Monday, December 19, 2011

Six Questions

We were just interviewed by Jim Harrington over at his blog Six Questions For... Check it out here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Check out our pdf on

To celebrate the six stories we nominated for the Pushcart Prize we've produced a PDF (nothing too fancy) featuring the authors' work. Check it out at

Pushcart Prize Nominees

Sorry for the delay in the announcement. It was a tough choice, and after much careful deliberation, and anxiety, I've chosen the six nominees to represent (Short) Fiction Collective in the upcoming annual Pushcart Prizes. The nominations were signed, sealed and delivered just in time. Got it postmarked on the final day of the deadline! To those that didn't get the nod, don't feel too bad, we loved them all but it was just a numbers game really.

The following are the nominees:

"when i was still young, and when you still weren't, and our father was already dead" by xTx
"Courtship: Five Micros" by Sheldon Lee Compton
"You Should Have Built Tall, You Should Have Built Wide" by Jenny Holden
"Quitting Is Easy" by Nathaniel Tower
"untitled" by Evan Swenson
"Me and Jack" by Sarah Leslie

You can read their entire stories by checking out our archives on the right hand side of the page. Once again congrats to those selected and here's hoping for inclusion in the anthology!


We'll be back in February with weekly stories of awesomeness. For now roll through our archives for some solid writing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

“It Was The Sound” by Ryan Singleton

It was the sound that stuck with me.

I was terrified to see Agnieszka’s face. She died in bed, her left leg bent, poking out from underneath the blanket, her little fingers clutching the frayed ends of the fabric. I knew she was dead the second I twisted the knob on her unlocked apartment and walked in alone.

“I ain’t seen Angie in three days,” Oscar said to me, with concern in his voice. “She was finna send me to the store last night, but she didn’t answer when I knocked.” She always answered her door—for him, at least.

I was both Agnieszka and Oscar’s case manager at the low-income housing project, an SRO. By no means was Oscar my favorite resident, but he was the one I identified with most. He wasn’t quite a man; he was more of a loser who happened to have male genitals—a complete doormat, the reason I saw myself in him whenever he dragged his bum leg and dopy smile into my office to talk.

To illustrate his character, one of the bullies in the building pulled down Oscar’s pants, exposing his bare, black butt cheeks for everyone in the TV room to see. Naturally, he was humiliated—I could see his emotions bright as day, when I reviewed the security camera the morning after the incident. Sheepishly Oscar pulled up his drawers and sat down to watch the football game with the rest of the guys, ignoring the gravity of what just happened. The aggressor laughed her ass off, pointing at Oscar; then she threatened to punch him in the nose. Oscar just looked around her, trying to see the score of the game. Nobody stood up for the victim because they were afraid their sweats would be around their ankles next.

“C’mon, Oscar,” I said, after I was done reviewing the cameras. “File a complaint. That was so embarrassing what she did to you. This is one of those times where you just need to grow a pair of balls and do what’s right—fill out the complaint form.”

But he didn’t.

And part of me was glad. Since he wasn’t following our building’s formal grievance policy, there wasn’t much I could do to rectify the situation. Rather than take action, I could sit comfortably in my office and let another bully go by without confrontation.

Oscar seemed to thrive in relationships with skewed power dynamics. Agnieszka, whom Oscar called Angie, had the personality to depants her neighbor in public, then taunt him to his face and threaten to punch his lights out, but she never did because her physical health was so poor. She gave guys like Oscar—especially Oscar—a harsh tongue lashing instead.

Do this! Get that! Come here! Stop slacking, you lazy crack monkey!

And Oscar would take it. He was Agnieszka’s slave, running errands for her nonstop because the Polish woman’s ancient body was broken from excessive exposure to war and alcohol. Feeble, she could barely move from her apartment, let alone maneuver the narrow aisles of a supermarket. That’s why she needed a loser grunt to purchase her groceries and schlep them up to her tiny studio, somebody she could yell at, boss around, and pay with shots of Vodka.

From the outside, it looked like a vicious, one-sided, give-take relationship, but Oscar was the only person Agnieszka trusted to enter her apartment. She didn’t even grant me, her case manager, access to her room, not even for bed-bug inspections or roach exterminations. She’d rather live with pests than deal with a human intruder.

That didn’t stop the old lady from cutting into me with her tongue as often as she could, jabbing me with malicious comments, calling me a pussy for not joining the military, and habitually reminding me that she should be my case manager, not the other way around. Agnieszka intimidated me, and I avoided her. Once she tried to dial a number on the community telephone in my office, but she kept pushing the wrong buttons, and somehow, it was my fault. She lambasted me for it, and I let her get her feelings out of her system without a rebuttal. She bullied me, and that’s why I was happy when I didn’t seen her for three days.

She looked like a witch alive, a ghostly pauper. Emaciated, her limbs draped off her body so frail, fragile, without any muscle, highlighting the skeleton beneath her flimsy, paper-thin skin. Just under her fiery hair was a chubby face, swollen from drinking—her only time-tested friend.

When Oscar told me Agnieszka wouldn’t answer his knocks—his special knocks, which only they knew—he surmised something was wrong. Similarly, I sensed that there was a problem and needed to do what all case managers have to do from time to time: perform a wellness check.

I pounded on Agnieszka’s door, and it rattled as if it were unlocked. It was, so I entered the forbidden space, giving me the creeps. From the doorway I could see the old lady tucked beneath her blanket. She looked dead; it was too eerie for anything but insects to be alive. Still, visions clouded my mind of her sitting up in bed, spraying me with fire from and AK-47 for breaking and entering.

Who invited you in here, you boney bastard!

I knew she was dead—she had to be. Still, I needed to pull back the blanket and see her face and confirm my hunch, but I was terrified, palms sweating. I didn’t want to see her eyes. What if they’re open? Glassy and hollow, she had seen so much: her mother and father murdered at Auschwitz, three tours of duty in Vietnam, as well as divorce and cancer, each twice. If her eyes were open, her life would play through them, I thought, and I would see her corpse every time I blinked or tried to sleep or closed my eyes to masturbate. I’d have to staple my eyelids to my forehead because the dreadfulness of her past would follow me everywhere.

I was scared.

I had to pull back the blanket, even though I saw two or three bedbugs scurry over it. There’s an unwritten rule that states: If you find a covered body, you have to roll the blanket back and visually confirm death. Never mind the blistering silence, the stillness beyond comparison. Those aren’t enough to state with confidence that a person has passed. Sight is king.

I grabbed the blanket, just north of Agnieszka’s own pasty, pale fingers, and I eased the sheet back, so as not to startle the deceased.

My senses heightened. Please don’t be open, please don’t be open, I chanted. I didn’t want to make eye contact with her. And for the life of me, I can’t remember if her eyes were open or closed.

All I remember is the sound.

Agnieszka’s tong was sticking out of her mouth, swollen and white with dried drool and foam. It pierced through her closed, tight lips and crusted to the blanket. When I pulled the cover back, I had to peal the threads of spun cotton off her tongue, creating a ripping sound that was furious—a fitting beginning to the woman’s death.

It sounded like a young maple leaf being torn slowly in half, like a bullet whizzing past Agnieszka’s head in ‘Nam, slamming into her comrade’s nose. He was standing two feet away from her, and she caught blood splatter on her face. She thought in horror, Why not me? Then two seconds later, Agnieszka was hit with shrapnel in her right femur. She cried, Why me? The ripping, tearing, gnashing sound of flesh and bone separating from each other created a wound that would label her as a cripple for the rest of her existence. The smell of napalm mixed with monsoon season had nothing on the microscopic sound of human skin shredding, cell by cell.

Some small threads of blanket were left on her tongue, but the deafening noise it created played in my ear on repeat.

Her tongue was so big. It looked like something that was cut out of a cow and packaged to sell for cheap at a market. One of those bristly, pinkish, whitish chunks of meat that appears soft and tender and gross. So big you can see the coarse hairs and taste buds that line the severed organ. I wanted to poke it through the cellophane wrapper, to play with it between my fingers, rolling it back and forth. Does it feel as spongy as it looks?

She was done bleeding, done hurting, done lambasting Oscar, but there were so many questions that sprang to life when I separated the blanket from her palate. Her life was a secret that surfaced only as a derisive query or bitchy comment—a mystery that was released by a sound that I alone received.

And now whenever I sit in silence or solitude, hers are the questions I ask. It’s her life I ponder, her stories that consume me. They’re all I hear. They nag at me and criticize me and never go away.

Why are you doing this with your life, breaking into old lady’s apartments and disrupting them in bed? Be a man for once and join the Marine Corps like I did. Maybe it’ll put some fuzz on your boyish chest.

And for the life of me, I can’t remember if her eyes were open or closed.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"Dungeons and Degenerates" by Matthew Dexter

I opened the door to apartment 43 of the tenant who died, let his mother inside and bowed out into the courtyard by the swimming pool where rainbows were bouncing on the abandoned raft, spectrums of what used to be. The young man lived alone and if my husband, the maintenance man, had not visited to fix the disposal--the tenant would still be in there rotting; he had his rent paid for the next three months.

“Thank you,” said the woman hidden behind sunglasses, her breath reeking of scotch, onions, and eggs. “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“Take as long as you need,” I said.

The woman let the morning sun hit her face and lifted her palm into the warm raindrops as she lit her cigarette. Perhaps the man called to report the problem so that somebody would pick up the body. Nothing was wrong with anything in the kitchen. The man had a refrigerator full of Budweiser, removed all foods that might spoil and took out the trash. He left a handwritten note and obviously cared--went to great extent to make the incident clean and not mess up any of the carpets. He slit his wrists and castrated himself in the bathtub, with the shower curtain closed and the wall covered with plastic like a painter places to protect the floor.

“I lived in a basement, and the view of the pool is special,” he said when he paid his security deposit and inspected the shiny new key as if it were a diamond.

He was quiet, kept to himself, but smiled and waved when he came and went. Once he ordered an inflatable woman and had to pick it up in my office because the mailboxes are so small. I signed for it and opened the packaging to see what one of those things felt like, taped it shut and left a note on his door with a smiley face. He also ordered a fake vagina. The boxes were unmarked, but I open all the packages, especially those meant to conceal what’s inside. Once found five ounces of psychedelic mushrooms and a mannequin; not from this tenant of course; he was only interested in the sex toys.

The woman screamed from the apartment and the rainbow disappeared. The raft was being splashed around by the fat tenant of Apartment 76, who wrestled and struggled to get onboard, only to have his weight submerge the air-filled plastic so that only the ends folded upward at ninety degree angles, as if offering a supplication to the heavens. Not giving up, the man let the plastic rub against his groin, half-supporting his genitalia like a pair of plastic underpants as it sank. The bubbles rose to the surface and the edges submerged as the woman yelled again and stormed out of apartment 43.

“Is everything alright?” I asked.

The body had been removed, but apparently the tenant had neglected to clean out his bedroom closet.

“Thank you,” she said. “This is terrible--his father will return in a few days to remove his possessions.”

She nodded and convulsed as the gardener walked past with an erection and shears, the former inspired by the college girls sitting underneath the umbrella waiting for more sun and the latter for shaping the bushes.

“Anything else--just call,” I said.

The maintenance man catapulted a small bag of marijuana from the paint-chipped seesaw. The plastic soared across the pool toward the girls. It landed in the corner near the filter and one of the ladies did a cannonball to retrieve the green treasure from one of the evicted tenants. I shook my head at my pothead husband. One day he was going to get us in serious trouble. I walked into the open door of apartment 43 and noticed the rubber lady on the floor. The resemblance was uncanny: a painted replication of the woman who had just been inside. The facial details and body image where almost identical.

“What are you doing?” asked the fat man.

I tossed the rubber woman into the pool and waved at the college girls whose parents always pay their rent on time.

“Maybe you can use it,” I said to the fat man who had given up on the raft.

The man paddled over to the inflatable woman and dragged her by the leg out of the pool, leaving a trail of chlorine as he carried it up to his apartment. The poor ladies head slammed against the steps and I knew the man would burst it somehow.

Back in the apartment I headed to the bedroom. The closet was closed but a glass bong was sitting on the table beside the futon the loner used as a bed. There was still some weed in it so I sparked it and my eyeballs hurt as I stretched them downward to watch the smoke rising through the water, filling the chambers. My job as manager of this complex is a disaster waiting to happen, horrible, like living in a labyrinth of dungeons and degenerates. Why did I inherit this from my mother? I shuttered as the smoke filled the closet and all these perverse objects came into focus: dildos, fireworks, fake vaginas, crack pipes, child pornography, and unrecognizable paraphernalia. I noticed the images of children who lived in the complex: pictures of naked tenants who laughed on the playground in front of my office for years. They had grown serious in recent months and many had moved out without saying much about why, just that their children wanted a change.

“Lord help me,” I said.

In one instant, the perfect tenant had turned into the demon that filled little boys with appendages and semen. I ran from the bedroom. Tripped over another inflatable woman, this one shaped like me. The features painted on the face were so lifelike, down to the hairs on the moles and the constellation of freckles on my shoulders. He even drew little dots around my nose that indicated blackheads. How had he seen me so close?

I grabbed the rubber woman and began wrestling with my image on the floor. At one point I got my elbow stuck inside one of the orifices while struggling to puncture the bitch. Bashed my head against the carpet, cursing my doll, this replication more majestic than the skin I was trapped amid. There were no wrinkles; just lines. The doll wrapped itself around my waist and we ended up on the bed, naked; defacement the only option, struggling for air, possessed by the smell of a fresh rubber woman.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


We've changed our submissions guidelines...again! From now on we'll only be accepting stories of 1,500 words or less. We hope this will not only allow us to retain our quick submission responses but also allow us to give each and every story that much more attention. Another side note, we've got our stories already slotted for Nov. 21st and 28th. After that we'll be taking a break until the first of February. Rest easy, we're not gone for good we, by we I mean I being that this is a one man operation, just need a few months to relax and focus on some other things. So enjoy the holidays and remember to give us some good stories come February!

Monday, November 14, 2011

“Sailboats” by Rachel Bennett

The waves were relentless. Pounding down on her skull, filling every orifice. What is breathing? That was something of the past. They came again and again, thrashing her now limp body into the gritty sand. With a Herculean effort, her head breaks the surface. Hungry, needy breaths. Cold. Bone-chilling cold. Another wave. Pulled under, the current dragging her farther and farther away. Cold. So cold. Black.

* * * * *

The wind blew her hair and dress all around her in a very dramatic fashion a she stood at the edge of the cliff, and she liked it. She liked it so much, in fact, she stalled for five more minutes, listening to the winds howling in her ear. Telling her secrets. Telling her lies. No, no, she can’t wait any longer. The time has to be now.

* * * * *

She was out of breath, finally making it to the top. She scraped her knee, twice, and it stung. Tears also stung the corners of her eyes. She saw a sailboat, far, far out in the water, near the horizon. That’s where she wished herself to be.

* * * * *

She balanced precariously on the edge, barely daring to breathe. She was about to do it, about to go over, but the wind played with her hair and dress in such a delightful manner, she had to wait. Just five minutes. Time is up, she stepped over. Eyes locked on the setting sun, the cruel wind whistling.

* * * * *

Seconds before her feet broke the surface, she changed her mind.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Future Perfect" by Scott Carpenter

By the time you read this letter I will be dead.

Or as good as. I’m only fifteen years old, but don’t beat yourself up over it. Even though it’s your own damn fault.

You are thirty. And mostly I fear you will have disappointed me.

Tell me: What do you remember? For example, do you recall the name of the turtle that escaped from its tank and ended up with its head squished in the screen door?

What about playing freeze tag with Mick and Kelsey and Emily, that time up at the cabin?

How about all those tadpoles from the pond, the ones we kept in a tub in the garage until they turned into frogs and disappeared?

No? I didn’t think so.

Do you remember anything?

What about later? Like that boy at camp who wanted to share a sleeping bag, and then pressed himself against you that way? (I bet that rings a bell.) Do you remember lying in the grass at night at the base of the water tower with Jennifer M., placing your mouth on hers while your hand slipped under her shirt? (You should.) Do you have any recollection of the violence of my desires? (You probably wish you did.)

And do you remember your promises? How you would never betray anyone? How you would travel the world? How you would learn six languages? How you would never vote? How you would always be your own boss? How you would never, ever become like your father?

I have to ask you these questions because you and I are not the same person. Every year each of our atoms is replaced. So by the time you read this, you will be a copy of a copy of a copy. There may be some resemblance, but it won’t go very far. No more than I recognize myself in the one who bore my name and lived at my address half a lifetime ago, when that person, whose existence I barely recall, was seven or eight.

We are writing these letters in Mrs. Grant’s AP English class, and the school will have mailed this to you when fifteen years have gone by. In case you don’t recall, this is not the version I turned in for a grade, where I said what she wanted me to say. This one is for you. To remind you of what you have forgotten. Even though I know it’s too late.

I am afraid of what, at the time you read this, will already have taken place. I can feel the seeds of disappointment sprouting inside me even now.

I had hoped for better.

For what it’s worth, let me give you a bit of advice. An assignment, really. Sit down and write yourself a letter, to the you that you’ll have become when you’ve doubled your age yet again. Include this one with it, to remind our future self of what you will have used to want. Make him listen to both of us. Because, you see, you’re the only chance I have.

Do it now. I don’t trust you to wait. It doesn’t have to be long.

And don’t forget the proper postage. I’d suggest you use a Forever Stamp. Although I fear that
name may be overly optimistic.

Monday, October 31, 2011

“Cake” by Aarti Soni

Today wasn’t bad as far as her days went. But she was on a sliding scale of sanity. She hadn’t spoken to her mother today. She also hadn’t hated her mother today. Alisha sat at the bus stop – the one where the bus almost never stopped. The weather was almost perfect – a hesitant fall day. All the city girls were donning their latest purchases – toffee-colored boots, chunky cable-knit sweaters, in tone of pumpkin and shades of cocoa. She always thought it was funny how people rushed to wear new clothes at even the premature hint of the next season. Three months later they were fed up of these same things. People get fed up so easily.

Alisha was hungry, but not sure for what, which made her irritable. She stared at the homeless man sitting on the other side of the bench. He looked like a skinny Santa Claus, and had perched on his knees a black plastic platter with a cheap doily and a grocery store birthday cake sitting atop. It was dark chocolate on the inside – the cake looked crumbly and dry and on top of the glazed white frosting were purple and green flowers. He was grinning with delight and Alisha wondered what the original occasion had been. Did this cake ever carry any sentiment with it or was it a formality for someone. She often wondered things like this. Which decidedly got her nowhere.

A young couple waited standing as well. They looked to be in their late teens. The girl was tall and willowy in dark, skinny jeans and a coconut-colored sweater. The boy was wide-eyed and blushing. They were kissing and touching in the gentlest of ways – no matter what they did, some part of them was touching. Alisha stayed fixated on them and she wasn’t bothered. Today wasn’t a bad day.

Her mind drifted to touch and she thought about her own clothes – tailored black pants, a black v-neck sweater, and black ballet flats with a hole in the right toe. She was careless in her dress because she was cluttered in her mind, but she was protected in her clothing. She was safe. I am safe, she said as her fingers played with the white plastic button in her coat pocket. She flipped it over a dozen times – her index finger and thumb acting in concert. Why did I buy a white coat? Things get dirty so easily. They sometimes look dirty even when they aren’t.

She thought of a story her grandmother told her about a woman who was about to be molested by a gang of men and as they attempted to pull her clothes off, the fabric never ended. The fabric never ended. It went on and on until the men became frustrated. She fantasized about this tale throughout her day. Everyday. She was safe.

Today wasn’t a bad day so she dared to think maybe she would savor it. She could turn it around in her mouth and touch it with the tip of her tongue and tease her senses like she is about to swallow, and then hold it there for just a little longer. Just to taste it before it disappears. Again.

The homeless man motioned his fork in her direction as if to offer her some of his ceremony-less cake. She shook her head and smiled politely. The bus was approaching and about to stop. Today wasn’t a bad day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

“I Am Your Canvas” by Emily McGrath

You truly are an amazing artist. Your skilled hands capture the image of your anger, hatred and disappointments perfectly. I study your work with an open imagination as I allow my mind to search for what drove you to create each piece.

I am your canvas. You decorate my skin, creating patterns across my back and designs up my limbs. I display to the world what cannot be hidden beneath clothing, I flaunt what you have created. The dark purple and faded blue handprints that reach around my neck and the swollen splatter that curves around my back are the most interesting. I trace my fingers over them and close my eyes, feeling your emotions—feeling your pain.

As you near I feel fear begin to crawl up my throat, it scratches at my skin trying to escape. But why do I fear the artist, especially when I love you so dearly? Your heavy footsteps move unsteadily through the house. I crouch against the wall, my hands covering the prints across my neck.

I never dare to leave my room. For how will you find me when inspiration strikes? And if ever I do leave, I move silently throughout the house as to ensure that I am never caught.

I gave up talking to you a long time ago. You simply don’t hear, which I understand, of course. An artists mind is so full of ideas that listening as well would simply cause it to flood. But you talk to me as you create your art. I listen as you yell your words of fury or sob about life’s letdowns. I have learned to be the best listener, even as my ears are ringing with pain.

The fear within me grows to be unmanageable as your footsteps approach the door. I hate the trembling that takes over my hands and I curse the tears that slowly drip down my cheeks. Why are you so afraid? my thoughts yell fiercely within the walls of my mind. Beneath his dark emotions is only love for you! I knew that’s why you did this to me; you saved your anger because you wanted to make me beautiful. You wanted to show the world that I am the only thing that makes you happy because I am what takes your pain away. I understand you like no one else.

I hear something heavy slam to the floor, followed by a shattering glass. I flinch. You let out slurred yell. Maybe today’s pieces will be enhanced by alcohol—the bitter thought crossed my mind before I had time to stop it.

I could hear you right outside my door, breathing heavily. Patiently I wait. The door swung open violently, and there you stood. Your tie hung loosely from your neck and your dress shirt was wrinkled and no longer tucked in. A small whimper escaped my lips at the site of you. Anger and a pleading desperation flickered across your eyes. You were begging me, you needed me. I slowly stood up, my frail bones, muscles and bruised skin aching.

As I stood I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Horror took over. I didn’t even recognize myself. My skin, mostly bruised blue and purple, clung to my bones. I had difficulty finding areas of myself not marked by you. Everything was decorated, everything was patterned.

I looked back to you, feeling a little more hopeless. It’s your love, I told myself weakly, it’s your love that covers me.

I took a step forward, steadily holding your pained eyes. Your pain is worse than mine, I thought calmly. I offered myself to you and once more let your art consume me. Once more I let myself become your canvas, because after all, you are truly an amazing artist.

Monday, October 17, 2011

“Laundry” by Rachel Mangini

Emptying the drier you find a pair of underwear that do not belong to you. They belong to your lover and she has left them behind. You’ve dried them accidentally, fraying the lace. Had you noticed them when switching the clothes from the washer to the drier, you would have laid them flat to dry. This action intended not only as a courtesy to your lover, but also to preserve the lace for the sake of preserving the lace. Its delicate pattern, so often described as spidery, not spidery in this case but pink and scalloped where it rested, yesterday, against the skin on her belly and lower back. Your lover now asleep on a plane pointed away from you and your clumsy laundering. From the clumsy way you said goodbye, again, at the airport because she stood so rigid and kept her eyes focused on something behind you. Her eyelashes also not spidery and not moist, though you imagine them to be when you reconsider the moment now as you fold the clothes you wore when you were with her.

Monday, October 10, 2011

“Them” by Laurie Blauner

Because I couldn’t help them I left. I could hear their clucking, beaks tapping on the cardboard box like someone knocking to get out. I knew their feet scraped the bottom in small, straight lines, directional lines on a highway. I knew without seeing them. I was ten years old when I turned the brass knob on the thick front door and walked away from the rented summer cottage perched on a sand dune, windows staring at the ocean where light stroked the surface of the water horizontally. I believed I could open a window at high tide and waves would pour into the house like soda into a thirsty mouth. But I left my parents’ house without knowing where I was going, on foot, without food, no stores or restaurants for several miles, only an expanse of packed sand and stubby grass, the shimmering curves of parked cars, the gray, weathered squares of other families’ houses. I left my little sister behind.

It was my mother. Her lipstick left red smears blossoming everywhere, white linen napkins, martini glasses, embroidered pillow cases, the collars of strange men’s shirts. Her tea-colored hair, the way she snaked her tongue into liquor while drinking it would interest neighborhood husbands, wealthier and more powerful than my father.

“Honey, we have to go now,” my father would say to Mother, whose glass sweated large tears down the length of her arm. Her red fingernails wrapped around the edge clicking a warning. The man she was talking to said nothing.

“Not now dear,” she would say, turning her back to him as though he was no longer there, as though she had forgotten his name already.

It was one of those parties where adults were in one room and the children in another. Where we grimaced at a clown who could barely tie balloons into the crude shapes of dogs or elephants. Smiles arranged on our faces, we waited for our parents to rescue us. Or politely excused ourselves to go to the bathroom. I spied my mother’s beautiful face hovering near men talking about Eisenhower, men nodding and touching the peplum suit encasing her elbow.


“Can’t you go out on the highway and play?” mother asked my six-year-old sister without smiling. My sister’s blue cat’s eye glasses lengthened across the width of her face and were studded with rhinestones. Her eyes swam underneath the thick lenses. She blinked at Mother’s moving lips trying not to hear the words.

“How about playing Parcheesi?” my sister answered without meaning to. We knew mother remembered she had children because you were supposed to have them then.

Soon afterwards Father brought them home. Three chicks with feathers that were still yellow fur, their wings were tiny letters lost in the paragraphs of their bodies, unflappable. Their feet were no larger than pennies. One walked from my hand to my shoulder without falling. Its small beak tapping Morse code against my palm. “Leave,” I thought it said without knowing why then.


“What do you feed them?” Mother asked Father. He ignored the question, telling her instead that she reminded him of a beautiful vase filled with lilacs, slowly dissolving in their own water. He loved: the ocean with its continuous waves; work at the clothes store where dresses wafted on mannequins like clouds in the sky; mother; cookies with marshmallows blanketed with chocolate. Not necessarily in that order.


I could taste the salt in the air that insidiously rusted metal, leaving orange crumbs in its place. Hansel and Gretel trails. Heat enfolded my body like a suit making it heavy, sweat staining my forehead, rivulets running down my underarms. I kept on walking. The stunted trees were bent into hands plucking at something just out of reach.

Sand shifted around my shoes, finding its way into crevices, in my elbows, at my knees and wandering between my socks and sneakers. Then I almost tripped onto a bright green square of freshly mowed lawn. A red convertible was wedged at its side like a dessert. A chubby baby girl threw her navy blue ball into a corner and she didn’t know how to work her legs well enough. No one was around. I quickly ran and slipped that ball into my shorts pocket, a companion. It bulged resembling a new limb. The baby screamed and I started walking again. I pulled at my bathing suit top to keep it from losing me.


“Bird food,” my sister and I answered, a chorus.

Mother grew tired thinking about it. She slipped into a room without Father, held the turquoise telephone against the petal of her ear. “I only want you,” she whispered to the plastic receiver.

This had happened before. Mother’s men overflowing, at a door or window or ringing the telephone. “Can’t you do anything?” I asked Father as if we had a termite problem.

“About what?”


The birds grew. They flitted between my knees as I sat cross-legged on the floor, bouncing back and forth, their wings propelling small gusts of air. My little airplanes, I thought.

“God Damn chickens,” Mother said, her red fingernails in the kitchen, flashing light in the silverware drawer. Rufus, Stan, Vivian. One too big. One too small. One just right.


Mother asked Father to move to a motel in another town. The word “separation” was mentioned twice. I thought about the waves coming and going, reluctant witnesses along the crooked shore. My sister and I practiced kicking sand backwards into waterfalls, pecking at the beach. We watched sand granules cascade through our fingers to the ground, imagining four ugly toes, soft, red wattle swinging at our necks. Our matching hair bands curled on the dry earth. My sister’s clear glasses tilted on her nose. She forgot to comb her hair. We held each other’s hands.


I was thirsty. Light dripped from tiny, twisted leaves, the roofs of houses, dark, rolling driveways. It was so bright, everything seemed to shift. I focused on a tree while I was walking. But it was always nearer or farther than it appeared to be. A tricycle was wavy in the heat as though it was moving of its own accord. When I neared I knew it was stationary. It seemed as though I’d been walking forever. No sidewalks, only the packed sand and earth pushed aside by the road.

The world was built for grown-ups. Their parties, their spidery talks, their seesawing with one another. Chairs and tables were always too big, the windows and doors to keep you in or out. Their gossip about money. The best part was toys. They would buy them for us. The hothouse colors of favorite jacks and Hula Hoops. The shrunken shapes of dolls or trucks or plush animals.

The man’s car blinded me. When it pulled up next to me the man that was driving opened his door and said something to me and unzipped his pants. Something soft and almost pink flowed out and began moving. He touched it tenderly. I thought about feathers. The other man got out of the car and came toward me. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. He danced a little in the sunlight. When I threw the ball, hitting him hard in the face, I could hear him spitting curses. I ran fast through the short, biting grass, rounded pebbles and broken seashells shifting under my feet. I hid behind a piece of driftwood resembling a whale stuck in sand. I waited until I couldn’t hear voices any longer. Only the monotonous waves behind me like someone breathing. A butterfly headed straight toward my face. “Like Little Red Riding Hood,” I whispered to it as it veered away at the last minute.


Things disappeared. Where were the wings? When our chickens didn’t use them they were hidden under feathers, invisible, tucked in like luggage for a short trip. The beaks were hard, unforgiving. The chickens were nearly full grown. Their cardboard box was too confining and there was a flurry inside all the time. A whirlwind of pecking, scratching, and shuffling. I could see the box moving, bumping along the floor.

Father visited and explained that divorce was not such a bad thing. But I knew he meant that his heart wasn’t in it anymore. I wasn’t sure about mine either. I imagined mother crawling with men like ants at a picnic. I wrote in my diary: if only I had eaten peanut butter and jelly instead of tuna fish or cleaned up a little more. If only I had been better.

My sister stayed in bed where her uncombed hair snagged the pillow, her mouth opened and closed without words. She reminded me of a fish without water.

I placed a quarter on the beach one night. The deer-colored sand, the compliant waves with their unseen undertow, stars littering the water with light broken into pieces and scattered across its surface. The moon peered down into the face of the coin with a look of recognition. In the morning nothing was there, only soft indentations in the pliant sand.

Later I came home from a neighbor’s house. “They’re gone,” Mother said from her blood-red mouth, her red fingernails rubbing her arm, straightening her hair.

Silence overwhelmed the house, eddying into corners, sitting in the too large chairs, resting on my twin bed, spreading along the frilly pink bedspread. I tried on my sister’s glasses, pulling them on and off my nose. The world swirled, blurring everything together into long streaks. I tried walking around the bedroom, bumping into the furniture. I remembered pressing Stan’s tendons that opened and closed his claws involuntarily as though he wanted something he couldn’t keep.

“Dinner,” my mother called but I wouldn’t go downstairs, even though I could smell it was one of my favorite meatloaf TV dinners again. She was rushing around, getting ready for a date. Her features enlarged in the mirror where she feverishly applied make-up, darkness outlining the rims of her eyes. Tipping her head back, she ignited her lips with flame colors that would be smeared off anyway. Powder washing her face.

“Bye, Dears,” and then she said it in French. “Take care of your sister,” but I wasn’t sure who she was talking to. My sister and I watched TV and then watched sand enter the house, arranging itself in little piles, coating the wicker furniture.

I left the next morning, early. Before I had to see her smudged and stained and wobbling in her slippers, her body leaking from her terrycloth bathrobe. I didn’t think about destinations, where I could go. One day there would be nothing left of her.


Clots of weeds approached and floated by me. My thirst returned. I played games as I walked. Counting the number of boats I could see bobbing in the distance. Tracing the flights of seagulls in imaginary lines that tangled into knots. I repeated baby’s nursery rhymes. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall….” Sandy clumps fell from scabs around my knees. I had lightning bolt scratches on the backs of my legs from the grass. One shorts pocket hung empty and inside out like a useless tongue. My dark hair was matted down with sweat. When I passed houses I wondered what went on inside the walls, whether the family inside would mind another child. We didn’t have any living relatives. I would make my own way. That was how I thought.

Then I saw Jerry’s Beachcomber Hut with its stiff straw roof, windows without screens opening onto the beach.


“These mosquitoes are killing me,” mother used to say. “It must be my blood.” She brushed her clothes.

“Too sweet?” my sister and I said together, laughing.

Mother would look over the menu. “The food here is…cute.” And she glanced at Father, who twirled the miniature umbrella in his drink, the papery wings spreading and folding over the toothpick handle.

“Another one,” he’d say to the waitress in frayed shorts and a round straw hat, pale blue flowers climbing her shirt.


I creaked the door open and no one was there. It must have been mid-afternoon, before the dinner crowd. I sat at the bar with its high chairs curling around the tall table shaped like a parenthesis. I was tired. My wet skin stuck to the plastic seat and I could feel my scabs, seams in my flesh.

“Hello, there.” It was Jerry, the owner, without his beachcomber hat.

“Can I have some water? Please?”

“Sure, little lady.” He placed the glass in front of me and I drank it quickly. He looked at me. “Let me get you another.” And he left while I sipped the water more slowly. This time I finished it and carefully positioned the empty glass on the slick bar.

He came back. “Your Mama will be here soon to pick you up. She’s sure a real beauty. Like some kind of exotic bird,” He smiled, his hands carving the air. He was missing a tooth. “Put in a good word for me.” And he winked.

That was when I began to cry.

Monday, October 3, 2011

“The Invention of Restraint” by Rich Ives


The crook of Billy Epstein’s arm was murdered first, followed by the hollow at the base of his neck, which had enabled him to open empty jars of sky without resorting to the corrugated flesh of his sleeping posterior. If he didn’t choose to do so, it was merely because the first act was not yet in the first place. Perhaps the odor was overwhelming.

With each further anticipation, the containers released a clear salty fluid, and the witnesses became less convinced of what they had seen. The investigation proceeded with several of the previously cloud-driven held in quiet abeyance.

At the intersection of the first murder and the speech to which it was attached, a small concern was uncovered and placed in the location formerly inhabited by that portion of the body once thought to have been capable of reaching away from the rest of the body. This delicate appendage was lifted at an angle that allowed it to precede the rest of the body, which held together several digits inside one of its pockets that had become joined by the porous stained knuckles of hardened experience that can be found at carnivals, carved into the shape of dice and garishly painted in numerical sequence using the tiny bowl-like declivities prepared on each of the six equidistant surfaces. The physical capacities necessary to pick up the resulting assemblage were said to create the appearance of a grasping of the kind found only in questionable museums and occasionally in bottles of amber fluid displayed in poorly lit tents by gypsies following in the wake of circuses and medicine shows.

All of the orifices are indeed edible. It’s the idea they represent that are indigestible.

In childhood, an old wooden rocking-horse waited on a slanted linoleum floor, patterned in a shifting sequence of Teddy-bear cowboys happily lassoing the battered legs of a generously abused crib, floating on swivel-mounted casters. A young outlaw named Billy Epstein, wearing a Carmen Miranda fruit hat and sporting an outrageous mustache, was still awaiting his fate in the grainy black and white photograph lying beneath the broken glass of the chocolate-stained wooden frame discarded along the worn linoleum trail.

The emotional positioning of the hopefuls has been identified in secret texts carefully guarded by practitioners, who meet in public only in order to pretend mockery and cast misdirecting dispersions upon the activities in which they are happily engaged. This has become necessary to dissuade the many aspiring hopefuls that have been drawn to these activities by dangerous misunderstandings. Witnesses seem not to understand the deep faith with which the participants perform these contradictions and view them as merely overzealous crusaders. The clear salty fluids surreptitiously recovered by low level “sanitary engineers” are rumored to contain valuable intellectual coloration pigments.

In this way, we may have surrendered some of our less conspicuous impulses and altered the densities of archaic tact, although they are still believed to have survived unaltered on the farmsteads of extreme northern South Dakota and extreme southern North Dakota, where artesian well water used for irrigation contains an absorbable constituent of sunlight that reacts to certain combinations of vocal patterns with roots in Scottish and Scandinavian subcultures of Viking and Celtic influence. These include the expressions, “By golly, and fiddlesticks, and wouldn’t ya know it? and you’ll be wantin’ some a that.

Scarring occurs when resistance is prolonged.

On schooldays the Malt-o-meal sits silent in a fat warm bowl circled by small plastic boots filled with milk and orange juice and a pale blonde saddle covering three pieces of toast with liberal doses of marmalade applied, all awaiting the soft slap of footed flannel pajamas from the small room at the end of the innocent hall.

An illegally immigrated dog tributary originally located in the homeland and now activated by latent desires within the uncle begins a low wet moaning related to cries of ecstasy emitted by mating centipedes but without the intellectual discussion. Some witnesses have suggested that the movement contains an aural color of visceral iridescence reminding them of squeezing fireflies, but the lazy trajectory of the tributary remains much larger and does not attempt to rise from the lowest possible declivity.

Viewed from the wing of the local crop duster, the barking can be seen to exert a unifying influence on the chaotic testimonial of the contemporary family, but there is no discernable greening of the offspring, which remain sullen and moist, a condition which makes the occasionally wind-disturbed deposit of crop dust adhere in potentially dangerous quantity. From this tendency to normality we can extrapolate a cultural perspective towards survival, which might allow the density of territorial imperatives to overlap and thus exchange relatives.

Small green birds remove the chewing gum from the young boys mouths and plant it. Pecking begins when a donor resists and can result in tap dancing, stomach nesting and, eventually, death. The introduction of handcarts into the recovery efforts has proved useless.

All feminine models have been endowed with a masculine component. All masculine models have been endowed with a beast of random selection.

The voice of the mother is watery and cool. The father does not participate until the mother’s resources have been depleted. Artificial elevation of the body is adamantly resisted.

If the heart is missing, you must attach a wire to the finger to determine sensitivity. If the wire discolors, the specimen is polluted. If the body lights up, it is not to be trusted. Disconnect the wire before explaining what is required of the specimen. Some specimens will provide service only when they believe they have been lied to. These are particularly desirable as they seldom believe the truth.

This is where you will find the women weeping.


The reformed transgressor gives his little sermon with heated passion edging his knowing chill. A lighted match falls towards the fireplace, already roaring with hunger.

Big and tentative, three boys, simple with yearning. The fat wet flakes of snow hold apart just long enough to fall. The boys are laughing at a joke about their shop teacher, a jovial amputee.

A Volkswagen, farting through the snow, like a dispeptic overturned motorboat, plows to a thick crunching halt and disgorges an excited nervous couple of surprisingly diminutive stature. They’re chattering like sparrows planning a vacation.

The boys who wish to become men have been drinking, dared into a pub where a woman’s life was recited in fits and starts and boos and guffaws, a beautiful tragedy where the heroine does everything wrong, and everyone cheers and begins singing. It hurts the boys to want that.


What is behind the strategy of such an author?

The freedom of the mind, not the tyranny of the body.

Why does he admit this?

Because it is not possible without complicity.

Why are his tarnished dreams so transparent?

The polished window does not see itself clearly.

Are there others like him?

Yes, too many. And they all want attention, though there are many who seek it in other ways.

Why are they not satisfied to be alone?

Some are, until the mind wants to hear itself think.

And if you ask these questions, have you not added another layer of difficulty to the problem?

Yes, but the layers existed before the problem did.

How do we know this problem really exists?

In someone else’s dream the library is closed. A column of ants has been working on the steps where a sweetly flavored text has fallen.


In the schoolhouse between the wheatfields, a priest is eating the onion raw. Behind the schoolhouse the boys are solving a problem with recently introduced foreigners and telling a joke about a burping monk. How much fear does it take for them to forget themselves?

Something backfired and the boys jumped. They were hoping it was a car.

Hobbed up and enlisted they were. As if they were talking to a masculine pearl.

The pale pink panic of flesh.

Fugitive, Warholed out of context, a bolted daisybuff began boxing his way to Lapland.

A truancy of one after one among many. Its ruffled pelt on the imaginary cabin door.

“Give the dodger yer bleedin’ chit,” said the foreign silence.

Wait. Someone is coming, someone who is holding his head as if it might fall off and break. Clockmouthed and doggo, a one-man zoo.

“I’m the prize, Puckerbutt. Suck it up,” said the green voice clothed in caution, ya cheeky little bleeder.

Thusly spills forth the meadow drugged in fog, somnolent.

Twigged with the recurrent her, I was, a paltry sod.

To see was there anything worth taking.

“It’s yer own doin’ then, enit?”

A dodgy scam, okay, Y’d have ta sidewalk a contender.”

“Shut yer filthy gob, ya wanker.”

Pucking the horse turd around like a cricket match.

Bulbous, ham-headed. Three dolts on their way to a discovery.

Don’t believe a word of this. Somewhere deep inside the mastodon, the father lights a green candle. The flame is red, of course, but it helps to know it’s a green candle because it’s so long ago, because the father is naked among stones sitting in a circle.

The boys form a circle outside the circle and begin dancing. It’s a dance of defiance. It’s a dance of helping each other separate.


There’s a hole in the dark that leaks more darkness. The inner walls of heaven are flesh, the outer the flesh of another, separating us from air. The boy’s feeling at that moment is a small furry thing caught too far from its hole.

Them as knew ‘im’d take is face off ‘im fer a lop hole. ‘E thought ‘e loved ‘er ‘e did, the sorry sod. She weren’t no woman but a platoon. Tiny little acorn shoes on a rainmarch, eh. And that there’s Gobble the Muffin, a bloke on the lam, that one. I seen ‘im do it and the Bobbies not far behind. Heard ‘e was from the states, ‘e was, and bound ta go back. I didn’t hang aroun’ none with the dead one needin’ a killer ta point to. I was gone before I knew what I knew.

The wind testified while he lay awake that night, the truth of her in his nostrils. “How surprised you seem to find me here,” he says to himself.


Rich with absence, an ambulatory garden, the evening lanterns’ tasty suggestions of bearded whaling ships slip off into the welcoming fog. His tired furry hull draws him on. His closed eyes brighten, as if daylight had been dreaming its own echo.

1) An amelioration of the cloud’s fickle justice.
2) The intimate architecture of reluctant flounders.
3) Grandpa Epstein still tuning his waldzither.
4) The intimate truss of surrender cupping defiant necessities with a beggar’s hand.
5) My throat full of rose petals grabbing at my breath.

Every word I have written is brown. Each one chased by a gray wolf that never catches it. I was glad to be in that life, though I knew it would not stay in me. Burnt oil and bone dust, the fire was talking. It was rarely a happy thing. I was a brother just like me. And another.

Maybe you died and then kept going, the bump in the road a missed signal, like so many, but what ever really ends beside the moment?

And the woman opens to let you out, not in.

Rent asunder has been thy darkling plain.


Nothing holds still for long. Just when you think the shell you saved won’t sink, boytoy Neeson the Neighbor shovels the drunk’s wet spot into the rosebed, thinking tomorrow you’ll be smiling acid love, and soon there’s kisses for stolen redness, soft unprotected petals folding out, flatter and then flat, on the water, crystal-coated, circled round, but to breath its mouth fragile, it opened and was pleased with its tongue, previously conditioned to wait just like Neeson.

Something whispers I love you, and it’s not yours, but it’s there for you to leave alone and witness and to experience as if it had been. Probably it wasn’t aware of your existence and therefore maybe honest, which you took away with you, leaving the thing that carried it, where it couldn’t hold even the end of it anymore and had to move on right there, where it had happened and then lost the ability to contain itself.


Billy Epstein tried to keep from placing his finger upon the end of the assemblage, which had not yet been fully identified as Neeson or any other manifestation of his unexamined childhood. He held himself not in abeyance but in Billy, in what Billy had become and not in what Billy had done.

One need only speak of blue to redden the lips, the words (first upper and then lower) open between the open pause (here and then here again) uncontained and certain only of a delinquent fleshy punctuation dampening the area of exchange.

The inspector’s raincoat began leaking. Shiny black shoes. The confident tip of a fat-brimmed mobster hat.

Sleep began bumping against the pier.

Sleep was the first thing that occurred before that.

Monday, September 26, 2011

“A Visit” by Dylan Eitharong

Ray stood in the kitchen and poured another drink into an old chipped coffee mug. Jess sat on the couch, turned around and watching him while she smoked a cigarette.

“Aren’t you going to offer me something?” she asked.

Ray turned around and opened the fridge and grabbed a can of beer, tossed it to her. She caught it.

“You can have one of these,” Ray said quietly. “Careful when you open that.”

She popped the tab and took a sip.


Ray drank a little bit of his whiskey. Outside it was dark and raining heavily. Jess was hanging her head and arms over the back of the couch, looking down at the floor with her cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth and holding the beer can by the top. Ray grabbed his mug, dimmed the lights, and walked out of the kitchen and sat down on the couch next to Jess. She stayed in the same position. He leaned back and put his feet up on the coffee table, on top of some magazines and papers that were scattered about, and grabbed the remote that was resting on the arm of the couch and turned on the TV. He flipped through the channels until he came to some old black and white movie that was on, turned the volume almost all the way down, until just a quiet murmur came from the speakers. He drank some more of his whiskey as the smoke from Jess’s cigarette floated up past his head. She sipped on her beer. Neither of them said anything for a while. Neither of them was sure what to say. She had picked her gaze up from the floor and was taking in what she saw around Ray’s apartment – to her left was a bookshelf that was horribly messy and unorganized, books laying on their sides or looking ready to fall out at any moment. At the top of the bookshelf there were some vases filled with flowers – all dead – along with a few standing picture frames displaying old photographs, one of them a portrait of much younger versions of both Ray and herself. In front of her was the counter that separated the kitchen from the room that they were in – which she guessed was the living room, or den, or whatever it was called. There were several dirty dishes and utensils on the counter, and an empty whiskey bottle. She wondered if Ray had drank it all himself. That would have been normal for him. To her right there was a brick wall and a window, out of which she watched the rain for a moment. She turned around and sat up straight and crossed her legs and adjusted her skirt, seeing the movie that Ray had put on. On the screen there were two characters kissing, a man and a woman. It was boring. This could have been any old movie, she thought. They all seemed the same. Ray was raising his drink to his lips again. She watched him. She examined his face in the dim flicker of light cast by the TV. He looked so much older than the last time she’d seen him. He obviously hadn’t shaved in a few days, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His cheeks were bony, as was the rest of him.

“Why are you here?” he said quietly.

She leaned forward and set down her beer, rubbed out the rest of her cigarette in the ashtray next to his feet. She thought of something to say.

“I wanted to see you.”

He was looking intently at the TV. He drank some more.

“Why would you want to do that?”

She didn’t know.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Think about it. Give me a cigarette.”

She gave him one. He lit it, put it between his lips. He was silent again.

“I love you,” she said.

He got up, walked back to the kitchen and began pouring himself another drink. Jess turned back around and watched him. Moments later, he replied.

“Well that’s good. I would hope so. You keep doing that.”

He leaned against the refrigerator and looked up at the ceiling. Jess sighed and looked back at the TV. It was still boring.

“I’m sorry,” Ray said. “I’m no good. Finish your beer, please.”

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked, not touching her beer. She didn’t think she wanted any more.

“I don’t think so.”


He finished the whiskey in one long, drawn-out raise of his mug. He grimaced as he hit the bottom.

“That’s good stuff,” he said. “Maybe you can have some.”

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.” He poured himself some more and sat back down on the couch. He grabbed the remote and turned up the TV. A scene in a lounge was playing. There was a woman singing an old love song and people were sitting around and watching.

“Beautiful,” he said as he blew a puff of smoke from his mouth. Jess looked at him, then at the TV, then back at him.

“What? That woman?”

He coughed.

“No. This music. They don’t make music like this anymore.”

She watched the woman on the screen.

“I think she’s beautiful.”

“Good for you. So are you. I’m drunk.”

Jess rolled her eyes.

“What else is new?”

He suddenly turned and slapped her on the knee. It was a light slap, but it surprised her, causing her to draw back and curl her legs up onto the couch, wrapping her arms around them. She looked into his eyes. He looked angry.

“Don’t talk to me like that!” he snapped.

She didn’t say anything. She just stared at him. He stared back. They stared at each other for what seemed like minutes but was only a few seconds. Then his eyes left hers, and he looked down at his lap.

“I’m sorry,” he said.


She wasn’t sure if he meant it. He turned back to the TV, looking a bit uneasy. As he reached out to grab his drink, his hands trembled a little.

“Can you not put your feet on the couch?”

She unfolded her legs and set her feet on the floor. She thought about apologizing, but didn’t. The two were silent again. She listened to the rain outside and watched the movie on the TV, seeing what was happening but not really paying attention. She thought about Ray’s question from earlier – “Why are you here?” She didn’t know. She thought about getting up and walking out without saying a word right then, wondered how he’d react, wondered if he’d even care. But she stayed in place, sitting next to him on the couch while he drank and smoked and watched TV. It went like this for a long time. Neither of them got up. When Ray was done with his cigarette, he flicked the butt onto the ground, and when he finished his drink, he just set the mug down on the coffee table. He didn’t get up for another. After a while, the movie finished and the credits were rolling. Ray picked up the remote and turned off the TV. He turned to Jess. He opened his mouth to speak, but didn’t say anything at first. Then he did.

“I’m sorry. Thank you for coming to see me.”

She nodded.


“How…how are things for you?”


“I’m glad. Are you still with that boy?”

“Yeah, I am.”

She looked into his eyes as she said this. He suddenly appeared serious. He leaned forward a bit.

“Do you love him?”

She smirked, and laughed a little at his question.

“Yeah…I think I do.”

He put his hand to his chest and coughed and shook his head.

“You think? I think you need to stop thinking with your cunt.”

He laughed hysterically at his own comment. She just rolled her eyes and groaned, continued to look at him. When he was done laughing, he smiled. She looked at his teeth. They were yellow and unclean looking. He continued talking.

“You know…I think about you a lot. I wonder how you’re doing. You live so far away, now. I’m very lonely here. No one ever comes to see me.” He reached out a hand and put it on her thigh. She stared down at it, his uncomfortably familiar gesture sending a chill up her spine.

“I – I’m sorry,” she stuttered. His hand began to rub her flesh, moving back and forth. She pulled her leg away just a little, but his hand stayed. He kept talking.

“I spend all day here. By myself.”

His hand moved further up her thigh, closer to her crotch. She watched as it then casually made its way between her legs and under the fabric of her skirt, and felt his fingers as they tried to move aside her underwear. A sudden panicked feeling came over her as she immediately stood up, leaving his hand resting on the space on the couch where she had just been sitting. He looked up at her, a drunken confused look on his face.

“I have to go,” she said. Ray stayed on the couch, his eyes following her as she walked around the other side of the couch and towards the door of the apartment. He watched as she bent down and put on her shoes, hurrying to lace them. When she was done she turned towards him, shaking her head. She didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She watched as the look on his face went from confused to angry. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth. She’d seen him look at her like that before, and she knew what it led to. He snarled, then began to open his mouth. As he did, she quickly opened the door and left, slamming it behind her and shutting out Ray’s screams of words that she’d always hoped she would never hear again.


When Jess’s boyfriend called her the next morning, she was waiting at the airport with another hour to kill before her flight back home.

“I’ve missed you,” He said.

“I’ve missed you too. Sometimes I wonder why I got into this business. Too much travelling…”

He laughed, then continued.

“Well at least you got to see your dad. How was he?”

There was a long pause on Jess’s end. He waited until she finally said something.

“Oh, well, that didn’t really work out. There was a terrible storm last night and I didn’t leave the hotel. But that’s all right. I don’t think he’s too upset about it. Next time, I guess.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

“untitled” by Evan Swenson

...dead footprints trail off in every direction. The sensation of liberation fades just as quickly as it came. The sun is down, the tide is low, and the course of this road is fixed. I walk on, indefinitely, toward new arms, new lips, new streets and sensations, yet I can’t help but feel that the soul and substance of these things will have been recycled from all that I’ve left and am leaving.

There occurs, with every rising thought, the subsequent death of something undefinable, unrecognizable, but infinitely vital. It has something to do with the soul, as though little pieces of it were being broken off until finally it has become a veritable vacuum, consuming all--the self included--and destroying. Given this fixation upon endings, that is to say, death, I can give only uneasy speculation that my soul has been lost and drained and there remains nothing but the roots of a suicidal being, securing their places even further within, tightening their grips with every empty thought and wasted experience.

The dream burns...the rocks are tall, worn, glossed over with the lush moisture of the tide. On the lip of the ocean, among the faded ships coasting lazily atop the horizon, the presence of fire and flame makes itself felt as the bloodied sun sinks down with the tragic brilliance of a fallen soldier. The waters, though calm and composed in themselves, hand the sky a reflection of pure, unfiltered chaos as the bold colors massacre the serene surface like words of hate or war or vengeance massacre the neutral face of a sheet of paper.

Somewhere something makes a noise and the noise fades. In the distance, an old man walks slowly along the shore, his hands clasped lazily behind his waist. With nowhere to go and nothing left to say, I close my eyes and wait for patiently for something to begin.

Monday, September 12, 2011

“Porch” by Corinne Lee

Wings whirring––to break into the light––hitting our porch lamps. Spitting like drops flung into flame, falling shorn. In the morning, a toad by my mother’s front door, so sated with wings that he sprawls sleeping on WEL, insect crumbs screening COME.

My mother on the porch bench after breakfast––spine a fiddlehead over Folgers––struggling to remember. “Lake Constance” is all she can say. I know the story. Other Jews, each night swimming through the lake, fleeing Germany for Switzerland. Ice water opium slowed them. Then the one-eyed searchlights, gun cracks.

For months of winter dawns, my mother and her sister, four/six, on the Swiss shore after blintz breakfasts––exploring the beached dead. Their poking sticks, rubbed bare as flesh, lifted, peeked: locked blue mouths, silk scarves now chill ropes, pale ankle throats in weedy, cashmere hose. The dead dressed, no, the living had dressed as if yachting to a romantic gourmet tryst, not to black water.

Instead, late evenings, after hunting them at the lake, the Nazis were the ones among Riesling and sauerbraten, Bierdermeier and beeswax candles––cozy fire, yet cold rain so taut they often could not open the door afterward to go home. Nor could my mother: grandparents, parents railroaded into gas, she later became American, a Philadelphian, a corset Episcopalian.

But now, only sister hours dead, she reaches toward the beached phantoms they once found together. Yes, they stole from them. The only item she kept her entire life was a child’s watch, glass back and front to show the metal works inside. She stored it for six decades––and clutched it like a lucky coin in times of trouble.

This morning, she does not clench the watch, but slips it in her mouth and holds it there, like a lozenge. She can’t remember her sister. She can’t remember the drowned. Yet like the toad, she feels oddly full and content. The timepiece is smooth against her tongue. “Metal soft-run,” she mutters after I pull it from her lips––perhaps yearning to absorb the dead and time, to make them live, her own.

Monday, September 5, 2011

“Retrospect” by Dara Cunningham

I now watch the teenagers through the lens of adulthood. Today at the train station there’s five or six of them with skateboards and bikes, their heads bouncing to hip hop music that pulses from their iPods. When I was their age, we were sutured to our walkmans and listened to Nirvana; we wore flannel and dreamed of moving to Seattle. When did I start using the expression “when I was their age”?

These are the kids who worry guidance counselors and teachers; solemn and cynical with no direction. The girls wearing low-slung jeans, heavy eyeliner and piercings sit on a bench watching the boys perform risky stunts on their skateboards. They are supposed to be the bad-ass girls, the anti-cheerleaders, but they behave exactly as their sugar and spice counterparts do, passively applauding boys’ daredevil maneuvers that result in stitches and broken bones.

My observations are melancholy, but they seem happy for now. They’re happy to be away from classmates who don’t like them and from teachers and parents who insist they aren’t living up to their potential. These aren’t delinquents; just ordinary, bored kids trying to create excitement where there is none.

They are not yet afraid of what they will become. They don’t yet see themselves in the struggling families shopping at Wal-Mart or eating at Denny’s, stuck in futureless jobs and married to people they settled for simply to stop being lonely. No, these kids are completely absorbed in the present. All but one.

She is ever so slightly different. Her clothes are the same, adhering to the rigid tribal codes of adolescent fashion, but her face is kinder, eyes dreamy. She is happy to be included but is clearly on the fringes of the pack. When the train whistles as it rolls toward the platform, she is the only who looks up.

I know what she’s thinking.

Will I ever get out?

I hope she’s smart enough to know that she can’t stuff her treasured possessions in a backpack and take off one day after another fight with the parents or stepparents who don’t understand her. She can’t flee small town misery at sixteen with a wad of cash she saved from babysitting. The ones who try to don’t survive; they sink anonymously into sordid gutters until they become tragic headlines.

Getting out takes planning and preparation. She has to study the map others have left behind; study in general. If she stops hanging out here and gets good grades, she can go to college in the city, it will buy her time. If she can find a job, endure the criticism and cruel competition, she can get a place to live there, even if it is up six flights of stairs and smells like a litter box.

Those were my plans.

She’s watching me. Do I cut a glamorous figure with my highlighted hair, my new winter coat and high heels? Is it me she wants to be?

You shouldn’t envy me, I want to tell her. I’m a fake, a phony, a poseur. I don’t have an exciting career or work on a famous street; I’m not even traveling to meet a lover who does. I’m a washed up local who takes the train on her day off to walk around a gallery, buy something cheap but unique, and hope that someone spectacular will smile at me.

I’m just like you, trying to create excitement where there is none.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


For any of you that are interested: a while back I was named Fiction Editor of the online arts magazine, Feature Mag. Check it out here and send something in. If you've had you work published here, at (Short) Fiction Collective, or even if I somehow overlooked your abundant talent by declining a previous submission!, give it a try and submit any unpublished fiction of 2,500 words or less to with "Feature Mag Submission" in the subject.

Monday, August 29, 2011

“Quitting Is Easy” by Nathaniel Tower

I took up smoking just to show the world how easy it was to quit. It’s been five months now, and my wife is wondering why I haven’t yet.

“It takes time baby. I have to develop the addiction first,” I tell her.

“Please stop,” she begs me. “It’s so gross I don’t even want to kiss you anymore.”

I can verify this statement. I’m not sure when the last time we shared a good passionate kiss, the kind where we slap our tongues around the other’s mouth.

“Look, I’ll quit soon. I just need to make sure that I’m addicted. Otherwise it’s too easy to quit and I won’t have proven my point.”

“And exactly who are you proving this point to again?” she asks with a roll of her beautiful green eyes. It looks like sea foam bouncing around on flawless shores. For a moment I think about quitting just so I can kiss her, but my willpower is too strong. I can’t give into temptation.

“Honey, this is our ticket to millions,” I plead with her as I reach for the carton of cigarettes on top of the fridge.

“And how is that exactly?”

I have to pause here. I don’t always think through exactly where I am headed with something, but I’m always convinced that I’ll get to where I want to go. Nothing comes to me, and I don’t want to seem like I’m racking my brain too much, so I just go with my gut.

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll see it when it happens. I can’t give away all my secrets.” I am tempted to go on a little longer, but any more than that and she will know for sure I’m stalling.

“You’re stalling,” she says.

I light my cigarette and take a deep drag.

“Hey, I told you not to do that in the house. Get the hell out of here with that. Do you want the walls and furniture to turn yellow?” She waves her arms frantically in the air as if to ward off some evil.

“Relax, I’ll put it out.” I put it out just to show her how easy it’s going to be for me to quit. My hand almost immediately begins to shake.

“I want you to stop by the end of the week. Stop or I’m leaving you.” The sea foam is gone from her eyes. They’re acidic now.

“Hey, look how easy it was for me to put that out.” I put my shaking hand behind my back. “Look, I think the addiction has just about fully kicked in.” I wrap my arms around her to show what a great husband I am. “I’ve never been addicted to anything after just one time.”

Oops. She immediately pulls out of my grip and shoots me a death stare. I can feel her eyes burn though me. The look is almost as bad as the need for a cigarette. I know what she wants me to say, but saying it now will only make her appear to be happy. It’s one of her many tricks. She makes me say something because she’s angry, then she pretends to be happy, but I can sense that she is even more upset because she thinks I only said it because she wanted me to say it, which is apparently worse than not saying it at all.

“I’m going shopping,” she says to interrupt my thoughts. I don’t bother to tell her what she wants to hear. I’m just thankful that she’s getting out of the house. My veins feel like they’ll collapse if I don’t get some nicotine in my system right away.

“Alrighty, babe. Need me to do anything while you’re gone?”

“Yeah. Just one thing. Don’t smoke.”

“Fine. I won’t smoke. I’ll just throw everything I’ve started away.”

“Good. Throw that damn carton away while you’re at it.” She turns on her heel and marches for the front door without bothering to tell me where she’s going or when she’ll return. I know I’m supposed to ask, but I know she won’t tell me when I do. Either way she’ll be mad, so I might as well just save face. I don’t want to look weak in front of the cigarettes.

I hear the door slam and my shaking hand immediately reaches for the carton. I have to be honest here. The cigarettes took their full affect about two months ago. It’s been like a disease ever since. If Amy knew how many cartons I was plowing through then she would at least take away my credit cards and kick me in the balls. Amy would never divorce me, for any reason. Her parents divorced when she was a teenager, and she despises divorce more than anything, even more than smoking. Still, I’m not going to tempt her too much, so I grab a pack out of the carton and head for the backyard. She’ll know I was smoking, but at least if I do it back here then she’ll pretend she doesn’t know. She won’t even act pissy or give the impression that she thinks I’m hiding something. As long as it doesn’t seem to affect her, she really doesn’t mind.

I light the cigarette before I even get outside. I wait until the door is halfway closed before I take my first puff. It’s an instant feeling of relief. I may have become addicted to sex a lot quicker, but the rush of smoke into my lungs and veins defeats any orgasm I’ve ever had. I always used to wonder why people smoked. Now I wonder how anyone can give it up.

I sit on the deck and puff my brains out, one cigarette after another, until the whole pack is gone. I don’t think about much while I inhale, just about how I might actually quit and if I really could become a millionaire based on my experience. I’m sure I could write a book about it. Or at least a blog. People would want to hear all about how I did it. Quitting really could make me millions.

But then again, what’s millions compared to this rush?

I bury the cigarettes in the backyard like a dog before my wife comes home. I know I’ll be looking for them tonight.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Truth About Miriam" by Chas Warren

Miriam’s sleepless nights are the fault of the dybbuk in my shampoo. He lives in my shampoo because I invited him. Why are you surprised? You are only surprised because you know nothing about Miriam.

Einstein couldn’t build an alarm clock as reliable as Miriam. Ten o’clock sharp, every night, she is washing her hair. I wash my hair at the same time. Why can’t she wait? Aviram would have understood. Sixteen years I lived in this apartment before she moved into the unit below. She had five daughters. Five daughters who all washed their hair! It drove Aviram crazy. That’s why he shot himself and is now denied entry into Sheol. All he wanted was a son. I would have given him a son. Gladly! But did he ask me to the 1972 Temple Beth Shalom Dinner Dance? No! He couldn’t ask me, because she asked him before he had the chance. He was an honorable man. Miriam is not honorable. She steals the man of my heart, and then she steals my shampoo. I see her steal it with my own eyes. We go shopping together and we share a cart. We buy many of the same things. The same shampoo? Yes! Why is that surprising? I put my bottle on the left, and she puts her bottle on the right. There is no mistake! I put mine next to the canned beets that I like and she hates. Aviram liked beets. When we leave, she puts my bottle in her bag! So on the next night that Aviram came to visit me, I asked him to haunt my shampoo. My shampoo sitting in Miriam’s apartment. You are surprised that Aviram continued to visit me? Why? Aviram was a faithful man. He visited me faithfully every Wednesday, while Miriam took their daughters bowling. I can feel him when he is in the room. I felt it when he agreed to honor my request. Why is that surprising? Aviram was an honorable man.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Bigfoot" by Jordan Castro

The night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King cried in the back seat of his father’s new Escalade. The crying was noiseless, but Oprah Winfrey, who sat next to Larry King, noticed and touched Larry King’s leg. “Hey,” she said. “You’ll be okay. There are other girls and you’re really young.” Larry King looked at Oprah Winfrey’s face. “Are you really that upset?” said Oprah Winfrey.

The singer of The Weakerthans walked on stage carrying a glass of wine. He spoke. He began the first song. “Oh my god,” said Larry King while grinning and looking at Oprah Winfrey’s face. “I can’t believe it.” Oprah Winfrey put her arm around Larry King. “Oh my god,” said Larry King, “I can’t believe they’re actually playing it.” Larry King and Oprah Winfrey sang while swaying to the music.

The morning of the night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King put on jean shorts and an Against Me! t-shirt. He rode his bike to Ellen DeGeneres’ parents’ house. “I’ll always love you,” said Ellen DeGeneres while looking at Larry King’s face. Larry King cried while making loud noises and looking at Ellen DeGeneres’ face.

During the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and Howard Stern sang loudly. Larry King looked at Oprah Winfrey’s face and grinned. The lead guitarist of The Weakerthans jumped off the stage and put his guitar around Howard Stern’s neck. Larry King looked at the lead guitarist of The Weakerthans and Howard Stern and yelled “Woo” while grinning uncontrollably and clapping.

The afternoon of the night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey played half of “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious” by Against Me! in Larry King’s bedroom. “We’re both in bands,” said Oprah Winfrey, “but we can’t even remember how to play an entire song.” Oprah Winfrey laughed. “I know,” said Larry King while touching his hair. “What songs do you know? Do you know how to play this?” said Oprah Winfrey while playing chords. “No,” said Larry King. “Oh,” said Oprah Winfrey while grinning. “What about...” she said while playing chords. “No,” said Larry King. “Or, is that... wait, isn’t that The Lawrence Arms?” “No,” said Oprah Winfrey.

Larry King lay in the fetal position in grass on a small hill in Ellen DeGeneres’ parents’ neighborhood. “She has to come,” he thought. He moved a little then wiped his eyes. “I just... left there crying. If she loves me, she’ll come find me.” Larry King sat with his knees bent, looking at trees. A silver car passed. Larry King looked at his cell phone. It was 2:13 p.m.

Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and Howard Stern got out of the car. They walked past an art gallery and an independently-owned music store, into the concert venue. “If they play ‘Bigfoot!’ tonight, I will completely forget about Ellen DeGeneres forever and I will die happy, I swear,” said Larry King. Larry King and Oprah Winfrey walked out of the concert venue and into the independently-owned music store. Oprah Winfrey ate a piece of pizza. Larry King thought “I’m vegan” while looking at Oprah Winfrey’s face.

The morning of the night of the The Weakerthans concert, Larry King looked at one thing, then another thing, then a lot of things, everything at once, before focusing on what felt like a soft ball of light inside him, gently expanding, growing until it was only himself he was aware of. He exited the bathroom. He called Ellen DeGeneres and said “Is it okay if I come over now?” “Yes,” said Ellen DeGeneres.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"If He Can't Fix It, I Don't Know Who Can" by Thomas Kearnes

Ellis wasn’t supposed to do this. Brent was no longer his concern. But when the desperate man called Ellis that morning, begging to go, declaring he was ready for help, Ellis knew he had no choice. He drained his coffee to the bottom of its cup, slapped on his woolen coat and drove across town to collect the man he once loved.

Brent waited in the parking lot of his ratty, beige-colored apartment building. These dispirited accommodations were the best he could afford with his salary from Wal-Mart. Ellis kept gazing out the side windows as he eased through the lot, looking for any black men who might pose danger. He eased into a space in front of Brent on the sidewalk. His ex-lover shivered in the crisp winter breeze. The weatherman had predicted a rare snowfall for later that afternoon. While the car idled, Ellis rolled down his window and called out to Brent. “Where’s your stuff? I thought this place made you live in-house at least a week.”

“Baby, I can’t do that,” Brent said, rubbing his hands together. “I can’t take the time off work. I had to beg Miranda just to get taken off morning shift.”

“Well, I guess that will have to do.”

The two men drove through commuter traffic to the rehab facility. Brent fiddled with the radio dial, never settling on a single station long enough for Ellis to tell what song played. After a few moments, Brent gave up the search and threw himself against the seat like a sulking child. Ellis glanced at him. He hadn’t bothered to fix his hair; the dyed blonde tufts angled in every direction. Stubble covered his face. Ellis remembered how slowly Brent’s facial hair grew. He must not have shaved for several days. Tossing his head against the headrest, he ground his teeth.

“Did you drink last night?” Ellis asked.

“Of course I did.”

“Are you still drunk?”

“No, I slept. I mean, probably not. Fuck it, I don’t fucking know.”

“Have you been doing anything else?”

Brent snapped his head around and glared at Ellis. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Brent.”

Perhaps losing his nerve, Brent shrugged and looked away. “I told you, baby, I quit all that shit. I promised you, didn’t I?”

Ellis risked taking his eyes off the rusted pickup cruising ahead in order to inspect Brent. Over the course of their two-year relationship, Ellis had learned the facial twitches, the jittery eyes that always gave away his lies. Brent curled into himself, head resting on his shoulder, as if he were snuggled under a warm quilt. Surely, he knew Ellis watched him.

“You have to be honest with these people, baby,” Ellis said. “It’s a wasted trip if you’re just going to lie.”

Brent surprised him with a quick reaction: wide eyes and slack mouth.

“What?” Ellis asked. “What is it?”

“I don’t remember the last time you called me baby.”

East Texas Rehabilitative Center sat like an angry toad among lush green shrubs and dead yellow grass. Ellis circled the driveway, came to a stop before the double glass doors. He sat motionless in the driver’s seat, the engine stuttering. Brent pressed himself against the passenger window, his breath fogging the glass. Ellis didn’t know how long he would have to wait. Frankly, he had doubted he would see this day. He simply imagined Brent downing wine coolers alone in his shitty one-bedroom apartment until…until what?

“What do I do now?” Brent asked, eyes fixed upon the rehab entrance.

“I suppose you go inside and tell them why you’re here.”

“Then what?”

Ellis dragged his hand over his face. He’d been looking forward to a sedate morning in front of morning chat shows. His shift didn’t begin until noon. He had nowhere to go. “I don’t know, Brent. This is all new to me.”

His ex-lover whipped around, eyes glassy and vacant. “Take me back home.”


“I changed my mind. I can’t be here. I’ll figure out something else. I don’t know, I’ll—please take me home!”

Ellis had not touched Brent since they embraced at his doorway the day Brent moved out. Without thinking he grasped Brent’s hand and squeezed it, the other man’s blood pulsing beneath his grip.

“You belong here, baby. Everything will be fine. Go inside and find out when I should pick you up.”

“Promise you’ll come back for me?”

“I’ll use my lunch break.”

Brent withdrew his hand from Ellis and returned his gaze to the rehab entrance. “Does shit like this really work?” he asked, not looking at Ellis.

“You can tell me about it when I come get you.” In that moment, watching the man with whom he once hoped to spend his remaining years, Ellis knew Brent would never truly leave his life. He shut off the engine and sat quietly while Brent gasped for breath, clutching the door handle. I can wait, Ellis told himself. We have the whole morning.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Submission Guidelines Change/Update

As we mentioned on Facebook, we've now made it so that only stories of 2,500 words or less will be considered for publication. Maybe we're getting lazy but this way we can give each story the full attention it deserves while also trying to provide an ever faster response, than our usual 72 hours, to you the writer. Keep them coming!

"A Room Made of Windows" by Kate LaDew

HE’S STARTING TO WORRY NOW, just a little, that the people he loves the most, the ones he can’t remember not having, won’t be here forever. It isn’t a revelation, a brand new, packaged in plastic thought, but it’s the most afraid Billy’s ever been.

He calls his parents a lot, in class, at lunch, when he gets off work. In the middle of the night, he waits to hear his father’s voice on the answering machine, an old hunk of plastic from before Billy was born, a cassette recording everything he says that doesn’t matter, strips of his voice looping around themselves.

He writes things down now. He wishes he’d carried a tape recorder when he was little, strapped to his ankle, a wire under his shirt. There’s so much his parents have said. Most of what Billy’s parents told him dropped like liquid into his memory, colored the ground and were forgotten. Retracing his steps, Billy catches markings, footprints cool and vivid, but without their luster, like dried blood. His entire mind is a crime scene, clues and evidence, roped off with yellow, and he can’t find the little boy he once was to tell him what it means.

Billy asks his parents to call his voice mail and talk, just talk. He’s considered buying a machine like theirs, something that won’t beep after two minutes. He prompts, says, “Remember when” “What happened after” “Why did this.”

Billy knows there are things inside, deep, skimming along the surface of his muscles, put there by his parents. There are things he’s certain of, like the simple existence of God apart from what any book or men in expensive robes scare you into believing, the difference between driving lost and driving looking, and what arms feel like after you’ve climbed a tree. There are things he knows are true but can’t quite believe, fish dangling lanterns in the darkest dark, saints healing with their fingertips, a universe that hasn’t stopped expanding. His father picking him up, holding him like air, ‘the sky is a big mirror, reflecting oceans,’ and Billy still looks for sharks in the sky.

Billy supposes it was early on, before kindergarten and after he could write his name without tracing that he knew, without a doubt, he wanted these two people always. His mother washing dishes because his father wanted a country house. His father with his hands under Billy’s arms, spinning him like the cartoon whirlwind they’d just seen on TV. Billy is leaning his head back, his hair pressed against his father’s chest, the warm, earthy smell that would always make Billy think of him washing over his face like a blanket. Billy’s legs are almost parallel to the ground; velcroed shoes strapped soundly, such a kid that he needed a step stool to wash his hands.

His mother calls about a bird outside, bluer than Billy’s eyes, and his father looks up, stumbling. Billy’s mother’s voice, soft and pure, could always make him stumble. Billy’s feet veer towards the ground, ankles scraping the floor and his father’s hands drag across him, desperate, leaving bruises on his ribs he’d find days later. Billy is upended and righted in the same motion, his father’s knees hitting the floor, arms under his neck and thighs, cradled like the girls in fancy dresses in the black and white movies his mother watches, light and helpless. His father is shaking Billy, breathing his name and Billy rolls his head towards him, hair spiked across his eyes. His mother is beside them in an instant, a dishcloth in her hands. ‘What’s all the commotion?’ His father tells, in a voice more shaky than he wants, about their little boy and what almost was and his mother moves her hand to her head. ‘If Jesus came down from heaven,’ she laughed. ‘I’d be in the bathroom.’ Her smile is one of force, so truly meant, its very presence demanding all wrongs to be righted, all disasters avoided, a strength to save and make anything okay again. Billy watches them, the little tears in their mouths, the blinks of their lashes, telling him he was rescued, snatched from harm. He thinks without effort, ‘They loved me the moment I was alive.’

When he thinks about it now he wonders if he made it up, if he was capable of understanding any of it; a kid with carpet burns on his elbows, dinosaur sheets, spiders for pets, but his mother’s hands, still wet, firm and insistent under Billy’s chin, soap sliding down his collar, his father’s weight around him, holding him above the ground like something precious; he understood more then than now, he decides. He knew what he’s forgotten.

Billy’s still watching his parents, twenty years from when he figured them out. He comes home on weekends and plays the messages, looking for clues. “I remember this” “I never knew” “When did you tell me.” He’s found his own history project, one that started before he realized and one he won’t ever finish. His mother and father smile at him, smile like they always have. His mother is tilting her head back and laughing, soft and pure, and his father looks at Billy like he’s out of breath. He makes Billy remember jack-o-lanterns on Halloween, a light in the middle of his father, flickering in his eyes. Billy is happier now than worried but he knows what he’ll lose. What will have existed and disappeared when he can’t call and say, “Talk. Just talk.” He’ll wake up every day with a bright, empty place inside him, like a room made of windows.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Back Open For Business!

Starting August 1st we'll be opening our submissions again. Enough of this lazy summer bullshit! So you know what to do. Click the "Submissions Guidelines" page on the side and follow the simple directions. Oh, and try and make them kick ass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Check Back Soon

Taking the summer off. But don't worry, we'll be back up with new stories starting August 1st. So get ready to send them in!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"You Should Have Built Tall, You Should Have Built Wide" By Jenny Holden

I am leaving now. This is in spite of many things. The early sun by the food slab which warms my carapace, so that were anyone to touch me they would recoil. The tender exposure of my neck which I rest sometimes on the ground, hearing bird noise. The likely acquaintance of fools and spiders, out there. Practicalities: the grass which tickles where I have not flattened it, and the fence, my whole world. It is taller than me, but not much. If I wait a little, I will have some movement. I think up, up, and manipulate the air, tread it beneath me. You think I move like a wind-up drunkard, with risible precision, but you are wrong. It is deliberate. I show consideration in all things. Your seas are full of mavericks without shells and I wouldn't be a wheeling bird for all your world. I have toes, and they make contact with wood. We make an unnatural triangle. Pointing upwards I see the sky for the first time, though I am not young. It is close over my head, and empty of its rain. I used to shelter under the lip of the fence, but now I balance on top, tipping this way and that like scales, my stupid legs dangling either side. A piece of kit, the inner workings of machinery; no one should witness this. I am ridiculous to you, but not to myself. The technical sketches, a few bits of ply – you built me a Heath Robinson shambles to live in. Your god, meanwhile, stuck me in a nutshell, and riles me to this day. I side with you, with your can-do attitude. You feed me dandelion leaves; I eat them from your hand; this looks like camaraderie. I'd bite you if I could, instead I clamp my dinosaur jaws about your two fingers. You feel my tongue. We are at an impasse. When you are gone I still feel those fingers in my mouth, though they have transformed into half a cucumber slice, which goes down wetly. I am a layman's idea of indecision, pedalling air. There is a moment of catastrophe. Like all things, it passes. A new phase moves into position, and sticks: I am on new concrete. I leave my boxed life behind me; you can burn your planks and buy a mutt. I find it difficult to walk – a siren, the sound of brakes. I will rest a moment here, in my own darkness. If I could, I'd smash you; if only you knew.