Foliate Oak April 2018

Fiction

Your Pen Pal, Jeanette
By Aila Boyd

“Good morning Ms. Jeannette,” one of the neighborhood children called out as he ran through
his front yard. He was headed towards the waiting school bus.

The woman, with a slightly crooked nose, who the little boy had called out to didn’t respond.
Truth be told, the woman didn’t even realize that she had been spoken to. She wasn’t hard at
hearing nor was she a bitter old woman who refused to converse with doe eyed children. She had
tunnel vision, that’s all. She was on a mission, a mission that she was completely and utterly
devoted to.

As she neared the bright red mail box that stood at the bottom of her driveway, she could hardly
contain her joy. All morning long she had been gazing out the large picture window in her living
room in anticipation of the old beat up mail truck to make its way down her street. Finally it had
arrived.

With a swift yank, Jeannette opened up her mailbox and looked inside. Sure enough, there it was.
It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make her beyond ecstatic. The crisp white envelope stood
out like a sore thumb inside the charcoal grey innards of the mailbox. There was no return
address on it, only Jeannette’s address spelled out in choppy lettering. Once the envelope was
secure within her grip, Jeannette acknowledged that all was right with the world.

Jeannette went through the same exact routine every day that the mail was delivered. Sundays
were always the darkest days of the week. Holidays weren’t much better. On days in which the
post office was locked up tight and the mail trucks were parked, Jeannette essentially did the
same. She would close herself up in the house. She would refused to go out. Her moods would
go up and down according to federal holidays. It was always worse when holidays fell on a
Mondays or Saturdays, essentially leaving her without recourse for two whole days.

Once inside, Jeannette grabbed ahold of her antique silver letter opener. It had belonged to her
great-grandmother. She carefully spliced the envelope open. She was practically a pro at opening
envelopes. Her skills rivaled that of the most seasoned office workers.

She didn’t waste any time reviewing the outside of the card. It was simple. A note for you
it read in a billowing black cursive font on the front cover. Like a starved circus carnivore, she devoured
the contents of the letter in one breathless gulp. In her mind, there was no time to carefully
mulling over each and every word of the letter. She had to get to the end of it as quickly as
possible. All that mattered to her was finding out how the letter would end.

As always, it ended with Love your nearest and dearest friend, Diane.

Jeannette didn’t know where to start. The letter from Diane contained so much information that
she felt as though her mind was about to burst. Not wanting to forget a thing that she planned to
write back to Diane, Jeannette grabbed up a blank sheet of paper and started to scribble out a
letter of her own. Although her penmanship was hurried and lacked precision, she felt certain
that Diane would be able to follow the tip of her pen.

The first thing she responded to was the weather that Diane said she was experiencing where she
lived, picnic weather, as she put it. Oh what I would give in order to experience just a tenth of
the warmth that you’ve described to me. Jeannette hated the bitter winters that Vermont dealt to
her without fail each and every year. Once or twice, she toyed with the idea of sneaking away for
a few weeks in order to visit with Diane during one of the winter months, but quickly dispelled
of the idea. She knew it was a ludicrous notion. It simply wouldn’t work out for no other reason
than the fact that she hadn’t seen Diane since they were mere children. They wouldn’t know how
to act around each other. She would be sparing herself, as well as Diane, the awkwardness of
having to reacquaint themselves with each other after all those years by simply stomaching her
hatred of the cold.

After she had finished responding to everything that she wanted to from Diane’s letter, she
started filling up the sheet of paper with announcements of her own. She spelled out in big, bold
print and even underlined that she could hardly wait for her birthday to roll around. It was only
nine days away. She was going to turn eighty-three. As soon as she finished gushing about her
own birthday, she asked Diane if she was just as excited about hers. By some random chance,
they ended up with the exact same birthday. The exact same day, month, year, and everything.
Growing up, before she and Diane parted ways, they would hold joint birthday parties and help
each other blow out their candles. They would even secretly whisper to each other what they had
wished for. Somehow, they always managed to end up wishing for the same thing. On their fifth
birthday, they both wished for a Raggedy Ann doll. On their sixth birthday, they both wished for
a pony. On their seventh birthday, they both wished for a doll house. And on their eighth and
final birthday spent together, they both wished for a bright red pair of slippers that looked just
like the ones that Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz.

She of course planned to send Diane a birthday card, but wanted to time it perfectly so that it
would arrive on the big day. A day before or a day after simply wouldn’t do. She had even
started thinking about what type of card she planned to send. Something childlike that would
surely remind Diane of all of the birthdays they had spent together as children. Maybe a Wizard of Oz
themed card? Or perhaps one with ponies on it as a throwback to the year that they turned
six? Unfortunately, neither one of their wishes were fulfilled that particular year. Even though
she hadn’t received a birthday card from Diane yet, she knew what to expect. She knew to brace
herself for a striking gag birthday card of some sort. Cards of past birthdays consisted of the
backsides of horses and shirtless muscular men, always managing to cajole a chuckle or two out
of her.

After finishing writing her response back to Diane, Jeannette ended the letter with Your pen pal,
Jeannette. She then tucked her letter inside an elongated envelope and sealed it shut with the lick
of her tongue. Flipping it over, she readied her pen and scribbled down Diane’s address without
skipping a beat. She knew it by heart and had written it on the front of thousands of envelopes
throughout the years.

2393 East Good Street

Yellow Brick, Munchkinland 78461

Not breaking her routine, Jeannette didn’t bother to write her return address in the top left-hand
corner of the envelope. She knew it would get to Diane safely. In order to finish off the envelope,
she proudly pressed a stamp onto the opposite corner as though it was the cherry on top of a
sundae.
                                                                            ***

After mysteriously disappearing into the seclusion of her bedroom for nearly an hour, Jeannette
returned to the kitchen with another envelope in her hand. She held it close to her chest as though
she was afraid that someone might catch a glimpse of it despite the fact that she was all alone in
the house. With both the mysterious envelope and the letter that she had written to Diane in
hand, Jeannette headed for the door but not before bundling herself up in her bushy winter jacket.

                                                                             ***

Once she arrived at the post office, Jeannette made her way inside with both of the envelopes in
hand. She pulled down the lever for the mail drop and proudly dropped the envelopes inside.
Anticipation over Diane’s next letter had already begun. As she turned around and headed for the
door, Jeannette failed to notice something important. Unlike every other day when she would
drop off her outgoing mail, one of the letters, the mysterious one, appeared to be hung in the
chute. Somehow the letter managed to wedge itself up against one of the bolts that held the
contraption together and appeared to have no intention of budging. Just as Jeanette opened the
door and started to head back out into the artic atmosphere, a young man of no more than thirty
entered into the lobby of the post office.

The young man did exactly what Jeannette had just done. He marched right over to the mail
chute and dropped in an assortment of overdue bill payments. He didn’t look inside to make sure
that none of his pieces of mail had faced the same fate as one of Jeannette’s letters had. But then
again, there was no reason for him to. Unlike Jeannette’s mysterious letter, his bill payments slid
right down the shaft of the chute in an effortless manner. To his benefit, Jeannette’s letter seemed
to smooth over the portion of the chute where the bolt was sticking up. Her mystery letter
allowed for his mail to make its way down into the outgoing basket as intended without any sort
of problem.

                                                                            ***

The next morning, Jeannette woke at the crack of dawn, the same as she did every morning. With
her cup of coffee clenched tightly in her hands, she peered out her kitchen window in
anticipation of the arrival of Diane’s next letter. The waiting was just as painful as always. It
never seemed to dull no matter how many letters she and Diane exchanged back and forth. The
mornings were always the worst because of the erratic delivery schedule that her mail carrier
followed. Sometimes he would deliver the mail before she even had a chance to finish her first
cup of coffee. Other times he wouldn’t arrive until after she had nearly had enough coffee to kill
a horse. Although her reasons for consuming coffee as she waited were unbeknown to her, it was
because the warmth calmed her. It put her at ease when nothing else would except for the arrival
of one of Diane’s letters. There were even days when her bladder would fill to the point of
bursting, however, she would never allow herself to step away from the window out of fear that
she might miss seeing the mail truck stop by.

Jeannette felt a sudden rush of warmth fill throughout her gut when she spotted the grimy white
and blue mail truck round the corner and start down her street. Finally, her wait was coming to
an end. She simply couldn’t wait to tear into the letter and see what new things Diane had written
to her about.

With a swift yank of the front door, Jeannette made her way down the driveway as quickly as a
woman her age could. She paid little attention to the snow that had turned to ice overnight that
covered her driveway.

As she neared the mailbox, she realized that something had gone awry. The mail truck appeared
to have no intention of stopping in front of her house. It stopped at the little boy’s house and then
moved on to the house below hers without as much as slowing down as it passed her bright red
box.

“Hey! Hey! Wait a minute,” Jeannette yelled out in a groggy tone. “What about me? What about
my mail?”

It was too late. The mail truck had already started to speed away.

Jeannette’s blood started running cold. The warmth that had heated the pit of her stomach to a
near boil just moments earlier was nowhere to be found. As she alternated her gaze between her
empty mailbox and the mail truck as it faded out of view, Jeannette started to weep. Not able to
stomach the sight of her barren box any longer, she closed her eyes in sadness.

When she finally opened them up again, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. Was it a
trick? A cruel joke perhaps? Neither option seemed plausible, she told herself. It all seemed too
vivid to be anything other than real.

The cold and frigid winter day had been replaced with a blistering hot summer afternoon. There
wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Two little girls were riding red bicycles in the middle of the street.
They were riding around in circles. Around and around they went. It was difficult to determine
which little girl was having more fun. Each of their faces glistened with looks of youthful bliss.

Suddenly a young woman, a young mother who looked eerily similar to Jeannette in her youth,
rushed out of the house. “Supper’s ready, Jeannette,” the woman called out. The little girls
immediately stopped what they were doing at the mention of food. Their appetites were bountiful
after all of the riding they had just done.

“What are we having, mama?” the little girl with a slightly crooked nose asked.

“Your favorite, of course, spaghetti and meatballs,” the mother replied, heartily.

Both of the little girl’s faces turned to stone.

“You don’t like spaghetti and meatballs anymore?” the mother queried.

The little girl with the slightly crooked nose looked to the other little girl who shook her head in
disapproval.

“I do, but Diane doesn’t. Don’t you remember?” the little girl said to her mother.

The mother walked down off of her porch and took ahold of the hand of the little girl with the
crooked nose. Her disposition was rigid and her face was stern with concern.

“How many times have your father and I told you that you’re a big girl now, Jeannette? It’s time
to grow up. You’re nine years old. Having Diane around when you were little was fine, but it’s
time for you to let her go. She’s served her purpose, but she’s not needed anymore,” said the
mother.

Still holding on to the hand of her daughter, the mother walked her back to the house. The whole
way there, the little girl kept turning around in the hopes that her friend would follow, but she
didn’t. Diane continued to stand on the curb with her arms crossed and a pained expression
etched across her face. Once they were inside, the mother closed and locked the door, including
the deadbolt. 

Aila Alvina Boyd is a Virginia-based writer. She holds an M.F.A. in writing from Lindenwood University and teaches college-level English.

* * * 

Wrongful Death Complaint
By Nathaniel Heely 

From: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
To: Court of Mortality Appeals <COMortality@godmail.com>
CC: God@godmail.com, SonofGod@godmail.com, Ghostdove@godmail.com
BCC: Krishna@Hinduism.net FlyingSpaghettiMonster@Darwin.org Buddha@BodhissatvaServ.com Allah@NoGodbutAllah.com OfficialMoses@YHWH.com
Subj: Wrongful Death Complaint
 
Dear Sir or Madam,
Previously my physical body was incapacitated and I was relieved of my mortal duties. I am writing to you to officially file a complaint. Under the circumstances and of course with my extensive experience in various stunts both amateur and professional (see attached CV that includes my brief career as a Motocross and my extensive employment as a professional stunt man. Copy of SAG card is attached along with several references) I believe that I was wrongfully bereft of my life and, as such, request that I immediately be remunerated with reparations in the form of my full life back to live out until a more satisfactory and correct end to my life can be reached.
Regards,
Charley “Just Ballz” Encino.        
 
From: Court of Mortality Appeals <COMortality@godmail.com>
To: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
Subj: AUTOMATIC REPLY Re: Wrongful Death Complaint
 
Thank you for your inquiry. As you can imagine we are very backed up with correspondence so it may take us a while to get back to you. Please do not SPAM us with inquiries or requests as you will be automatically filtered out.
 
If you do not see a response from us in a timely fashion be sure to check your SPAM folder to see if our response has ended up there.
 
This is an automated email. Please do not reply.
 
Regards,
Offices of Court of Mortality Appeals.
 
From: Court of Mortality Appeals <COMortality@godmail.com>
To: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
Subj: Re: Wrongful Death Complaint
 
Mr. Encino,
In regards to your recently filed complaint I have looked over your case and it seems that it was a pretty clear case of an ineffective parachute deployment. While your C.V. has been reviewed and is indeed impressive, such a resume is not applicable in a fall that reaches terminal velocity and wherein, according to the coroner’s report, 190 of 206 bones where broken as well as a substantial amount of blood loss.
 
Please understand that we here at the Court of Mortality Appeals are under very strict laws of Gravity Section 1.1 and we must do our due diligence to the law of the land and enforce all laws without impunity. We are very sorry and understand your frustration over an accidental death. However we now consider this matter closed and we wish you better health in the afterlife.
 
Regards,
Offices of Court of Mortality Appeals. 
 
From: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
To: Court of Mortality Appeals <COMortality@godmail.com>
CC: God@godmail.com, SonofGod@godmail.com Ghostdove@godmail.com
BCC: Krishna@Hinduism.net FlyingSpaghettiMonster@Darwin.org Buddha@BodhissatvaServ.com Allah@NoGodbutAllah.com OfficialMoses@YHWH.com
Subj: Re: Wrongful Death Complaint
 
Dear Court of Mortality Appeals,
 
While I understand your desire to uphold the many laws which make mortality thrive, I can’t help but feel as though you are being somewhat hypocritical. Plenty of things defy Gravity as it is enforced on Earth: planes, birds, parachutes, very skilled ostriches and penguins et al. That is the purpose of such things and these are everyday occurrences. I formally request that you reopen this matter and note that my requests remain unchanged.
 
I humbly await your response,
 
Charley “Just Ballz” Encino.        
 
From: Court of Mortality Appeals <COMortality@godmail.com>
To: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
Subj: Re: Wrongful Death Complaint
 
Mr. Encino,
 
We appreciate your vigor in the matter, though we must stand firm in our original response. You mentioned in your latest correspondence the “hypocrisy” of allowing planes, birds, parachutes &c. to be allowed to break the laws of Gravity. Some clarification: for non-living objects such as planes or parachutes, GravCorp* is designated for the legal licensing in these cases. To be short, nothing flies or defies gravity without getting clearance through GravCorp first and must be assigned a specially designated mathematic equation according to the specifications of the object, as to avoid any legal loopholes. Humans unaided and falling through the air are not, as such, one of these legal cases in which GravCorp licenses. We do wish you well, however, in your stay in Purgatory and ask that if you have any further complaints to please direct your emails to SaintPaddy@purgatorium.net.
 
For the courtesy of any inquiries you may have about GravCorp you may first refer to the attachment below
 
Regards,
Offices of Court of Mortality Appeals. 
 
1 Attachment
 
GravCorp_Licensing_and_Legal.pdf
87.2 MB
 
From: Krishna@Hinduism.net
To: Holy.listserv@afterlife.org
Subject: FORWARD: Wrongful Death Complaint
Is anyone else getting BCC’d on these? My secretary’s a cow now (not an insult) and I kind of need to know how to stop getting these kinds of emails.
 
 
From: OfficialMoses@YHWH.com
To: Krishna@Hinduism.net
Subject: FORWARD: Wrongful Death Complaint
Mark it Spam. (No need to get that kosher, heh heh). As long as it stays on the same thread you won’t see it in your inbox again.
 
From: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
To: SaintPaddy@purgatorium.net
Subj: Little help?
 
Most Honorable Saint Patrick,
 
I was directed to your email via the Court of Mortality Appeals. I will try to be brief. In my mortal life I was a professional stuntman dealing in very many death defying procedures in order to raise awareness to the full potential of the human experience. I have been trying to appeal my case to the Court of Mortality Appeals but have been unsuccessful to this point and fear that somehow a malicious attempt on my appeal has been enacted, perhaps even by Satan himself, cursed be his name. I have attached three appeals all in the same document below that I would most graciously ask that you send to them on my behalf.

I humbly await your response,
Charley “Just Ballz” Encino.
 
1 attachment
Encino_Appeals.doc
57 KB
 
From: SaintPaddy@purgatorium.net
To: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
Subj: Re: Little help?
 
just wait it out here kid. i’ve been here for literally eternity and you don’t see me bitching about it. sooner than you realize you’ll be getting the call up stairs. be patient.
 
Yours in Him,
St. Patrick
 
May the strength of God pilot us, may the wisdom of God instruct us, may the hand of God protect us, may the word of God direct us. Be always ours this day and for evermore.
 
 
From: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
To: Court of Mortality Appeals <COMortality@godmail.com>
Subj: DEMAND TO REOPEN WRONGFUL DEATH COMPLAINT
 
All,
I’ve been reading up on some of the literature you gave me, particularly in re the basic laws of Gravity. Gravity, as it is set out in the literature here, is drawn up under the old Einsteinian relativistic model. This is demonstrably false. Gravity, as has been put forth by Erik Verlinde most notably, is emergent from subatomic entropic forces. Because the language of the law hasn’t been updated I am requesting a fully remunerated life and a formal apology from both God and the Court of Mortality Appeals.
 
Yours,
Charley “Just Ballz” Encino
 
 
From: God@godmail.com
To: SatanIsBetterThanGodatArtsAndCrafts@lucifer.org
Subj: Can I borrow a lawyer?
Hey man, we cool? I need a favor.
 
 
From: SatanIsBetterThanGodatArtsAndCrafts@lucifer.org
To: God@godmail.com
Subj: Can I borrow a lawyer?
Fuck. Off.
 
 
From: COMortality@godmail.com
To: JustBallzin@Purgatorium.net
Subj: Courtesy Notification
 
You have been blocked from correspondence with Holy.listserv@afterlife.org and all listed subsidiary parties for abuse of the email correspondence system. This is a courtesy notification to let you know that all mail sent out will be undeliverable.
Thank you for your understanding,
 
Offices of Court of Mortality Appeals. 


* A subsidiary of Universam Lex Exigo

Nathaniel Heely is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and currently attends Chapman University in Orange, California. His work has previously appeared in Full Stop, decomP, Burrow Press Review, Identity Theory and several others. For more visit nathanielheely.com

* * * 

Life after Death after Life
By Evangeline Jones

Agnes

On October 13, 1813, Agnes de Groot was born to a young couple in the Netherlands, their first and only
child. She came out so fresh looking, they said, so shiny and red and scrumptious, that they were
convinced there’d never been a baby like her before. It seemed appropriate that she was born just weeks
before The Netherlands’ liberation from France because, as her mother told all the neighbors, she was
quite clearly the start of something new. They spoiled her rotten, the whole town of them—the blacksmith
winking at her from behind her father’s horse; other children choosing her first in their games; the grocer
slipping her sweets under the counter. Was it any surprise, then, as she grew into a long-braided
teenager, that the expectations grew along with her? Was it any surprise that they weighed heavily upon
her, slumping her shoulders and hampering her gait? Her mother sought the opinions of all the best
doctors, but to no avail. Agnes retreated behind a wall of her own making, a wall of fear and shame and
the knowledge that she was not what everyone else believed her to be.

Agnes, for whom everyone had once held such high hopes, showed no interest in sewing or cooking, or
any of the occupations befitting a young woman. In fact, nobody was quite sure how she spent her days,
holed up in the house with some musty old book, or wandering along the dikes, staring out to sea. The
young man to whom her parents had hoped to promise her found another, more suitable prospect, and
nobody was quite sure what would happen to poor Agnes.

It was a surprise, then, when Agnes began throwing up in the early mornings, began heaving and
vomiting, and a flush appeared on her cheeks and she began eating great amounts of goat cheese with
her bread. When her parents could no longer ignore the symptoms, when the doctors could offer a
diagnosis at last, it was then, just before her 17th birthday, that Agnes seemed, for the first time,
comfortable in her own body. Despite her parents’ hounding, despite several pointed visits from the local
Reverend, Agnes refused to reveal the identity of her baby’s father. She kept the secret held tightly within
her, like the child itself; it was hinted at only in the flush on her cheeks, the mysterious curve of her brow.

On March 4, 1831, Agnes went into labor. Her screams penetrated the surrounding houses—scandalizing
the neighbors, who thought back to the miracle baby, so shiny and new and promising, and how strange it
was that these sounds were coming from her. Agnes’ mother called in all the best doctors, all the local
midwives, but to no avail—after 20 hours of labor Agnes passed away, her baby boy inside her. They were
buried in a nearby cemetery—a small cross placed over them—and along with them both, her secret.

Llarico

On March 4, 1836, a baby boy came screaming to life on a windy Bolivian plateau, near Lake Titicaca. His
grandparents, uncles and other extended relations, gathered together with his parents in the Mamani
family compound, noted the impressive nature of his lungs, how they seemed to overpower the wind
itself, and so they named him Llarico—“indomitable.” Llarico, who spent his boyhood roaming the plateau
in a cone-shaped gorro, always felt an intimacy with the strong gusts that came rumbling across the lake,
from the mountains to the north. When he and his three brothers were harvesting oca and barley from the
terraced hillsides, or grazing llama and alpaca herds on the coarse grasses, and the winds appeared,
knocking them into each other and upending their woven baskets of produce, he laughed with
appreciation and belonging and a deep, welling sense of gratitude.

As they grew older, Llarico’s brothers drifted from the plateau, seeking their fortunes in the gold and
silver mines or trading weavings and potatoes for rice, sugar and coffee in the lower regions. When they
did return, it was for a bowl of hearty chairo stew and some hours spent gazing out over the lake,
speculating on the latest antics of the hillside gods. But Llarico—the indomitable one, the one who could
never be too far from the wind—he stayed. He built a house of clay and thatched grasses, and when it was
ready, he married. Soon after, the couple welcomed their firstborn, a son, and when the baby boy coughed
and spluttered to life, after several long seconds without breathing, Llarico fell to his knees with a depth
of gratitude he had not previously known possible. He sacrificed a fetal llama to the goddess Pachamama
in a private ceremony on the hillside, far from the prying eyes of the Catholic Church, and, years later,
when that same son died in the long-standing rebellion against the Spanish, Llarico repeated the
ceremony—his gratitude weighted, this time, with grief.

Only once in his long life did Llarico see the lights. He was sitting on the flat rock where he’d spent many
mornings fishing for amanto with his brothers. His spirit was heavy with the recent loss of his wife, Nayra,
and he was mashing some coca leaves between his gums; his teeth were no longer there to chew them. It
was dusk, and the breeze was roaring in from across the waters. It was then that the lights appeared. They
swirled across the lake in ripples and eddies, red and orange and purple coming together and dispersing
in an otherworldly dance. The sky was overcast, but Llarico would have known, regardless: What he was
witnessing was not a sunset, but a miracle.

Several days later, on August 29, 1878, Llarico breathed his last. His family buried him in a simple grave
topped with stones. In his resting place, they left him a bowl of chairo, a mugful of coca leaves, and a
cone-shaped gorro—preparation for the windy desolation of the spirit-filled highlands.

Wang

On August 29, 1883, when Wang Yuan was birthed to Chinese merchants in Singapore, his mother sobbed
tears of relief. She was glad that the difficult birth was over, of course; she was glad that he was healthy.
But most of all, she was glad that he was a boy. She dressed him in silk—the reds and oranges and purples
of good fortune. She stroked his feet, thanking the gods that she would never be forced to bind them.

But perhaps, she thought ruefully, much later—perhaps it would have been better if she had. Wang was
always exploring—under the table, into the cupboards and closets. His mother joked that he was like the
goat of his zodiac sign, always butting into things. When Wang’s father caught him burrowing amongst his
books and papers, he scolded him and whipped him with a bamboo stick. But when it was his mother who
found him, she simply laughed; relieved that his feet were still growing and there were so many places he
could go.

On November 3, 1888, when Wang was just five years old, he disappeared. His mother checked all the
usual places—the closet, the cupboards, the stacks of books and papers. When she couldn’t find him
there, she tottered outside on tiny feet to peer under the front stoop. She overturned shipping crates and
knocked on neighbors’ doors. Had anybody seen her Wang, her goat-like son? He didn’t return that
evening, or the next, and in the weeks and years that followed, Wang’s mother grew hunched and somber
and withdrawn. To this day, it is said, she can be seen stumbling down the streets of Singapore, knocking
on doors; asking, begging, for any word of her beloved, unbound boy.

Nabiya

On November 3, 1893, Nabiya Barakat slipped into the dusty world of rural Saudi Arabia—the fifth
daughter to her mother, Ayah, and her father’s sixteenth child. The family celebrated quietly, with coffee
and sweet breads. It should have been a son, the other wives whispered; Ayah should have drunk the
parsley tea. But Ayah paid them no mind. As she gazed into her newborn’s eyes, she knew that this one,
somehow, was different. Despite her husband’s protests, his assertion that it was somehow disrespectful
to Islam, she named the baby “female prophet,” Nabiya.

Nabiya grew into a strong-limbed young girl. Her heavy black abaya didn’t stop her from climbing the
date palms with her brothers, or urging the camels bareback through the desert. As punishment, she
spent long afternoons confined to the kitchen, watching the Sudanese slave girls prepare their noontime
khuzi. It was there that she came to know Sameea; it was there that their friendship formed and solidified
and a secret language of hand signals was devised. They shared jokes about her father—about the bits of
lamb that would catch in his beard—and planned forbidden, late-night walks together under the stars. On
one of these excursions, they made a pact: If one of them were ever in need, she would chime her anklet
bells outside the other’s window. To seal this pact, with solemnity, they kissed.

When Nabiya, at 14, was promised to a boy from the neighboring town, one she’d never met, the girls’
hands danced constantly, urgently, expressing their distress. Nabiya begged her father to take Sameea
with her. But as though he was punishing her for some unuttered failing, some lingering resentment,
Nabiya’s father sold Sameea to the next band of traders passing through. The girls never saw one another
again.

Nabiya’s new husband treated her well, but he was often absent. When she grew lonely, Nabiya veiled
herself and walked the three dusty miles to her former family’s compound. But even there, amid the
cooking and the chattering of the women—even there, the restlessness remained. Nabiya longed for
Sameea and the secret language they had shared; the comfort of another, matching soul.

Years later, on the night of May 16, 1972—when her stomach had sagged from birthing several children
and wrinkles furrowed her cheeks, when she was much more likely to stroke a camel’s nose than to ride
one—Nabiya woke to the sound of bells chiming softly. She rose, donned her abaya, and padded outside,
into the dark. The sounds seemed to come from beyond the compound walls—from across the desert, to
the north. She followed them there, beneath the crescent moon, and it was there, once the scorching sun
had risen, that they found her—her anklets hugged tightly to her chest; her right hand outstretched, as
though in gesture to the stars.

Sarah

On May 16, 1977, Sarah burst into the Gilmore family in Sacramento, California. Unusually strong winds
came howling from the north, and the chimes by the front door clamored with abandon, as though to
announce her arrival. The announcement was hardly necessary, however: Sarah’s brother, sister and young
parents—all blond, as was the family’s dog, Ruffles—were quite shocked to see her ginger mop of hair.
When Sarah was five, her mother’s best friend and coworker, Greg, the one with the fire-red beard, left to
work at their company’s office in Ireland, and Sarah’s father took her brother to start a new life with his
“juvenile infatuation,” as her mother called her, in Chicago. Suddenly, with one stroke, all of the men in
Sarah’s life were gone. Sarah’s remaining family moved into an apartment complex—one that didn’t allow
pets—and even Ruffles moved to another, more masculine, home.

The complex did have a pool, which provided some distraction. Sarah spent many afternoons there, trying
to tan herself into oblivion, or if not, at least her freckles from existence. The diminutive man who cleaned
the pool and trimmed the shrubbery, Domingo, was from Bolivia, and he told her of his own daughters,
the ones he’d left behind. When Sarah learned, years later as a medical student at Tulane, that Domingo
had been deported, she decided, against her mother’s wishes, to make South America the location of her
requisite study abroad. The following summer, she attended university classes in La Paz, the windy
mountain capital not far from where Domingo lived. She visited his village sometimes, on weekends, and
met his children, who were busy producing young ones of their own.

On October 13, 2005, Domingo took Sarah to see Lake Titicaca, several hours away. It was a special place,
he told her, a magical place. There, as the wind whipped at Sarah’s ginger-colored hair and she munched
for the first time on grilled goat cheese—there, Sarah felt finally, for once, at home. She was reluctant to
leave—to go elsewhere, to go anywhere—and so when an alpaca crossed the road, forcing Domingo to
swerve suddenly in his rickety pickup; when they rocketed off the cliffside and into the air; when Sarah
gazed down at the rainforest far below and fast approaching, she saw not a life unlived but a flight
through time; a string of red and orange and purple; the hauntingly beautiful echo of a mystery yet
unsolved.

Evangeline Jones is a freelance writer and perpetual wanderer currently residing in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. Her fiction is forthcoming in The New Quarterly.

* * *
Branches
By Matt McDonald

After the funeral, the family packed their griefs under layers of sweet potato and green bean casseroles, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and pie. As the crowd of strangers said their goodbyes and disintegrated one by one, the remaining aunts, uncles, and cousins told stories about Grandpa. Tyler kept himself vaguely engaged, nodding or smiling to the few people who sought his attention. He was past the age of pinched cheeks and tousled hair, but not old enough to talk sports or politics. The older adults kept an instinctual distance.
 
He began to feel his Grandpa’s absence after coming over that morning with his dad to check on Grandma and make sure the house was presentable. All Tyler remembered of his mother’s death nine years ago was a blind black grief, a gasping for air beneath the damp towel draped over his house. He was practiced at not letting himself think and feel and say whatever he lacked the capacity to think and feel and say at five years old.
 
While his father was in the back with his grandmother, and his two great aunts shuffled through an unfamiliar house opening doors and mumbling about the newspaper, Tyler haphazardly made a pot of coffee and sat down in his Grandpa’s chair, forced his legs to cross, stared out the window above the sink, and cried. He’d walked in expecting to find the man sitting at his breakfast table, legs crossed, staring out the window above the sink.
 
He understood death as an event, but could not grasp absence in the same way that he could not grasp eternity. Preachers preached about heaven being forever, and like a word repeated into noise he could not understand what forever was supposed to mean. Would he know his grandpa in heaven? Would he know his mother? If the answer was yes, would he be as excited to see God himself? If the answer was no, then both death and eternity were true, and how could that be?
 
He watched now as his dad perched—elbows on knees, hands cradling his fourth or fifth cup of coffee—on the edge of the couch, listening to Aunt Annie tell again the story of how Grandma and Grandpa met: post-war, she a drone at the DMV, he a newly minted veteran getting his first driver’s license. She always included the footnoted tale of how he learned to drive overseas when he was thrown behind the wheel of a Willys, and how he got some kind of medal after driving three or four or maybe half a dozen wounded soldiers out of something somewhere in the Philippines during some battle.
 
“Then he got home, and still had to get his Louisiana driver’s license. Can you believe that?”
 
Everyone smiled.
 
In the kitchen, by the back door, Tyler’s cousin Rand tried to get his attention, drawing a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and waving it in a motion to come on. They slipped out the back and down the hill to the creek that ran behind the property. His grandpa had owned this land since his dad was little. The house was a one-story ranch-style he built after selling off some rental properties he no longer had the energy to deal with.
 
When they reached the creek, Rand walked ahead, hitting trees with a stick he’d found in the yard. A couple hundred feet down, behind a stand of sycamores, he pulled the crumpled pack of Reds from his pocket and lit up with practiced motions. He tossed the pack to Tyler, who let it hit him in the chest and fall into his hands.
 
“Matchbook’s in the pack.”
 
“Thanks. I’m good, though.” He tossed them back to Rand, who was bent over digging a large rock from the dirt. The cigarettes landed at his feet.
 
“You look sad, man,” Rand said.
 
“Well. I don’t know if you heard, but….”
 
Rand freed the rock, and, almost falling back into the water, spun around and threw it as hard as he could. It landed in the shallow on a pile of smaller rocks, barely making a splash.
 
“Dammit.”
 
Tyler and Rand were only a month apart in age, but never had a chance to become close. Aunt Linda and Uncle Mark lived in Chicago, and they would come visit once or twice a year. Tyler had to remind himself that the distance between he and Rand was only one fraction of the distance between Rand and their grandfather.
 
He knew better than to ask, but he did anyway. “You’re not upset?”
 
A long, squinty drag, shrug of the shoulders. “Yeah. It’s sad. But I mean…why cry about it now?”
 
Tyler nodded. He never knew what to do with other people’s aggression. Silence felt complicit. “You cry about things after they happen.”
 
“Maybe I don’t cry.”
 
“Well. Maybe I do.”
 
“Check this out.” Rand reached back and pulled a rolled up magazine from his waistband. “It’s from…,” he looked at the cover, “Nineteen sixty-two.” He opened it up and turned it around, letting the centerfold fall out, a topless brunette in a clumsy-looking swimsuit bottom perched on the tailgate of a Ford pickup.
 
“Where’d you get that?”
 
Rand looked down at the picture. “Do you think tits looked different back then?”
 
“Where’d that come from?”
 
“The attic.” He motioned toward the house, took one long last drag from his cigarette, and tossed the butt in the water.
 
“They were real,” Tyler said.
 
“What?”
 
He pointed to the girl. “That’s what real tits look like.”
 
“Nineteen sixty-two,” Rand said. “You think she’s dead?”
 
Tyler took his turn to shrug.
 
Rand pointed his snout in the air like a howling wolf. “I need a condom!”
 
Tyler looked nervously toward the house. “Shut up, man.”
 
Once when they were seven or eight, Tyler and his dad visited Rand’s family in Chicago and stayed with them for several days. Most of the trip was a blur, but he clearly remembered the smell of the house, and the basement. Louisiana houses don’t have basements, so he had an instant fascination with the place, the idea of a space a part of yet apart from the house. A place where a kid could hide and be rough and careless without worrying about porcelain lamps or glass table tops.
 
One afternoon they were down there goofing around with some old hockey gear, and Rand responded to one of Tyler’s clothes-hamper goals by throwing the puck through the narrow window above the washer and dryer. With glass still tinkling down onto the washing machine, Rand froze, made eye contact with Tyler, and bolted upstairs yelling, “Mom! Tyler just smashed the window!”
 
There had been many moments like this between them, but Tyler remembered that one specifically now, wondering whether his historical innocence and Rand’s historical guilt would protect him if he shoved his cousin into the creek. Would he still be able to convince his dad of his innocence with only a look?
 
Turning back toward him, Tyler asked, “What are you going to do with that magazine?”
 
Before his eyes even found Rand, he registered the fluttering object, its arc too perfect to be a bird, flying through the air and landing with a weak slap in the shallow edge of the creek.
 
“Man, get that out.”
 
But by the time he’d said it, Rand was halfway up a low-slung sycamore branch.
 
The magazine belonged in the house. Tyler didn’t need his dad, or—God forbid—Grandma to find it. They’d think he’d had it, and maybe like him, they wouldn’t even consider the question of why Grandpa had a 1962 Playboy in the attic. Or maybe they knew why. Maybe it had meant something to him, had been a gift that a buddy gave him because there was a girl in it that they knew from high school or the service. Maybe an old girlfriend. Maybe a buddy had given it to him and he did the polite thing—didn’t want to look at it, but couldn’t throw it away. And so there it had sat all these years, packed away in a box and forgotten completely about until his death. Maybe it was better that even an ungrateful grandson found it before his widow did.
 
Tyler kicked off his shoes and trudged barefoot into the mud. From the bank, Rand yelled for him to come on. And he would. He would follow Rand around the rest of the day, mending every broken branch, collecting every cigarette butt, and righting every moved chair. But first he needed this magazine out of the water. He needed to have one less part of his grandfather in with the Earth; to have one more part of him put back in its place until the time came to dismantle the temple.

Matt McDonald is from northeast Louisiana, where he works in higher education. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Monkeybicycle, Louisiana Literature, Jellyfish Review, and Empty Sink Publishing, among others.

* * * 

Temporary Conditions of Life
By Chase Stroud

He would wake to the sun dancing on the ceiling. Then he would eat. He would take a bath and then change. What he wore was simple. Rarely did he go without pants, but when he did, he still wore socks. Most days he would sit on the couch while the woman would go about the house, making coffee or eggs or that celery drink, never offering him a bite from her fork or a drink from her mug. His hair was thin and blonde. He smiled often. But when he was angry, they all knew that he was angry.

He loved being in the car. The way that the sun danced on his arm and pulled him from his seat. He loved the sight of the ocean and the cars on the beach. He loved the way that the water receded and then folded in upon itself like the earth, itself, was yawning. He loved the birds and the fat puffy clouds and he loved the blueness of everything along the highway.

He thought in terms of the next good thing, the next enjoyable thing, such that he did not dwell in the past, or in the present. And he genuinely cared about the future. Awaited what it would bring.

He knew by visual stimulus what he loved, but he did not love much else. He did not know what it meant to love by emotion. Though he cried out of pure necessity, he was never sad, never embarrassed. Never ashamed or dismayed. He felt physical pains. He felt the swelling of emotion within him at times, but was untrained at dealing with it. His only interest issued from his wants. What he wanted from you. How he could get what he wanted from you. And then he would need you no longer. Until he needed you again. You may think about this and call him a monster, but who are you to judge such a being?

His memories were short, but vivid.

His hands were soft, unworked, and they always felt around at everything.

His voice did not have quite the command that he wished for it, so he communicated in other ways.

His mind was the sharpest thing about him, for he would never be more open to knowledge than he was now.

People, he cared little for. People came in and out of his life daily. People, he could not escape. There was the woman in his home. The woman with the cobweb of hair.

And there was the man in the brown jacket at the yellow place who looked at him sometimes from behind the wooden reins of his mop.

Then there was the belligerent man. The man with the stubbled face and the red nose and the loud voice.

There were those two little children with sticky fingers always trying to touch him and push him.

There was that other man who looked like the belligerent man but had no stubble. And he was not as loud. And he was not as handsy with the woman in the house. And he did not shake him like the other man had. If any sliver of emotion had he, he longed for this man to come again. Just one more time.

Hey, big guy, so pandering, aren’t you the most handsome man, he would say. It seemed a little condescending. A little sophomoric. Though it was better than the Won’t you ever shut the fuck up? Why do you have to act like this? You deal with him! That wasn’t as pleasant. He knew that much.

His head drifted heavily to one side and his nose was short and pudgy. His cheeks were plump and always red. His chest had little fat on it and his nipples sucked inward and his skin was cinched up around his ribs and he had red marks around his inner thighs. At times he would look in the mirror and not know quite exactly at what he was looking. But he smiled anyway, as the face looking back at him seemed amicable enough and he liked people who were friendly.

But there were his bad days, when the lady with the cobweb of hair would not even roam about the house. On these days he would neither eat nor bathe. He would grow cold about his waist and buttocks. And on some of these days the belligerent man would show up and he would say mean things and then he would leave or sleep. On these days he did not get to see the ocean or the birds or the sky. He did not get to see the shrubs or the shiny road signs or get to go to the place with the yellow walls where the man in the suit mopped. These were days when he showed his anger, but even so, no one really seemed to care. And his head would droop more from strain and his cheeks would turn purple and the little red marks on his thighs would sting.

And, perhaps, this is why he did not care much for people. Why he never lived in the present. Why he always looked toward the future. Because then, he would have command in his voice. Power in his arms. A better memory. And most importantly, legs to walk on.

Born in Glen Rose, Texas and raised in the Southwest, Chase Stroud received his B.A. from the University of North Texas and his Masters from the University of Arizona. He has worked as a ranch hand, mechanic, teacher, and editor. Currently, he is a teacher at an international baccalaureate school in Florida. To date, he has published one novel.

* * *

Romantic Evening
By Hannah VanDuinen

Eleanor sat back on her heels in her flowerbed, breathing in the heady scent of irises wafting around her. She brushed a couple greying curls out of her eyes, then sighed when she realized she’d just streaked dirt across her forehead in the process. Oh well.
 
“My beauties,” she said aloud. She couldn’t resist talking to the inhabitants of her gardens, greeting each of them and providing words of encouragement as they unfurled their silky petals to greet the sun. She was particularly amused by iris names—they reminded her of the pretentious names given to racehorses. Each spring, Eleanor looked forward to the return of Absolute Treasure, Stairway to Heaven, Celebration Song, Dangerous Liaison, Edith Wolford, Chasing Rainbows, and her personal favorite, Romantic Evening. If it had been up to her, she would’ve called them names like Jenny, or Rebecca, or Maggie Sue—something more familiar. But she wasn’t a plant breeder, she was a retired nurse.
 
Romantic Evening was a new addition to her garden, and it had quickly become her favorite. Its top petals were amethyst, while its lower petals fell to the ground in a purple so deep they were almost black. In beautiful contrast, the beards on its lower petals were sunset orange. Eleanor understood this iris’s name. Whoever christened this one knew what they were doing.

She had purchased Romantic Evening as a treat to herself for enduring her recent hardship. Her husband of twenty-eight years, Jack, had ripped her heart right out of its cavity just over a month ago. He didn’t mean to, of course. He’d done his best to cover his tracks, but her board meeting for the local food bank had ended early, and she’d walked right in to his own interpretation of a romantic evening with his so-called “work wife.” In retrospect, Eleanor wished she hadn’t overlooked the obvious implications of that nickname, but Jack had spent many years assuring her that it was just a joke. They were just often paired up on projects, that’s all. No need to worry.
 
That image was forever seared into her mind’s eye. It hadn’t looked like a particularly romantic experience to Eleanor—they weren’t even facing each other!—but what did she know? She’d met Jack when she was 18 and he was 20, and she’d left it up to instinct guide her through all the firsts in their relationship. They got married when she was 23, moved into their first house in Gambier, Ohio when she was 25. They’d never had children, choosing instead to dedicate their lives to each other. Or so she’d thought. How many work wives had Jack accumulated over the years? She almost wished she’d asked him.
 
A bumblebee buzzed past Eleanor’s left shoulder and landed on one of the Celebration Songs. She watched it twitch back and forth near the center of the flower, loading its back legs up with pollen to whisk away to its next errand. She waited until it was finished and gone before leaning in to pull the weed that had crept in beside that iris.
 
She and Jack had tried to work it out after she discovered his adultery. They had dutifully researched marriage counselors in the area, sitting on opposite ends of the couch and barking out the names of the candidates who were worthy of consideration. Jack had been the one to make the calls and set up the appointments. He was the perfect picture of contrition from the moment Eleanor uncovered his secret, answering any questions she threw at him in detail and moving from their bed to their ancient, too-small couch without being told. They stuck with the counselor for a while, and Jack dedicated himself to completing the homework from each session. It made Eleanor hate him even more. Each loving gesture he made and every apology he gave her only proved he had been capable of being a good husband all along and had simply chosen not to be. He hadn’t even offered any lame excuses or explanations; instead, he’d taken full blame based on his “personal weakness.” By the sixth session, she had made up her mind. She could never trust him, and she would never forgive him.
 
Killing him had been so easy. He had always indulged her gardening, but he never took an interest himself. He didn’t notice the difference between the monkshood blossoms adorning his salad and the pansies adorning hers. He was gone by bedtime, and Eleanor spent the night mourning the loss of her husband and the life she had known.
 
It took a week for the cops to show up. Jack’s employer had reported him missing.
 
“Mrs. Cook? My name is Officer Harris. I’m here to perform a welfare check on your husband, I believe. Jack Cook. Do you know his whereabouts?”
 
“Why is a welfare check necessary?” Eleanor asked. There was a slight edge to her voice, which the officer wasn’t expecting. He blinked several times before answering.
 
“He, uh, hasn’t shown up for work, ma’am. They said he’s been unreachable all week, and he, uh, he didn’t have your number on his contact list.” So for all his show of change, he’d really given up on me, she thought. Wife of twenty-eight years, not even good enough to be an emergency contact.
 
“I don’t know why he didn’t bother to tell his boss, but Jack Cook no longer lives here. He ran off with his mistress.” More blinking.
 
“Well. I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am. What—what’s the name of his mistress?”
 
“Caroline Cox.” Eleanor pulled out the name of the “work wife” with relative ease, wincing only a little as she said it. Caroline had quit working at Jack’s company shortly after Eleanor discovered the affair, meaning it was vaguely plausible that Jack would’ve followed her later. It wasn’t an airtight story by any means, but it would work for a time.
 
“Thanks for that. We’ll follow up with her instead, then. Do you, uh, mind if I take a look around? Just so I can fill out the paperwork, you know. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.”
Eleanor sighed. “Yes, I suppose that will be fine. Come in.” She stepped back from the door, and Officer Harris edged around her and began a cursory search. He wasn’t much taller than her—maybe 5’9” or 5’10” at the most—but he was at least twice her width. Not fat, she noticed. Solid muscle. He was completely bald, making it hard for her to guess at his age. Certainly younger than her, but perhaps not by as much as she’d first assumed. There were some lines around his eyes, and perhaps even a silvery tint to the five o’clock shadow on his jaw.
 
Clearly not wanting to get in the middle of a marital drama, Officer Harris completed his welfare check in under five minutes.
 
“I’m sorry again for the trouble, Mrs. Cook. And sorry to hear about your husband. I’ll let his employer know he most likely won’t be returning.”
 
“Thank you,” sighed Eleanor. “I appreciate your time.” She grabbed a light jacket and followed him outside, intending to do a bit more gardening to calm her nerves. He stopped and turned back to her before he’d quite made it back to his car.
 
“Nice work with the gardens, Mrs. Cook. The irises are beautiful. Those are my wife’s favorite.”
Eleanor Cook smiled her first genuine smile in months. “Thank you, Officer Harris. They’re my favorite, too. Would you like a few stems for her?”
 
Officer Harris waited while she cut a few of the best blooms and wrapped their ends in a plastic bag filled with a bit of water. He smiled and nodded his thanks as she handed them to him, then finally climbed into his car and backed out of the driveway. Eleanor watched him leave, wondering how long it would be before she saw him again.
 
“Well, Jack,” she said to her garden. “At least you’re good for something these days. I’ve never seen such stunning blooms on these irises.” She knelt down and started tugging at the weeds, greeting each flower by name as she worked.​

Hannah VanDuinen is living in Whitmore Lake, MI. She graduated from the University of Michigan’s Department of English Language and Literature in 2011 and has since been active as both a technical and creative writer. She has had two stories published (2013 and 2015) in Imagine This! An Artprize Anthology.

* * *
Poetry

Timeless
By Eden Bailie

i try to read coffee grounds like tea leaves.
a flightless bird, ambitions too big for my body
i reach around in the dark to feel some
thing that makes me feel older,
like bus tickets to the city
and heeled boots.
this is glorified dress-up,
except this time i paid for the shoes

Eden M. Bailie is 15 years old and lives in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. She is a student at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, currently in her second year as a Literary Arts major. She's had a passion for writing from a young age and continues to develop her unique voice as a young poet.

* * * 

Theta Waves are Thought by Some to be Associated with Arousal
By Heikki Huotari 


I was paying more attention to
my co-conspirator than to
 
the competition when some wheels
went out from under me though
 
I had not had wheels in years,
had not excused small faults
 
or set, by lamplight, broken bones.
Was I born yesterday or in a barn,
 
should be laughing at or with
or whistling past, or should I save 

​​​my beta or my theta waves for later?

Heikki Huotari is a retired professor of mathematics. In a past century, he attended a one-room country school and spent summers on a forest-fire lookout tower. He's the winner of the 2016 Gambling the Aisle chapbook contest. Forthcoming books will be published by Lynx House and After The Pause.

* * * 

Unemployment Dirge
By James Croal Jackson

I have given up on adulthood this time
at least not trying to pay bills
every electronically white-licked envelope
arrives the kiss of a faceless reaper
but I’m not playing that capitalist game
of unending rain filling plastic
cups the days that spill
on plain tile to move
the needles of hairs
and dirt I never
knew was missing

James Croal Jackson is the author of The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017). His poetry has appeared in Hobart, FLAPPERHOUSE, Yes Poetry, and elsewhere. He edits The Mantle, a poetry journal. Find him in Columbus, Ohio or at jimjakk.com.

* * * 

A recipe for melanin and Grandma
By Anushka Thorat

A recipe for melanin
 
When you
lather on bleaching peroxide with your misfit glove
           (translucent poison seeping down caustic cells)
Run your smooth velvet locks through a sizzling stove
           (rich rivulets straightened to shrivelling straws)
And bruise parts of yourself you can’t begin to relove
Remember what brown girls are truly made of.
 
Two drops of honey gently placed
oceanic spheres sitting deep and unfazed
kind irises on auburn lotus leaves
quietly stirring in tiny ponds of zeal.
 
Five tablespoons of salty hickory syrup
spindled vines stretching like coiling carob
slippery strands gliding a waterfall of molasses
stretching around a bronze crown of gushing tresses.
 
Three cups of molten melanin- a satin cover
a blazen lighthouse for every sunken lover
films of brown sugar onto which fractured souls clutch
lustrous crystals crumbing from wet, tender touch.
 
So memorize this recipe as salty liquid fills
dark pupils brimming with melting chocolate hills
 
Because when your uniquely rusted ingredients drive insanity
You are a glowing force of nature sighing mundanity.
 
 
Grandma
 
I remember you
Scurrying through your words
             Like a fiddler with a bow eager to finish his symphony,
             Your fiery winds contorting into a storm pelting showers every nanosecond.
Yet I wonder whether I should have told you to hurry.
 
Because if you knew how Alzheimer's slices away pieces of life like
Tasteless skin of chickens carved from gleaming peach flesh
             Maybe you would have.
 
And on the day you passed
On the porch hemmed by nautical dusk
I wondered when exactly you began to crumple
             Into the soft petals of lilies fluttering by with the gale
             Turned to dust
Lost.
 
I wondered
How  you bore a disease without a cure,
Like a mother carrying a stillborn
Shattered pieces of statue lodged in your writhing body,
Shards etching designs into every bruised corpuscle.
 
Did you feel your neurons decay in pools of blood
When you forgot to use detergent and watched the drenched clothes swirl
Every turn and slosh another dendrite drowned?
 
Or was it
Like an eternal tide of arctic saline
Making your wrinkled skin crawl
A dark grey cornucopia of every thought adrift
Every flow a flashbulb, every ebb an acrid pinch?
 
See,
You once told me
How us humans are
Just bottled up essences of our frantic pasts
Bodies fragile flasks clasping our souls
Dissipating in wisps of silent pearly smoke
As our gentle luminescence fills to the brim.
 
So is that how you would explain
My father’s bleeding fingers
as the craters stabbed onto your glass
Pricked his pink skin when you asked him who he was?
 
Or would you claim it to be
The mist flooding through the cracks
That subsumed every memory
Obliterated every unrecognized face
Shrivelling every beating heart
like barbed atomic ash?
 
So grandma,
I’ll remember you
Scurrying through your words
As I keep pouring cloudy silver
In my frail argent jar
(a plethora of memories passing like a dream)
Until it cracks open from your cursed gene.  
​​
Anushka Thorat is a first-generation Indian immigrant currently a sophomore in high school. She writes for HerCulture Magazine, Redefy, The Teen Magazine and is a blogger for Voices of Youth (a UNICEF- based platform). Anushka is passionate about writing as a medium of expression and considers poetry to be most expressive of the arts.

* * * 
Creative Nonfiction

Once the Fun Ends
By Michael Colbert 

We first meet at the gym. The gym has ten treadmills and twenty weight machines. We make eye contact and he waves, so I go say hi. We work at the same school but have never spoken, even though we’re among the four teachers in their 20s. Lynn and I, the two foreign English teachers, have talked about him and the other young teacher. They were new arrivals last April and are closest to our age.
 
On Saturday, when I was leaving the gym with other foreign friends, I saw him signing up. We said hi and when I got home, I looked him up in the old yearbook my supervisor had given me. In it she’d stuck the school paper with an announcement of the new arrivals who came in April. Above the kanji she’d scribbled katakana for me to decipher. Kasai, and next to him Sakuma.
 
So when we meet at the gym, I can say hi and use his name. I stumble through a conversation. We talk about sports—he’s the tennis coach—and friends—I have none because I came to Japan from the States in August, and his all live faraway in Hakodate and Obihiro, the far reaches of Hokkaido from Sorachi, where we live among fields between mountains. I ask if he likes to drink and we part ways with intention to get dinner along with Sakuma.
 
I go back to my apartment that night and write about finally meeting someone my age in town. I tell a Japanese friend in the States that I carried out a conversation in Japanese, and she says to go make friends.
 
***
 
At Christmas, I will return home, so beforehand I send a message to Kasai. Let’s go out for drinks before I go home. The next day at work, he brings me a printed map with a pin of a yakitori restaurant where we will eat. He checked the time with Sakuma, and they will pick me up at 6:45. One of the English teachers I sit next to says something to him in Japanese that I don’t understand. Before he leaves, she looks at me. “He’s the same age as you, so maybe you can become good friends.”
 
That night a shiny white car picks me up at the drugstore near my apartment. Their smiles are big and waves enthusiastic. People say alcohol is a necessary lubricant in Japan, but these teachers seem entirely different from the two I know at school.
 
Before meeting them, I take a shot of whiskey. It warms my stomach and loosens my tongue. When we arrive at the restaurant, I can make simple jokes in Japanese. We talk about movies and food. I say I like katsu curry. I use my love of spicy foods to gain social currency in Japan. I tell them about buffalo sauce, and Sakuma tells me about a restaurant where they serve giant portions of katsu curry, but so big that you’d likely get sick unless you haven’t eaten for days.
 
They ask about the States, and I say that I will visit my sister and brother-in-law in New York and celebrate New Year’s in Boston with college friends. They think New York is cool and I talk about it more than I really know it.
We race to find words on Google Translate when I don’t understand something. They make me try tokoroten, and I laugh when I fumble with my chopsticks even though I’ve lived in Japan for four months.
 
***
 
At home, I tell my family tales from Hokkaido. I make a slideshow to show pictures from visits to Sapporo, Rishiri, and Kyoto. Throughout I add pictures of the friends I’ve made. Proof of the experiences I want to have, and Kasai and Sakuma figure in.
 
To them I also send pictures of the States. My family’s Christmas tree, the tacky light show in town synced to a local radio station, sunsets along the river without snow. I see my home through somebody else’s eyes and I give it to those eyes.
 
I don’t make it to New York during my visit. My flight home was delayed a day. A surprise whiteout shut thousands in the airport. News crews came to record. People got free blankets and made picnics of konbini food on the floor. I found Lynn who was returning to Singapore. “It’s like a picnic with an unknown end date,” she said.
 
Returning one day later changed my days at home from ten to nine, and New York seemed like too far to go. I was envious of myself and the stories I could’ve told.
 
***
 
We exchange nengajo, Japanese New Year’s cards. I ask for their addresses and write cards to say I had fun and that I want to go eat that giant curry and then visit a nearby onsen. I get cards back that say the same.
 
And when I’m back in Japan, we do that. Except it’s a Sunday, and the giant curry restaurant is closed. We go to a Nepalese restaurant instead. This time there’s no beer. I feel the silences and don’t know how to fill them. So I comment on how hard they work. They arrive at eight in the morning and leave at eight at night, well past the 4:30 PM sunsets I take pictures of during my walk home. Both coaches, they go to school for club activities on weekends. Before meeting them that night, I spent the day cleaning my apartment and reading while they worked all day and probably missed lunch.
 
All of us full of curry and naan, at the onsen I teach them the phrase food baby and they tell me a Japanese equivalent. When I mention the Japanese later to other, older friends, nobody seems to think it’s right.
 
The onsen is small. A father brings his young daughter in, and an old man laughs without pause when Kasai, Sakuma, and I enter. I decide it’s because I’m foreign, and we go into the sauna.
 
We take turns entering one of the baths. They both call it “biribiri.” I assume it’s an expression for a massage bath. When I enter, my arms go rigid and sink to the bottom. When I can’t move, I learn that biribiri means shocking, sparks.

After bathing, we sit at low tables and drink small bottles of milk. I drink water from my Nalgene, and this fascinates them. They scroll through Amazon and show each other different bottles. The next week during lunch, they come to my desk with blue and red bottles. I give them both stickers from an American coffee shop. I feel like a fourth grade teacher with a good deed chart, giving out gold stars to favorite students. I notice my eyes lighten as other teachers look on.
 
“Cool, young teachers.”
 
“Look at those American water bottles.” I feel cool, and my friendships are public.
 
***
 
Time goes by. Kasai snowboards, so I send him a text. I want to say, “If you ever have a chance and want to go, I’m down,” but it comes out garbled and formal in Japanese. He doesn’t answer, and I worry. These teachers have no free time, so why should I monopolize those few chances they do have?
 
But at school he says he’d like to. Maybe February. January’s busy. You’re all so busy, I say. Don’t worry. At night, I go to the gym alone, no foreign friends, no Kasai. On my walks there and back, I watch for all the white cars, hoping to see people waving inside.
 
More time passes. Sometimes, I say good morning to them before the daily staff meeting, but most I don’t, engrossed in the news. The disgusting things back home provide me with an excuse to ignore them. I’ve known this feeling before.
 
In college in Maine, I went for moody walks off campus past pine-lined streets, forgetting about the friends I wanted and forgetting about the friends I already had. By day I’d study in the student union, burying my eyes in photocopied readings for class. When the people who I hoped to see would pass by, I kept my head down and waited for them to say hi. The people I seek out, whose friendship I yearn for for the easy laughs and laughing ease. I want it, and I think about it, and I push back. I don’t need friends. Why should I care?
 
But I decide I do care. Two weeks later I ask about going out for drinks after work. Something light, something easy. They respond, fast, and we make plans for that Friday. That day after school, Sakuma comes to my desk.
 
“So, is it okay if we eat at your place?”
 
I say yes but then ask if he means eating at my place or picking me up from my place. I wonder if this is a cultural difference, but then I don’t have time to wonder. I rush home from work to clean my room and chop vegetables for soup. I buy a six-pack and stuff the beers into the snow on my balcony. With a tortilla, I make a buffalo pizza as a taste of something American and weird.
 
They arrive late with food. A tray of sushi, drinks, a bag of peanuts. The buffalo pizza is spicy but they like it, and we sit around my kotatsu eating nabe. My apartment is startlingly American. They ogle the pictures on my wall, my floor lamp, and the Christmas lights along my ceiling, holdovers from college I don’t want to outgrow.
 
Conversation is light again. I bring up politics—Trump is why I’m angry in the morning—and family. I learn about their siblings and the families they rarely get to see because of their limited time off.  I fall on the crutch of asking them about work and drinking.
 
In Japanese, I am brutish and unwieldy. Lacking the vocabulary to talk about what I care about, I talk about getting drunk. I am a caricature of someone I have never really been. Sakuma teaches Japanese literature, but I can’t talk about books, and Kasai teaches history, but I can’t talk about politics.
 
It is Setsubun. Sakuma reveals ehomaki, giant rolls of sushi. For good luck, we find north-northwest and eat them facing my wall without speaking. It is the year of the rooster, which means that north-northwest is most fortuitous. I’m slowest, and they video me, spectators commentating on the straggler in the race.
 
We take handfuls of peanuts and toss them towards the door. “Demons out, good luck in.” They get giddy when they ask to go to Lynn’s apartment to toss her some. When she answers, I’m giddy. They really wanted to come, I say with my eyes, although I probably don’t because I’m buzzed. I don’t say that I really wanted to come to show off my friends, but maybe I do because I’m buzzed and Lynn is smart.
 
***
 
After Setsubun, they seem less formal at school. Sakuma drives me home one day as we are leaving at the same time, and Kasai tells me that they both bought new lamps like mine. I think about the friends I sought in college and wonder if all I needed was to throw peanuts with them.
 
But that night, Kasai said he’d be moving schools in April. Back to Hakodate or east to Kitami or Obihiro, cities whose tourist attractions I learn about when searching the distance online.
 
Sakuma will be a homeroom teacher. His students will rally behind him on Sports Day and at the school festival. I think of the sunsets over the nearby buckwheat field that he will never see, staying late for baseball practice, dealing with the PTA, and researching entrance exams for his students’ futures.
 
I knew I’d leave them in the summer, trading yakitori and handicapped discussion for college friends and political protests and a new job. But I think of leaving and being left behind and I wonder why I didn’t feel so bad about leaving them, but being left behind makes me want to stay. With them at school together, from some faceless office in New York or Portland I can still imagine their antics, and I can imagine what I could one day come back to. But with them leaving before, I can only imagine the nothing that will remain while I am still here.
 
***
At night, I go for walks again. It is February and the days sometimes rise above freezing and coat our roads in slush. I walk to the park where I ran in summer, now interred in snow. I walk to the gym, and I walk home. I listen to music I listened to in college on cool Maine nights when I walked down the middle of the street and contemplated streetlights. I walk around town, looking. Looking for the white cars. 

Michael is a writer based in Portland, Maine. He loves horror film (his favorites are Candyman and Get Out), and he’s a coffee addict (his favorites are Costa Rican and Ethiopian). His work has appeared in such publications as Germinal, Gravel, Orion, and the Worcester Journal.

* * * 

I Feel Bad About My Hair
By Tina Mortimer 

As a child, I loved being in the water. Every day of every summer of my childhood in Connecticut was spent either at the beach or in someone’s pool. That changed my freshman year of high school. It was 1990. I was with a group of girls whom I had just started spending time with that school year. There were five of us—Lauren, Amy, Big Nancy, Little Nancy and myself—and we were tight. Each of us was from solid, middle-class families, which meant someone always had a pool, albeit, an above ground pool.  

Although we’d been friends for nearly a year, it was our first summer together, and I had spent the entire spring dreading it. These were popular girls. They were pretty, athletic, slim—all the things I was not.  Lauren had platinum blonde hair that always looked amazing, sea blue eyes and perfect skin. Big Nancy—a moniker we used to differentiate her from Little Nancy because she was several inches taller—had the longest legs I’d ever seen. She was captain of the high-stepping team. Little Nancy, as her name suggested, was perfectly petite. She was also the most bosomy of our group, and a cheerleader. Amy, like me, didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities, but was whip smart and considered a knockout by every boy in school.  She was one of those girls who was treated like “one of the guys,” due to her propensity for tough talking and belching in public. I strongly suspect Amy invented the Resting Bitch Face. 
 
I wasn’t beautiful. I wasn’t athletic. I was far from being one of the guys. At best, I was average. The problem was, I was about 15 pounds overweight and had thighs like tree trunks. I knew I had thighs like tree trunks because Yvonne Diaz told me as much the first time she saw me in a pair of gym shorts in the 8th grade. I doubt she knew then that her words, and the look on her face when she said them, would be forever cemented in my mind. No matter how thin I’d become in adulthood, I would always feel fat. 

I was certain that once my beautiful new friends saw my thick, dimpled legs in a bathing suit they’d turn away in disgust and never be seen with me again. But that didn’t happen. In part because I’d grossly miscalculated how much interest they would have in my legs. These weren’t mean girls. They could be hurtful, sure, but they weren’t malicious. I was part of their tribe. We went to parties together, slept over each other’s houses, copied off each other’s homework. We ate lunch together nearly every day and talked on the phone every night. If they noticed my thighs, they never showed it. What they did notice was something I never expected. 

It was early in the summer. We’d just graduated from lowly freshman to up-and-coming sophomores, and were eager to start working on our tans in anticipation of our higher ranks. This was back before anyone cared about melanoma or sunspots. We slathered on the baby oil with reckless abandon, sometimes using a whole bottle in one afternoon because we thought is would make our skin extra bronzy and subtle, not blotchy and leathery like some of our mothers’ complexions. 

We didn’t last long sunbathing on plastic lawn chairs. Summers in Connecticut could be unbearably humid.  On this day, it must have been close to 90 degrees with air as thick as soup. One by one, we peeled our bodies off the hot vinyl, climbed up the wobbly plastic steps of the pool and jumped in. I was last to get wet. I plugged my nose, squeezed my eyes shut and cannon-balled. 

When I emerged from underwater, I noticed Lauren, whom I’d always considered the kindest of my new best friends, staring at my head. 

“What happened to your hair?” she croaked, rubbing water from her chlorine-reddened eyes. Everyone turned and looked at me. My stomach sank. 

“What do you mean?” I asked, slightly hysterical. Once again, something wasn’t right with me. And once again, someone had noticed. My mind flashed back to Yvonne Diaz and her comment about my thighs. 

I tried to hold it together. My hair, as unruly as it was, had never been a major cause for concern like my weight. Now I could see that I’d missed something. My first thought was that the chemicals in the water had turned my hair a different color. My hand instinctively went to my head. What little hair I had was still there. I gingerly smoothed it back. It wasn’t sticking up. So what was the problem, I wondered. 

“I mean, where did your hair go?” she chuckled, smoothing back her own thick, blonde hair. “It, like, disappeared. It’s so thin.” 

I couldn’t believe it. Was she making fun of me? I wasn’t sure how to respond. My first instinct was to say, Excuse me, in a snotty tone, as if I hadn’t heard her right. But then, I really didn’t want her to repeat what she’d just said. I decided to feign indifference. 

“It’s just how it gets when it’s wet,” I shrugged. 

Lauren floated backwards away from me as if she were already bored with the conversation. The Nancys remained silent. Amy, who lacked a filter, said, “Dude, it looks like you’re going bald!” 

I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Amy must have noticed. “We’re just kidding, girl, don’t be so sensitive,” she said sweetly. 

But I was sensitive. I couldn’t help it. I got out of the pool without saying a word, sat down on my chair, and put on my sunglasses. After a few minutes, Amy, Lauren and the Nancys got bored of splashing around and joined me. They never mentioned my hair again. They didn’t have to. The damage had been done. From that point on, I was obsessed with every measly strand. 

When I got home that night, I realized they were right. Once you washed away the Aqua Net and hair gel and smoothed down the excessive teasing, I wasn’t left with much. I blamed my mother. 

In the 4th grade, I was infatuated with the character Hope Brady who starred on the soap opera, "Days of Our Lives". To my young, still-developing mind she had everything that mattered: a big house, even bigger hair and the town dreamboat, Bo Brady. She also had a nice figure—something my grandfather was quick to point out whenever he caught a glimpse of Hope on the cover of my grandmother’s soap opera digest. I had no idea what a nice figure was, but I reasoned it must be a good thing because my grandfather always had a big smile on his face when he saw one. 

Even at age 10, I knew I would never look like Hope Brady. (I was naïve, not delusional.) Hope was an exotic beauty with dark, wavy hair, olive-colored skin and a c-cup. She was also probably in her mid-twenties at the time.  I was a mousy, flat-chested child.  So I tried for the next best thing: I’d have her hair.  At the time, I didn’t particularly dislike my hair.  I just wanted more of it. All I needed was a perm. 

I expected to have to beg and bargain and plead with my mother. I expected her to say no. She should have said no. I was 10 years old for Christ sakes and I wanted to look like a soap opera star more than twice my age. Yet for some reason I still don’t understand, and still haven’t quite forgiven, she said yes. On one condition: She wouldn’t pay for an expensive salon perm. She would do it herself. So the next day we went to the pharmacy and my mother bought me an Ogilvie home perm kit on sale for five dollars. When we got home, she had me bend over the bathroom sink so she could apply the chemical to my hair. The solution smelled awful, but I didn’t care. I sat perfectly still on the toilet for an hour while it processed, giddy with anticipation. Then my mother rinsed my hair, added more of the solution, and rinsed again until she was satisfied with the level of doneness. 

I emerged from the bathroom two hours later with a sore neck and what could only be described as a Jheri curl. I was mortified. These were not the big, bouncy waves Hope Brady had. These curls were tight and had the consistency of uncooked macaroni. Staring at my reflection in the hall mirror, I pinched a curl between my thumb and index finger and pulled it away from my scalp. It recoiled back with the velocity of a rubber band. I didn’t leave my bedroom the rest of the weekend. And I would have stayed locked in my room the rest of my life had my mother not dragged me, kicking and screaming, to school on Monday morning. 

The rest of the 4th grade did not go well for me. The teasing was relentless, and probably would have continued through 5th grade and beyond until the perm wore off, had it not been for the new student who joined our class that spring. Millie Brown came to our school from the Dominican Republic. Millie was a shy girl with long brown hair, caramel-colored skin and a mustache thicker than my grandfather’s. 

What happened at the pool when I was in high school wasn’t quite as bad as the Jheri curl incident, but it was close. Once again, I felt bad about my hair. And once again, I wanted to lock myself in my room for the rest of my life. 

When I think about it now, I don’t fault my friends for razzing me about my hair. They didn’t mean to hurt me.  But after that day at the pool, something changed. My self-esteem, already tenuous, had taken a major hit. I knew there was no way I was getting anywhere near a body of water with my friends ever again. So I didn’t participate in the hot tub party nights hosted by a classmate whose parents were always out of town. (Which, in hindsight, was probably a good thing). I skipped the spring break trip to Mexico senior year. (Again, probably a good thing.)  I started wearing various head coverings when I went out: baseball caps and bandanas in the summer, knit hats in the fall and winter. Halloween was my favorite time of year. At Halloween, I could have any type of hair I wanted. Even the cheap synthetic wigs, which were all I could afford, seemed better than my real hair. 

Over the years, I’d spent hundreds of dollars on products promising to make my hair thicker, fuller, more voluminous, and hours in front of the mirror trying to cover the thinner spots with magic hair powder or strategically placed hair bands.  (Most of the time I’d become so frustrated, I’d stay home.)  The only time my natural hair ever looked thick, full or voluminous was when I was pregnant with my son.  I could have stayed pregnant with him forever to have that hair. 

Of course, when I wasn’t pregnant, my hair continued on its path to anorexia. Once again, I blamed my mother, but also, genetics. My mother always had thin, baby-fine hair. My father went bald when he was in his early twenties. So I guess I should have seen it coming. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced after the birth of my daughter. 

After my daughter was born in 2014, my hair fell out in clumps. I’d run my fingers through my hair and strand upon strand would fall away from my head. This went on for weeks. I thought I was dying. I went to see my OBGYN. She was the same doctor who performed the cesarean section that gave me my daughter, and I trusted her. She drew my blood and ran some tests. I waited for the results with bated breath, certain that the news would be awful. Yet all the tests came back normal. The reason my hair was falling out, she said, was hormones. Apparently, this type of hair loss was common in women who had recently given birth. She explained that during pregnancy, increased levels of estrogen in a woman’s body freezes hair in its growing phase. So hair that would normally fall out stays put. After a woman gives birth and her estrogen levels decline, all the hair that was frozen starts to fall out. My doctor promised that my hair would grow back—eventually. And eventually, it did, but it was never the same. 

I’d like to say that after 40 years I no longer care so much about my appearance, but that would be a lie. The truth is I do still care, very much, but my days of naval-gazing and wasting my precious time and money on hair products are over. No, I didn’t wake up one morning with the sudden realization that only inner beauty matters. There was no grand eureka moment or life-changing epiphany that made me realize my self-worth. I guess I just got tired—tired of trying to look a certain way, tired of trying to live up to some bogus standard of beauty that was created by men and perpetuated by women like myself. Most of all, I was tired of trying to make my hair into something it wasn’t and would never be. So I decided to buy a wig. Well, a sort of wig. 

Wigs have come a long way since I was a thin-skinned, obsequious teenager. Many are made of real human hair. Even the synthetic wigs they make now feel like real hair. The half wig is made for people like me who have hair, but just want more of it. 

If you’ve never seen a half wig, it’s kind of like a toupee that clips on and off and blends in with your real hair. I wear one when I go out to dinner or to a party, which is to say, not often. But it feels good on my head — especially in the winter when my ears get cold. 

When I think about all the time I wasted focused on my hair, and on my appearance in general, I feel shame. I also feel profound sadness. Sadness for the sweet, sensitive girl whose self-esteem was ruined by soap operas and a few hurtful comments before it ever had the chance to develop. Yes, I blame myself for placing so much importance on my physical appearance. I also blame society’s exceedingly warped standards of beauty— standards that are shoved in women’s faces, standards that never seem to evolve or come close to being realistic. 

I have more self-confidence now than I ever had, but I still have bad days. On bad days, I forget how to separate myself from my body. Intellectually, I know my self-worth. But when I’m thinking emotionally, I lose all perspective. I don’t want to change who I am or who I was in my teens and twenties, even though I made mistakes and spent too much time worrying about the superficial. I love myself. I just don’t always love my body. I’m trying though. I want to learn—if not for myself, then for my daughter. Because more than anything, I want her to grow up with the self-esteem and self-respect that always seemed to elude me, and with the knowledge that no matter what her body looks like, she is beautiful, she is loved and she is enough. 

I want desperately to set a good example, to be the type of woman my daughter can admire and emulate. So I try to move through this world with confidence and grace. Some days, I have to fake it. Most days, I don’t. I’m slowly coming to accept and appreciate what I have: thick thighs, thin hair and all. Today, I wear the half wig only when I’m feeling too lazy to wash my real hair, or when I’m having one of those bad days and just need to pretend I’m someone else for a few hours — someone with great hair, someone who walks with her head (of great hair) held high. Someone who doesn’t give a damn what other people think about her.  
​​
Tina Mortimer is an essayist and short story writer. Her work has been featured in Minnesota Parent and on the websites The Purple Fig, Mutha, Hippocampus and Cleaver. She lives with her husband and two young children in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. 

* * * 

Run Away Home
By Melissa Knox

​​Glasses sliding down my nose, Twiggy haircut falling over the sidepiece held on with a safety pin, knee socks falling to my ankles, I settled again on my favorite spot, the cushioned library windowsill facing the East River. Surrounded by shelves of library-bound books in browns, reds and greens, I could relax. The enforced silence during our fourth-grade’s library period meant I could read without fear of being teased.

Opening the dark green covers of Elinor Lyon’s Run Away Home, I followed the ups and downs of the equally skinny, but fearless Cathie, who never wavers in her resolve to find the place where she belongs. Her Birmingham orphanage is far from the white sands she’s sure she visited, amid the roar of the sea, as a young child. The orphanage director says beaches with white sands don’t exist, but Cathie’s determined to find the one she sat on, though her parents died in an air raid during the Second World War and she doesn’t remember them.

#

I remembered mine all too well, and I was due home in a few hours. I gloated over every minute spent in school, though I barely passed any subject, my chronic inattentiveness resulting in written warnings on report cards. I was on record for phoning eleven people in my class for a math assignment—three weeks overdue—about which I had forgotten. I never passed math, but until the entire class found out I was so far behind, I thought I’d take a stab at doing so. I got teased for carrying around trolls in my uniform pocket--Nobody’s played with them since second grade, Melissa! My feral ways were often chided. Had I heard of Kleenex? Eeeew, wipe your nose.

At “St. Ursula’s Home for Female Orphans,” Cathie, like me, wears an ugly navy-blue uniform. The other girls tease her for losing her temper, but she ignores them. She likes Wordsworth; they read movie magazines. As I sat in my own navy-blue school uniform on that windowsill, wishing I were aboard one of the tugboats heading south on the river, I wanted to believe that like Cathie, I’d find a place I belonged, the place I’d come from so long ago. Even if I didn’t find that place, I wanted not to care when I got teased. I wanted to be just like Cathie.

#

As I turned pages, I schemed: Cathie escapes from a city orphanage, hitch-hiking and tagging along behind families when she boards trains. When everyone insists she has no family, she proves that indeed she does. If she could do that, couldn’t I prove I didn’t have a family when everybody thought I did? Maybe that woman holding me in family photos wasn’t really my mother. If Cathie could meet children who turn out to be distant cousins on the steps of Edinburgh castle, I bet I could run into previously undiscovered relatives while waiting for the crosstown bus at 79th and York.

When I arrived home in the afternoon, my afterschool snack consisted of stale wheat berry bread with organic stone ground peanut butter, which my mother kept refrigerated. The oil separated and rose to the top; the peanut butter could bend stainless steel knives when you tried to get it out. My mother loved a wacky nutritionist whose cookbooks, along with jars of Kretschmer’s wheat germ, adorned kitchen surfaces.

Except when Macie was there. I knew when she was by the aroma of deep-dish peach pie I smelled even before opening the door, and the hiss of the iron when I did. Without Macie, our North Carolina cook, I’d have had to rely almost entirely on school food. Whenever Macie was there, fixing up fried chicken or baking lemon meringue pie for my father, who, longing for food from home, had employed her, she would slip me something good to eat. Macie couldn’t come to our house often enough for me. With her, I felt at home.

#

Cathie doesn’t. Told by the orphanage director, Miss Abbott, that Birmingham “is your home whether you like it or not,” our heroine feels inclined to “start throwing things,” as she does during the book’s opening scene. We glimpse Cathie thinking how different her life would have been if Miss Abbott hadn’t called on her to read a Wordsworth passage that thrust her into a distant memory.

“That immortal sea,” Cathie reads, and reflects: “it was like seeing something out of the corner of your eye.”

I could see out of the corner of my eye that Mom gave me the creeps, but I knew perfectly well that she hadn’t stolen me from some hospital nursery or plucked me off a church doorstep. She had baby pictures of me and my brother—who looked a lot like me—all over the house, as well as pastels of us she’d drawn when we were little and watching T.V. She’d detailed the toxemia she’d endured while giving birth to me.

#

A vision flows in of white sand, Cathie’s wiggling baby toes, and gold-tinted shells in sunshine. Cathie stops reading, but the orphanage director insists that she continue. Like a tide going out, Cathie’s memory recedes. The director’s words (“Oh, be quiet!” says Cathie) banish the dim recollection. 
 
At this point I got reminded several times that Library Period was over, and that I was to return to my classroom. 
 
Cathie closes her eyes, trying to retain the glimpse of her toddler self. When Miss Abbott orders her to continue reading, Cathie throws the book, yelling, “No!”
 
Wouldn’t it be great to throw the book at Mom? Aha, you’re not really my mother! I stretched my feet out on that comfortable cushion, turning pages, glancing at the sun on the river. I lived every moment of Cathie’s escape until the librarian pried me out of my seat.
 
The promise of tea and fruitcake unexpectedly starts Cathie on her way. Sent to visit a motherly old lady, Cathie solves part of her own mystery. Ever since the girl was found toddling through the ruins clutching something with a glint of gold, she has wondered what the object she’d been holding in her baby fist, a locket, might reveal about her identity. She’s curious about the pressed flowers and picture of a woman inside. The mysterious woman whose tiny picture inhabits the locket haunted me. Could she be Cathie’s Mom? The orphanage director dismisses Cathie’s questions, saying the girl probably found the locket on the street.
 
But Cathie’s host, the old lady, observes the flowers in the locket are tied with a bit of fabric. Whipping out her magnifying glass, she identifies the tiny strip of cloth as a Scots tartan—of course tied to some particular clan. The dried blooms are “Grass of Parnassus,” which grows in one of the old lady’s favorite places, the West of Scotland. Parnassus, home of the muses, locus of wine god Dionysius’s wild parties, and surely a pleasant alternative to an orphanage, inspires Cathie’s elderly hostess. Loving the flower as she loves her Caledonian hills, she invites Cathie to come stay the weekend. Cathie gets to wear holiday clothes instead of the uniform that brands her as an orphan and renders her a magnet for the police.
 
Like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, the old lady then vanishes, but not before leaving Cathie the wherewithal for a getaway—payment for table mats Cathie has woven with a Grass of Parnassus design, an entire two pounds—equivalent to seventy-five American dollars in 2016.

#

That’s all our girl needs. I didn’t have money, the thought of stealing some never having occurred to me. I didn’t have the guts to stand out on the West Side Highway and stick out my thumb. Yet Cathie packs the durable fruitcake the old lady left for her tea in her suitcase and plunges into her unknown future. Since she’s supposedly away on a visit for two whole days, the orphanage director will not think to look for her, so Cathie buys a cheap ticket to the next town. From there, she hitches a ride with a truck driver to whom—this being a children’s novel published in 1953—it never occurs to molest her.

#

An educated Englishwoman like Miss Abbott ought to have heard of Scottish beaches and their characteristic white sands. But she seems never to have left her cloister, except when looking for Cathie. After tracking the wayward orphan to a clan in the Scottish Highlands, Miss Abbott fades from the narrative. Cathie learns that the name she called herself when she was discovered amidst the rubble after the bombing was not “Cathie” but “Catri,” short for “Catriona,” that her original name was Catriona Gunn—a great name for a girl who’s a real pistol.

#

Cathie so intrigued readers that she warranted a sequel--Cathie Runs Wild, in which her mother’s sister threatens her independent life. Having discovered that Cathie did not die in the World War Two air raid with her parents after all, her aunt wants to make a lady out of her, sending her to an Edinburgh boarding school that, to the aunt’s unforgivable satisfaction, is far from the windy highlands to which Cathie’s heart belongs. Faced with a powerful adult who has the authority to take away everything, Cathie runs away all over again.
 
When the aunt tricks Cathie into an interview with the Edinburgh boarding school headmistress, telling her niece that the visit is “just to see the place,” but advising the headmistress that Cathie is thrilled to be enrolled, Cathie demurs. The aunt does not get away with telling the headmistress that Cathie is merely shy. In one of my favorite plot twists, the headmistress feels reminded of Cathie’s mother, who had only reluctantly studied at the school. Wanting to avoid the glamorous debutante world of her sister, Cathie’s mother had written a poem—which Cathie discovers in the school library—about the very highland hills that Cathie adores.
 
The aunt persists in asserting that Cathie ought to have “advantages.” The plot snakes along, exposing her as heartless, and Cathy leaves her in the dust. There was no third book—Cathie’s escape was now complete.

#

​What I love most about Cathie—that she listens to no-one, sets off on a path she alone has chosen, and walks it to the very end with great success and thrilling closure—has remained a personal ideal. I grew up, I found my way, my own people, managing to build a family I keep far from the one into which I was born. I sometimes wonder if I’d been able to do so without remembering Cathie. 

Melissa Knox teaches American literature and culture at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. Her essays have appeared in The Wax Paper, Brain, Child, and Gravel; poems have appeared in The Mom Egg Review, NonBinary Review, and other publications. She writes a blog, The Critical Mom. Her memoir, Divorcing Mom: A Memoir of Psychoanalysis, is forthcoming from Cynren Press (Winter, 2019)

* * * 
Hybrid

The Pond That Divides Us
By Kyle Hurley

Mother always told me to get back in the den. One by one, she lead myself, my brothers and my sisters down the hole, her long ears twitching as her nose scrunched up, thumping her paw impatiently at us. I was always the last to hop in. Even if there were predators nearby, even if we had found the most delicious vegetables for dinner, I had to stop and look. The ducks in the lake were always there, skidding around the pond without a care.
 
Every time they saw me looking at them, they inched farther away. Why was this? Were they our enemies? I asked mother that question once, but she only responded by saying it was that they hated us. But why? It wasn’t like we didn’t have anything in common. We both called this pond our home, and we both feared the predators who would love nothing more than to sink their fangs into our throats. Well, maybe we rabbits had more reason to be afraid, since we couldn’t hide in the water.
 
I dreamt about them sometimes. I would hop in the water and somehow not drown, kicking my way over to the center as they honked at each other. The water was warm and comforting like the feeling of my body pressed against my brothers and sisters as we slept. I would say hello to them, and their endless chatter would stop; dozens of eyes would stare me down, yet I didn’t freeze in place or run. And then… the dream would end. I would sleep like normal, never knowing what would happen if I were to say hello to them. Would they say hello back? Would they run? Or would they use my kindness against me, circling around me like a pack of wolves before pecking away at my body? I quite literally couldn’t imagine: because deep down, I knew it was a dream that could never be a reality.
 
There was one time, however. A single moment where it felt like there were no imaginary walls dividing us. The sun went behind the mountains to hide from the scary monsters at night, signaling our time to retreat. As my siblings and mother burrowed in the den, and the ducks trotted back into the pond, there was a small yellow duck who didn’t follow: and they were looking right at me. It might have been because I was already looking at them, but they weren’t scared of me. Without hesitating, I hopped in closer, and they waddled closer to me. “Hello,” I said.
 
“Hello,” they said back. They blinked at me and tilted their head. “Are you what they call a rabbit?”
 
“Yeah, I sure am,” my ears twitched happily at the recognition. “And you’re a duck!”
 
They nodded to me. “You seem to stare at us a lot. Dad always tells us it's because you want to hurt us,” their head lowered in caution. “Why is that? Do you want to eat us like a coyote does?”
 
“W-what? No, of course not! Meat is icky!” I exclaimed.
 
“Really?” they tilted their head again. “Bugs are yummy. But I don’t know if that’s meat or not. But you really don’t want to eat us?”
 
“No, of course not! In fact, my brothers and sisters are really scared of you all. One of my sisters heard that you’d pick away at our eyes until they pop out.”
 
“Ew!” they shivered all over, their feathers ruffling up. “No, of course not!”
 
“That’s weird. I wonder why both of our parents would say such horrible things about each other?” I was somehow even more confused than I was before I talked to my mother about ducks.
 
“I dunno. Adults are weird.”
 
My ears perked up as I heard honks begin to echo out from the lake.
 
“Oh! I have to go. It was nice to meet you, Rabbit. I hope we can talk again!” they exclaimed, scurrying back to the water’s edge as fast as their stubby feet would let them. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw mother crawling back out of the den, frantically looking for me.
 
I never did get to speak with that duck again. Every time we looked at each other, one of the older ducks would push them along with their wings to keep them moving. I didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. They were just… a duck. Even as I grew old enough to leave the den, I never did tell Mother that I talked with a duck that day. I never really knew why. Maybe I just didn’t think she would understand.
 
As I looked back at the pond one final time, the rising sun illuminating it with crystals, I felt a sting of guilt. We had spent all these months scarring the ducks without even knowing it. 

Kyle Hurley is an up and coming writer with a passion for fiction. Follow him on Twitter @kylejhurley for discussion, ponderings and everything in between.

* * * 

Dark, Not Stormy
By Zeke Jarvis

The night was neither dark, nor stormy. I mean, I suppose that it was somewhat dark. It was,
after all night, but stormy? No. The meteorologists had predicted some rain in the area, but the
meteorologists were wrong, as they often are, which is funny in a way, because, if you think
about it, meteorologist (more commonly referred to as “weather man” or “weather person”,
preferably not “weather girl”, as it is a bit demeaning and sounds like a bad super hero from the
eighties) is one of the few professions where you can be wrong, like, flat out wrong, and people
just say, “it happens”, and don’t really get that upset. You couldn’t do that in other fields. You
couldn’t, for instance, be a garbage man (or sanitation engineer, as it is less commonly referred
to as) and toss just anything into the truck. Like, you couldn’t toss somebody’s lunch into a
garbage truck and have them say, “it happens”, like anybody could make a mistake about what
garbage is. I’m sure that something has got left behind or tossed out that shouldn’t have been, but
people don’t accept it like they do with meteorologists.

So, anyway, the night was neither dark nor stormy. It was not a night built for clichés, unless
they are that one cliché about clowns, but there’s something about nights (maybe the darkness?)
that seems to always make that cliché true. Or maybe it’s just always true about clowns. It’s
probably best to not think about clowns one way or the other. Though I once had a dream about
these clowns that were half plant and half person, and they ate people, which makes them half
cannibalistic, I guess. It was horrifying. But that was a different night. This night was kind of
dark and not at all stormy.

It was the kind of night where someone could end up murdered, but, more likely, someone
somewhere in the city, someone would end up eating tacos alone. That’s the kind of night it was,
to be honest. Which is kind of the problem, really. Tacos do not make for drama, generally
speaking, although I did once see this kid eating a taco at lunch, and he got sick, and he puked
part of the taco back up into the shell. Seriously. It was in high school, and it was fantastic. But it
was also during the day, not at night. And, really, these days, I think that if someone did that at
night, they’d probably take a picture on their smart phone and post it to Twitter or Facebook, and
then there would be this whole conversation about whether the photo was faked or not. Like, a
bunch of people would argue about this, do you understand? When that’s our world, when that’s
what we do, then does it really matter if the night was dark and stormy? Does it really? I mean,
I’m not saying that I was lying about the night, the weather or the taco, but even if I did lie,
would it change your life that much? No, barely at all. You’d forget it tomorrow, when
somebody posted a picture of a puke taco, and you wondered if it had all been photoshopped,
and you wouldn’t even remember if it had rained last night or not.
​​
Zeke Jarvis is an Associate Professor at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Thrice Fiction, Quail Bell Magazine, and Moon City Magazine. His books include So Anyway…, In A Family Way, and Lifelong Learning.

* * * 

Shave Head and Baldwin
By Gary V. Powell

Dick Griewank scented winter on a north wind blown in off Lake Michigan. The wind stripped the maple and oak and rattled the corn left standing in Miller’s field. Canada Geese honked overhead while a lone, crippled swan remained to float the marsh, her proud bearing conveying resignation and grit. Coyotes prowled the ridge, howled and yipped, taunting because they had the season licked.

Laid-off again and on his own, he’d sold the house, banking most of the proceeds for his oldest boy, Charlie, a fuck-up who needed all the help he could get, settling on Rusty Weaver’s undeveloped lot on Shave Head, and trading occupancy for clearing and bush hogging. His vintage Nomad RV offered running water, courtesy of Rusty’s well, and electric borrowed from a lamppost that guarded the boathouse. Unable to raise a signal, he donated his cell phone to the water.

He fished the shallows into November, dining on perch and bass two days on and one day off. Spam and white bread filled the in-between. He bought propane and coffee at the Quik Mart in Union where the white-haired woman at the register slipped him day-old pastry and donuts. She claimed they’d attended school together. Dick searched his memory, shaking his head, unable to recall. I used to be blonde, she said.

Thanksgiving, snow two feet deep, his Ford pick-up refused to start. He cleaned the carburetor, re-charged the battery, and got her running again, which did him no good unless someone plowed the lane. Mid-afternoon, he walked to County 11 and crossed the state road to Zimmy’s Tavern. True to tradition, they set a table for regulars, the usual fare of turkey and dressing. Ten o’clock, Zimmy turned him out, three sheets to the wind.
Cheryl from Quik Mart drove him as far as the lane.

A cold snap that followed the snow trapped the crippled swan in ice. Dick awoke to a long thumbprint of blood, entrails, and feathers that marked her last stand. That afternoon, for no better reasons than boredom and meanness, he shot and killed a coyote from the crotch of the big willow that overhung the marsh and looked onto the ridge, leaving the carcass where it lay for other carrion to share.

That evening, by the light of a bare, yellow bulb, he drank bourbon and fashioned a noose from a five-strand hemp rope purchased at Menard’s.

The following week, Rusty roared across the lake and up the channel, a second snowmobile in tow. They ate chili at Dick’s table, the air dry as paper. Rusty invited him for the upcoming holiday, but Dick reckoned not. Rusty inquired as to his plan, and Dick replied he lacked one unless living off the land made a plan. Rusty opined he’d likely freeze to death, anyway, and Dick observed there were worse ways to go.

Later that day, he tied the noose to the willow, testing the rope with his weight and adjusting its height to thwart the coyotes.

He returned to Zimmy’s on Christmas Eve for ham and potato salad, crossing the lake ice on the snowmobile rather than driving the road around. Cheryl remarked she’d not seen him out and about and wondered if he’d gone into hibernation. Hibernation, he grunted. She sat at his elbow, describing a life she’d lived in Charlevoix. Her husband dead of a heart attack, her three girls here, there, and everywhere, she’d returned to Michiana only to learn no one remembered her.

She expressed condolences when he confided cancer had taken his wife, but noted she’d already heard that talked around and, besides, hadn’t a decade passed. When asked if she’d worn glasses in school, she offered a lift to the lane. He declined, saying he had a ride.

Mid-January, the temperature below zero, the Nomad’s heater gave out. He built a fire outside and wrapped himself in a sleeping bag, the aurora borealis roaring overhead. When he awoke at dawn, his fire smoldered in a flurry. Feet numb, nostrils froze shut, and icicles dangling from his mustache, he contemplated the noose, but chose the truck instead. The lane had drifted over, so he ran the truck empty, then had no choice but to cross Shave Head on the snowmobile. Turned around in a white-out, he was lucky to be rescued by two ice fishermen nearly as lost as him.

Cheryl took him in at the Quik Mart, wrapped him in a blanket, and served soup and sandwiches.

Few words spoken, but an agreement reached, he outlasted winter at her cabin on Baldwin. Days, while she ran the Quik Mart, he re-painted her kitchen and installed new tile in the bathroom. Evenings, they watched old movies or listened to her vinyl collection. Come February, flames flickering in the fireplace, she asked if he’d mind washing her hair and rubbing her shoulders with what remained of the scented oil kept on her nightstand.

He’d not expected another woman this late in life, and would have lost his nerve but for her patience. Holding her, later on, he thought he recalled a Cheryl, a shy Mennonite girl in dresses below the knee.

Early April, the cabin’s walls closing in, he left a note claiming business on Shave Head and promising to return before the week was out. He rode the snowmobile, stopped for fuel along the way, and risked thin ice to return to the Nomad. Racoons had gnawed inside, leaving scat and fur. For two days, he enjoyed a warm spell, cleaning, repairing, and fishing out of season.

The morning of the third day, he got around to acknowledging the noose, owning it without shame but wondering what he’d been thinking, anyway. Two coyotes witnessed him cut it down.

That afternoon, the swans returned. He watched them skim the marsh, circle and alight, flap and jostle. After gassing the truck and hitching the RV, he returned to Baldwin, driving the lane, grinding and sliding in a slurry of mud and slush.

Gary V. Powell is the author of the novel Lucky Bastard (Main Street Rag Publishing (2012). His short stories and flash fiction have appeared in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Carvezine,  Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, Best New Writing 2015 (Eric Hoffer Foundation), Pisgah Review 2017, and other literary magazines and reviews.

* * * 

Ride Or Die
By Avery Weddell

Trevor pulled off of the highway and into a gas station. The neon sign that said the name Joe’s Quick Stop was flickering as were the lights that actually lit up the pumps.
 
“You wait here. I’ll be right back,” Trevor said to Marie.
 
She nodded and sat back in her seat as he got out of the car, slamming the door. She looked around the creepy, rundown gas station and pushed the pin down to lock her door before reaching over and locking the driver side door as well.
 
“He better be getting air fresheners,” she thought as she waited for Trevor to come back.
 
Even though the horrors of the night before were in the trunk, she could smell the foul odor, seeping its way into the car itself.
 
Trevor walked out of the gas station. He had a shovel in one hand and a gallon of bleach and sponges in the other.
 
“I’m sure that didn’t look suspicious at all,” Marie said as he got back into the car.
 
“Well, what was I supposed to do?” he said.
 
Marie rolled her eyes. He was right.
 
They got back onto the deserted highway, lucky for them.
 
“God, what’s that smell?” Trevor said.
 
“What do you think it is?” Marie said.
 
“Already?”
 
“It’s been almost twenty-four hours.”
 
“God, let’s hurry up and get it out of here,” Trevor said, speeding up his driving.
 
Not long after, they pulled off of the highway again. The car jerked them around as they drove into the woods, deeper and deeper until they were sure they were as safe as they were going to get.
 
Finally, Trevor stopped the car and turned the engine off. They got out of the car and walked around to the trunk.
 
Trevor turned to Marie before opening it and asked, “Are you ready to do this?”
 
“No,” she said, “but we have to.”
 
He nodded and lifted the trunk, gagging at the smell which was ten times worse than it had been in the car. Marie stood at a distance, just staring at what laid inside. Memories of the night before flashed through her mind.
 
“Hey, do you need a ride?” Trevor asked the boy who was only a little younger than them.
 
They were drunk and staying at a nearby motel, and the boy was just sitting on the street, shivering in the cold. He seemed harmless.
 
“Come on,” Trevor said, setting up the light that he used when he worked on his car. “Help me.”
 
Marie snapped out of her thoughts and grabbed the shovel from the back seat of the car.
 
“Here,” she said, handing it to Trevor.
 
“No, you hold that,” he said.
 
She furrowed her eyebrows, as he lifted the body out of the trunk and placed it on the ground. Then he took the shovel.
 
“You start cleaning that while I dig,” he said.
 
She didn’t know what to say, so she just nodded and got the bleach. As she scrubbed the blood out of the carpeted inside of the trunk, more memories crept into her mind.
 
“So, what’s your name, kid?” Trevor asked as they drove back to the motel.
 
“Anderson,” the boy said, staring out the window.
 
“Well, Anderson. I’m Trevor, and this is my girl, Marie.”
 
“He was a just a kid,” Marie said to herself as she wiped away a tear.
 
“So, this is our room. You can take that bed for the night,” Marie said as they entered the small motel room.
 
“Thanks,” Anderson said.
 
Marie scrubbed harder as the memories of what happened next flooded her mind.
 
Marie had just fallen asleep when she was woken up by Anderson on top of her. She screamed and fought to get him off. Then Trevor burst into the room and hit Anderson in the head with a lamp. He fell on the ground, and Trevor rushed to hold Marie in his arms.
 
“Trevor,” she said, looking at Anderson lying on the floor.
 
Trevor looked too and saw the blood seeping from his head.
 
“Hey,” Trevor said. “Hey. Marie.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s clean.”
 
She stopped scrubbing the trunk and turned to Trevor, wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug. He hugged her back. She was sobbing now.
 
“Shh. It’s okay. You’re okay. We didn’t do anything. He was attacking you,” Trevor said, petting Marie’s hair.
 
She stepped back and looked at him. “Let’s bury this son of a bitch.”
 
Trevor nodded and grabbed Anderson’s feet, ready to drag him, but Marie grabbed his arms and helped lift him.
 
“He said he was a runaway,” Marie said as she and Trevor stood, looking at the grave they had just made. “Said his parents abused him or something like that.”
 
“And he was eighteen,” Trevor said.
 
“No one will be looking for him.”

Avery Weddell studies creative writing at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. She has loved writing since a very young age, and when she isn't writing or in class, she can be found with friends, listening to music, or exploring the city. You can follow her on Twitter @avery_waddles.

* * * 

Please Join Me in my Moon Colony
By Mary White 

Thank you all for coming today. Let me begin by making one thing very clear. We’ve got nowhere to go but up! Yes indeed—fleeing upwards is our only hope! That’s why I am even now preparing a rocket ship to take my chosen followers to our new lunar home. When our Earth is overrun by radioactive woodland creatures, the moon will be the only place safe from the radiation! And the mauling! Imagine… a chance to escape the horrible suffering and heartbreak that dogs humanity and enjoy a new life among the stars and moon rocks.

This is an exciting and one-of-a-kind opportunity for all those wishing to escape this wretched sphere. Smoking is not permitted. Pets are okay, but no snakes. I hate snakes. They give me the creeps. Referring to people as your “crazy ex” is also strictly prohibited.

Now, I understand that some of you may feel some attachment to the desolate rock that you have so far called your home. I understand this, but I do not permit it. I urge you to crush these feelings immediately. In my moon colony, no Earth-related nostalgia will be tolerated. Traitors who break this rule will be put in the stocks until the unknowable forces which sweep the lunar surface have feasted upon their life force. That just seems fair to me.

My assistant Ronald is passing out some brochures which you should find informative. If you’ll turn to page three, you’ll see a diagram of—yes, you have a question? And your name?

Well Ashely, if you’re so attached to your pet snake then maybe the moon is not the place for you. You can stay here with your slithery little friend.

To get back on topic, this new colony will be a chance to eschew the complicated dynamics of democracy and swear unwaveringly loyalty to me, the supreme dictator! Just imagine my glory as I drink the blood of dissidents. The mighty will look upon my works and despair! Lucky for you, thanks to my nigh inexpressible wisdom and benevolence you can be part of the regime. I am at this very moment looking for candidates to be part of my inner circle of advisors and secret police.

Sir? Sir, where are you going? Ma’am? The bathroom is that way, folks! Hurry back!

Ah, I see Blake has a question. Blake, put your hand down. Look, just because you’re “going to be a rocket scientist” and “need some space” because I “got drunk and set your futon on fire” doesn’t mean you know everything, ok? You’re not invited to come to the moon with me anyway. Only fun people are allowed in my totalitarian lunar state. Unless you want to get back together? No?

Fine, Blake. Good luck with that rash of yours.

Anyway, for those of you who are not selected to be part of my inner ring, I have good news. You can look forward to an exciting life as moon peasants! This will be an excellent opportunity to life out lives similar to your impoverished ancestors, scraping out a living in the barren soil. We’ve got everything we need to begin terraforming, and I’ve got plenty of beet and turnip seeds. Fun!

For those of you interested in participating in this venture, I would ask that you please put down your information on the form that’s going around right now. Except for Blake. You and your dumb face can get out. Jerk.

Mary White holds a Masters degree in English from Texas Tech University, where she specialized in fiction writing. She currently teaches English at Collin College. Her work has appeared previously in The Nottingham Review.

* * * 
Art

Colorflow by Lauren Culbreth

An artist with a love of texture, color and a playful sense of whimsy, Culbreth has established new methods of working with non-traditional materials. After receiving a BFA in painting from Pratt Institute, in 2007, Culbreth has gone on to create cutting edge visual / window displays for companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci, Burberry, Versace and Armani. This experience with large scale, fast paced, visual installations has garnered a restrained eye for composition and technical interest in spatial relationships. By continuing to experiment with non-traditional materials the hope is to create artworks that evoke a joyful curiosity in the viewer.






 
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Nature Lover by Mark Yale Harris

​Born in Buffalo, New York, Mark Yale Harris spent his childhood enthralled in a world of drawing and painting. Though honored for his creative endeavors, he was encouraged to pursue a more conventional career. After finding conventional success, the artistic passion that existed just beneath the surface was able to present itself. Harris began sculpting, and has since created an evolving body of work in stone and bronze, now featured in public collections, museums and galleries worldwide, including: Hilton Hotels; Royal Academy of London; Marin MOCA; Four Seasons Hotels and the Open Air Museum - Ube, Japan.










 
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Unfamiliar Barter by Heather Lewis

While traveling the country of China, Heather Lewis found herself preferring toy cameras that vignette or light leak, and taking crisp transparencies through a transfer process to dull the imagery. Lewis leans towards this look, which produces a nostalgic feel. Lewis continued this process while creating her thesis at SCAD.








 
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