Fishing in Ketchikan by Samantha Peterson

Baranof casts its magic over us on a grey Friday morning in June. It starts with a cut, knife angled under its fin, fish still wriggling on the wooden table as he peels away the meat. Flop-flop, as he flips it over, mouth open in a big gaping O- like it might say something. But all we hear is the wind and the water lapping at the rocks and the boat near the shore. He tosses the bones, tail, head in a bucket by his feet. No more stirring, just scraps.

“Food for the eagles, later,” he says, his hands wet, clumps of guts glistening like jelly.

I’d had trouble reeling it in, my palms sore from their grip on the rod, forearms burning, the feel of its tiny teeth still on the tip of my finger from when I’d held it, thumb packed into its mouth.

“Yelloweye Rockfish,” he’d noted, and we’d admired the bright blood-orange of its body, head spines long like flames on its back, the golden color of its eyes wide-wide-open.

“That’s a good-sized catch” he’d said, tossing it into the hatch, and I listened to it bounce, the heavy thwack of its tail against the hard wood, wrestling for breath.

After, we eat our catch by the fire; potatoes, tomatoes, fresh aioli spread out onto our plates, hot coffee, flames thawing our feet still stuck firm in their boots. I scrape my dish clean, suppress the urge to lick it, tongue craving every last trace, mouth full with the taste of pepper, garlic, butter, wild. Across the beach, I watch the boat nod from the water, white meat swimming in my gut, full now, happy. Clouds wrap the sky in gray, but under the small wooden shelter we glow, warm bits of blueberry crumble still stuck on our lips.

When it’s time, he throws the bloody bucket in the boat, the gentle purr of the motor pulling us farther from shore. We watch him throw the carcass to the eagles, wings back, talons sharp, bowed like hooks. We sit like that-still, drifting- the white-brown body descending, the quick whoosh as it grabs at the small head sinking before soaring back up into the trees, carrying its catch deep out into the wild where it belongs.


 

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Samantha Peterson is a freelance writer and medical biller from Scottsdale, Arizona. She graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing and is currently in the process of relocating to Juneau, Alaska with her husband and their dog.

Ted Cruz Tries to Fight a Grackle Over a Single Tortilla Chip by E. Kristin Anderson

and loses, of course. Nobody ever wins a fight with a grackle. At least that’s what Ted is telling himself as he walks back to the picnic table where the rest of his family is pretending to not have been staring at him. Ted knows they were. Who wouldn’t stare at a man chasing a bird through a park? But there’s only so much Ted can take. After the week he’d had? This was a tortilla chip too far. Maybe (as his wife would later insist) it was just one tortilla chip. There are plenty more tortilla chips. Still. Just one can be powerful. Just one vote in the Senate. Just one Tweet. Just one loose button on Ted’s shirt. Just one camera recording when that button pops off. Sometimes just one thing sets everything else in motion. And sometimes that motion is Ted tripping on an old, rotted tennis ball and falling on his ass as a grackle gets away clean to a magnolia tree. It was a female grackle, his older daughter had informed him, shortly before the bird snapped her beak around that one tortilla chip Ted had been about to put in his mouth. He brushes off his grass-stained khakis in an act of futility as he sits back down next to his wife. At least the park isn’t crowded today. It’s almost too quiet and when someone finally crunches down on a pickle, Ted feels like he can breathe again. His younger daughter nudges the bag of chips toward him, but he refuses. Ted feels that bird watching, knows she’s waiting to swoop in again and take what’s his. And he’s never felt less hungry in his life.


 

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E. Kristin Anderson is a poet and glitter enthusiast living mostly at a Starbucks somewhere in Austin, Texas.  She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press), and her work has been published worldwide in many magazines. She is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII (Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is a poetry reader at Cotton Xenomorph and an editorial assistant at Sugared WaterOnce upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.

Honey by Leonora Desar

After my husband died I started drinking coffee. I drank it before but I never liked it, not that much, his death kicked something in me. It’s as if it turned on a secret gene, a gene for liking coffee. I drank it. Then I went out and got some more. There’s this place, like Trader Joe’s, you stand in line and the guy makes you the coffee. He stands behind the counter and wears a shirt, Trader Joe’s. Maybe that’s the name of this place. I forget things. It doesn’t seem important. Like clothes, sometimes you want to put them on and sometimes it feels like too much. Like making the bed, you have to unmake it anyway, so why bother, make it, unmake it, doesn’t it give you such a headache?

I stand in line like that, at this place. Without a stitch. Some people look at me but most don’t, it’s just the way these things go. There are things on line, candles and aromatherapy and cigarettes, the people look at them and not at me. Sometimes they look at a breast and then a cigarette, they look like hey, which is better. Then they choose the cigarette.

I stand here and think about my coffee. It’s hard to stay awake these days. I am falling asleep right now. Some guy has to scoop me up and he tries not to cop a feel, especially with this whole Weinstein thing. He doesn’t want to end up on the cover of Page Six. He smells like alfalfa beans and Brussels sprouts, he has a beard and there’s some gray in it, hiding, I want to pull it with my hands and feel it, I want to pull all that gray out, I want to feel it with my hands.

There are aromatherapy infusions, in little candles, I guess that’s to counter the weight of the cigarettes. The cancer.

The line it goes and goes. It never stops, I think I’m about to get somewhere when we bend the other way. And it reminds me of a car, like on the freeway, I sit back and let myself enjoy it, the ride of it, the bending back and forth. A man catches me, he says woah, and I say woah, and we woah like that together. It sounds like woe woe woe or row row row your boat, my breasts are getting tired, they want to lie down awhile, and then one of them does, it lies down in some honey. It just curls up there. The nipple is long and droopy, it wants someone to suck on it, a person or even a kitten, that will do.

One walks by. There is some white on it, it looks like a little hat, like something my son would wear, if we had one. The cat stops and sniffs. Then he walks away.


 

Headshot_Leonora Desar

Leonora Desar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Passages North, Black Warrior Review Online, Mid-American Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Quarter After Eight, and elsewhere. She won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is a three-time nominee for Best Small Fictions 2019, and has three stories forthcoming in the Best Microfiction anthology.

In Foxfield by Kara Oakleaf

There are hundreds of plants and flowers native to northeast Ohio, and I think each one must be covered in thorns.

My mother leads me, my husband, and our four-year old through the grasses; she knows this place better than we do, but it changes between her visits and there are few markers to guide us. We’ve already taken one wrong turn, wandered down the wrong path until the slope grew too steep, too shaded by trees taller and older than what we’re looking for.

I’ve told my daughter we’ve come to visit a special stone with her grandfather’s name on it. I didn’t say ‘grave.’
My father’s ashes are buried on the hillside of a sprawling nature preserve, a spot unrecognizable as a cemetery. There are no arched headstones, no groundskeeper mowing circles around the graves, and no cut flowers. There is only wild, green growth. The grass is tamped down along narrow paths where other footsteps have passed, but we can see across the hills and valley, and for now, we’re alone.

I haven’t been back since the burial, when the spot we’re looking for was at the center of a large clearing. But the landscape has shifted since then, and nothing, nothing is recognizable. The world has grown up around this patch of earth where we marked his life, covered it with wild, shifting plants and flowers. Now, we’re wading through an overgrown meadow thick with raspberry bushes and prairie grass, parting thorny stalks that pierce my fingers no matter how carefully I try to grip only the tip of a leaf. Around us, the air is alive with the hum of bees and tiny insects. Weeds and wildflowers reach past my knees, sometimes taller than my daughter, and my husband guides her away from the thorns. Every few feet, we stop so she can watch the butterflies flitting around the flowers, their long tongues dipped into the center of an aster.

She’s old enough now to ask questions about him, the grandfather who disappeared from the world while she grew inside me, readying herself for it, cells in bloom.

When she was an infant, I dreamed of seeing the two of them together, as if everything were normal. But then, he’d ask me her name or how old she was, and I’d go silent, stunned I’d never told him these simple, essential facts. For whole, long seconds after I woke, I would not be able to grasp the reason they’d never met.

Back then, I thought I had plenty of time before she’d ask about him. I believed it would be easier now, but when she wants to know why he died, my throat closes around any possible explanation, and no answer will ever feel sufficient.

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My mother and I comb through the wilds while my husband holds my daughter above the thorns. Each time we think we’ve found the spot, we step around and over the plants, pulling vines to the side, the thorns catching our skin. I’m unprepared for this landscape; it’s summer and my calves and arms are exposed, now covered in almost imperceptible scratches, pinprick droplets of blood rising to the surface. A line of stems catches my back and snags three thorns through my shirt and into the skin. I hold still while my mother pinches the tip of the stem between two fingers and pulls. One at a time, the thorns break away from my skin and the fabric of my shirt, and we keep searching. We search for so long the trip feels like more of a quest, one we might not complete.

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I tried to explain this place to my daughter before coming, that it was special place to remember her grandfather. But when we first arrived, she looked out the window for a moment and then told me, “I still can’t remember him.”

She had expected a memory, some impossible memory, to appear in her mind when we got here, and it felt like I’d already failed her.

Finally, my mother finds a stand of wild bergamot, waist-high purple blossoms reaching into the air, and knows we’re close. I nudge the raspberry brambles around them in different directions, and then a bit of sunlight falls on the ground and across a piece of stone. Only a corner is exposed, but I know it. Brick-red, a flat rock lying nearly even with the earth. It’s been swallowed by a tangle of plants and grasses growing live and wild around it. My husband finds his way back to us and steps into the thorny vines, pressing them into the ground until there’s the smallest clearing and we can see part of his name, carved into rock. Enough to show this spot of earth to our daughter.

For days, I’ve steeled myself, knowing I’d be here with her. I don’t want her to see me upset, because I don’t want her to stop asking about him. I need these moments, when I can still bring him into her life in some small, insufficient way.

We tell her his name, pointing out the letters etched in stone and for a just few minutes, she sees something of him.

I want to stay longer, but there’s nowhere to sit in this tangle of shrubs and vines. But we’re here, she’s seen it, and I’ve stayed calm. It’s enough, and it isn’t.

We step out of the thorns to leave this place, this strange and overgrown place that looks nothing like a cemetery but seems to understand something of grief – how massive and wild, but so often invisible it is in the face of the living world. It is a kind of reassurance, to return years later to a part of the earth that makes you wade and dig and claw your way through tangles and knots of vines before finding what you’re looking for. Even the thorns catching your skin with every step are a reassurance, a response to a question you hadn’t spoken aloud.

Yes, they tell you. Yes, it is still supposed to hurt.


 

Kara O

Kara Oakleaf’s work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Monkeybicycle, Nimrod, Stirring, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her fiction has been listed in the Wigleaf Top 50, as a finalist for Best Small Fictions, and appears in the Bloomsbury anthology Short-Form Creative Writing. She received her M.F.A. from George Mason University, where she now teaches and directs the Fall for the Book literary festival. Find her online at karaoakleaf.com.

Roman Candle by Keef

Callie walked past the house, the barn, the piney windbreak, and then through the woods to the prairie. The sky was so clear and blue and cold that her every exhale briefly took flight, like a dove, and then held still: frozen in the air overhead, marking the path back. Her puffy pink coat crinkled and wisped, echoing each crunch as her feet broke through the ice crust on top of the snow.

The roman candle was almost weightless in her hand.

She knew she’d gone far enough when she looked back and couldn’t see the smoke rising from the chimney beyond the forest, and couldn’t hear the traffic on the interstate. She tucked the firework under her arm and pulled out Uncle Sal’s golden zippo.

She’d found it in the attic two weeks before. It wasn’t a roman candle when she found it, just an old cardboard mailing tube with her father’s diploma in it. “More trouble than it was worth,” said dad, when she showed it to him. “Useless, and I’ll be paying for it long after waters rise and the sun burns the crops and we all starve.”

“Hush, dear,” said mother.

“Sorry,” said dad. “Hyperbolically starve us all.”

So Callie left the diploma in the attic and took the tube.

Every time she walked into the living room, her parents turned off the news, but Callie was no fool. She read the internet on her tablet after bedtime. She knew how bad it was, and she knew how much worse it was going to get. She wished she could talk to Uncle Sal about it but he couldn’t cross the border into the states anymore. No one could. Last week, when she and her parents tried to visit him in Toronto for Thanksgiving, the border patrol turned them back and confiscated their passports.

“I should’ve known,” her father said as they drove back home, slapping his hands on the steering wheel. “There wasn’t even a line. We shouldn’t have even tried.”

The temperature on the prairie dropped even further. Callie cleared her throat, and the sound froze in a pocket around her head, echoing in her ears. She took off her glove and spun the wheel on the zippo, watched the flame leap up. She held the flame to the wick. The gnarled old apple trees behind her tilted forward to watch.

That morning, she’d asked her father: “How do you make a roman candle?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I guess you get some sort of propellant, and some sort of explosive, and pack them in there side-by-side.”

“Okay,” said Callie, and she’d gone upstairs to her room to think about it.

In her room, she thought about the border, and Uncle Sal, and the rising oceans and the burning sun. She thought about the men who did whatever they wanted. She thought about her father’s diploma, and the people who knocked on the door, and the time she heard her parents whispering and crying. “2040,” her mother’d whispered. “She’ll be out of college.”

In her room, she pressed her mouth against the opening of the tube and filled it with fire and gasoline. She poured out all her dynamite and napalm and white phosphorus. She pressurized it with all of her gunpowder and pure hydrogen. Then she put on her coat.

The wick flared up.

Deer and rabbits and ground squirrels poked their heads out from between the trees. Foxes stared at her. Cardinals looked down at her from naked branches. The grass gave a tremendous push and broke through the snow to see.

Everything nodded.

The firework rumbled in her hand, then spat. A blue ball of flame spewed out onto the snow, which caught fire. A bright black line of sparks shot into the sky and ignited a cloud. An enormous white disc, brighter than the sun, wobbled a quarter-mile before collapsing into the duck pond, belching smoke and spinning more discs into the air.

The clouds were embers. The air started to catch.

Callie dropped the roman candle to the ground. She sighed, nodded, and closed her eyes.


 

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Keef works and lives in Austin. He’s working on a series of short, sad, spooky, horrible little fables, on the web at horriblelittlefables.com. He’s on twitter @keefdotorg.

Keep Off Lawn by Miranda Divett González

Enough already, Gerard thinks. From his home office over the garage, he watches a speckled Great Dane take a massive crap on his St. Augustine lawn. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.

The Dane is not alone; his owner stands proudly next to him, with a side part in his hair and a pair of glasses that would have gotten him punched in the face back in the sixties. But now those glasses mean he’s trendy, or so Gerard has heard from his daughter, who’s always talking about things he doesn’t understand.

The dog owner is nameless, but Gerard has seen him several times before, perhaps nearing a hundred. He lives just around the corner in one of the smaller houses on the block, a white brick one with dark green shutters.

Sometime around April the Dane decided that Gerard’s lawn was prime pooping ground. October is here now. It is not the first time a dog has crapped on his lawn, but on other occasions an owner might look around nervously and hurry the dog along or even pick up the number two with one of those tiny doggy bags from a roll the size of adding machine paper. But Side Part has zero shame. He’s belligerent.

The first time, Gerard was surprised when Side Part didn’t pick up the poop. Maybe he ran out of bags, he thought, generously. The second time, Gerard was furious but figured it couldn’t possibly happen again. But it did. After the third time, Gerard put up a “Keep Off Lawn” sign that he made using red spray paint and stencils on the reverse of an old Mitt Romney campaign sign. That deterred Side Part for a couple of weeks, but then he was back.

After two more occurrences, Gerard waited for Side Part and the Dane, peeking through the wide-slatted blinds of his office. When he spotted them, he ran down the stairs, burst through the front door, and confronted them.

“Look,” he said, a bit out of breath. “I’ve put up a notice here.” He gestured with an open palm towards the backwards lawn sign.

“Yeah?” Side Part raised his eyebrows, feigning ignorance or surprise.

“I work hard on this lawn, cutting it, fertilizing it, weeding it, maintaining the sprinkler system.”

Side Part blinked behind black-rimmed glasses with lenses the size of coasters. Gerard noticed that his shirt read ‘Think Globally, Act Locally.’

Gerard swallowed hard. “So what I’m saying is, I don’t want your dog pooping on my grass. Got it?”

“Sure,” Side Part said, sauntering off. He made no attempt to remove the steaming brown cow pie on the distressed lawn.

That encounter had kept them away for about a month. But they came back, leaving feces one to two times a week, for months. Gerard had decided that his lot in life was to be a pooper scooper for an animal he didn’t own—a colossal dog who produced as much fecal matter in one go as Gerard did in an entire week. He didn’t even like dogs, but what was he supposed to do? Call the police?

But today, something snaps. Gerard fantasizes about punching Side Part’s lights out, sees the blood spatter on his broken glasses and girly large-buttoned cardigan. But that’s not Gerard’s style.

Instead, he waits for them to leave, picks up and throws away a shovelful of excrement, then goes inside to down a tall, gritty glass of Metamucil. That night, he tells his wife he’s got a project due, and he waits in his office until two a.m.

When his wife is snoring and the neighborhood is still, Gerard leaves the house quietly and paces in the front yard until he feels he’s ready. Finally, it’s time.

He walks briskly over to Side Part’s house and confirms that the windows are dark. No barking from the dog, so it must be inside. He picks a spot next to a viburnum bush that partially blocks him from the view of the street, then drops his jeans and squats against the shrub.

After admiring his deposit, he realizes he has failed to bring toilet paper. No matter. He will change his underwear when he gets home. Pulling his pants up, he decides to take a picture of his work. The phone flashes quickly and the photo is clear.

He traipses awkwardly home, already a little itchy. After he’s in the house and cleaned up, he connects the cable from his phone to the computer and prints out the picture in full color, size eight by eleven. He tapes it next to the window, to the right of his beautifully framed diplomas, and thinks this is his biggest accomplishment yet.


 

Miranda G

Miranda Divett González is an MFA student at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, GNU Journal, and Heart Online. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and three children. Find her on Twitter at @miranda_write.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Lavanya Vasudevan

As we drive back east from Anacortes, we leave the heat and the haze behind. We listen to the rain as it bathes us in coolness, washes the soot out of the skies. You keep your eyes on the road, and I watch my own reflection in the window, the rivulets of water rolling down my cheeks. On the radio, they say that the flames have died; the smoke is clearing; that now, at last, we can breathe again.

The day before, we’d walked out to Crescent Beach with your mother. Ash from the wildfires lay in a black film over the water. “It’s suffocating the poor creatures,” she said. She showed me a starfish clinging to the bottom of a rock, abandoned by the tide. I picked up the empty shell of a shore crab. Perhaps it had moved on to better things. “It’s so nice that he’s found a friend at college,” she told me. “A boy his own age. He never had a brother.” The respirator muffled her voice, and her eyes, like yours, were unreadable. If you were ever going to tell her, the moment was now. But you had already moved on, turning over a different rock, and left us there, alone together, abandoned to the lie.

Three days ago, on the way out to your mother’s house, the clouds had been tinged with red, the sun weak and struggling in the roiling skies. It was a long drive from the U to the ferry landing. I told you I was starving. You refused to stop. You said your mother would have made a big meal for us; she’d be waiting, hungry, so we could eat together; you couldn’t disappoint her like that. When we arrived, after an hour of holding our breath on the boat so we wouldn’t inhale the smoke, and more driving on the wandering island road, there was no one home. She’d left a note for us: she’d gone out to buy respirator masks, and then she was meeting a friend for lunch. You found rotis and warmed them on the stove, your black eyes flickering brown in the light of the flame. When I took a bite, my mouth caught fire. I could hardly breathe.


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Lavanya Vasudevan was born in a large city in South India that has since renamed itself. She is a recovering software engineer who lives near Seattle, Washington and reviews children’s books for Kirkus. Her short fiction has appeared in 100 Word Story, Jellyfish Review, and Pidgeonholes, and is forthcoming from Paper Darts. Find her on Twitter @vanyala.