“an essay about ghosts” ~ by Lee Patterson

 

in this essay you are a ghost & I am in the kitchen, boiling a pot of water. I look out my kitchen window & watch a ladder fall from the sky. it lands directly into the middle of my backyard. your ghost doesn’t climb down the ladder. instead, your ghost parachutes out of a cloud in the shape of a cloud. these days I am finding it difficult to not find things difficult. I fear the mundane like you used to fear spiders, snakes, dark alleys, losing your car keys, & affording your insurance deductible. do ghosts need health insurance? I ask your ghost. your ghost shakes her head as steam rises from the kettle on the stove. I pour a cup of chamomile tea & think about looking out the kitchen window. instead, I pour the tea down the sink & go back to bed.

***

Lee Patterson’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Gone Lawn, Unbroken, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and Entropy, among others. His chapbook, I get sad, was published by Ethel Zine in late 2019.

Two Questions for Jo Withers

We recently published Jo Withers’ stunning “Yesterday’s Tide.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This is such a quiet, understated time travel story — the parent going back and back and back to this one moment to try again. Why this particular moment, do you think? What is the significance for the child and the parent?

This was one of my first questions, once the time machine was finished, where would the parent begin? I think that my most vivid childhood memories were formed around this age. We lived quite a distance from the coast and beach days were rare and magical. I believe the parent would start here as it’s a time of deep mutual love. They mean everything to one another at this moment and are entirely absorbed by their own world. Their biggest problem at this point is finding the best sand for their castle.

 

2) Despite going back in time to change things, the ending remains the same. Do you think this is an inevitable end for these characters’ story? Or do you think there is the chance — the hope — that one more time, one more time, and things will turn out differently?

This piece left a hole in my heart as it was written when a close friend was really struggling. It was born out of my almost obsessional need to try to help, to tweak even the slightest thing which would change her life for the better. It’s very difficult when we have no control over situations, part of me was trying to accept that there was only so much I could do (I couldn’t remove every sharp pebble) whilst the other part was constantly reflecting and plotting ways I could do more. For those we love, we will always try. I don’t know if there’s a way to make the story end differently but I do know that the parent will never give up.

Yesterday’s Tide ~ by Jo Withers

Finally, the time machine was finished, and I could go back.

 

I start on your third birthday at the beach. The tide folds back on itself, sandcastles shifting and unbuilding. I taste salt, hear sky. I dig deep to find the best sand, compact it into every turret. You search for shells like gems, blonde curls dancing. We play until sunset, until orange darkness turns the world sepia. We wander closer to the ocean, watch as tiny, silver fish jump luminescent rays from the upside-down moon.

As the months and years unfurl, I am kinder, softer. I read longer at bedtime, listen harder when you laugh, never say I’m busy or tired or things can wait.

But at eighteen, pills pull you under and the world falls silent.

 

I start on your third birthday at the beach. The tide folds back on itself, sandcastles shifting and unbuilding. We shape high walls of sand, dig a moat so deep that water seeps through sediment, so deep that your arm can’t reach the bottom, so deep that nothing will pass.

Over months and years, I watch closer, care deeper. I hold your mittened hand through every storm, steady the shakes from every fever, balance every disappointment.

But at eighteen, you swallow silence and the world fragments.

 

I start on your third birthday at the beach. The tide folds back on itself, sandcastles shifting and unbuilding. You bob clumsily through silk-soft sand towards the foaming ocean, longing to feel its gossamer froth caress your toes. I catch your hand and hold you close, noticing the speckled pebbles beneath the tidal foam, the thousands of tiny pointed edges.

I bend low, begin to collect them one by one.

***

Jo Withers writes micros, flash and poetry from her home in South Australia. Recent work has featured in FlashBack Fiction, Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine and Mythic Picnic.

Two Questions for M.J. Iuppa

We recently published M.J. Iuppa’s brilliant “She Can’t Settle Down.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her 100-word micro:

 

1) The description in this piece is so strong — it really builds the story for me. But the mother is only “someone’s mother,” not someone specific. Why?

I was deliberate with the wording “someone’s mother” because I believe there is a point in the parent-child relationship, where the mother of the adult child doesn’t have the same responsibility as she once did; and, the child can choose to have or not have any responsibility for his aging mother.

 

2) Canned beans and fruit cocktail for a week sounds like an absolute nightmare to me! Is this the worst meal you can think of, or is there something more awful in this mother’s cupboard?

It’ s cheap, available, and filling. So many of these prepared foods are found in the variety of dollar stores that serve as grocery stores in rural locations. Everything is “fixed” in this story; yet, the mother can’t settle down.

She Can’t Settle Down ~ by M.J. Iuppa

Today, it’s nearly pleasant in the middle of nowhere, in wind skimming a bouncy road to town, to market, to the tired side of the trailer park. There, you’ll find dark lines of grit stuck under fingernails; in saggy skin’s deep creases. Someone’s mother sits on a broken porch, rocking up a storm. She’s been waiting for her son’s rusty F10 pickup to come get her. It’s been a week of beans & fruit cocktail. A pyramid of crusty cans clutter her kitchen table. She has real trouble concentrating. Today’s swarm of busy metallic green bottle flies makes it worse.

***

M.J. Iuppa  is the Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program and Lecturer in Creative Writing at St. John Fisher College; and since 2000 to present, is a part time lecturer in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport. Since 1986, she has been a teaching artist, working with students, K-12, in Rochester, NY, and surrounding area. Most recently, she was awarded the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching, 2017. She has four full length poetry collections, This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017), Small Worlds Floating (2016) as well as Within Reach (2010) both from Cherry Grove Collections; Night Traveler (Foothills Publishing, 2003); and 5 chapbooks. She lives on a small farm in Hamlin, NY.

Two Questions for Erin Calabria

We recently published Erin Calabria’s inventive “Seedlings.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This is such an interesting idea, this carrying of seeds and planting them, keeping them safe. What inspired this piece?
My mom has quite the green thumb that I haven’t really inherited, but I’ve always treasured the knowledge she’s passed down to me about plants. At the end of summer, we used to collect the seeds from the dead poppies in her garden, and when I moved to different places, she would give me a phial of those seeds to take with me and scatter there. Recently, I became obsessed with the seed as a symbol. It’s a powerful one – such massive potential contained in such a tiny vessel, a speck of new life that originates in death. As a teenager, I loved Louise Glück’s collection of poems, The Wild Iris, and I’m sure a lot of my obsession draws from the way she writes the speech of flowers, lines like, “[…] whatever / returns from oblivion returns / to find a voice.” There’s also a bit of the film Dogtooth behind this story, as well as a few too many podcasts on cults.

 

2) The sister never wanted to be safe, you say, and because of this, it seems, she dies. Do you think, though, she was satisfied?
This is such an intriguing question, and one I hadn’t asked myself! The question that I wrestled with the most, and that remains unresolved at the end of the story, is whether the narrator’s consumption of the plant represents an unhealthy, compulsive response to grief that will ultimately result in her own death, or whether the fruit will in fact give her the knowledge she seeks. I’d say that “safe” is the word the girls have at their disposal based on the vocabulary they have been taught, but the word “controlled” would probably be closer to their reality. I do believe that the sister is attempting to impart her knowledge in order to free the narrator, so in that sense, I don’t think the sister can be satisfied until that happens. Whether the narrator will actually be able to attain freedom within the framework constructed around the seeds or whether she has to find it in a different context – that’s another question I still don’t know the answer to. But I’m rooting for her. I hope she grows larger than life.

Seedling ~ by Erin Calabria

Each of us will carry the seeds. They say we will know when to plant them. They say we must keep them safe.

 

My sister never wanted to be safe. She wanted to know things. It must have been unbearable not knowing what the seeds were for, because one day she swallowed hers one by one. They buried her for shame on the edge of the woods with a stone too small to cover her.

 

Most days now I go there when the crows gather before dusk. They watch me, flapping and croaking in the trees. I tell them about the day my sister got her sachet of seeds, how she dangled it in front of me, back and forth like a hypnotist’s watch in the room we shared with clenched spider corpses and blossoming mold. When she pretended to throw it out the window, I shrieked, and she put her hand over my mouth, laughing, resting the sachet on my forehead. I could just barely feel the tiny kernels while I breathed against her fingers.

 

My sister always smelled of forbidden things. Strawberry lotion and cinnamon gum and different kinds of smoke. Somehow she’d gotten to know the boy on the farm at the end of the road, over two miles from our farthest fencepost, and she claimed but made me promise not to say that he would take her in his rumbling truck to the town where you could find just about anything you’d ever imagined. And where no one carried the seeds.

 

One evening the crows cackle in unfamiliar rhythm as I approach my sister’s too-small stone. Sprouting from beneath the granite, a tongue of green trembles. Days pass, and a leaf unfurls, then two and three, till soon there are so many that the wind passing through them sighs just the way my sister used to when she stared out the window and I would ask her where she wanted to go, and she would say, Everywhere, everywhere. And when the plant’s buds burst into delicate stars, they smell of her shampoo.

 

I tell the crows about the night she snuck back into our room with that pearly bottle, a scent like the tropics, all sunshine and coconut. It comes from a store – a drugstore, she’d said and pulled a pair of chocolate bars from under her shirt. Even though they’d melted with the warmth of her skin, the taste made both of us cry until we’d licked the wrappers clean.

 

I don’t need to tell the crows why I do what I do next. I pick a leaf off the plant that grows from my sister’s grave. And then I eat it whole.

 

Each day I pick more and more, and the plant grows and grows like all it wants to do is feed me. I start to hear her, as if the roots have reached right down into what used to be her mouth. Only there are no words – just the language of cells changed into other cells, memories that could never be explained but that lived as flesh lives. A knowledge that cannot be known unless it becomes the body.

 

I am so hungry for it, so hungry for her, for the expanse of all she knew to consume my own unknowing. Bit by bit, she sows it into me. The deep smell of rivers. The freedom of bare feet on a dashboard. The sweet, brittle foam of milkshakes and the icebox dark of a movie theater in summer. The unexpected buoyancy of earth.

 

But there is always more and more I do not know. I eat and eat and eat.

 

Meanwhile they say I am getting tall, I am getting strong, my bones no longer puncture my skin. They say that soon I will be big enough to carry the seeds myself. But I am no longer waiting for that.

 

Above my sister’s grave, the flowers are turning to fruit. Perhaps they will taste like her kisses, cherry lip gloss and cloves. Or else like soil. Or death. The crows and I keep watch, waiting until they are ripe. I promise I will get there first, I will pluck and devour them all. And then she will tell me everything.

***

Erin Calabria grew up on the edge of a field in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She is a co-founding editor at Empty House Press, a small press publishing writing about home, place, and memory. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize and was selected as a winner for The Best Small Fictions 2017. You can read more of her work in Sundog Lit, Split Lip Magazine, Wyvern Lit, Third Point Press, and other places. She tweets @erin_calabria.

Two Questions for Beth Moulton

We recently published Beth Moulton’s brilliant “Tongue Tied.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) The woman the narrator visits is never identified — it could be anyone, which is a really neat choice, I think. Do you have an idea who the narrator was visiting?

I do not know the relationship between the two people. I was drawn to the idea that the woman in the hospital could be anyone, leaving the readers to imagine for themselves the relationship between the visitor and the sick woman. I think the mystery of who the woman is unsteadies the readers in the same way that the woman and her visitor would be unsteadied in this setting, a setting that no one can imagine themselves in until they land there, as if arriving in a foreign place where they do not know the language and cannot speak the names.

2) That last image for me is so strong, I love the idea of the silent tongues of shoes, how they keep secrets. What made you choose this imagery?

Shoes are universal, yet they can be so different, just like people. There are many shoes without tongues or laces, but I have seen folks walking around with unlaced shoes with the tongues flapping around, and that image stuck with me, as if I had to make sense of it somehow. As with many short stories, it took a long time to find the right words. But when I thought of the tongues of the shoes as physical tongues, that can move or be restrained, and when I remembered that the lace-holes are called eyelets, it was as if I had solved a puzzle. I then needed a setting where the unrestrained tongues and unblinded eyes would be some brief concession to an illness, instead of, perhaps, the cause of the illness, and restraint would be considered normal. That took more time. I enjoy writing stories where everyday events, like unlaced shoes, can be twisted just a little and then become something entirely different.

 

Tongue Tied ~ by Beth Moulton

I visited her in that place they sent her after she tried to kill herself. The staff and the patients dressed the same way—mostly jeans, sweats or leggings with t-shirts. The only way to tell them apart was the patients didn’t have shoelaces. Their sneakers gaped open, eyelets wide, tongues flopping around as if spewing words.

Weeks later some woman stopped me in a store.

“I know you,” she said. “We met at the hospital.”

I vaguely recognized her face but didn’t recall her name, couldn’t remember if she was staff or patient. By habit, I glanced towards her feet, but it didn’t help. Outside of that place everyone keeps their shoes tightly tied, eyelets blinded by laces, tongues lashed down and silent.

***

Beth Moulton earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, in Rosemont, PA. She’s been published in Affinity CoLab; Bartleby Snopes; A Clean, Well-Lighted Place; scissors and spackle; Circa, A Literary Review and Fifty Women Over Fifty Anthology. She lives near Valley Forge with her cats, Lucy and Ethel.

Two Questions for Leonora Desar

We recently published Leonora Desar’s stunning “Woods.

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love how this story parallels that experience some of us have had with pets: Our parents driving out to the middle of nowhere, dumping off an animal, saying “they’ll be better off here.” Was this parallel something you had in mind as you were writing this piece?

Yes, and thank you! It was a Sunday morning. Early. I wanted to watch cartoons but instead I was thinking about Depressing Things. One of these was a story a friend’s husband told me: his family used to “retire” his pets, not by taking them to the retirement home, but to the woods. This seemed like a raw deal—

1) no bingo

2) no mahjong

In seriousness, though, that story cuts me. He told me this over ten years ago and I still ruminate on it. I wanted to write about it but as I wrote it turned into humans, little boys. I like it when stories do that (sometimes), and often I hate it, I want the stories to obey and get in line.

In this case I hope it worked. I felt it getting away from me and instead of trying to reel it in I let it go, gave it my blessing.

 

2) The ending is so powerful, the mother saying all these wonderful things would happen in the woods, and none of it, of course, is true. Or is it?

Oh, can we pretend just a minute that it is? They’re all hanging out and posting stuff to Facebook, or maybe Insta. Maybe they’re all really into Twitter, the wolves and things—they even know how to thread.
I wanted to call this “Lies My Mother Told Us.” But it felt neat—too neat. I like trusting my reader. I like white space and silence and a little ambiguity. In the end, the reader knows.