I Think I Love the Small Woman Who Lives in My Hair ~ by Veronica Klash

She swings from strand to strand often landing to sit on my left ear. At the grocery store, she waves to the cashier and asks about his day. His response is polite but disinterested. Later she’ll tell me that she thinks he’s sad. I’ll say that maybe he was just having a bad day.

When I’m at work, typing with my back curved, a spiral staircase to nowhere, she’ll remind me to sit up straight before taking a nap nestled beside my bangs. I’ll pull my shoulders back and feel the space open under my ribs.

At night, after dinner, when the neighborhood lights come on and the grass in the park across the street looks purple instead of green, she’ll make gasping sounds and tsk tsks while we read the next chapter of a cozy thriller. As my fingers shift to the top of the page and grab hold of the corner her voice stops me, Wait, wait, I’m not ready. At the end of the book she always announces, I knew that the weird woman did it. I could tell from the very beginning.

Sometimes when I drink coffee she’ll stroll along the rim of the mug, closing her eyes and inhaling the steam. She’ll say, It makes your breath stink but it smells so good when it’s still in the mug. I know the smallest poke from my finger would send her flying into the dark roasted lagoon she’s circling. I don’t tell her that. I resist the urge.

Hours after I’ve turned off the lamp in the bedroom and settled under flannel sheets, my eyes won’t close. More than a hundred sheep have bounded over a low wooden gate to the soundtrack of her deep and even breathing. Still, my eyes won’t close. I let my hand slip down my body, between elastic and warm skin. I think about the cashier from the grocery store. The sandpaper stubble on his jawline against my thigh. My fingers fly and I moan. She stirs, rustling in my hair. I stop. She pats my head, and before going back to sleep says, Go on I know you need this. I finish what I started, but the last thing I remember before falling asleep is not the cashier. The last thing I remember is a dainty finger dipping into a honey sample cup at the farmer’s market, and her voice, as she licks the golden drops, This is perfection.  

***

Veronica Klash loves living in Las Vegas and writing in her living room. Her work has appeared in Cheap Pop, Ellipsis Zine, and X-Ray Lit, among others. You can find her on Twitter @veronicaklash.

Two Questions for Laila Amado

We recently published Laila Amado’s heartbreaking “Advanced Math for the Sleepless.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This is such a great hermit crab flash — the calculations and figures seem so authentic here, making this tragedy a problem you must “solve.” What made you choose this particular form for this particular story?
To be honest, I don’t remember making a conscious choice. When writing flash fiction, it is rarely a matter of rational choice for me. A story begins to spin out from the first sentence that comes to mind, often something that sounds like a character’s voice. In some instances, the voice is so clear that the story, at least its first draft, is written in one sitting. This was the case here. A story also often draws on bits and pieces of personal experiences, including things that have never been fully processed. Like loss. In a sense, this is a story of processing loss through distancing. A logical, analytic mind trying to grapple with the unthinkable by creating a network of formulas, a supporting structure, around this internal catastrophe.


2) The opening sequence is one of my favorite parts of this story, all that math to figure out the odds of meeting the love of your life, but, obviously, the narrator does. Really, what do you think are the odds of that?
I love the idea that we are all made of stardust. The odds of meeting another constellation of star matter, recognizing each other as partners, consciously working towards each other’s happiness and not messing it all up anywhere in the process. The odds of that are weighted on some sort of a cosmic scale. In the words of Galileo Galilei, mathematics is the language of the universe and its creation. I guess it is also fitting to consider it the language of love that can express the odds of both happiness and heartbreak it can bring us.

Advanced Math for the Sleepless ~ by Laila Amado

There are 8.399 million people living in New York City. Of these, 47% are male. If 53% of these men are currently single, 26% prefer latte over cappuccino, 10% can tell a difference between a Leica and a Fuji, 7% are remotely attractive, and 3% can find you attractive with makeup running down your face, please calculate the probability of meeting the love of your life on a rainy Tuesday in April, outside of Dashwood Books, after you have forgotten your umbrella on the subway.

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The wedding band is a circle of metal around emptiness. To calculate the radius of a circle by using the circumference, take the circumference of the circle and divide it by 2 times π. Without using any measurement instruments, estimate the correct size of the wedding band for a person whose hand you’ve been clutching on a roller coaster ride you shouldn’t have gone to in the first place.

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Add up the 6.5 lbs of a newborn girl and the combined 10.8 lbs of the twins that came two years later, subtract 2.25 hours a day spent cooking and cleaning, multiply by the number of times the spouses quarreled and then made up, legs intertwined, divide by the number of Lego parts found in unexpected places and, finally, take a square root out of every difficult conversation to find a formula of a perfect marriage.

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Imagine that Car A leaves from point X and Car B departs from point Y. Car A travels at 55 mph, in line with the maximum posted speed limit. Car B travels at 65mph for the first two hours of its journey and then speeds up to 90 mph for the last 22 minutes. Calculate the force of their collision at intersection Z.

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There are 206 bones in the human body. The femur is the strongest and the trapezium bone in the left wrist, injured in the skating incident at the age of nine, is the weakest. Calculate how many bones will break when the side impact airbag doesn’t deploy. For extra points, estimate which one of them will break first.

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The average life expectancy of a man is 77 years and the average life expectancy of a woman is 81. Calculate how many times she will stand outside Dashwood Books alone after her husband dies in a car crash two days before her 36th birthday.

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Laila Amado spends her days teaching, writing, never quite catching up on her own research agenda, and trying to get a teenage kid through a global pandemic. In her free time, she can be found staring at the Mediterranean Sea. Occasionally, the sea stares back. She is on Twitter @onbonbon7.

Two Questions for Nick Perilli

We recently published Nick Perilli’s delightful “Our Dog Most Recently.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) This is a story about a dog stuck in a time loop. Right there, that begs the question — what was your inspiration for writing a story about a dog stuck in a time loop?

I’d say my biggest inspiration was our dog Gabby. She’s getting pretty up there in years so she has a very specific routine in how she lives her life and goes about her day to day, which I really took notice of when my partner and I settled into a house we bought after living in rentals the entire time we’ve had her. That’s another bit of inspiration, too—the knowledge that this house is where Gabby and our other pets (and us, if we never move) will likely live out the rest of their days going about their routines. So, a combination of considering (and regretting) our dog’s mortality, as well as the space where that mortality will play out alongside ours, brought this piece into being.

Gabby the dog: Inspiration for “Our Dog Most Recently”

2) I love how, in this world you’ve created, time loops seems to serve a Groundhog Day sort of purpose to improve the people caught in them. But, the vet says, there’s no need for the dog to improve. That is such a great touch! Did you have a specific dog in mind here, or could this be any dog, as they’re all wonderful?

Gabby again! But, yes, all dogs are equally wonderful and I hope the dog in this piece reads more as all dogs rather than just one specific wonderful dog. It’s the dog that you want it to be. While writing the piece, I almost swapped in another, slightly more eccentric animal for the dog just to see what that would read like. Everyone writes about pet dogs all the time but rarely about pet bearded dragons, you know? While the story may have stood out more on some level with a reptile in a time loop, I realized I needed all the connections readers would make with the simple fact that the narrator is talking about a dog. I think most people agree that their dogs and dogs in general don’t really need to improve themselves, so right there is a positive connection that people have with the dog in the story. Some people probably do think reptiles could stand to improve on themselves in some ways, so I might have lost a reader or two if I tried to pass off a bearded dragon as this paragon of wonderful like I do with the dog. It would have been a much different story.

Our Dog Most Recently ~ by Nick Perilli

Our dog is stuck in a time loop, living the same day on repeat. Our children first noticed it when they went to give her a bath and realized she wasn’t dirty after weeks without a cleaning. The evidence mounted from there. She ate at the same time, slept until the exact same minute, went outside only three times a day. No more, no less.

A cosmic trick has been played on our dog by the universe, and even the vet has no idea why.

“She has always been a good dog,” they told us over the phone, “so this is especially strange.” In cases like this, according to the doctor, the universe is usually forcing someone to improve themselves, but there is no need for our dog to improve. “Just give her treats when you can,” the vet said, “and don’t get in the way of her routine too much, otherwise you might get swept up in the loop.”

My husband immediately decided to enter the loop with our dog, which he’s still trying to do. He has shadowed her for three days and counting. He sleeps next to her in the living room on the worn gray couch that has absorbed her smell. Eats his breakfast at her level. Rolls in the grass and lays in the sun for half the day.

Now he sometimes repeats his last few minutes, most recently explaining to me how he wants to paint the wall behind the entertainment center a darker color twice in a row. Most recently explaining to me how he wants to paint the wall behind the entertainment center a darker color twice in a row. But that is about as far as he’s gotten.

The world moves and ages around our dog. The children are getting older and so are we, but the dog is still stuck in her loop—not that she minds. Time now dilates when we approach her, so I keep my distance. Our daughter Mirren, who was always closest to the dog in every way, is now younger than our son and I don’t quite remember them being born that way. I am concerned they won’t have families of their own to care for our dog when we finally go. That she will continue in her loop far beyond us and them and this house.

We have sent the children to my parents’ home to ease the time dilation. I watch our dog at the end of her daily loop, dozing on her gray couch with my husband repeating his last four minutes of sleep beside her. He looks younger. The mantle over the fireplace holds one framed memory after another. I can’t help but crawl on all fours across the rug and press my face into our dog’s pristine, slowing fur.

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Nick Perilli is a writer and library person living in Philadelphia with loved ones and a Netflix DVD plan. His debut novel, ‘Cul-de-sac,’ is forthcoming from Montag Press in late 2021. His chapbook Child Lucia and Other Library Fabula will be released by Ethel Zine Press around then too. Short work of his can be found in Breadcrumbs, Toho Journal, and elsewhere. He tweets @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his cheap website nickperilli.com.

“In the Field of Everything I Never Told You” ~ by Leigh Chadwick

Flowers, I met you in a field of flowers. In the field of flowers you were dressed like a child’s lost balloon. You pointed to yourself and told me to hold on. “Everyone is waiting,” you said. I looked all around us—to the north and to the south and to the east and to the west—but I saw no one. We were alone, all ghosts and charm. Still, you insisted they were there, they who had come to see us marry the sky, they who were waiting patiently to watch as the sky swept past us, as if the clouds were on a conveyor belt. 

You tied your wrist around mine as I told you about how, as a child, I would rub dirt on my shins so my grandmother would have to rub the dirt off. I would say mother, but my mother never existed. These were the days when I wanted nothing more than to be held, to hold, to be on my own conveyor belt as I moved through every definition of touch, everything that followed hold, the once upon a time, and wherever my mother went before she decided she never wanted to have to rub dirt off my shins. 

“Everyone is waiting,” you said, again. You were smiling, all gapped teeth and lips gone U-turn. I didn’t care that you were wrong, that we were alone, that there was no one waiting to watch us turn starling. It was in that moment I wanted nothing more than to crawl through the gap between your two front teeth. I wanted to grow fur and burrow inside you. I wanted to audit a class on how to hibernate inside a lover who moonlighted as a balloon. I wanted to stay a while, maybe forever, but I knew I wouldn’t fit. Instead, I reached for you, grabbing on to as much as I could hold. 

It only took a blink and then we were floating. We were floating so high we were above the ghosts and the ghosts of their ghosts, above their stained white sheets—now nothing but clouds beneath us.

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Leigh Chadwick is the author of a chapbook, Daughters of the State (Bottlecap Press, 2021), a poetry coloring book, This Is How We Learn How to Pray (ELJ Editions, 2021) and the full-length poetry collection, Wound Channels (ELJ Editions, 2022). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in SalamanderHeavy Feather ReviewSchuylkill Valley JournalIndianapolis ReviewONE ART, and Bending Genres, among others. Find her on Twitter at @LeighChadwick5.

Two Questions for Lucy Zhang

We recently published Lucy Zhang’s innovative “I will relax in the next life.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) As you and I (and some other manga/manhwa lovers) know, this story is inspired by the “reincarnated as a villainess” craze — which, thanks to you, I’m now hooked on. What do you find so appealing about these stories, and how do you play off that in this piece?
I’m so glad you’ve gotten hooked on these stories! One of the most appealing things to me about certain genres of anime is watching characters transform from idealistic to “fallen”. In many ways, humans are “fallen” creatures, not because they’ve become “bad” but because as they grow older, they start to empathize with the flawed and see more grey. The “reincarnated as a villainess” genre flips the cookie cutter good-or-bad structure on its head. What makes it more interesting is how the character copes with being a villain: how the story often becomes about survival rather than morals or “following the plot”. I love the idea of a character living outside the creator’s vision. How does a character behave when no one is watching, when nothing critical to the plot is happening? Reality isn’t all melodramatic events. I guess, in a way, these “reincarnated as a villainess” stories are escapist to me (and I am always reading to escape), because you see someone shoehorned into an archetype, trying to conquer not a final boss or demon king but the world structure itself. 


2) What really drew me to this story is that you dig so deeply in such a small space — these villainess stories can be a bit surface level, even in a 20-volume series, but here, we learn so much about the character in such a small space. She feels so real. How did you create this lovely person?
One of my biggest gripes with the villainess stories is the lack of exploration into the main character’s previous life. It’s an entire life! Those memories and experiences are going to influence how the character acts after reincarnation no matter what. I want to see what a character leaves behind and keeps from their original world. I thought a lot about the memories I wanted my character to keep and what they would say about her. Death is kind of a big deal. You can’t just brush it off now that you’ve reincarnated into a fantasy world. And now you have to deal with all this baggage as a villainess? My character comes from that exhaustion, coming to terms with not wanting to be a villain but also not wanting to play hero, and that’s where her true desires shine through. If you could shed all expectations of you—in this life and all previous lives, who would you be?

I will relax in the next life ~ by Lucy Zhang

You know the story: office worker gets hit by a truck, gets reborn as the villainess in a fantasy world, tries to convince the crown prince / ex-fiancé that she’s not in love with him, watches the prince and female lead triumph in ironclad plot armor.

You know the story: out of jealousy, the villainess dumps granules of arsenic into the female lead’s tea. The female lead drinks, thumb and forefinger pinching the handle, pinky curled and tucked under her ring finger, an extra limb that has to stay hidden. It isn’t good to use too many fingers—people might assume the worst: that you cling, grasp, hold things afloat. But the female lead has healing powers hidden within her sternum, so deep arsenic must catalyze cellular apoptosis, amp up oxidative stress, knock down organs to drag out holy light. The female lead sits back up, healthy like a horse. The mouton catapults past the lunette. The villainess’s head soars. The tea goes cold.

I would just like to live quietly, says the reincarnated villainess. Retired at a seaside cottage, growing scallion on the window sill, baking ube milk buns in the summer heat because there’s no chiffon dress to ruin with sweat, belting out lyrics from an idol group she stanned several lives ago. In a previous life, she ate pork rinds rather than loins, flushing fat down her digestive system like water, the muscle meat and proteins too tough to digest. This is why your blood is weak, that life’s mother said. Unfulfilled bodies make unfulfilled souls. The villainess wishes to tell the female lead: you can have the prince, I think I’m asexual anyway. But confronting the female lead is like talking to the auntie who sizes you up against their daughter: fairer skin? Higher grades? Better handiwork at rolling and wrapping tangyuan so sesame paste doesn’t leak? Prowess in the kitchen seems desirable these days.

After the villainess packs her bags, changes out of her crimson dress (red is the shade of evil, said someone somewhere), and writes a letter to her parents about breaking off the engagement, she heads off to the countryside. There, she occasionally thinks about the demon lord soon-to-be slain by the prince, the female lead who’ll rescue the prince from the brink of death, the royal garden lined with rows and rows of camellias, serrated and glossy—the perfect backdrop for a love confession, an execution. It will only be a few seconds of thought before the villainess decides to sleep in, hoping she has escaped the death flags this time around. 

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Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Hobart, Invisible City and Five South, and was selected for Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and Pithead Chapel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Two Questions for Carly Berwick

We recently published Carly Berwick’s delightful “In this story someone.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love how you invite the reader into this story by making them a part of it — it’s so cool and so effective. What made you decide to address the reader directly in this piece?

This question exposes so well the idea behind the piece, which is mostly about the interaction between two people: a reader and a writer, a good guy and a bad guy. One is open and curious, and by extension empathic and probably quite generous. The other can be rude, even brutal, and stingy with emotions.

2) The perfect little details of “whiskey as a soporific” and “The Great British Baking Show” really bring such a flavor of realness to this piece. What was it about the specific details you chose that made them feel like a good fit for the narrator here?

The collective narrator (we/us) isn’t doing so great. These are the sort of late-night activities of someone whose self-care strategies are a little off or willfully self-indulgent. I’m definitely drawing on life here.

In this story someone ~ by Carly Berwick

In this story someone dies. Maybe they are already dead. You don’t know yet who dies or if they are already dead. That’s part of the trick. It’s very tricky.

In this story someone also loves a terrible person. It’s not clear why they don’t know that this person is terrible and we do. But that’s part of the charm of this story. They love because they are a decent person who embraces the quirks of strangers, unlike us, who are into this story because we are the sort of people who judge others and their decisions including their poor choice in whom to trust; who wake at night and stalk the kitchen in bare feet and use whiskey as a soporific; who watch “The Great British Baking Show” semi-ironically but can’t get past the endless first season and now require new entertainment having to do with the lives of others but in a way that we feel urbane but also a little connected to our own humanity. We laugh out loud sometimes. Not just the inside wry smile-laugh but loud and boisterous. Har har. We are not that bad. Just proved it.

You’ve guessed already who is already dead or about to die and who loves a terrible person, haven’t you? You are clever but also kind. This story confirms that.

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Carly Berwick is a writer based in Jersey City, NJ, and has published stories in Hobart, Subnivean, and Bowery Gothic.