I thought about naming the freckles that spot your skin, nose to neck to shoulder. Spots on the back of your hands that I bend my neck down to examine individually. Huddles of cinnamon constellations.
At one point, eight years ago, I bought someone a stuffed animal that came with a star that you could name. I don’t think he ever named the star or the stuffed animal, and if he did, how would he ever find it in the phantasmagoria of the evening’s complex patterns? So, I abandoned Outer Space. And I started naming patterns on people. Arrangements on your epidermis that mirror the Solar System. Complexions that parallel the Great Attractor.
I have fingerprint black and blues on the soft meat on the inside of my thighs from the whorls of your fingers. During the day, I vacation to the front of a mirror and press them, the tiny shocks of hurt reminding me of your dotted hands. I think about the loops and patterns and meanings of your fingertips. The Pleiades located at the end of your forearm. The dusting of freckles on your nose resting on my knees – a thousand superclusters.
There’s a chocolate bar in my purse that you bought me. I rip ragged hunks off of it, dirtying my fingernails – filled with the melting body of the candy as I paw at pieces. I hold it between my tongue and teeth. It seeps through the slack of my jaw, pooling against my soft and hard palate. The slice cut on my bottom lip burns when I tuck it between my central incisors. When I tip my chin toward the sky, the sweetness slips down my throat.
What’s real that I can grasp in my fist? When you yield to the Hesperides, is it possible to account for the gravitational pull? Can you see the other side of the galaxy?
When my body’s stopped orbiting, I touch the tip of my kingfisher-tongue to each pinpoint on you: beryllium, carbon, helium, iron.
JANE-REBECCA CANNARELLA is the editor of HOOT Review, a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, a cat lady, a contributing writer at SSG Music, and a candy enthusiast. She received her BA and M.Ed from Arcadia University, attended Goldsmiths: University of London, Sarah Lawrence College, and is an MFA candidate at Antioch University. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website www.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it, and she's not wonderful at writing in the third person.
Inside the coffee shop, I lay woollen hat and gloves on the table, shrug out of my heavy coat. The heat of bodies and conversation has steamed up the windows. I watch as a little blonde girl trails her finger in the condensation, drawing a crooked heart. Her mother chats to a friend. I catch the girl’s eye; she sticks out her tongue. I stick mine out back and she laughs, delighted, returning to her drawing.
On another table, a mother fusses over a curly-haired toddler, squashing a chocolate bun into his mouth with chubby, crumb-caked fingers.
Allison with two ‘L’s brings my coffee, banging it down on the table, slopping hot milk over the sides. She swoops off, throwing rubbish onto her tray.
A pregnant woman at the counter leans back, stroking her belly territorially. Her striped top clings to her distended stomach like tent canvas. Her little boy stands neatly by her side. Her hair is dyed red, from a bottle; as she steps out of the café, clutching take-out coffee, the wind picks it up, floating it out around her head, the boy grabbing her free hand for protection. She presses his small fingers to her lips gently.
I check the time on my phone: half an hour left.
I finger the card in my pocket, scratching my knuckles on it. I know what it says by heart. I can pick the words out easily: Appointment. Termination. Aftercare.
I go back to watching the little girl, who is now sucking the salt from a packet of crisps off her small fingers. She winks, making me laugh, and I hold out my complimentary biscuit to her. She glances sidelong at her mother, who is still talking to her friend. Shyly, flicking eyes back in her mother’s direction, she edges across the short distance between us, taking the biscuit, meeting my eyes, and I see they are aqua blue like mine. She whispers a ‘Thank you’ and I glance down at her tiny hands clasping the packet.
I remember a fact from biology class back in high school – of how a foetus has them at ten weeks. Fingernails, I think. At ten weeks. I see the illustration on the page of the old textbook, alongside the drawings of penises. A curled up alien in a sack, tiny round nails like blemishes on the ends of its fingers.
I stand up to leave, anxious to be away. I grab my coat and hat, leaving the gloves behind and my overpriced cappuccino untouched. But as I rush from the shop, and step onto the wet pavement, I become enveloped by a brood of young women with giant pushchairs, clucking around me like geese.
I glance back and try to see the little girl behind the glass, but she’s gone. All I can see is the crooked heart fading from the window pane, drips bleeding away from it, sliding down the window like tears.
KATE JONES is a freelance writer based in the UK. A regular features writer for online women's magazine Skirt Collective, and Essayist for The Short Story, she is also fanatical about flash fiction, which she has published widely in online literary magazines such as Spelk, Cafe Aphra, SickLit and Firefly. She is currently an editorial intern for the short story website and app, Great Jones Street. She can be found lurking on Twitter @katejonespp
It was somewhere down the Waikato, along an offshoot of the mighty river. The hand-painted signs on the side of the road said EELS HERE 11am.
Lee’s Dad said it was rip-off bullshit, but she and Paulie whined until he pulled off the road onto the crackling gravel. He paid the old man at the head of the track ten bucks to shut them up.
They tramped through dank bush, stumbling over contorted roots until they came out at a muddy clearing, where other sightseers were already waiting in a jostling cluster, cameras at the ready.
The air was foisty and close. A barefoot woman was standing on the wide, greasy bank, a battered grey homburg planted on her head. In her old black house- frock with big pockets and her buttoned-up- wrong cardy, she looked like someone’s scary aunty.
At 11am sharp, the woman walked to the edge of the white coffee creek, singing – or praying – low and in Maori, so most of it went over Lee’s head. But she sounded good. The eels must have thought so too, because gawping cry-baby Paulie was yanking on Lee’s sleeve, mouth wide open.
‘You’ll catch flies,’ hissed Lee.
Blunt, chiselled heads rose from the water, one…two…she lost count at seventeen. Black and leathery, the slimy monsters swarmed, surging up the banks, swaying like hypnotized cobras, surrounding the woman – and she was talking to them by name. Shining skin wrinkling, a couple stretched and rose to her hand, exposing their plump, silvery bellies. Still murmuring, she patted their slimy, flat necks.
That shut her father up.
The shutterbugs clicked and flashed and fervently wound on their films like paparazzi.
Then the eels vanished, slithering back into the creek, flicking their tails and powering downstream.
Lee wondered if she’d dreamed them, but she could see their slippery trails down the bank, and Paulie’s gob was still wide-open. Those eels were real. Lee thought the woman was most probably a priestess or a witch.
After their father dropped them off at home, Lee told her grandmother about the amazing woman who could sing eels right out of the water, like they were her pets. Her grandmother was not amazed, not in the slightest. She just laughed and reckoned she could do that too. Which was entirely possible, Lee thought, because her grandmother did know some really weird stuff.
But Lee had never seen her grandmother serenade eels, or any other sea creatures, for that matter. She only caught them, killed, skinned and gutted them, then fried them in butter.
‘You feed them,’ said her grandmother, ‘so they get used to you. Then at the same time, they turn up on the scrounge, looking for a feed, whether you’ve got any food or not. They like rotten corn. Pig liver. Anything rotten.’
One day, when Paulie was being extra-annoying, Lee told him the woman’s magic eel secret. When he cried, she knew the ten buck entry fee had been worth every cent.
Lee never told her father that he’d been right, not on his next access visit, not ever. She wished her grandmother didn’t always know everything about everything, because she’d spoiled the magic forever.
ALEX REECE ABBOTT is an award-winning emerging writer working across genres, forms and hemispheres. Her stories are upcoming and appear in London Journal of Fiction; the Katherine Mansfield Society: Creative Work; Headland Journal; Takahe Magazine; the Maine Review; Hypertext; Pure Slush; Spelk; Flash Frontier; Hysteria; Halo Magazine; FlashFlood; Bath Flash Fiction Anthology; the Furious Hope Anthology and Landmarks: the 2015 National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology, among others. Her short fiction has won the Northern Crime Competition and the Arvon Prize, and often shortlists, including for the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Short Story Prize, Bridport Prize, Fish, Mslexia, the Society of Authors Margot Manchester Award and Lorian Hemingway. Her literary historical novel, The Helpmeet, is a winner in the 2016 Greenbean Irish Novel Fair.
www.alexreeceabbott.info / t: @AlexReeceAbbott
Buck, my biological father, the Faker, Mom calls him, frowns at my Dad and me. I board his new boat. The lake laps under our feet. I squint at Dad, undoing the bow line. He climbs aboard, sits beside me and stares off.
Buck swings the boat about.
‘Beer’s in the cooler.’ Buck sets course.
Dad sips his beer. ‘It’s gonna be a windy afternoon.’
I crawl into the rear seat, gaze into propeller foam. Our wake slithers like a fat lizard’s tail.
‘What happens to the fish when we zoom over them?’ I ask my Dad. ‘Killed? Or maimed?’
He shrugs, drinks more beer.
‘They dive deep down,’ he nods at the murky lake, ‘where danger can’t reach them. Then wait for it to pass.’
Dad’s tan arm grazes mine.
Up front, the Faker’s head bobs. Rock music clamors against the wind, the slapping hull.
My Dad cups my ear. ‘Bob Seger. Katmandu... your Mom’s favorite!’
Buck slows the boat, points its bow towards a shallow cove. Dad ties us off to a stump. Buck and I lug the cooler and three Fish Master chairs onto the beach. I begin unfolding one of the chairs.
Buck lolling. ‘Don’t set them up yet. Best fishing spot’s over the hill.’
Dad comes over with a fresh beer and a bottle of Squirt.
‘Here you go.’
Winks like he’s the Terminator. Smashes the aluminum can between his palms.
‘I’ll be back.’ His claw arms rise menacingly. Sunlight reflects off his worry lines.
‘I’m having fun.’
He turns and plods across the sand.
Buck’s arms flag in feigned exaggeration. Dad rotates back as if he’s forgotten something.
‘Come on, junior.’
With my pole and their chairs, I follow.
Ahead, tattooed limbs cradle rods, Faker’s blue Coleman cooler, sweaty beer cans. Parroting laughter as we trod the narrow footpath. Lagging, I stop, watch a pair of jet skiers bounce across the lake. Engines echo up into the tree-studded hillside, dollops of silence swallowed by heartbeat piston strokes.
They’re waiting up ahead.
That night, a crescent moon shimmers over black-green hills like an omen. I take cartoon strides across the bruised-looking sand. Count one chair, three poles, bucket of trout.
The Faker and my Dad are quiet. Either mad or drunk? Their big arms hang lazily around the other.
They move closer. Talk low. I hear mumbling.
Then the Faker lunges and tackles my Dad onto the sand. Rolling around, ripping shirts, cussing, slugging. Faker stumbles off. We get aboard the boat.
Crawling away from shore, the cove appears so much smaller than this morning.
On the ride back, I stare at the moon thinking of Dad’s garage. Hand-crushed empties tucked safely behind old paint cans, auto repair manuals, worn-out dress shirts turned into oil rags. He even drinks when he mows the lawn. Mom will be at the kitchen window rinsing a plate or a fork. She’ll be play-acting, squinting into the sudsy dishwater like she sees something only she can see.
BILL COOK resides in a small community within the Sierra Pelona Mountain Range. He has work published in Juked, elimae, Tin Postcard Review, Right Hand Pointing, The Summerset Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and in Dzanc's anthology Best of the Web 2009 and upcoming in the New Flash Fiction Review & Monarch Review.
I don’t know what love is, but I can take a guess. My sister Lara has a boyfriend, and when mum goes out to work, her boyfriend Steven comes round. Steven can’t wait to get into the house before his hand is down my sister’s jeans, and he fumbles around making strange noises with a fixed smile and wide eyes, like when Phoebe and I found a five pound note in the bus shelter.
Lara would always tell Steven to stop because I was watching, but Steven didn’t care. ‘Let her watch, maybe she’ll like it. I’ve never had two sisters before.’
Lara didn’t like that. Her face would change, and she would close the lounge door so that I couldn’t see them anymore. I would hear them running up the stairs, and she would squeal, ‘That hurt,’ and then follow it with a giggle.
I’ve seen mum love too, but her love is different to my sister’s. She loves Harry, so she cooks for him every day, even when he doesn’t turn up. When he does come for dinner he’s always late and Lara and I have already eaten.
We are halfway through Hollyoaks when he comes in stinking of beer and weed. He passes us as if we are invisible, and he never kisses mum on the lips the way I’ve seen Lara and Steven do. He sits at the small round table in the corner of the room, and mum brings the dinner she has been keeping warm in the oven. She stands over him as if sheltering him from me and Lara, and she strokes his hair while he eats.
When he’s had enough of her touching him, he yells at her to give him some space. Mum takes two steps back, then an extra step for good luck, but it’s never far enough when he sends her flying across the room. She cowers by the door, whimpering behind her hand, and I wonder why she didn’t take an extra two steps, then he would have to get up to hit her and she would have time to run.
When she tucks me into bed at night I tell her that I’m too old to be tucked in, I’m nearly twelve, but she says she does it because she loves me, she needs to know I am safe and warm.
Then, when she is about to turn off the light, she tells me that Harry isn’t normally like that, he’s just stressed out, that’s all. ‘Like dad was,’ I say, and her face changes and I think I’ve said the wrong thing.
Phoebe tells me during lunch that an older boy wants to meet me behind the bike shed. When I ask her who, she says it doesn’t matter who, all that matters is that he likes me. So I go because I know that love is not like the movies, love is whatever he wants it to be.
KEREEN GETTEN was born in a small fishing town in Jamaica. After moving to England aged seven, she took a keen interest in books and soon after, writing. Kereen has recently finished a novel currently doing the rounds with agents. She writes short stories for her blog and Instagram. You can find her on Twitter @kereengetten
Buck loves Sarah and Sarah loves Buck. They always hold hands, even in the cinema, which makes it hard to eat popcorn and drink at the same time. Buck and Sarah kiss each morning at the school gates and don’t care when their friends make ooooh noises. When Buck and Sarah argue, their fights are vicious and quick. When it’s over, they go back to holding hands and laugh as they try to remember what they argued about in the first place. Buck buys magazines for Sarah, ones of women dressed up in things he’ll never afford. Sarah buys Buck hot caramel sundaes and watches him suck the sauce off a plastic spoon. One Wednesday, Buck goes to the bike shed with the daughter of the man who teaches him football. Buck believes his dad when he tells him he’s too young to be tied down to just one girl. Buck kisses the new girl over and over and doesn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would. On Friday, Sarah’s friend tells her what happened with Buck and the other girl in the bike shed. Sarah tells Buck he’s an asshole. Buck says he’s sorry and it was just a stupid mistake. Sarah says she’s worth more than that and didn’t their love mean anything. Buck says he didn’t enjoy it anyway, so can’t they just forget about it. Sarah tells him to go to hell, which makes Buck slam the wall with his fist. Buck’s knuckles crack and he realises it doesn’t hurt as much as knowing he’ll never hold Sarah’s hand again. Buck keeps punching till it hurts. Buck loves Sarah and Sarah loved Buck.
CLODAGH O’BRIEN writes flash fiction, short stories, and the occasional poem. Based in Dublin, she has been published in Litro, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Lonely Crowd, Literary Orphans and Thrice Fiction, amongst others. Her flash fiction placed third in the Bath Flash Fiction Award earlier this year and has been highly commended and shortlisted in many competitions. She likes to write in bed and realises there are too many books to read before she dies. You can find some of her work at www.clodaghobrien.com and she tweets @wordcurio
I counted the chimes. They reverberated down the hall, through the door, across the room, into my skull. At thirteen I stopped, but the clock continued to gong.
She sprinkled my pillowcases with lavender water. It grew outside the back door – a twilight hedge, cascading to the gravel path. She dried it in bunches near the stove and then steeped the buds. Strained, puce water diluted with vodka, funnelled into a bottle. ‘To chase away bad dreams,’ she said. Later, the scent made me gag.
After sunny summers, we harvested apples. Deformed specimens separated from the unblemished, peeled, and chopped into a pot. I stirred, watched the pieces meld into a beige mass. ‘Nothing as sweet as sauce made from them fresh picked,’ he said. In each spoonful I tasted her bitterness.
When she came into my room, I kept my eyes closed like bedroom doors and breathed like a Lotus-eater. Then, only then, she would smooth my hair and stroke my cheek. Her fingers the spring rain that fed my desert. She leaned close to one ear. ‘Stay safe, my angel. Untouched fruit doesn’t spoil.’
The morning after, he offered a solace bouquet of wildflowers and garden herbs. A cluster of pink and purple, echoing my skin beneath skirt layers. I ran to the river, dropped them stem-by-stem into the churning flow, and watched them disappear.
MARIE GETHINS’ work has featured in The Irish Times, 2014/15/16 National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, NANO, Litro, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, The Incubator, Firewords Quarterly, and others. She won or placed in the British Screenwriters’ Awards, The Short Story, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Domineer, Kanturk Arts, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle and 99fiction.net. A Frank O’Connor Mentorship recipient under Zsuzsi Gartner, Marie also is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions Nominee. She lives in Cork, Ireland and is completing her Master of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.
We’re standing on the corner of Main and Grant when Sarah announces she wants to explore the sewers.
‘No way, Sarah. Ma will kill us,’ I say.
Before I’ve finished, my sister is on her knees trying to lever up the manhole cover. She’s a pre-teen stick figure with skin, all knobs and bones and wild hair, bare feet caked with tar and mud, and doesn’t have an icicle’s chance in hell to slide that steel disk.
‘Help me,’ she says.
I look at my Sunday suit, shaking my head.
‘Come on. Help me. Don’t you want to see?’
‘What’s there to see in a sewer?’
‘I don’t know. Sewage, maybe. Stuff. Something else.’
For a minute, I weigh the prospect of sewage-staring with the inevitable feel of Pa’s strap on my bare ass. The scale tips heavily in the direction of being able to sit for the next week.
‘No,’ I say.
‘Not as lame as you’re going to be when Ma sees your pinafore.’
Sarah’s a hot mess of sidewalk crumbs and frayed linen. When we get home, Ma sends her to bed without supper and Pa drags me to the woodshed anyway. For not stopping her.
At the church dance, Sarah is supposed to stay with Jonathan, but doesn’t.
‘You’re too – I don’t know – clean,’ she said before we headed out.
‘I’m too clean?’ I hadn’t a clue what she meant, but I didn’t care for the red dress she’d chosen. ‘Has Pa seen that?’ I asked, nodding at her skirt.
Sarah dodged the question. ‘Let’s go.’
Ten minutes after we arrive, Sarah’s in a corner with some James Dean wannabe.
Three minutes later, she’s out the back, lighting a Camel off James Dean’s half-smoked butt.
‘Ma’s gonna kill you when she smells the smoke,’ I say.
Sarah throws me a smirk. ‘Maybe you should try it sometime.’
‘Because it’s different.’
I get married to Mary Jo from town. Sarah doesn’t show, but calls me late that night. She’s high and giggly and drops the phone twice during our conversation.
‘Congrats, big bro,’ she says.
‘Yeah. Thanks. Where are you?’
Sarah lets out a sigh. ‘You should come. It smells – I don’t know – neat. Not clean neat, but cool. Like there’s something going on, man. You know?’
I don’t know. I don’t know the Sarah who calls me ‘man’ and says ‘cool’ and ‘neat’ and doesn’t remember where Tennessee is anymore. I don’t know the Sarah who escaped to Mexico and likes it because it smells.
‘Come home, Sarah,’ I tell her.
She says something in a language I don’t understand, but it sounds like ‘no.’
‘Why not? You don’t want to stay down in that sewer.’
There’s another sigh, pregnant with twenty-five years of distance. ‘Don’t you ever want to see something else?’
I want to tell her I do. Sarah hangs up before I get the chance, like she knows I’d be lying.
It’s Cory’s idea to drive a Vanagon around Iceland to save his marriage. He couldn’t have known that the rental agency only had stick shift Vanagons, that Natalie—the only standard transmission driver between them—would have to be the one to drive the entire circumference of Iceland.
‘Iceland? More like wholly barren Crapland,’ Natalie says.
Cory cringes. He navigates Natalie past pungent mudlands to Reykjavík’s famous hot springs, hopeful for their claims of restorative powers. Restoration – isn’t that what all marriages need after a decade?
Cory delights in the vision of Natalie entering Reykjavík’s pool, pleased she’s chosen to be naked. Her belly is deflated. Steam catches inside her curls, freezes into a thousand icicles.
For a moment, Cory feels everything – heat, vapors, the soft rub of Natalie’s elbow against his, the stony quiet of their loss – then, finally, peace.
It’s the too-rapid flush of Natalie’s skin that drives them out of the pool and back into the Vanagon.
‘I can’t feel the freakin’ wheel,’ Natalie says, waving purpled hands. ‘You’re going to have to shift.’
And so they make their way along Iceland’s circumference like that – Natalie clutching, Cory steering and shifting, the occasional misfire and correction, the tiniest breath of frost between them.
MICHELE FINN JOHNSON’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, and elsewhere. Her work previously won an AWP Intro Journals Project. Michele lives in Tucson with her husband, Karl, and is working on a creative nonfiction collection.
www.michelefinnjohnson.com / t: @m_finn_johnson
My mission was to take Justine flowers, this being what was always done at the firm where we both worked. The donation envelope had been light in weight, but inside it rustled with notes. Plenty of people feeling guilty, perhaps, thinking of what they might have said or left unspoken. Certainly there was way more cash than when the girl from accounts left to give birth.
I’d avoided lilies with their morbid associations and had gone for something pastel and hand-tied. The bouquet on the seat beside me would have graced the arms of any pastoral themed bride.
‘You look like Ophelia,’ Justine said when I passed the flowers over. ‘Or the lead soprano in Madame Butterfly.’ A nurse appeared on cue and took the flowers to water. I watched them go with unexpected regret.
Justine was dressed in jeans and a washed-out t-shirt. I assumed these were her own clothes – in the office she was always suited and booted, so the outfit was as alien to me as a hospital gown. I felt mildly ridiculous in my own navy suit, ridiculous and far too hot.
‘How are things at work?’ she asked.
‘The usual,’ I said. ‘Just the usual.’
A total lie. How could I tell her that ever since she’d stood on the top of the office building, too close to the edge in her office suit, no one could do anything but ask why.
‘I meant to go through with it,’ she said. ‘You know that, don’t you?’
The nurse came back with the flowers in a lurid yellow vase. She’d taken the silk ribbon off, and she handed it to me in a crumpled roll. The flowers seemed ordinary now, overwhelmed by their container.
Justine picked at one of the peony buds with a fingernail, peeling open the green to reveal a creased pink flower within.
‘I know people think it was only a miscarriage,’ she said, ‘but...’
I’d been out to lunch and when I got back I’d seen her there teetering on the roof, facing the car park. A crowd had gathered, as if she could be kept from falling by force of collective will. Someone had to do more than stand around waiting for the rescue crew.
‘There was a buddleia growing on the fire escape,’ Justine said. ‘I wonder why you never get those in bouquets.’
I wrapped the ribbon tight round my wrist, thinking what I would say back in the office, what I could say now, trying to remember the way words had blossomed when I’d talked Justine down.
ANNE SUMMERFIELD was brought up in one of the most boring towns in England, which may explain why she’s always written stories. Last century she had short stories published in Virago and Serpent’s Tail anthologies, in Mslexia magazine and on BBC Radio 4. This year, she’s had shorts in Shooter Literary Magazine and online with InkTears and Spelk. She tweets infrequently as @summerwriter
She should have offered Nathan, the plumber, a cup of tea but instead she used a sharp voice and told him he had to be out of the house by midday. A solid young man, with a round pleasant face, he appeared unfazed by her tone.
‘We’ll have to see,’ he said. ‘Depends on what I find up there.’
That made her panic. When she’d flushed the toilet earlier, everything had floated to the surface and threatened to flood the bathroom. The water, with its contents, had subsided eventually, but there still might be traces. Nathan didn’t look squeamish. Perhaps plumbers were like nurses and could cope with bodily emissions.
In the garden, she sat in a deckchair on the overgrown lawn and looked at her feet. A red painted toenail emerged through a hole in her tights, like a reminder of her youth. It was funny how some parts of the ageing body stayed young, while others sagged and wrinkled. Her feet and legs were the most youthful part of her. They used to be admired and not that long ago.
Nathan came out, and looked mildly at her. He held a thermos and poured himself a tea.
‘You need a new siphon,’ he said. ‘I'll have to go and get one, then disconnect the pipes.’ He tipped three packets of sugar into his mug and spent some time stirring it in. ‘I'm likely to be here most of the day.’
‘Out of the question,’ she said. But it was hard to make her voice authoritative.
‘It's how it is,’ he said and stared up at the swifts zipping across the sky.
She wondered whether to say anything further, like – My daughter’s coming with the little ones. We can’t do without the toilet. Or, I’ve got an urgent appointment with my lawyer. None of that was true. She had no children, no appointments with lawyers anymore, and no one to see. She could have said – I was trying a different version of myself. I've been too nice, too compliant. That's why I'm here in the garden with a hole in my tights. That’s why I can’t flush everything away.
She looked down at her big toe. The varnish had nearly all flaked off, her nail needed cutting. Whatever must she look like, in her scruffy fleece, her hair all over the place? But Nathan hadn’t noticed. He leaned against the patio doors and drank his tea, his eyes still following the swifts.
‘They’ll be on their way soon,’ he said, watching them line up on the telegraph wire. ‘But they’ll be back again next year. At least, that’s certain.’ He drained his cup and screwed it back on the thermos. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll sort you out today, no problem.’
He sounded very sure.
JUDE HIGGINS has been successful in several flash fiction contests recently and is published in National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, the Fish Prize Anthology, Flash Frontier, The New Flash Fiction Review and Halo and Severine literary magazines, among other places. She runs Bath Flash Fiction Award. www.judehiggins.com / t: @judehwriter
She’s wrong. He doesn’t do it on purpose – it’s just that sometimes there’s so much in his head and he forgets.
Sometimes, there are butterflies on the buddleia (Red Admirals and Peacocks) and he recites the poem about butterflies and remembers every line. Sometimes, as he sits in the arbour waiting, wondering where she is, he hears the belligerent voice of his new neighbour who lives two doors down. Sometimes, the man’s baby cries and his wife stops shouting and goes quiet. Sometimes silence is frightening.
Sometimes, he goes inside the house and turns on the television – and wonders if he should say something, but she’s made her bed, so must lie in it. People have to do that.
Sometimes, he thinks he’ll go out on his mobility scooter again, there’s no reason why he can’t, he just needs to, ‘Make the effort.’ Sometimes the phone rings and it isn’t Simon, but one of those bloody cold callers and he spends an hour winding them up: ‘Hurrah! Have I won a kitchen? I’d love to change my service provider.’ Sometimes he pees himself.
Sometimes Anna looks so angry.
She looks angry now.
‘Are you listening, Dad? Oh God, I haven’t got time for this: the kids need collecting from swimming. You know Dad, sometimes I think you do it on purpose. Why didn’t you wear one of your pads today? You have to think, Dad. This isn’t just about you, you know.’
Sometimes, when Anna and Simon were little they’d go for a walk along the canal on Sunday afternoons and see one of those enormous, iridescent dragonflies, and there’d be those small, brown butterflies that Anna thought looked like tumbling leaves: speckled browns.
‘Look, Dad, I think we have to accept that things need to change. I’ve arranged for Simon and Linda to come over on Saturday afternoon. We can discuss it then.’
Sometimes Simon’s snowed under with work, and there are roadworks, and he isn’t able to make it.
‘Sometimes, difficult decisions just have to be faced, Dad.’
Sometimes, he can smell himself. He can now. The same smell his grandfather had, sitting in his armchair, his bald head speckled with liver spots. Yesterday, he’d managed to tumble dry the sheets before she came, but sometimes he forgets and she looks like she does now and doesn’t kiss him before she leaves.
But today she does. Her lips are like a butterfly brushing his skin – and she’s smiling.
There’s a Comma on the buddleia and the woman from two doors down has stopped screaming now. Maybe he should say something, but she’s made her bed. He goes inside and switches on the television.
I need a pee. Sometimes the words come into his head, but he’s too busy and forgets.
‘But she, God love her, feared to brush the dust from off its wing.’
Sometimes he remembers every line.
JULIE OLDHAM is a teacher. She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Her stories have appeared in a number of publications including Artificium Journal and Bare Fiction Magazine. Her story 'Chiaroscuro' can be read on the Open Pen website here.
As Betsy-Ann rocked back and forth, something about the sky beyond the veranda struck her as odd. She couldn’t pin-point how, exactly, but it had to do with the man on the ladder fiddling with wires. Above them, the sky had turned a flat, dull grey.
She swallowed her pills, pocketing the blue one, then slipped out of her house shoes and padded down the wooden steps. ‘Hey, Mister!’ she called out. ‘You’ve broken the sky!’
The man looked down at Betsy-Ann, who now stood barefoot on the grass. ‘Don’t blame me,’ he said, with a screw between his teeth. ‘I’m here to fix it.’ Emblazoned across his shirt were the words Senses Senior Living. He held a screwdriver up to the sky.
Betsy-Ann wiggled her toes. She fumbled for a memory. Strange how grass didn’t feel like grass these days. Didn’t smell like grass. If she could bend, she’d stoop down, gather some in her hands, inhale its grassiness. Daddy’s lawn had the neatest stripes. Was that the memory she’d been looking for? Or was it that grass used to tickle between the toes? This grass was hard and scratchy. Betsy-Ann had never seen anyone mow it, let alone put stripes in it. She looked at her feet, the feet of a dead person – white as wax and wormed with veins. No wonder they could no longer feel. Instead of grass, the scent of peppermint and lemons filled the air. Betsy-Ann sucked it in. Curious, since there are no lemons hereabouts.
From the neighbouring veranda came a familiar greeting: ‘Hello, Margaret.’
She waved at balding, smiling Bob. Betsy-Ann knew she wasn’t Margaret, but Bob seemed to think so.
‘Can you smell lemons?’ she asked.
‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s,’ sang Bob.
There had been a brochure. Pictures of smiling men and women. Senses Senior Living it said, just like the man’s shirt. The brochure had been placed on her knee, along with more words. Calm was one of them. Reassuring another. New Age Hippy Bullshit had been used, perhaps in relation to Piped Birdsong. For Christ’s Sake, when she tore the pages into tiny strips. Betsy-Ann remembered the blue pill in her pocket. There were others, other blue pills.
‘I could swear it’s only just past breakfast time, but the stars are already coming out,’ she said to Bob.
‘Don’t mind me!’ called the voice from the ladder. ‘Just testing. Next up, lemons.’
Betsy-Ann looked at the stars. She hadn’t noticed before but there was something peculiarly uniform about them, like a sort of star-covered wallpaper. Is that how they’d always been? Back when the sky was different, she could swear she’d seen a shooting star. So many things she was only just noticing. Her fingers trembled. She felt for the blue pills.
‘Want to dance with me under the moonlight, Margaret?’ asked Bob. ‘It’s another full moon tonight.’
‘It always is, Bob. It always is,’ she said, reaching to take his hand.
Born in Derbyshire, and after a long stint in London, EMILY DEVANE now lives and writes in Yorkshire. She is a 2016 apprentice with The Word Factory and is currently being mentored by Ailsa Cox. Her stories have been long/shortlisted in various competitions, published in The Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 2015, Rattletales 4, A Box of Stars Under The Bed (The National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, 2016) and forthcoming in The Lonely Crowd and Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology.
My late mother used to hate when I called her that because it made her sound dead. I told her it wasn’t my fault she was always late.
Now that she really is dead, I feel a little bad about it.
But not so bad. People deserve the names they get. Death doesn’t change that.
I’d rather her be alive, of course. But I won’t miss telling the waiter ‘one more minute’ while checking my watch. I won’t miss that at all.
At least I can still call her my late mother. At least she’ll never be late again.
POEM WITHOUT A SUNSET
if it had been a dry winter
we would have pushed
to the coast before April
20 mi. south from arcadia
stale air in the junk shop
wait out the storm
I was a few of the best parts
of me at once I see it now
you crooked r on the horizon
head down moving away
water on your right toward
the faint bauble of light
SUDDENLY SUMMER ENDS
I don’t exist
into the room
before I give up
I go under
where I hold
but with no real
fear of death
follow the current
things I still love
a good idea
at the time
but I think
to think so too
to sprawl toward
myself to watch
the camera hike up
my skirt writhe
chew the pulp
I am so hungry
roar at the moon
roar and stop
I am stuck here
an open field
like an anchor
time to think up
the problem is
there’s no one
just a pale city
you are a plot
name me story
you can’t you can’t
wash my hurt
I’m an empty tub
filling with lilacs
but I will wake
a stream in the
middle of a city
name me light
small split in leather
power line against
sunset who asks
instead of means
to alter trajectory
so the tornado
never touches down
no fever in the brain
no filling with nothing
I feel myself a ship
an insect rests in the
candle the broad sun
empties I am careful
the moment quiets
a handful of wool
little white canoes
here I am in the pattern
we all are concerned
with the weather
but I do not know past
I am an omen
another word for
out of sync
lost in light
throw me a bone
we’ve become a mystery
we can predict
from white trees
with gentle meat
already in the oven
folded in the field
when daylight comes
strangle it out
I’ve stopped sleeping
fall comes the body
the cog in careless
how many hours
before dark lifts
maybe I will walk
into the ocean
even the dead
know to lie down
not another word
roar and stop
POEM IN ORBITAL DECAY
come at me rat’s nest
net of Mercury
o swift foot
o chaos terrain
take me to death
EMILY J. COUSINS lives, teaches, and writes in Denver, CO. Her poems have appeared in, or are forthcoming from, The Laurel Review, Axolotl, Palaver, Word Riot, Saltfront, the Sugar House Review, [PANK], and elsewhere.
The lakes writhe in the pockets
of a white leather jacket
A cabbage loosens its grip
on its petals in an impeccable salon
Neatly laid out cauliflower seeds
dry on a picnic blanket
A pinecone unties itself from the shore
and vanishes into a water wheel
Self-righteous families of flies
alight on the skeleton of a moose
A pane of glass warms like a viper
under the opaque sun
LISHA RUAN is a Computer Science major and writer at Princeton University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jersey Devil Press, By&By Poetry, and Sweet Tree Review. In her free time, she likes learning languages and playing Avalon. She grew up in Rockville, Maryland.
The collegiate runner, in his
first race, wandered off the
track and into the adjacent
orchards, never to return.
That was Ohio. But in Texas,
in 1990, I was never anything
other than hot and whiny. One
photograph was missing, or
had never been in the album
at all, though every child
recalled it. By the porch, a
plot of land where my sister
grew flowers. Goodness is a
practice, open to visions. To
retain such knowledge of
summer, cliffs reclaimed, a
welter on the skin, small
rodents tunneling in high grass.
Is there a place where angels
enter the body.
I couldn’t cut across the pool
set up for lap swim, so we
passed each other up and
that was the end. At times
I’ve lived by such smiles.
The coffee rolls, then steams,
then boils into the upper
reservoir. The restaurant was
full of motion, the motion of
a family working together.
On a Saturday in August, we
walked to the spring, and
around us briefly it was cool,
and deep, and shadowed.
The landscape opened by
summer is another,
altogether, from the
landscape inside a landscape
given by art. But now I know
what the sky sees. My ears
ringing with names from
a different life.
Andy Stallings lives in Western Massachusetts, where he teaches English and coaches Cross Country for Deerfield Academy. His first book of poems, To the Heart of the World, was released by Rescue Press in 2014. Paradise is his second collection, and will come out with Rescue in 2018. He lives with his wife, Melissa Dickey, and their four children.
chiffon not light enough, this is a glass need
Liquid the light gathering in through window, through drapes, dust gliding, descends the moment
Leda met the swan. Clothed in water-sight, lapping its way through glass, distinction
in beckoning. If the sublime sounds a prehistory for trauma, I will retrace
my steps. Mechthild crawled out of her brick-and-mortar place seeking a Found Thing
as we walked in Dead Horse Bay, beach covered in glass, broken bottles
detritus of accumulate generations reflects up into her face the presenting sun. Scorch marks
gathering on her brow, she doesn’t notice, lost in color : the blue-green glass, the blue-grey waves
bag of horse vertebrae, Chinoiserie & Delftware, 2-inch bottles accessorizing her arms
to gather light from sky, riff off the dune-grass. The image already grown more
complicated than old soles littering the sand, than needles half-deep in mud. In the Marram
an eye implicates a broken light fixture for shadows. What would grace a moon snail, coke
bottle, a single sundial purpling in a deflated tire, scatters back out across
EMILY HEILKER lives & writes in Atlanta. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College & has previously published in places like Sonora Review & Loose Change Magazine.