Two Questions for Audrey Hawkes

We recently published Audrey Hawkes’ haunting “A Beginner’s Guide to Summoning Bloody Mary.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love that line about belief — ” You don’t think a magazine can make you love a boy and you don’t think a chant will make a ghost appear in a mirror.” It had me holding my breath for the narrator as they hold Tara’s hand. They are so young here — do you think they will ever be able to tell Tara how they feel?

Thank you, that’s one of my favorite moments as well! A lot of the emotions the narrator is processing were based on my own experience of being a tween and trying to understand all the strong, new emotions and those first inklings of romantic feelings… it can feel very overwhelming and scary when you’re 12! Especially when you think you’re not feeling them the “right” way. But I’d like to imagine that someday when they’re both a little older, things will work out for them, and they will tell Tara how they feel.



2) Bloody Mary has been around forever, it seems, but the way to summon her seems to change from generation to generation. Except, of course, that triple repetition of her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.” Have you ever tried to summon her?

I’ve definitely been coerced into trying to summon Bloody Mary by friends and family when I was younger, but it always terrified me! Even now as an adult, I rationally know it’s not real, but there’s still that tiny part of me that gets nervous about it. That’s the feeling I wanted to capture with this story, as well — walking that line between what you know to be real and what you hope (or fear) might be real. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Summoning Bloody Mary ~ by Audrey Hawkes

The rules of Bloody Mary are very simple when you’re a twelve-year-old girl. Just follow these five steps:

1. You must pick the darkest room with the biggest mirror — location is important. You go to the upstairs bathroom of your best friend Tara’s house and together you face the mirror. Tara switches off the light. Your reflections, gangly and wide-eyed with lingering sunburns from afternoons at the public pool, vanish as the room is plunged into darkness. For a moment you can still see your mirror selves, the impressions left on your vision. It’s like you’re the ghosts, bright leftover images looming behind your eyelids as you blink.

2. You must have the proper tools — after you summon Bloody Mary, you’ll need to light a candle to see her. A tea light candle stolen from Tara’s older sister, and the matchbook from the junk drawer in the kitchen. Tara takes other things from her sister these days too, like teen magazines with quizzes about who your future boyfriend will be. She makes you fill them out with her, and she takes the answers very seriously. Afterwards, you read all the options quietly to yourself and feel nothing. Now, in the dark, Tara takes your hand. You close your eyes; you focus on the feeling of Tara’s hand, the quiet of her breathing. The cold bathroom tile on your bare feet.

3. You must call her forth three times: Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. There is power in the ritual of repetition. How many times have you and Tara pretended you were witches, sitting your stuffed animals in a circle and making up chants? Even if that was just make-believe, you were doing it together, and that thrilled you. You feel goosebumps rise on your arm. It’s like you’re the only two girls in the whole universe, just a vast darkness and your hands and peeling, sunburned arms touching. Tara’s palm is sweaty. Her fingernails are bitten short. You notice these details and your pulse kicks; maybe Tara’s nervousness is catching. You think if you opened your eyes and you really were in an endless black expanse, that would be okay. As long as you got to keep holding Tara’s hand.

4. You must believe, and maybe this is why you’ve had no luck so far. Because Tara is certain that when she lights the candle, she will see a blood-soaked figure in the mirror. Tara believes in Bloody Mary with the same certainty that she believes in the ability of a teen magazine to tell her future. But not you. You don’t think a magazine can make you love a boy and you don’t think a chant will make a ghost appear in a mirror. When you open your eyes, you know there will be nothing there, and Tara will let go of your hand because she won’t be afraid anymore. 5. So for now, you must keep your eyes closed. Imagine you can feel the presence of a third girl in the room with you, maybe phantom breath on your neck. And then hold Tara’s hand tight. Just a little longer. Just until you hear the match strike.

***

Audrey Hawkes is a desert rat living and writing in Arizona, and can often be found watching bad horror movies or on Twitter @audrey_hawkes. Audrey’s work has been featured in Ample Remains and Not Deer Magazine.

Two Questions for Jessie Lovett Allen

We recently published Jessie Lovett Allen’s sparkling “Sports Moms at the End of the World.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I really love how the sports moms try to rebuild their worlds — in particular, the swim mom’s attempt sounded very authentic to this former swimmer! Of course, there is no recreating what is gone. Do you think the sports moms will accept this?

I’m hopeful they will. These bizarre compensatory activities are a bit sad, and I’d like to imagine these moms will reinvent their identities, post-apocalypse.

2) And of course the title lets us know, it’s not just the children’s sports that will be gone — soon it will be everything. What was the impetus to create an apocalypse from this perspective for you?

I observed that for some parents, it felt apocalyptic when the pandemic resulted in canceled sports seasons or even spectator restrictions. And it can feel apocalyptic to parents when their child-athlete graduates high school and leaves the home. Some parents’ identities are enmeshed with their children’s sports, and it’s a dynamic that can be loving and supportive, but also absurd. However it’s not just sports moms; we will all grieve various lost identities during our life cycle, and we will all find idiosyncratic ways to cope within the ruins of these personal apocalypses.

Sports Moms at the End of the World ~ by Jessie Lovett Allen

When all the children’s sports disappeared, the swim mom locked the bathroom door, filled the tub with warm water and a few sloshes of Clorox, and sat on the closed toilet lid to inhale the bleachy, humid air.

The golf mom snuck a sprig of wooden tees into her pocket before tossing her pants into the wash. After the clothes finished drying, she crouched on the sticky floor of the laundry room to pluck the tees out from around the lint trap.

The softball mom, her face and neck slick with sunscreen, sat in her SUV with the sunroof open. In her driveway, she listened to the classic rock station, biting sunflower seeds and spitting the shells between her legs onto the waffled all-weather floormat.

At night, the sports moms dreamt of sweaty hair, hairsprayed into tight ponytails. Handwashing socks in hotel sinks and pinching the wet fabric into rolled-up car windows. Concession-stand coffee with powdered creamer. Unintelligible shouts echoing in the cathedral ceilings of gyms, pools, rinks, and nondescript steel buildings. Once, the basketball mom dreamt herself climbing the bleachers in high heels, losing her balance for just a moment before gripping the wobbly steel handrail and gasping awake. 

Some moms could subscribe and pay to see miniature two-dimensional versions of their children doing sports. They watched on phones in parking lots, laptops on the dining room table. But these flat children with blurred faces didn’t feel like the same ones who had years ago nursed at the moms’ breasts, grasping at the moms’ necklaces as the early evening sun sliced through the blinds of a dim nursery.

So the soccer mom knifed and quartered a dozen oranges and carried them outside to the bird feeder tray. The cheer mom added a few glittery dog collars to her online shopping cart. And in the backyard at sunrise, the tennis mom wrapped herself in a microfleece blanket. Shook open a portable canvas chair. Sipped her K-cup coffee from a travel mug cradled in the mesh cupholder. Watched through the chain-link fence as the neighbor’s cat chased a dead leaf in the wind.

***

Jessie Lovett Allen is originally from western New York and currently teaches English at North Platte Community College in western Nebraska. She holds an MA in English and a PhD in Literacy Education. Jessie enjoys loitering around the MFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where she irregularly takes classes.  Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Bending Genres, The Forge, and JMWW. She was recently nominated for a Pushcart. Twitter: @jesslovettallen

Two Questions for Rachel Abbey McCafferty

We recently published Rachel Abbey McCafferty’s lovely “Setting: Everywhere and nowhere, all at once.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love that, in this world you’ve created, all the residents have to do to visit anywhere they’ve ever dreamed of is … just go! (And leave a note, of course.) Where would you leave for if you had this opportunity?
I’d head for the ocean. Or some other body of water. Lakes, rivers, ponds — they’ve always just felt like home to me. I have a lot of good memories tied up in those spaces, but there’s also just something in the air, the rhythm of the waves. I feel complete.


2) There is one note left behind that has “only one word written on it.” I have my thoughts about what that word is, and I suspect other readers have other thoughts. Do you think we could all be right? Or, alternately, could we all be wrong?

It’s the heart of the story, isn’t it? That all of these people realize they could go anywhere in the world, anywhere in time, real or not, and they choose these moments of joy, connection, love? I think the nature of the word I envisioned means you all got it right. 

Setting: Everywhere and nowhere, all at once ~ by Rachel Abbey McCafferty

The first sign had been taped to the garage door of the blue house with white shutters. It was crisp at first, big black letters on white paper, but the sun soon rendered it faded and soft and yellow, tender as its message.

            The family who had once lived inside the house had gone to the ocean, seeking sand and sun and salty air, it said. No one knew how long they had been gone before someone noticed the sign. It was like they had never been there at all.

            The next sign had been taped to a large green house with a maple tree out front. They’d gone to the mountains, it said, where the air was thinner but crisper, cleaner. They’d vacationed there once when the kids were young and had never been happier. They took nothing and never returned.

            The third sign appeared soon after, taped to a small brick colonial with a fenced-in backyard. There was only one word written on it.

            The residents of the street grew bolder.

            The Norwoods headed for a small town the father had visited as a child, where the ice cream cones were the size of his head and cost a nickel. The McCauleys were going to the house where their great grandmother had grown up, which had burned in a fire fifty years prior. The Greenes had taken off for a land that could only be found in the map on the inside cover of their favorite fantasy novel.

            One by one, signs appeared, stuck tight to empty houses full of dreams.

            Word spread of this modern ghost town. People came from the next town over, the next county, the next state. They came from around the world, seeking transport to the places their hearts most desired.

            One person fled to the setting sun. Another to a gray day full of soft rain and unread books. There was a sign describing a lilac bush in bloom, a tree with a crooked trunk, and an old canoe by the pond.

            The signs multiplied. Layers upon layers of paper coated in ink, memories and daydreams that had formerly been lodged somewhere in the stomach, the throat, the chest, deep behind the lungs.

            The walls of the houses began to bow, bearing the weight of longing. But when they finally fell, they fell outward, not inward, sending the hope they housed out into the world.

***

Rachel Abbey McCafferty has been writing since she first learned that was a thing people could do. She’s a newspaper reporter in Ohio whose favorite questions are ‘what if’ and ‘why.’ Her flash fiction has appeared in journals like formercactus, (mac)ro(mic) and Emerge Literary Journal.

Two Questions for Mia Nakaji Monnier

We recently publish Mia Nakaji Monnier’s gorgeous “Minerals.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love how the narrator in this piece thinks of their parents as being an owl and a tanuki — I love the insight it gives into the parents and the narrator. What made you pick those creatures specifically, instead of, say, a mouse and a tengu?

When I studied abroad in Japan in college, my class went to Shigaraki, a town known for its ceramics, especially tanuki statues. Among the tanuki was a small group of owl-tanuki hybrids, called “fukukitaro.” The name is an anagram of “tanuki” and “fukuro” (owl), and because the character “nu” doesn’t appear in their names, the creatures carry it on what looked to me like newspaper satchels. When my host mother saw them, she said, “They’re haafu (mixed-race Japanese) like you” and bought a little one for me. Being compared with an animal like that was bittersweet—it felt a bit dehumanizing, even knowing her intentions were good, but I also felt connected to and empathetic toward my fukukitaro, and eventually that led to this story.



2) I think for many mixed-race people, the scene where the narrator talks about people stopping them to ask about their face is a familiar one. “They’re not sure it’s beautiful,” the narrator says. It’s such a familiar, and heartbreaking, moment. I’m not sure I really have a question here, except to say: How did you capture that feeling so perfectly here?


First of all, thank you! I’m so happy when the things I write resonate with other mixed-race people. When I started the story about this fukukitaro, I didn’t intend for it to be about my mixed-race feelings. But I could say the same for all the parts of “Minerals”—that they transcended my intentions—and that’s why I’ve continued to love these pieces for so long, even as they were rejected by publications over and over. Mostly, I write more straightforward nonfiction, but I found that by writing tiny, surreal stories like these, I could access different parts of my voice and reach the themes that interest me in different ways. I went into each of these stories with just one image, and they all surprised me by landing somewhere that felt uncomfortably true. Over the years, I’ve sharpened them bit by bit, which usually meant making them sadder and more vulnerable.

Minerals ~ by Mia Nakaji Monnier

1

            My family lives in a house full of mountains about to fall over. It’s not that they’re balanced perfectly on the right side of precariousness. These mountains do fall over, all the time. When they do, my mother shouts, “Avalanche!” and my brothers and father casually inflate their safety helmets. When I come over they’re raking the rubble against the wall, forming new mountains, smaller ones this time.

            After we’ve cleaned up we all sit around peering across the rolling landscape. Here are its contents: Yarns from grass-fed alpacas. Expensive books with mild water damage. Nine hundred and ninety nine cranes, their folds full of dust. In my chest, rocks begin to slip, these small golden dirt clods rolling downhill and bursting on the ground. My mother sniffs back tears. “I love this family so much,” she says.

2

            At the bakery, I order anpan and wait for the clerk to tell me how good my Japanese is, just for managing to pronounce two words.

            “Haha wa nihonjin desu,” I will say, and when she opens her eyes wide and says she can’t see it in my face, I’ll say, “Sou iwareteimasu.” So I’m told.

            I will take my red bean bun—warm, round, and filling my hand like a small creature, and leave it whole as I sit at a bench outside, reading a story about an acrobat and a rocket scientist who fall in love.

            Once, a scientist loved me too. At night, he walked into the forest looking for owls, cradling the smallest ones in his palms before clamping numbered tags on their spindly legs. In the afternoons, he brought me olive bread. I pulled it apart as we talked, and all our worries fell out, shriveled and covered in crumbs.

            In my new neighborhood, I have almost every kind of Japanese pastry I want, but I have to steel myself to buy them, wielding my rice and seaweed childhood, a soft memory pounded tough.

            When I finally bite into the glazed flesh, the black sesame seeds will graze my lips. The sweet bean paste will linger on my tongue.

3

            For parents I have an owl and a tanuki. I did not get my mother’s ability to fly, or my father’s voluminous testicles to use as a parachute. No, I live on the ground and spend my days delivering newspapers through the forest.

            Sometimes I dream about moving through the air, the wind pushing at my back, the fog opening for me like a hug. People stop me on my paper route to ask about my face: how did I get it, both beak and whiskers? They’re not sure it’s beautiful.

            Well, one of my parents flew and the other one floated, I say. They met at the top of a short tree and later they made me.

            When I tell them, people look at me as if I could fly, and I don’t correct them. I have the memory, after all. When I sleep, I’m closer to the stars.

***

Mia Nakaji Monnier is a writer in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in BuzzFeed News, Shondaland, The Rumpus, and more. Her essay “Kokoro Yasume,” published in Exposition Review, was a Longreads editors’ pick and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She is the 2021 Idyllwild Writers Week Nonfiction Fellow. You can find her on Twitter @miagabb and read more of her work at mianakajimonnier.com.

Two Questions for Jonathan Cardew

We recently published Jonathan Cardew’s bewitching “Baba Yaga.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) Except for little details like the chicken-legged shack and the spell-casting, this story could almost be about any old woman watching a child and remembering her youth. What made you pick the Baba Yaga as your main character here?

I used to read an illustrated book of myths and legends to my daughters, and we especially loved the tale of Baba Yaga, My daughters are now 13 and 15, but I still remember stretching out and reading it with them, tracing our fingers over her big witchly nose. We used to love to say her name: Ba-ba Ya-ga. The witch with the iron teeth. 

2) Do you think there is still a place in this world for old gods like the Baba Yaga? Or do you think she, as she has become old, has lost her place here as well?

If Baba Yaga were around now, she’d thrive in an atmosphere of fevered cultishness; blue check marked, followed by millions, she’d influence the fuck out of everybody and smile.

Baba Yaga ~ by Jonathan Cardew

Baba Yaga

cuts carrots in her chicken-legged shack, the weight of the world no longer on her shoulders, peers out the window on a bright morning, the birds particularly precocious and loud, intrigued by seedlings, casts a spell on an old friend in Praha, a lady who reared a log for a son (and had it coming), remembers her first love, a solemn woodsman, a poet of sorts, though he never realized the power of words, ponders how age and wisdom are not mutually exclusive, wisdom is for the birds, knowledge consumed by animals, and shat out, stands and watches a young girl approach the flock of sparrows, a girl of only 10, no more than that, a tasty morsel, from the village of disbelievers, yearns as the girl brings her hands together (in prayer? in supplication?), cuts into her own finger rather than the carrot, just to see blood, to remember what it is to be young again.

***

Jonathan Cardew’s stories appear in cream city review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Passages North, CRAFT, and others. Originally from the UK, he lives in Milwaukee, WI.