.


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David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio, twice published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, and appears in ZYZZYVA, Paper Darts, Jellyfish Review, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. He has a Master’s degree in Christian Studies from Regent College, University of British Columbia. Visit Daviddruryauthor.com.

Far from Home by Shasta Grant

Every day she brings her son to see the turtles. He carries a small jar of turtle food in his hands. She dislikes leaving the apartment and the comfort of the air conditioning, entering this foreign world, but these small trips down to the guardhouse she can manage. The turtles weren’t there when they moved here a year ago. One day she came home from the grocery store, shopping bags digging into her palms, and saw the plastic container outside the guardhouse.

She was about to walk past it. She nodded to the security guard; she couldn’t wave because of the bags in her hands. Then she saw a little head poke above the lip of the container. She found turtles inside, some swimming in the water, others perched on rocks. The container was the type you might use for under-the-bed storage, sweaters tucked away until winter but there was no winter here.

The guard shuffled out of his little house, which did not have air conditioning, just a fan mounted on a wall. This seemed cruel to her and she thought one day she would talk to the apartment manager about it, but it seemed to be common in Singapore: these old men sitting inside guardhouses with no air conditioning. They weren’t capable of guarding much of anything. This particular man spent seemingly half of his shift in the bathroom, the other half asleep in his house. Cars would arrive at the gate and honk until he woke up, startled, perhaps unaware of where he was, of how much time had passed.

She asked if the turtles were his and he said yes, smiling, revealing the few teeth he had left. He seemed so proud of the turtles. She nodded and continued on to her apartment, walking three flights of stairs because the elevator was broken.

Since then, every afternoon she and her son walk down to feed the turtles. He is three and this small daily adventure is thrilling. He had been asking for a pet, but she did not want to get one, didn’t want the responsibility of another living thing, but in this small way, he has many pets now. Although they belong to the guard, her son has named them: Lenny, Bob, Jeff, Linda, and Jack. She does not know where he comes up with these names. There had been a Susan as well, but she died the first week.

Her son sprinkles the turtle food into the plastic container. Mostly the turtles seem uninterested in the food from the small jar her son carries. She thinks maybe the guard fishes the pellets out after they leave, maybe he feeds them something entirely different, lettuce or worms, she has no idea what turtles are supposed to eat other than this jar of food from the pet store.

Every day that she makes this trip downstairs with her son, she worries that another turtle will be dead. She offered to replace Susan, but the guard waved her off, saying, “these things happen.” And she knows this is true, knows her son must learn these things too. She wonders about the guard sometimes, about his life: where does he live, does he have a family, was he a young man once? What does he dream about when he falls asleep at the gate?

Each turtle will die eventually, she knows. One day they will come down to the guardhouse and find no container. Or maybe one day they will come down and find no old man. Maybe then, they will pick up the container of turtles and take it home, carry it up the stairs carefully so the water doesn’t slosh out. They will look online for information, maybe she’ll brave the heat and take her son to the library. Together they will learn how to care for turtles, what to feed them, how to keep them safe. Together they will make a new habitat.


 

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Shasta Grant is the author of GATHER US UP AND BRING US HOME (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow. Her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, MonkeyBicycle, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and has been awarded residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project. She lives in Singapore and Indianapolis.

 

Monsoon by Victoria Miller

She couldn’t escape the creosote scent of that summer, even years later. It stalked her in the tunnel as she scurried to catch a train, it drifted through the crowds when she spoke at a convention, and it hid in the pocket of the suit she nearly bought her son. She never told anyone about it.

Their first breakfast together they shared a Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity. He’d sat down across from her. Or maybe she’d sat across from him? After so many years, she couldn’t remember who arrived first, but she couldn’t forget the way the skin on the back of her legs stuck to the blue vinyl cushions, and the feel of his hand caressing hers when he called her pretty. No one had ever used that word to describe her before.

When she looked in the mirror that night, she saw that her bulbous nose—a genetic gift from her grandfather—didn’t look so horrible on her face.

Her mouth parched from the long days in an empty house, his visits became a sparkling oasis. Her friends all left Phoenix that summer—they went to expensive camps in the mountains and visited out of state grandparents. But her mom worked two jobs.

She would wait for him beneath the sparse shade of a palo verde, stepping out of her purple flip flops and pressing her feet onto the hot sidewalk. She counted how long it took for her calloused soles to burn. He always picked her up a few blocks from her house, but he rarely arrived on time.

They went to his apartment often, but she only saw his roommates once. He seemed surprised to find them watching baseball in the living room that day, and rushed her up to his bedroom without an introduction. She still wondered whether they’d known, or if there had been others like her.

He kept a gun on his bookshelf. It felt heavy in her hand: hands he liked because they were “small and soft.” When she picked up the badge, sitting next to the gun’s holster, light reflected off the golden insignia and flickered across his bedroom ceiling. She trusted him.

At night, she would lie in bed with the phone pressed close to her ear, listening to him describe afternoons spent drinking Corona’s on his best friend’s houseboat in Lake Havasu. She twirled her finger in and out of the spiral cord, and pictured diving into the sun-rippled waters. She wanted to join him at the lake, go on a double date, or meet his younger brother. She wanted to be included in his life. “Maybe later,” he always said.

He promised to teach her to drive the next summer, when she’d be old enough for a permit.

One evening they raced through the streets in his dust-blue Toyota pickup, chasing the monsoon as it rolled across the valley. Rain crashed overhead, then subsided. Blue and purple bolts of lightning danced in the sky and guided their course. Her hesitation and insecurity dissolved beneath the storm and, wanting more, she leaned over to kiss him. He pushed her back. “We agreed,” he said, “not on the lips.”

For her birthday, he took her to a restaurant on top of North Mountain. They shared a meal her mom could never have afforded. The waiter slid her chair in for her, folded her napkin when she stood up, and returned their leftovers wrapped in a tin foil swan. The setting sun painted fuchsia clouds, and fire flickered on the horizon.

He bought her a dress for homecoming which she wore just once—when she modeled for him in his bedroom. “I love you,” she said.

Should she have known better?

He never returned her calls again. She did not go to the dance. The dress hung in her closet, his stains unwashed, until she moved away for college.


 

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Victoria Miller has a BA in comparative literature from UC Berkeley, and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She spends her days producing video games where she often finds herself juggling flame-engulfed-chainsaws and excel sheets. When she’s not slurping the best ramen in LA or proclaiming her hatred of olives, she finds time to work on short stories and her first novel. Find her on Twitter @tigrvix

Present Tense by Melissa Ragsly

The first thing you do when you walk into my apartment is go to the bathroom to wash your feet. This takes longer than I expect but you’re very drunk and you’re breathing hard not just from the smoking or the stairs, but also from the singing.

You are uncomfortable in your work shoes, but more uncomfortable with the way your feet smell in an apartment that is not your own. You will not risk it. There is a process. You need to take off the shoes and the sheer black socks too. They’re damp with the cold but also with your sweat. You can never keep from sweating even on the first really cold day in early December.

I hear, behind the closed bathroom door, the water turning on and off and I hope you don’t puddle the floor like you do sometimes. When the faucet is shut, I hear you trill something familiar, The Pointer Sisters? Not the lyrics, just the melody in oohs and coos. You squirt liquid hand soap in the tub, since when you tried to use the sink last time, you fell and almost hit your head on the toilet. When you come out your feet are clean and dry, and I smell lavender. Your pinky toe nails need attention. They curl over, uncut. Your feet are the smallest part of you.

You’ve always been big. You showed me that video your mom had done at the mall in Bayonne—an early iteration of green screen—where you stood in front of a staticky rendering of the Brooklyn Bridge, like you’ve just jumped off of it and landed standing in the river. On the little TV at your mother’s in Jersey City, you looked uncomfortable. What were you? Eleven? A zebra-patterned t-shirt and shorts set—watered down new wave—from a department store’s husky section. Your skin looked stretched across a growing frame. A boy awkwardly looking at the camera forced to be there by a well-intentioned mother. But it wasn’t that simple. There was a hint in the way you connected to the lens. You didn’t mind being in front of it. There was a reason to be there, it was just the wrong time. You couldn’t be something good if the first thing people thought when they saw you was something bad. On the screen, I saw your hope. That your body was just temporary.

You’ve told me how it feels to have people look at you and immediately only one word comes to minds. We’re all reduced to one word, I rationalized. And you asked what I thought that word would be for me and I paused and guessed girl?

You said:

There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, but fat is something you’re always trying to change. I’m something no one wants to be.

You had the same face then that you do now. I can’t help but put you in present tense. This is all the past.

The last time I saw you was in your casket, so strange to see you there, in a suit, just like at work, except your eyes are closed and all these co-workers sit on folding chairs watching a slideshow projected above you. We look at the dead you and the captured-living you at the same time.

I haven’t seen these people since I left the job, fired really. I don’t work, just take the baby to the park and push the stroller and listen to podcasts, needing to hear people talk, not sing. I came for you because I hadn’t talked to you in awhile and I kept meaning to. I hadn’t heard you sing since that last night at karaoke.

You still have the look of an alter boy with a strangely dated pompadour. Your cheeks are still as red as ever. Are you even thirty now? A few days before, your father told me you couldn’t breathe and you went to the doctor and they questioned you: Why are you here? They told you that you should be in the E.R. They called the ambulance and you died inside of it while it was in motion, the sirens blaring down Newark Street.

Forget this place. Let’s hear you sing.

In our private karaoke room, we bring a tower of plastic cups from the office kitchen and screw top wine from the liquor store. I buy a bag of chips at the deli.

You sing Jolene and you sound like Dolly.
You sing Cabaret and you sound like Liza.
You sing Complicated and you sound like Avril, over-enunciating all of the words to make fun of her voice. You’re funny too.

You have the song binder in front of you and while you scan it, you fold a foot up on to your knee to rub it through the leather. They hurt you and you have that look on your face like you want to sing some blues, some man-done-me-wrong shit. That body you feel trapped in, you know a song is its escape route.

We finally sing a duet. It’s one of the only times you sing a man’s part. You are Eminem and I’m Dido. I never know any of the words you sing, I have to read along, but my part, I can close my eyes. It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad. You say I sing well, but I’m always just under the note. And flat. But we are not here for me.

I take the binder, open it up to a random page and let my fingertip fall. I plug in the code and wait for whatever song comes. Sing yourself out. It doesn’t matter what plays, your voice is a skeleton key. When it’s over, we’ll make our way back to my place and you can clean yourself up and sleep.


 

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Melissa Ragsly’s work has appeared or forthcoming in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best Small FIctions, Iowa Review, Epiphany, Hobart, and other journals. She is an Associate Editor for A Public Space and a Program Coordinator at the Authors Guild. More can be found at melissaragsly.com.

Mending Bodies by Kristin Kozlowski

The husband knew he was broken when he kissed his wife goodbye and left for work. He felt the crack the night before, on the back of his thigh where the wife didn’t notice, where it was hard for even him to see. Twisting at a cruel angle, he squinted into the bathroom’s full-length mirror to see what it was. The crack, like a stress fracture across a dinner plate, was thin and crooked and pinched a little when he walked.

But every day, a new crack. A jagged lightening bolt across his right shoulder blade, one below his left knee. The crack on his forehead was the most conspicuous, and he caught his wife looking at it during dinner. Looking, looking away. She didn’t say anything, but left a tube of KrazyGlue on the bathroom vanity for him.

Still, he cracked when he walked the garbage down to the curb, and when he stuck the electric bill into the mailbox, and when he sat on the toilet to take a dump.

When the wife cracked, it happened all at once. A sudden shattering like dropping an egg. Her cracks all radiated from one spot just below her clavicle. Unlike his, hers looked like a spider web, or a cracked windshield; every crack related to all the others. A solitary trauma that was woven together piece by piece, year by year, until it sprang from inside her.

After the wife shattered, the husband found her crying in the corner of the garage. She couldn’t find more KrazyGlue. Had he used it all?

After that, they sat together at the kitchen table every evening and smeared glue into each other’s crevices. They experimented with putty. Caulk. Tile grout. In a moment of desperation, the wife stapled the skin of her legs together. She used the stapler they kept in the husband’s home office, the one the color of a fire engine. Her blood was just as red.

While he slept, the wife listened to the husband crack, a high, whiny sound. She tried and failed to remember their life before. She couldn’t remember the first time he held her hand while he drove them to dinner in his rusting Cutlass, the one that bucked at every red light. And she couldn’t remember their house when they bought it, when it was empty of furniture. Some nights she wondered where her memories went. Were they lost in the cracks?

They kept their blinds drawn while they tried to fix each other, but nothing held them together. The wife tried needle and thread. Twine. She duct-taped her middle like a girdle.

The husband bought a nail gun. It was the first he owned. He kept it in its box in the garage where he told himself it was a last resort, but the wife found it one day. She laid a bath towel on the tile floor and set the nail gun next to it. She ran an extension cord from the outlet with the dim nightlight.

The husband thought of lazy Sundays. Of televised football and cold beer; the hum of the mower when he cut the grass, leaving a diagonal pattern. Those days were gone; replaced by ones filled with the constant binding and mending of bodies.

We shouldn’t— he told the wife when he saw the nail gun and the towel and her desperate face. But it will hold, she promised as she lay on the towel, her fingers linked over her belly. If we do it right, it will hold.


 

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Kristin Kozlowski lives and works in the Midwest US. Some of her work is available online at Longleaf Review, Pidgeonholes, Occulum, Flash Frontier, and others. She’s currently (and always) working on a novel. If you tweet: find her @kriskozlowski.

Nostalgia is Stupid by Hadiyyah Kuma

Because ghosts are dangerous things to keep inside my hollow stomach. To keep them from prodding around in there I drink fennel tea and refrain from cheese.

You are especially curious about my gallbladder. When I shift around, I feel you tossing from side to side. Talisman, basketball, that ball-in-a-maze puzzle I cannot solve.

You are all I eat in the morning because I’d rather not drink Ensure. And when I go to sleep, you and your friends rise up in my throat like bile. That’s a tease, you, that’s funny. Faking sourness to get what you want, which is to bother me.

When the water shut off in our apartment Monday, I waited for it to come back on. But I dreaded what it would look like because it is always so dirty when it returns.

Most new things are ugly. They need to be broken in. Most new things smell like rubber or chemical or plastic. You liked the smell of plastic because your father worked in a toothbrush factory. You liked plastic water bottles left out in the sun. Burnt CD cases I put too close to the fireplace. The handle of a microwaved takeout spoon. That is one of the oddest things you told me about yourself. One of the eccentricities that made you my favourite ghost. When I first met you, you smelled like bacon, which I do not eat.

I recoiled when you touched me.

Then you started to smell like fabric softener. Down at the laundromat, I stood by the machine and saw you swimming, fully clothed but shoeless. Dancing at home, rolled up in the carpet I clean once a month while thinking about it’s oldness. Sniffing up the carpet cleaner, my guilty pleasure, my eccentricity. My mother’s carpet, then my father’s carpet, then mine. Twenty years and it is ruined in three places and it smells numb. Numbness is that plastic emotion I feel when you enter my esophagus. I never told my mother I almost swallowed LEGO. I was not scared then or now. Even when your toes catch on entering my trachea, I don’t make a move.

Maybe you are not dead. Maybe you are just resting, like the pipes, lying dormant until I really call on you. On Tuesday the water returns, awakening slowly and breaking the newness in.

I will never recoil again.


 

HKUMA

Hadiyyah Kuma is from Toronto, Ontario and no longer enjoys horror films. Her work has been featured in the Jellyfish Review, the Hart House Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Acta Victoriana. Find Hadiyyah on Instagram @hadiyyahaha, but please be aware that it is not as funny an account as it sounds.

The crawlspace by Leanne Radojkovich

At Gran’s, the vast luminous sky made me feel as if there was nowhere to hide because even if Gran or Mum couldn’t see me behind a rock – God could.

During the day I rambled around paddocks looking for creatures so I didn’t feel so alone. I pushed over rocks and skinks squirted off. I hunted cicadas whose whir mysteriously stopped when I drew near. Once, a rabbit dance-hopped on a pocket of grass until a falcon’s shadow slipped across the ground and it froze.

That rabbit stillness stole through me when Mum and Dad argued. My heart would be bursting, but I’d appear composed on yet another crazy-angry drive from town to Gran’s. I didn’t realise how young they’d been, high school kids when I came along, cornered by Gran to do the right thing. When they yelled at one another at her house, she’d peel potatoes for tea without skipping a beat. I’d peel at her side, grateful for a job. After tea she’d sit at her special seat at the kitchen table, facing the front steps. I sat next to her overlooking a straggly mānuka that had grown backwards, almost flattened by wind whooshing across the cleared land. Gran chain-smoked Cameo Mild’s and we spent the evenings playing rounds of Scrabble and cards in silence, bar the click of tiles or whisking of cards. I’d look out the window between turns. I could have been gazing out the porthole of the spaceship in Lost in Space. The Robinson family had been marooned on a similar blank landscape.

Bored, during one especially long visit, I’d tried peeling a Barbie from a lump of wood. She ended up with stump-arms, bean-bag-body, and knob-legs – just like the Robinson family’s robot. I slipped into the sour crawlspace under the front steps where the earth was cool and soft as fur. Dug a hidey-hole with a spoon and left her there.
It wasn’t until I returned from overseas for Gran’s funeral, years later, that Mum told me about the baby. “That’s why she insisted your Dad and I make a go of it,” Mum said. “When she got pregnant at 14, her father had whacked her so hard she fell down the front steps and lost it. Buried it right there, later, to spite him.”

I remember sitting with Gran in the kitchen. Bunny grass grew through the mānuka and the morning sun made a Milky Way of their trembling tips.

Mum and Dad were in an uproar in the back room. He slammed the door on his way out – for the last time, although we didn’t know that then. There was just me and Gran pretending we didn’t hear his car roar down the driveway spitting gravel.

I told Gran about the ugly Barbie in the ground. Gran froze, then half-smiled when I told her I felt less lonely knowing she was there.


 

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Leanne Radojkovich’s début short story collection First fox was published by The Emma Press in 2017. In 2018 she won the Graeme Lay Short Story Competition and was a finalist in the Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction. Most recently her stories have appeared in Landfall, takahē, and Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She lives in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, but her flash fiction street art has travelled the world. Find her online at leanneradojkovich.com.