A History of Baptism* by Christopher Bowen

First find the body of water you knew as a child, thinking about the body.


Baptism was practiced by John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher, in the early 1st century. Revered as a major religious figure in Christianity and Islam, some saying he belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Judaic sect who expected a Hebrew messiah and who practiced Baptism ritually.


Anais Nin writes in The House of Incest, “My first vision of earth was water veiled. I am of the race of men and women who see all things through this curtain of sea and my eyes are the color of water. I looked with chameleon eyes upon the changing face of the world, looked with anonymous vision upon my uncompleted self. I remember my first birth in water.”


Baptism is practiced in several different ways. Aspersion is the sprinkling of water on the head. Affusion is the pouring of water over the head.


Walk towards the beach or drop past the deer trail clearing to the muddy bank. Don’t slip on the summer grass, you will need to strip down. Now praise the sun that reflects off the water’s surface by stretching your arms out in a Y towards it. Good. Feel the way it warms your skin, the vibration of it. If it is cloudy and there is no reflection, there cannot be baptism. If it is cloudy and there are incoming storms, you cannot be purified this way.


*See also: rain as a form of baptism.


Precipitation is performed in several ways. Remember first your birth in water in a porcelain tub in a house by a seaside cliff. You take the clothes off, the sea crashing on nearby rocks. Remember how it wailed for you, too, once.


*See also: driftwood on the shore, driftwood in the water, driftwood in your heart. It may take years to come ashore.


The tide comes, small crabs and nonsense things crawling into pools and crags until morning, the places you can’t get them out of or speak about. A sand bar above the horizon’s edge is an image that means there’s still hope. Your humanity stands a quarter of a mile out and you swim the marathon.


John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded, so you dip your feet in the frothing water. The wave is something the ocean does, too. Don’t hesitate, but there’s room for regret because you’re halfway past the waist now. That scrap of fishing net to the right has knots of hemp and cotton and promises. Waves lap each other like birthday cake icing and white foam—the visions of your parents nearby and a paper hat strapped to your head by string in a darkly lit room. The joy of your eyes blowing the candles out with all the wind your little life lungs can handle, it is enough.


Experts say the gravitational pull of the moon ebbs and flows the coming and going of tides on beaches across the world. Still others say there’s billions and billions of stars and solar systems to find out there. They say you are eternally saved after a lifetime of baptizing and for some reason that is just enough for this first lesson.


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Christopher Bowen is the author of the chapbook We Were Giants, the novella When I Return to You, I Will Be Unfed, and the non-fiction Debt. He was a semi-finalist in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Competition and honorable mention in the 45th New Millennium Writing Awards in the non-fiction category. He blogs from Burning River (http://www.burningriver.info.)

The Field of Dead Girls by Cassandra de Alba

A potter’s field held unwanted bodies. Some Puritans did not mark their graves, viewing their dead as blessed to have transcended their sinful husks, to have achieved perfection without the weight of flesh holding them to earth.

The dead girls can float, but they still sin.

Where are the bodies of the dead girls? In the basements of houses and trunks of abandoned cars. In the woods, mostly, covered over with leaves or under a few flimsy inches of earth. In pieces in an oil drum, cinderblocked to a riverbed, dumped off embankments on nights with no moon. The dead girls don’t see this as transcendence. The dead girls want their bodies back.

What do the dead girls see? Milk-film over their blinking eyes. A world gone on without them, a thousand petty dramas playing to an audience of the not-bereft. A wave endlessly arguing with the shoreline, stealing a few grains of sand every time.

The living dare each other to walk through the field of dead girls, though of course they can’t see anything but air. Only the sense that something is wrong, air charged with grief like a storm is always coming. The field where no grass grows, only patches of low bramble with fat, untouched berries. The kind of quiet that hums danger into your ears, fills them with a warning you can’t parse. At night it’s never quite dark, even when the Pizza Hut’s lights shut off and the nail techs are counting their tips in their cars. Anyone alive who walks through that place feels claustrophobic even out in the open, their skin seeming to tighten over their bones. And anyone who isn’t would see how the dead girls follow them in a glowing swarm, pressing from all sides, desperate for warmth.

Most of the dead girls are cold. They can feel the rush of the polluted river, the snow promising itself to the mountainside, the wet of the pine needles’ slow, sympathetic rot. The chill of their urgent loneliness even surrounded by the only others who understand their not-life. It’s no wonder the grass refuses to grow.

The dead girls whose bones are buried unmarked claim to be colder than the rest of them. They have new names in the living world, called for the landscape their body was plucked from – Juniper Mountain Doe, Horseshoe Creek – or the human trappings that still clung to it – Cerulean Jacket, Twin Rose Tattoo. These girls make incantations of their true names, pace the perimeter whispering: Lucinda. Lucinda. Lucinda. Maria. Maria. Maria. I was. I was. I am. Some of them are afraid they’ll forget. Others are imagining their voices as radio waves, arcing over the miles until they reach what remains of their source.

Some of the dead girls know they’ll never be found. There will be no cemetery plot, no epitaph – no one who would think to compose one, no human alive up late agonizing over a lost friend. The way the found blink out of the field, some of the forever-missing blinked out of life. No one mourns.

The lucky girls only stay a few days. Barely have time to turn around, see the spot that could be eternity, make a few friends and they’re gone. A car pulled from the quarry like a bad tooth. A door broken open into a bloody room. No one knows where they go next, only that it must be better than here. There is no sense in missing them, now that they’ve been found.

The oldest dead girls remember when the building’s foundation was dug, watching the men lift their dirty shirts to wipe sweat from their foreheads. And before that, when the road was paved in stinking asphalt, and before that, when the cart-tamped dirt was covered in broken stone. And before that, when it was only a few of them and sky and pine in every direction, when they still could have thought this might be paradise.


AuthorPhoto_credit_GennaRose_NethercottCassandra de Alba is a poet living in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in The Shallow Ends, Big Lucks, smoking glue gun, and Spy Kids Review, among other publications. Her chapbooks habitats (Horse Less Press, 2016) and ORB (Reality Hands, 2018) are about deer and the moon, respectively, and Ugly/Sad was released by Glass Poetry Press in 2020. She is a co-host at the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge and an associate editor at Pizza Pi Press.

Ex-Lover Speaks of Appalachia by Barbara Costas-Biggs

My second year in Tucson, the town next to my hometown flooded, made CNN, people canoeing down 52, standing on top of their cars. I showed my roommates, telling them I knew that carry-out, knew that intersection.  When I met the boy I was sleeping with, he laughed when I said the word “duvet.” I said it right, I used it correctly.  He thought it was funny that an Appalachian girl knew what a duvet was, maybe even had the audacity to own a duvet.  He told me a story about his mother, a nurse who grew into a politician’s wife, learning about hill people being tended to by doctors on horseback.  He told me like it was yesterday.  Like it was my story.  Like I got my meningitis vaccine from a man sitting in a saddle, savior to us all.

 


 

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Barbara Costas-Biggs lives and works in Appalachian southern Ohio. Her work has been published by Glass, Mothers Always Write, Literary Mama, Ghost City Press, 8Poems, and others. She has an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

 

The Way Ash Clumps in Bales by Jennifer Todhunter

The spring we divorce it won’t stop frosting, and I watch Shameless like an addict on Netflix. I trim my hair with scissors I find in the drawer beside the oven in my rental, the ends so split they fray towards each other. It’s these days I miss the arc of our ashtray, the bump of our butts against its glass rim, the way ash clumps in bales. It’s your breath on my back, I think, the feeling of knowing you’re there without seeing you, like shards of a life in my eye. It’s the grasp of the unknown around my neck that has me running down these backroads in the night, half-drunk and half-wanting to forget, the kilometres ticking by like farm fields.

I miss the feeling of a cigarette, of someone’s fingers between my fingers.

I miss Fiona telling Jimmy to fuck off.

I miss the scratch of your beard on my cheek when you roll into my space, while you sleep barefoot and broken toe.


 

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Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

Reimagining: In Which I’m Not a Picky Eater & I Eat by Moisés Delgado

I top my tacos de asada / al pastor / lengua / cachete / adobada / carnitas with sal & limón, cilantro, cebolla, aguacates, salsa verde & salsa roja, eat both tortillas, half a rábano, the entire serrano, & when I ask for another three tacos mamá doesn’t wait for the sound of an empty stomach, doesn’t ask ¿Will you ever love yourself?

 


Moisés R. Delgado is a queer Latinx writer from the Midwest. His prose appears in or is forthcoming from The Pinch, Puerto del Sol, Passages North, Pidgeonholes, Homology Lit, and elsewhere. Moisés can often be found dancing on the moon.

Welcome to Treasure Island, Florida by Joyce Wheatley

Until the drawbridge opened, we idled on the Causeway and marveled at the monstrous Buccaneer, like one of those humongous bright balloons in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. His saber sliced cerulean sky, a Sunshine pirate greeting on a road to Paradise.

We joked about our final stop, this last resort of turquoise pools, abundant sun, alligators, Geckos and Palmetto bugs—indeed, every sort of crawler! Sea gulls called, crying over parking lots, Tyrone Square Mall, Winn Dixie, 7/11, palms. Salty Gulf breezes blew sand in everything. Transients and friends with names like Jinx and SuSu, natives of sun and storms, children born of heat and hurricanes, wafted cannabis and citrus. In Judy’s yard, grapefruits grew, big as melons, their juice profuse, sticky pink, and she told us in her Lakeland drawl of Spook Hill and vehicles rolling in reverse.

Which is where I find myself, going backyards up an incline, returning to a place and time, defying gravity and reason, somewhere so many decades gone––beaches of honeyed scents, coconut and mango, lotions slathered in lazy half-circles on each other’s back, and the newspaper was free if the sun didn’t shine.


 

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Joyce Wheatley is a librarian in a public library in Upstate New York. She writes brief stories, poems and recollections.

 

Geophagia by Patience Mackarness

Chalky soils are the most delicious, you say, taking a pinch from the earth bank as we pass.

We’ve come along this sunken lane because Mum’s long gone, Dad only just, and it seems like we need to start being sisters again. The lane leads to Sunset Hill, where we always played. Its high banks are thick with primroses, like the times we’d pick them to decorate the church, but here beneath the exposed roots of an oak tree there’s a dry hollow, like a small cave. Having smacked your lips over its fine yellowish soil, you reach up for a handful of dark humus, rich as fruit pudding. Shreds of wet leaf and insect-casings stick to your chin as you munch. You swallow, breathe Yesss!

Dirt must be a superfood; you look more fabulous than ever. My mouth tastes like ashes.

Why can’t you be more like your sister? That was Mum, in the last days when she’d forgotten tact and fairness, her lifelong principle of treating us both equally. Because I can’t fucking compete, I didn’t say. Later, to my therapist, I blurted out all the things you did more and better than me: friendship, parties, sports. Sex, obviously.

She has a joyful spirit, Dad said at your first wedding. She opens her arms wide and embraces life.

That’s not all she opens wide, I didn’t say.

Our parents didn’t know half of what I knew about you. The shoplifting, the vandalism, the magic mushroom omelettes, the high-powered business trips that turned into orgies.

Or perhaps they did.

Even when your marriages failed it was spectacular, crash-and-burn. I try to remember what Dad said about me at my wedding. I think it was something about my cooking.

We’ve reached the top of Sunset Hill, named not for its west-facing aspect but for the pinkness of its soil. You sigh, God, I’ve missed this! You fall to your knees by a scraped-out depression, between clumps of tough grass. It looks as if a dog’s been scrabbling after rabbits, or maybe a badger. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? you ask me.

Oddly, it does.

You wet your forefinger, pick up a line of rosy dirt. Look, you whisper. Just a dusting is all it takes. On the very tip of your tongue. You demonstrate. Your eyes roll in ecstasy. I kneel by you, reach out a fingertip.

You go, Isn’t it amazing?

And it is.


 

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Patience Mackarness lives and writes partly in an elderly VW camper van, partly in a cottage in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published or accepted by Lunch Ticket, Dime Show Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Coachella Review, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/

Collecting Dust by Rosie Garland

Eventually, she gets rid of the double bed and replaces it with a single. The room looks twice the size.

The skirting board is dotted with grey puffs. Slut’s wool, her mother called it. She picks one up and it doesn’t fall apart. If she closed her eyes she’d barely know it was there.

A long hair coils like wire, holding the whole thing together. She tugs. It doesn’t come loose. She carries the ball to the kitchen, slides it gently into a plastic food container, snaps the lid shut.

In her new bed, she thinks about dust: how it’s formed of flakes of skin and other discarded things; how the human body replaces its cells in a seven-year cycle.

She is a completely different woman now, her past self scattered around the house in tiny pieces. Pieces of who she used to be, and lost hold of.

At 4am she gives up on sleep. She wrestles the vacuum cleaner upstairs, hoovers the bedroom more thoroughly than ever before. She unclips the loaded bag, shakes it into the tub containing the scrap of slut’s wool. It won’t all fit.

By a quarter to nine the following morning, she is at the local shopping precinct waiting for the bargain housewares shop to open. She buys a stack of sandwich boxes and spends the day vacuuming, decanting dust into the boxes, vacuuming again. She finds a sheet of labels left over from that summer she didn’t make jam, writes dining room, stairs, spare room, bedroom.

She makes a cup of tea. So many hours until it’s reasonable to go back to bed.

She slides her forefinger along the windowsill and it comes away smudged with a half-moon of dirt. Remnants from those nights spent with her forehead pressed to the glass, staring at the empty driveway, waiting. She finishes her tea, gathers the stuff trapped behind the sofa cushions, the thick velvet on the top edge of the books she never read. She collects every last bit.

That night, she falls into an exhausted sleep, but wakes suddenly. A sick feeling writhes in her stomach and it takes a while to pull herself together. The clock says 4am again. She hauls on her dressing gown and staggers to the kitchen. The table is neatly stacked with plastic boxes. She holds one up to the overhead light. Even though it’s been months since it happened, bits of him will have infested the carpet. She hadn’t thought of that.

She prises open every box, dumps the contents onto the floor. She has no way of knowing which specks are her, and which are him. She kneels beside the mess, scoops it into a heap. Squeezes harder and harder until a lump forms, the size and shape of a newborn child.


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Novelist, poet and singer with post-punk band The March Violets, Rosie Garland’s work appears in Under the Radar, Spelk, The Rialto, Ellipsis, Butcher’s Dog, Longleaf Review, The North, and elsewhere. Her forthcoming poetry collection What Girls do the Dark (Nine Arches Press) is out in October 2020. She’s authored three novels: The Palace of Curiosities, Vixen, & The Night Brother, which The Times of London described as “a delight…with shades of Angela Carter.” In 2019, Val McDermid named her one of the UK’s Top 10 LGBT writers. http://www.rosiegarland.com/ Twitter @rosieauthor

Today is the Day by Dan Crawley

After passing through the main gate, my daughter Mikie and I make a beeline for her favorite ride. The rain is coming down, thunder rumbles nearby. Since it’s the middle of the week, I hope we won’t have to get drenched while waiting. Sure enough the line is short and moves quickly around the chain-linked posts that lead into a large building that looks like a mountain. We hurry out of the wet and into the large opening of a faux train tunnel. At one point, people do bunch up in the brightly lit passageway. Faux rock walls surround us.

“Why did you tell me this now?” It’s a boy, the same age as Mikie. The boy says this to a woman beside him, clutching the strap of her purse. I assume his mother.

She turns quickly to us and forces a smile at my daughter. “Playing hooky like us?”

“We didn’t want to wait over two hours for this ride,” I say. “And with the weather, we figured today is the day.”

“You figured right,” the woman says.

“I knew you knew him,” the boy says. “You said you never knew who he was because you were wild back then and there were so many guys, but you always did know. Why didn’t you tell me before now?”

“The line is moving,” Mikie says.

“I don’t care,” the boy says. “I don’t want to go on this shitty ride anymore.” He looks at my daughter. “This is the shittiest ride in the park. Only for babies.”

“Hey, now,” I say.

“Elijah,” the woman says. “Elijah!” She tries to grab his arm, but he whips it away. “I’ve wanted to tell you,” the woman says through her teeth. The woman coaxes the boy to walk further down the tunnel. We hear the clatter of coasters up ahead. Mikie and I move slowly, giving some space between us and them. People behind us don’t seem to mind the pace, either.

“Did I say something wrong?” Mikie says. “That stupidhead has problems.”

“Hey, come on,” I say.

We catch up to the mother and son at the loading platform as coaster cars resembling small trains pull up. The mother is still strangling her strap. Riders disembark and we climb in. The mother and son now sit in front us. The harness clicks, traps us.

“This is good news,” the mother says to Elijah. I guess it’s her turn to be riled up. “I thought this could be a good day all around. We’re at your favorite place, and now you know what you’ve always wanted to know. I thought you were old enough to han—”

“This is not a good day.” Then Elijah blurts out, “Where does he live? I’ll go live with him. I want to live with him.”

“I really don’t know where he lives, God’s honest truth.”

The coaster heaves forward and begins to climb the tracks. Soon we will drop into what looks like a dark and cavernous mineshaft, hurtling us along on this out-of-control train, corkscrewing us seemingly deeper into the earth. Mikie screams beside me, her small arms flailing. I hold on to the bar. The coaster rises into a bend. My ex-wife and I delivered the news to Mikie about our separation at her favorite restaurant. Mikie hasn’t wanted to go back since.

The rattling of the wheels, the shrieks of riders, I feel my fingers slip. Gleaming gemstones strobe from the rock walls in every direction. Has Mikie ever yelled at her mother that she wanted to live with me? A dip catches me off-guard, I let go of the bar, my stomach drops. The squeal of metal on metal and instinctually I brace my arm across my daughter’s body. Everything comes to a halt.

“What’s going on? Help, help!” It’s the woman in front of me in the darkness.

Now bright flood lights click on from every direction, and I see how small a space this cavern really is. The coaster sits on the tracks, only a few yards from the last curving bank before heading into the exit tunnel. Above us, the coil of metal tracks, ladders, and walkways. Below is a five foot drop to the concrete floor.

“I can’t get out,” the boy says. The harness is still locked.

I hear people panicking, others reassuring, and then a voice comes over a loud speaker. The voice is sorry for the inconvenience, and that the coaster’s brakes will release momentarily, and then we’ll glide the rest of the way back to the station.

I realize Mikie is talking non-stop next to me. “Look up, Dad. This is so cool. Can you believe this is happening? Look at that, Dad. This is incredible.”

“No it’s not,” says Elijah over his shoulder.

“Yes it is,” Mikie says in a way that I know she means business. “Look around already. It’s like a tornado or something.”

“If I knew, Elijah,” Elijah’s mother says, pleads, “I would tell you where he lives.”

“I’m inside a tornado,” Elijah says.


 

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Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, and Atticus Review. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review.

 

Velcro Shoes by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

At nine—I can’t stop the trips and falls, the scrapes of my knees against concrete. I like the burn and the drum of my blood gushing out of me. I am split skin. My father teaches me to tie my shoes. Because he’s tired of watching me fall. Or, because he’s tired of picking me up. Hands me the left shoe: “Do as I do?” he says, using the right shoe as an example. And I do what he does—until my mid-twenties, when I’ve pushed everyone I love away, too. He forms two loops with each of the laces, crosses them, pushes one through the opening, pulls tight. “Only one can go through. The other can’t. Entiendes?” And I didn’t know then it was our farewell. I get good at making it seem like my shoes are tied—I tuck the laces into the bottom of my shoes, into my socks, press on the aglets with my heels. I fall and I am split skin and gushing blood. My mother gets me a new pair of Velcro shoes “para que no batalles,” she says. That’s what my mother does best—use bandaids when I need stitches. She wipes my knees to keep me from spilling out. When all I want is to make the gash bigger and bigger and bigger and watch all of me spill over my mother, over my father, until I am everything and nothing. She slaps my hand away because “that’s how you get scars”—picking at scabs growing over wounds. She never tells me all the other ways I’ll scar. And she’ll never slap my hand again, busy with her own scabs. The loops and hooks of my Velcro shoes keep me from falling but at school I’m the wetback, spic baby who can’t tie her shoes. And there aren’t any ways to explain that my parents did what they could. And we’ll never ever feel like enough. And there aren’t enough knots, or hooks, or loops to hold me together. I trip, and fall, and gush. I am split skin. Until I learn I am the one who can go through.


 

SARodriguez_HeadshotSonia Alejandra Rodriguez is a Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. She is an immigrant of Juarez, Mexico and raised in Cicero, IL. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, Hispanecdotes, Everyday Fiction, Acentos Review, Newtown Literary, So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, No Tender Fences: Anthology of Immigrant and First-Generation American Poetry, and Longreads.