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Couple Eating Soup | Ifland Alta

She enters the kitchen, brushing the wooden door with her long white dress, and pours the water she’d carried from the spring into the pot on the stove. A man who is her spitting image—save for his black clothes—appears. Suit and hat, but no tie. He returns from the garden, his arms full of herbs and vegetables—parsley, basil, rosemary, celery, carrots, potatoes—which he places in the pot. The man and the woman don’t look at one other, they move in the same space without touching, like shadows. The water begins to boil, and the vegetables give off an aroma like soup on a winter night. Later, together they will eat the soup in light blue earthen bowls, each divided by a brown stripe. Only a spoonful will remain in the pot.

The next day, at sunrise, the woman will return with water from the same spring and, once again, the man will come back with his arms full of herbs and vegetables that he will mix in with the leftovers from the night before. In front of the fire, they will breathe in the vapors’ aroma and listen to the wood crackling. And one day, when the woman is too old to carry water, she will suddenly know she is still eating last night’s soup and the flames are still flaring even though the firewood is no longer burning, and she will see next to her a woman in white and she will know she has become the man in black.

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awake in my dreams | Javad Ahmadi

I am back again, 120th street, the old school, where I can disappear between the hallways and stairs, the columns and the classes. I told Carl how I have seen the tunnels underneath the cellar in my dreams and how they led me to the main corridor right off the main entrance. Carl thinks I am too young and the boy in me needs a father.

I called my son today. I feel older when he takes me for lunch. Carl thinks all that there is inside me has not integrated completely.

The smell of Mother’s soup brings me back to our kitchen in Iran. She was standing in front of the stove with her back to me, her black hair long and shiny. I remember how beautiful she was. Carl thinks she has not delivered me yet, and I float somewhere inside her. Carl says that explains my obsession with darkness and how I sleep in my dreams, walking awake between the alleys that lead to the mosques of a hundred psalms.

There are birds in my pockets. I tell Carl about them—the colorful fluffy birds and the dark one that guards outside. He says I am looking for my myth. There were pigeon cages on the roof of the house next door. I never saw them, I was in love with the tall girl next door. She had soft brown hair and hazel eyes, and her skin was so much lighter than mine and that of my sisters. Mother says they are not from around here.

I dreamt of the black dogs, laying on the streets panting, moaning with white poison bubbling through their clenched teeth. I thought how that reality was so foreign to me now like the smell of goat milk, raw and pungent, that the shepherds brought weekly to the house. Mother boiled it, and my sisters and I fought over the cream that stayed on top.

Mother wore black the day the Shah died. Father did not care. He thought little of elites and all the books mother read. There were red flags everywhere, and the music solemn and loud. I got my first eyeglasses at nine. It took me six months of looking at the sun on the balcony every day trying to catch a glimpse of my beloved before I convinced my parents that I needed them. Mother just thought I was curious and a bit precocious. She didn’t know that I was learning how to love.

My mother looked so graceful in the kitchen standing with her back to me, stirring the soup as the steam rose and dissipated. The smell of nutmeg and mint teased me like the scent of the garden after the rain. We had butterflies in the garden, but Mother never saw them. I heard music in my head all day yesterday, something in B Flat—something like green caterpillars chewing on the leaves my brother left in the boxes where he kept them. I didn’t know they lived on the tree branches—that magical alchemy of cocoons and butterflies I began to love.

I question everything these days, sleep on the ground, and paint my face. I like my canvases. They are not mine. I am the custodian. I give them away to the postman and the mechanic, interrupting their lives. Carl thinks I am a narcissist; I like to think I am kind. I do not sign my canvases, I do not ask for any satisfaction. I cry when they are good and have colorful orgasms dreaming of them, and that is plenty.

I tell Carl about the silence that unfolds in me, the stillness I feel lying on the grass watching the clouds. Write about it in your journal, he says. We will discuss what you write. You would think that two-hour sessions would drag a bit at times, but we spend the time that slips like silk in an hourglass so feverishly. He puts Humpty Dumpty back together. The coldness in my head dissipates, and I know I have sharpened pencils in my bag curing all the white pages he gives me. Don’t forget about the dreams, but don’t lie awake waiting, Carl says with a smile as we shake hands, laughing goodbye. Jungians are slippery; however, not as bad as the Zen masters. I feel ridiculed and put on every time I meet one. Carl thinks that will go away in time.

My academic mentor, a beautiful woman also with dark silk hair like a raven, thinks it is a privilege that Carl spits in my soup, which means he thinks I am ready to be pushed. I believe her reluctantly.

I miss writing in longhand, the way I missed the neighbor’s girl—her eyes when she caught me watching her, her grace as she smiled, and kept swimming away. The way my head was hot and my breath caught, the weight of the silence as the sun reflected in the water, and I went away. She visited me that evening on the roof. There was a summer breeze and taste of stolen kisses that kept me awake for nights to come.

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Circus | Tina Barry

After the measles stopped scratching   my teacher Mrs. Schwartz takes me to the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus   She takes Me   none of the other girls  This is my first circus   I am so tired because I couldn’t sleep   Mrs. Schwartz drives and sings Frére Jacques and then we both sing Frére Jacques   A woman drives next to us and smiles  I move close to Mrs. Schwartz   I want the woman to think I am Mrs. Schwartz’s daughter

When we get there two clowns are smoking cigarettes outside   One sees me and squeezes his big red nose   Behind a curtain I can see a bearded lady who is smaller than I am   There are pictures of man twins that share one body   and dead babies in jars that I do not want to see    elephants wear flowers around their necks and march in a circle   one big tiger climbs up a little ladder  I feel sorry for it   A man with a big curly mustache wants him to jump through a ring of fire   The tiger does not want to jump so the man cracks the whip

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Maiden Lady Teachers | Tina Barry

Prudencia

Prudencia? I startled her as she sat at her desk staring at her hand. Dios! she said, then began to cry. Prudencia had been married briefly to a wealthy man who divorced her after their year-old son died. My mother sympathized but fired her with severance and a letter of recommendation. Grief and teaching don’t mix, she said.

Madeleine and Maude

Madeleine and Maude were a year apart. They had pocked skin and big breasts that felt hard when I leaned against them. When I conjugated a French verb correctly, Madeleine said, Oui. Then Maude said, Oui. When I made a mistake, Madeleine said, Mon cher. Non, non. Maude said, Mon cher! Non, non! I called them the Parrot Sisters.

Hermosa

Hermosa, small as a child, came to us from a girls’ convent. She wore her hair in plaits. So fine, she’d murmur, pinching the fabric of my clothes between her fingers. One weekend Hermosa visited a sick aunt. I opened the door to her room where I was not allowed. One of my porcelain dolls, eyes snapped open, feet in shiny spats, sat propped against the pillow of her bed.

Justine

Justine wore her dark hair in a tight bun, oily at the part. She was thirty when she came to us. Never married. Clever girl, she’d say, when I recited the times-tables zero to 10. When no one was home to disturb us, she’d sit me on her lap and kiss my hands.

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gravity grateful | Mark Blickey

Looking down from high places don’t bother me at all but when I have to look up at things like buildings it makes me nervous ’cause it feels like some kind of force like a magnet or something is going to pull me up and lift me off the ground, which is a lot worse than falling ‘cause if you’re falling down you know you’re falling and that’s that, but if you get pulled off the ground and lifted into the air you’re not falling but you could fall at any moment, and there’s no end because if you fall you have to land but if you’re lifted up it could go on forever, and I hate that.

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Déjà Vu | Patricia Carragon

It happens every New Year’s Eve. It’s always at the same restaurant. Twenty Cinderellas sit at tables set for two. Their thoughts move like minutes, anxious for love to strike before midnight.

Plates and wineglasses occupy their tables. Knives, forks, and spoons wrapped in napkins wait for action. On each plate, a box of “Happy Nude Year” condoms. In each vase, a single red rose to keep the women company. The scene is the same each year, except for fashion, aging, and newcomers. Only a few will toast the new year with a mate.

I’m one of these twenty women. Our faces are lined with screwed-up stories. I sit before my rose, observing the quiet desperation. My smile conceals my anxiety. I take out my compact and lubricate my lips. I see the same desperation on my face. The rose is in Prozac withdrawal.

My watch reads 11:35 p.m. Two of the newcomer women are leaving. Their 20-something smiles radiate. Their Prince Charmings did arrive before midnight, but how long will their lipgloss, condoms, and euphoria last?

My rose is in striptease mode. It will be January 1st in a few minutes. No one has entered the restaurant since those two women left.

I decide to leave. As I rise, the tablecloth slides. The plate, wineglass, and vase crash. The knife, fork, and spoon scatter. The condom box and napkin bathe in wine. My rose lies naked on the floor.

I exit the restaurant. At the sports bar next door, the ball drops on a flatscreen TV. I head for the subway and crowd in with the drunks. Leaning against the door, I zone out the noise. My thoughts tell me not to return. But that was last year’s resolution and the years’ before.

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recombinant storm | Michael Dickel

recombinant thoughts

So sick and sycophantic dancing moonbeams stand, whoever saw the light waltz? Moody recombinant thoughts fracture fractal refractory factory-scented air-freshener, computer-generated garbage run amok within the fragmentary discourse left of my feathered mind, dripping down the avenue evening: punked-out crowd, music, people. Women hula-hooping on street corners, harnessing the drunken power of male gazes in beery hazes while videographer teens trade cell-phone numbers. All locked together in cellular decomposition. Recombinant thoughts. Along slick marketing lines. Whoever saws through fragmentary discourse. The light moody waltz, but feathered on the left, dripping down the evening-minded avenue. The crowded street corners run amok. Ideas fractured within computer-generated women who watch. Drunk with media, people playing the part to play along. Fractal refractory factory-consumerism cell-scented air-freshener in decomposition. Phone numbers locked up. So, in all conclusions, the phrase dancing moonbeams stand to hear Bertolt Brecht sing Bakhtinian heteroglossia, ruptures of social fabric shredded amid burning torches, dialogic strains, broken vessels cracking light.

after the storm

I alone survived the storm, the sea, and the whale’s ancient might. He walked by. She walked out. They never glanced at each other. A car growls. She sips wine. He looked at street people. He was late picking Joe up at the airport, having screwed Joe’s wife. Orphans another found, only children missing her—after searching, retracing her—Rachel. Beak-sheathed sea-hawks sailed, their savage mouths padlocked as they soared. The drama over there, over here, over—the drama finally is done. Once princess-kissed, an (in)human trans(formation), and taking her to bed, that old frog woke at dawn and skipped out with the spell-making witch. Might ancient whale have survived storm, sea—me alone at night. Sea waves crash over us all.

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Iarlaith and the Tourists | Eckhard Gerdes

No one Iarlaith knew was drinking in the bar. Only a couple of young male tourists were there, talking over some greenish cocktails. Iarlaith didn’t even want to ask Mike the bartender what those cocktails were. They looked frightening.

“What can I get you, Iarlaith?” asked Mike.

“Just give me a short beer,” said Iarlaith. “I just stopped in for a minute. I was looking for Feargus.” Iarlaith needed Feargus’s help in bringing an old wardrobe steamer trunk to the consignment shop. Iarlaith had finally emptied it out of Barb’s old clothes and figured he could get a few dollars for it. He’d seen similar ones on eBay going for about three hundred dollars. Normally he’d have asked his son, Marco, to help him, but Marco was off scavenging for material for one of his assemblage sculptures and wasn’t around. Iarlaith wanted to be done with the damn thing. It would help him purge his life of the last remnants of his life with Barb, she whose tongue was as sharp as her name. He thought of selling the clothes, too, but he was afraid someone would buy them and then wear them around town. That would just bring back those memories. So, he’d tossed the clothes in the giant dumpster behind the grocer’s and had poured a bucket of sludge that was sitting next to the dumpster right on top of the clothes. He was sure no one would want them after that.

As he nursed his beer, he began overhearing the conversation between the tourists. They spoke with a funny accent. It was not foreign but it was from some region of the country he didn’t recognize.

“As eye sand to my t-shirt, eyes dessert a bed degrade.”

What the heck did that mean? He looked at the men. They were in their early twenties and were well dressed, kind of preppie, in cardigans, no less. One of them had brown hair in a little boy’s cut with a nice part on the left side of his head. A cowlick stuck up where the part ended at the top of his head. Iarlaith chuckled. He was always amused by grown men wearing little boy haircuts. The other man’s hair was black and was slicked back. Cowlick was the one who had made the statement about eye sand.

A bed degrade? That had been life with Barb in a nutshell. She’d been the nut, and she shelled him like he was the enemy almost every day they were together, at least at the end.

Slick looked at Cowlick and shrugged. “Degrades a mint in Kershaw.” Oh, great, he talked all mush-mouthed, like the other one. Kershaw? Doug Kershaw, the great fiddle player? Louisiana was a long way away from here. Was he playing nearby? Maybe in the Quad Cities.

“Hey, Mike, you hear anything about Doug Kershaw playing in the Quad Cities this weekend?”

“No, Iarlaith. I wouldn’t know. I don’t get a chance to go see shows. I’m always here.”

“You got Kershaw coming here, then?”

“Who needs to pay for entertainment when I got you all?” Mike laughed and turned around to wash some glasses from earlier.

“Dough-kneeded coarse mint,” replied Cowlick to Slick.

Iarlaith shook his head. What the hell were they talking about? But they mentioned mint twice, and their drinks were green. Okay, Iarlaith had to know.

“Mike, come over here.”

“Want another beer, Iarlaith?”

“Sure, but make it a mug this time. What the hell are those drinking?”

“Oh, those are mint martinis. They’re popular in the cities.”

“Mint martinis? Blecch. I hope they at least had the decency to have their martinis made right. With gin, I mean.”

“No, they wanted vodka.”

“That’s not a martini, then. It’s a kangaroo. A mint kangaroo. Disgusting.”

“Hey, I always say be a purist, not a tourist. But the tourists like this kind of stuff.”

“Yikes.”

“Dell your t-shirt off,” said Slick to Cowlick.

“Shed flail meat, oh,” replied Cowlick.

Mike brought Iarlaith his beer, and Iarlaith downed it in two giant gulps, slapped the mug onto the counter loudly, slapped four dollars onto the bar and left, shaking his head in complete confusion. Wherever these tourists were from, Iarlaith knew he never wanted to go there.

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Iarlaith and the Apricot Brandy | Eckhard Gerdes

Iarlaith was sitting in the bar when he noticed the woman next to him was ordering apricot brandy.

“What’ll you have, Iarlaith?” asked the bartender after serving the woman.

“Iarlaith?” said the woman. “That’s an unusual name. How do you spell it?”

“A pint of Guinness, please,” said Iarlaith to the bartender. Then he turned to the woman. “I-a-r-l-a-i-t-h,” he obliged.

“I thought so, but why do you pronounce it that way? I have seen the name before, but I thought it was pronounced, ‘EAR-lah.’”

“No, that’s the way my father and mother pronounced it in their Gaelic brogue. My classmates couldn’t say it right. Having a weird name was hard enough, but expecting the idiots I went to school with to pronounce it the old way would have been silly.”

“So how do you pronounce it again?”

“‘YAR-layth.’ The way it looks.”

“You shouldn’t run scared of the right pronunciation,” said the woman.

“You shouldn’t drink apricot brandy,” said Iarlaith, and he took his pint and moved to a seat at the window rail.

Apricot brandy! Blecch! He remembered apricot brandy.

When he’d been a young man, only married a handful of years, he’d gone on a camping trip with his wife, Barb (she whose tongue was as sharp as her name), and their son, Marco, just a toddler at the time. That was back in the days of the belief in freedom, and Iarlaith had worn his hair long and had a large beard at the time.

They needed some supplies from the local town, a rural community built on a North Woods lake. It was a small place, only a couple of thousand residents, and they had a general store for sundries. Iarlaith, Barb, and Marco entered the store under the announcement of a shopkeeper’s bell. They were going to pick up a few items, but what Iarlaith really needed was aspirin. Iarlaith had an enormous headache from hearing Barb yell at him all morning for one thing or another. Barb had also insisted that they get some lens cleaner paper because her glasses kept getting smeary. He also thought he’d get a little toy car or something for Marco, who’d been behaving very nicely on the trip.

The shopkeeper, a 300-year-old woman, stopped Iarlaith in his tracks. She stepped right in front of him, gave him the once-over, and said, “I guess you’re looking for apricot brandy. We don’t sell that.”

That was much too abrupt a non-sequitur for Iarlaith to take in all at once. What was she implying? Did she think he looked like an alcoholic because he had long hair? That didn’t even make sense.

“Actually, all I need is aspirin and lens cleaner paper,” he said, a bit defensively. He didn’t want to mention the toy because he didn’t want to disappoint Marco if the store didn’t sell toys.

The shopkeeper made a pffft sound of disapproval. As soon as Barb sensed the scorn of the shopkeeper, she grabbed Marco’s hand and told Iarlaith, “We’re going to wait outside. Hurry up.”

“We don’t sell lens cleaning supplies,” said the old woman. “You’d have to go to Dieckman Optical for that. And we don’t have aspirin pills, either. We only sell Goody’s Powders.”

“Never mind,” he said. “But I hope you have plenty of adult diapers to match the way you express yourself,” he said, and he left the store.

From the sidewalk, he saw Barb driving off with Marco in the car. The windows were rolled down, and he heard Marco yelling, “But Daddy loves us!”

That’s why Iarlaith hated apricot brandy.

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Iarlaith and the Dead Dog | Eckhard Gerdes

Iarlaith lounged on his garden chaise longue on the back porch and watched the river flow by. The day was sunny, so he wore his papyrus brim hat, his favorite, and the Hummer sunglasses his son Marco had found by the riverfront path one afternoon the year before.

A family of wood ducks decorated the lazy water as it meandered on its way. Occasionally a stick or leaf floated by. The yellow and red maple leaves were especially pretty. Occasionally a Japanese beetle would fly by and bug Iarlaith, but the day was pleasantly free of mosquitoes and gnats. So, the beetles were tolerable.

Just as Iarlaith was certain that life was perfect that day, he saw a larger object floating down towards the ducks, who quickly scurried out of its way. Iarlaith squinted against the glare to see what the object was. It looked like a small dead dog, perhaps a terrier, bloated, coasting along, closer to the far shore than to Iarlaith’s side.

Iarlaith was too comfortable to get up and move by the shore to look more closely. The dog got caught in an eddy and began to spin counter-clockwise. That struck Iarlaith as quite odd. Why would the spin be counter-clockwise? He pondered the symbolism of it. Heraclitus said time was a river, so that meant that rivers by definition moved clockwise. The dog was dead, so it had moved clockwise. The eddy defied logic. Perhaps it showed that the shapes of nature itself offer some sort of natural resistance to death. Iarlaith nodded in assent to his own thought. Yes, that must be it, he decided.

Just then the dog spun out of the eddy back into the mainstream. Disappointed, Iarlaith pulled the brim over his eyes, slouched back in his chaise longue, and decided to take a nap.

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Experiment Number Five-Forty-Two | Meg Harris

I knew this woman, some called her contrary. She was my neighbor; I called her Mary. Bill called. Mary had called him.

She said, “I’m getting messages in my teeth. They’re after me and you, Bill.”

This woman I knew, mother of two, ex-wife of one, she called my brother and do you know what she said?

She said, “Bill you have to help me! The aliens are talking to me! The government is talking to me! Through my teeth! My divorce is final and I’m making a crazy quilt. Oh yeah, and they said you’re next Bill.”

Mary’s marriage was a good marriage until she decided to improve it. Mary and Dave, Mary decided, needed therapy. Dave fell hard for the therapist and Mary got the kids.

It was all a preparation, like the making of a quilt. Mary was textile. She was fabric. Okay—she was remnants, but she was a part of the plan. Hemmed in, you might say. You might say, stitched up.

Well, what about the children, you ask? They were boys, of course, miniature Davids. And when they went to visit their daddy and his therapist for the weekend, the big David asked the little Davids, “How is your mother?”

And they’d answer, “You know, dad. She’s acting kinda strange. She’s painting flowers on the porch. She’s hanging foil-paper in the foyer. She’s painting the woodwork, dad.”

“Actually, dad, I’m worried,” said the twelve-year-old little David.

“Me too,” said the ten-year-old little David.

“And furthermore dad, I think mom is, well—she’s just not well! She’s nutty as hell! Are we going to the movies? Will you buy me an iPhone 8? Dad, will you take me? Will you take me? Can I live with you?”

And the twelve-year-old little David said, “Yeah dad, me too.”

So Dave went to a Judge.

He said, “Your Honor, I knew this woman; I married her too. She was okay at first, then she just kinda blew. I tried sir, my therapist tried, too. And I don’t want my boys with her. And neither would you if you knew what I knew.”

Dave said, “She paints flowers on the floor of the porch. She grows herbs, Judge. And what’s even worse, when my sons come home from their school, she is dancing in the living room like a crazy fool. Or else she is sewing a quilt. Look at her eyes, Judge. Do you see them say tilt?”

The Judge looked into the eyes of this mother of two, he said, “Okay, I’ve heard from him, now let’s hear from you.”

Mary said, “I do this one stitch that looks like bird’s feet or maybe claws. I’ve stitched it all using just that stitch.” And after a pause, she said, “I’ve stitched and stitched, like a mad quilting fool. The yellow is sewn and the orange, too. But I’ve not found it in me to sew up the blue.”

The Judge said, “Mary,” in a most soothing voice. “I have a tear in my robe and I’m sure it’s your choice, but will you sew it? Will you mend it for me? And oh, by the way, I’m giving David custody.”

And Mary said back, in a yet milder tone, “I’ll be happy to sew it, Judge, sir. I’ll have lots of time. I’ll be all alone.”

It was planned that way. I read the script. Planned and saved up for, like next summer’s trip. The government planned it. The aliens too. They called it Experiment Number Five-Forty-Two.

And such a relief! Now they can control women using only their teeth! I knew this woman. Her story is true. She stitched in all colors—green, red, yellow, and orange, too.

And in the end, she stitched up the blue.

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Mustache | J G James

Eric and I were lying side by side, naked on his twin bed in his tiny college dorm room. He had a steady girl back in Bedford, Maine. I was dating his best friend, Steve, who roomed two doors down the hall.

“Give me a mustache,” Eric said.

“What?” I asked.

“Give me a mustache.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sit on my face.”

“No,” I said in disbelief, “I’m not gonna.”

He laughed. I was glad he wasn’t angry.

Eric gently pressed his lips to my cheek as his hand traced me from shoulder to wrist to hip, before gliding his palm below my belly to rest between my legs. I’d already had an orgasm, so I was glad his hand relaxed and rested there.

I looked away from him, over to my chemistry textbook on his desk, next to the silver scale where he weighs pot for his clients.

“We should get up,” I said. “Steve may be home soon.”

Eric whispered into my ear, “I don’t care.”

Things had started up just the other day.  The sun was out, it was one of the first days of spring. Steve drove the three of us to the park in his old station wagon. I sat between them in the front seat. Windows were open, seat belts were off. I had a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and was feeding the guys and myself spoonfuls. The cool sweet flavor filled our mouths.  Steve’s eyes stayed on the road as he drove, but Eric twisted his waist to lean back against the door and face me. Each time I lifted the spoon for Eric, I’d watch it move slowly into his mouth, his lips closing tight as I gently pulled the spoon back, leaving the frozen cream behind.

That’s when it happened. I looked at Eric differently. I noticed his golden brown eyes and his blonde hair that looked so soft. Setting the cold pint between my legs, I reached my free hand out and gently brushed the bangs out of his eyes.

Two days later it was raining. We borrowed Steve’s car to go for burgers. We pulled into the lot, but Eric didn’t park near the entrance, he drove around the back. The lot was empty, he pulled into a space in the farthest corner.  He turned off the engine and the two of us sat there silently. The rain was coming down harder, pounding on the rooftop. I watched as the rain rivulets took over the windshield.

I looked over at Eric and he looked at me.  We were silent and we weren’t smiling.

“Do you want to move over here?” Eric said.

I slid my hand over the seat towards him. He laid his hand on mine. Then he lifted his arm and I slid my body over. His arm wrapped around me and I rested my head on his shoulder.  We just sat there, I don’t know how long. The rain slowed until there was just a ping-ping here and there on the roof and I could see through the windshield again. There was a big green hedge in front of us.

“Do you still want to eat?” He asked.

“No. You?”

“No.”

“Wanna go?” I asked.

Eric took his arm back. I slid away from him. He started the engine, headed to campus, and dropped me at my dorm. Even as I closed the car door and walked up the stone steps, I knew I only resisted cheating on Steve to cover my future transgressions with a wisp of innocence.

The next day, I skipped morning chemistry lab and went to Eric’s dorm room. The door was open. Eric was lying in his bed. He didn’t seem surprised or say a word as I closed the door behind me and placed my chemistry book on his desk. I turned to face him and took my clothes off. He lifted his covers and I climbed in beside him. I rested my cheek on his chest, a hand on his belly, and a bended knee on his thigh.  And all I felt was good.

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Red Nails | J G James

I like my painted nails.  They’re painted red, Cha-Cha-Cha-Ching red, according to the little bottle of polish at the salon.  I imagine what can be done with my red nails. There’s a particularly handsome man, Michael, whose brown complexion would look lovely with red. Red-tipped fingers stroking his neck, massaging the tight muscles beside each shoulder blade, pressing down to the small of his back. But right now these nails are typing, tapping on a computer keyboard. The fluorescent lighting causes them to shine, but not with a romantic moon glow. These nails belong somewhere else.

Michael gets to work around nine. That is why I’m always in the lobby at nine. If the timing is right, I’ll see him arrive.  He’ll greet me with a charming smile.  I’m always disappointed to see him greet others with that same warm smile.

Last month I asked him out to lunch. We ate in the cafeteria. The whole time he never mentioned a girlfriend. He talked about Mondays he shoots pool at McKinnon’s bar, weekends he usually plays football, and he thinks he’s due a promotion by spring.

My red nails have stopped typing. I’m still picturing them on Michael. He works on the first floor; I’m on the third floor.  I think about an errand I can run. I make up an errand I can run.  I walk downstairs and as I near his row of workstations, I pull my shoulders back and raise my chin.  Glancing down the aisle towards his desk, I’m disappointed and relieved.  He’s not there. I walk by his desk. The computer is off, several folders are stacked on his chair.  He’s not in today.

Back at my keyboard, I strategize.  I’ll send him an e-mail.  My red nails type as I draft and re-draft.

 Hey Michael, how are things going?  

Short, succinct. It will be dreadful if he doesn’t respond.

I’m sitting at home leafing through Glamour magazine.  I have a movie playing which I half listen to and occasionally watch.  The phone hasn’t rung.  It’s sitting by my feet. I’m expecting a call.  Brad is married, but sometimes he comes over. I left a message on his work phone. I told him I had red nails and I thought he’d enjoy them.

The phone doesn’t ring.

The movie is halfway over.  I know because we still don’t know who the bad guy is, but we’re so close to finding out.  I know because there’s a timer on my DVD player and it tells me the movie has been playing for sixty minutes.

My shoes are off.  I observe my toes.  They are painted red too.  I like my feet.  I had a roommate in college who hated her feet.  Mine are lovely.  The skin is white, “translucent” someone once described them. I think my painted toes look bejeweled as if I had a ruby placed on each one.  Someone should enjoy these toes.

I dial Simon’s number.  He’s always home with his cable TV and his yellow cat.  Long ago I spent two years convincing him to open up to me.  He did.  He had not had sex in eight years, we had sex.  He was excited about it and we would meet once or twice a week.  After about six months I wanted us to go public.  I wanted us to go out on dates and tell our friends and family we were an item. He got tired of the conversation and told me not to contact him until I could forget about it.  So I did forget about it and I did contact him again.

Now we have sex about four times a year.  I call him more than that but he’s only in the mood about four times a year.

His phone is ringing.  His answering machine answers. I wait for the beep and start to leave my message:

“Simon, it’s me.  I just got my nails painted and …”

Simon interrupts. He’s home! We chat. I tell him I’d like to come by, he says sure.

Hanging up the phone, I rise.  Stretching one arm straight out, pushing my palm forward, spreading my fingers to make a fan, I admire my pretty red nails.

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Butterfly Tears | Ghosh Nod

I’m more animal than human. Perhaps that’s why I shy away from people. Spent a lifetime drifting from town to town. A loner. Some call me vagabond, others thief.

When I suppress the wildness in me, I linger in one place for a while.
Once stayed in a town called Kailua, worked in an abattoir, but left after a month. Couldn’t face killing my own kind.

In Zanoni, I tried to join the police force. They rejected me for my short stature and other deficiencies. Met a woman there, but she left saying she found me cold.

Must have been my reptilian endocrinology.

Things have looked up since September. I found a hospital job, measuring brain waves to see what’s happening in people’s heads.
I like my work.

On Sundays, I serve tea and soup to the homeless, people who’ve lost more than I ever had. It erases the stain on my character.
Lately, I’ve been getting pains in my head. Lifting things is a struggle. Tea bags can get awful heavy, especially Earl Grey and rooibos.

I ought to see a doctor or a vet, but that could end badly. I’d likely wind up being dissected in a laboratory once they discovered my cat’s heart and chicken pancreas. From the outside, I look like anyone else, but people see what they want to.

They need you to be like them.

I sense their duplicity through compound eyes.

The doctors I work with have bushy beards and crisp dry-cleaned skirts.
‘Fetch me those reports,’ they say. Or, ‘Today we’ll be busy Do we have enough electrodes?’

We discover what makes people sick and check their medication.
But we can’t tell if they’re sad by analysing their alpha rhythms, or whether there’s such a state as true happiness.

One evening I struggle to pull the plastic cover over the electroencephalograph. Feeling faint, I clutch my head in both hands. Dr. Exter walks past the door.

‘Are you all right?’ His face is creased with concern.

‘I’m feline fine.’ I say. My joke is lost on Exter.

‘Something’s wrong,’ he says. ‘Shall I check you over?’

Exter’s stethoscope twists from his neck, a rubber serpent with ears where its teeth ought to be.

‘No − no, please − ‘

I wake to a monotonous hum, recognise the cylindrical contours of an M.R.I. scanner.

Vague outlines shift in the control room, where a fracas of sorts takes place. Raised arms. Heightened gestures. I see their lips move, but can’t hear what they say.

Can they see my camelid teeth? My pygmy shrew kidneys? My lonely thoughts? Do the lepidopterous lacrimal glands show on the screen?
It doesn’t matter. They’ll know I’m crying anyway.

A butterfly tear creeps across my cheek and drips towards my ear. I roll out my proboscis and lick its salty sadness.

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One of Your Hairs | Ghosh Nod

One of your hairs took me by surprise.

The first snow fell, duck-down light, blue-white and directionless.

I slipped my woolen coat from a hanger, musty from its summer hibernation. The camel-colored Burberry promised warmth and protection. It was heavy with the scent of tobacco and yesterdays.

A single hair poked from the cashmere pile, an auburn coil protruding like an accusation. I pulled a hand’s breadth and more. The uncolored root was last to escape the weave, as if resistant to exposure.

My own is short and the color of earth. I knew the hair wasn’t mine.

One of your shirts caught me off guard yesterday. It must have slipped between the bed and wardrobe, cast aside in a fever of love. I extricated the fabric from the guts of the vacuum cleaner, its tissue separated in my fingers, like lightly cooked egg white.

One of your books demanded I read it. I thought I’d given them all away. The leather-worn spine held the promise of pages still warm from your touch.

A memory of something you’d cooked on a wet Sunday tickled my taste buds. I found the recipe and made beef ragout without the anchovies.

I don’t have anchovies.

I don’t have you.

Your skin flakes collect in forgotten corners. In spring, I catch you in dust motes and sneezes.

When I drink coffee instead of tea, I taste your caffeinated kiss.

 

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Infallible | Michelle Reale

She wears a felt cap to bed when she ovulates. Her husband feels like he is sleeping with Celestine V. There is a sort of digital rhythm to their lovemaking, an explosion of corpuscles like a Rorschach test. The solfeggio thrums in the background, aiding the vibrational vortex, but mid-thrust and they lose their will. Populating the world is not a Roman holiday. They both long for the Prussian blue light that would bathe them into their twilight sleep. A seedbed of truth will need to be tended to in the morning.

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Seduction | Michelle Reale

His manners were restrained, like a dog tugging on a leash. Her wore a faded military uniform, and made elaborate gestures of obeisance to all the wrong people. When they first met, she intuited a hidden charm, a secret he was hiding. He cooked dinner for her. Used his best bone china set, inherited from his mother, a woman who broke every rule for living right. It stirred something primitive in her. After dinner, she fondled his rusted buttons, massaged his drooping epaulets. Set her dish on the floor to let his mangy dog lick it dry.

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There Might Be Another Way of Saying This | Michelle Reale

I’d been in his house a week. I still didn’t have a key. I missed my old place and wondered if it missed me, too. The night was a cold one. Windy, too. I imagined it was the windows and doors of my place, unoccupied for the foreseeable future, howling in grief, wondering when I would return. I used to think things like that. It was another life.

He reached across the crumpled flannel sheets for me. I felt the weight of all of it. Crooked spine to crooked spine he slept. I stuttered in the darkness.

I walked the foreign hallway and tried to and reached for a doorknob that was higher than it needed to be. I sought my own level, but I was out of fashion. I wanted to hold a steaming cup of something in my hands. Anything that could penetrate layers.

He told me that my loneliness had a life cycle and that he would take care of it. Just watch, he said. My whole life I wanted to believe. Miracles were only coincidences, flinty things.

My feet were so cold on that tile floor, but I welcomed it. I needed to feel.

Leaning against the sink I felt his presence, turned to him. I wasn’t guilty. But I was no innocent, either.

He flipped the kitchen lights on. In a flash, I wore pale, malignant yellow. My eyes watered.

Can’t a girl think! I snapped. My mouth stretched, large and ugly.

I saw a shadow like a rare eclipse pass over his unshaven face. It burned at the corners.

Kidding! I laughed. I held the steaming cup to him. It was my best offering.

He took it. Turned his back.

Walked away from me.

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Vernacular Magic | Michelle Reale

She lit the votive candle. Spires of red shadowed the wall. She closed her eyes, felt a surge. She drew her limp, green skirt around herself and shuddered. She felt caught between the solstice and the equinox. He watched her then stood up, touched a thick finger to a vein in her neck. He wore a gold cross that hung from a chain, nestled in the thick hair of his thin chest. He wore the dust of a long day on his clothing, eyelids. She had kaleidoscopic ideas that only needed the right time and place. On the table the bitter herbs, still with pieces of earth clinging to them; the bitter drink. His shoes, forlorn at the doorway where he abandoned them as he walked over the threshold grew in size. Her best ploy was to always be offended. His best defense calling it tradition. On paper, it all made sense.

In the real world, less was usually more.

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Three micro-fiction pieces | Jack Ryan

mojo

Henry came to the Mojo looking for something – work, a familiar face, his old seat at the bar or piano – but found none of the above, instead, an angel, sick with tremor and babbling, beads of blue-white light dripping from her eyes, a tune, subheard but fully present between fluid and murmur, an incantation against All and Nothing Else. In the puddle on the table before her, Henry could make out, but just barely, a viral shine, music personified, a landscape of mutinous slivers, fighting themselves and the universe that built them, and it brought to mind a dreaming moment wherein he understood the truth, the value of seeking the unmentioned and unpromised. For a moment he missed the rhythm of life behind bars. The sound of other men’s screams. The faulty sense of finality. Now he knew he’d go on living. He nodded at the angel, left Mojo, and began walking,

godlights

By the lost light of the laughing godhead, I’d come to a place above my former fears and faulty concerns (remember the dream of heavy empty things pressing up against me) and began taking pleasure in the losing path, covered in burnt bridges and brambles and other mythological creatures, coming to a place I no longer recognized as a place at all

king

Someone had torn his heart out once (no, wait, please, I assure you the rest of this sentence contains no clichés) massaged the aorta, left ventricle, replaced the superior vena cava with that of an Olympian, the inferior with a piece of synthetic something or other and dropped the whole thing into the all new and eternally experimental Nutri-Gel; now the world waited to find out the fate of the once and future celebrity car wash owner, Caleb King.

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