Two Questions for Nick Perilli

We recently published Nick Perilli’s surreal “An Ending.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) I love the implied weight of this story, this movie-scene ending, after ” the loss, the danger, the revenge and the lesson,” that makes it seem so much larger than it is. Do you think this couple went through the stereotypical movie chain of events before this unusual kiss, or was their story a stranger one all along?

My original intention was to make the ‘ending’ I allude to feel like a bit of a fairy tale ending, but I see a lot of movies so I’m not surprised that I unconsciously skewed it towards the bombast of film. Regardless, I do think this kiss is the very beginning of anything outside the norm in this couple’s story so far. We’re meeting them after the fade to black and after they’ve gone through all the story and character beats of your typical romantic drama movie or, yeah, maybe a light fairy tale. I think the weight of whatever they experienced is powerful for them, certainly, but probably not something that many of us looking in would find particularly interesting or original. So we enter their story just as things get truly interesting and strange for them — when their connection is tested by the very power of that connection. That’s just my take on it, though.

 

2) Speaking of their unusual kiss, really, where did you get this unusual idea? It’s so strange and creepy, and you tell it in such a beautiful way, I’m really curious where this came from!

Not to get too personal or anything, but my wife Britny and I sometimes just press noses together to show affection and one time we pretended we couldn’t pull them apart. We then had a pretty involved discussion about how we would manage to live our lives with the front our faces connected like that. This is a pretty typical conversation for us. Of course, I had to add some melancholy by bringing up the fact that our brain just ignores our noses so it might do the same to a person after a while. Scientifically, I don’t think that quite tracks. It makes for an interesting image, though, and I feel like most of my best work starts with an image I can twist that’s born from a personal connection like a conversation with my partner or something I see out of the corner of my eye while daydreaming at work.

An Ending ~ by Nick Perilli

The two kissed at the end. So enamored and in radiant love, they held on to that swell of contact until the skin on their lips and tips of their noses fused together.

They didn’t mind. After everything they’d been through to get to this moment—the loss, the danger, the revenge and the lesson—they both felt they could stand to spend the rest of their lives moving as one through the world. Arms on each other’s hips, legs shuffling between the other’s. They learned. The hardest thing to do was eat, but they figured it out.

In time, their brains sliced the other one out of their vision as irrelevant information. Like a nose, ever necessary but in the way. One could see the world beyond the other, but as much as they tried, one could no longer see the other.

Still, they know their other is there. By scent and sound and memory, yes, but more so by the stray weight at the end of their noses and the slight taste of the annual winter blood from the other’s chapped lips.

***

Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia, PA with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. Work of his has appeared in Pidgeonholes, XRAY, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He tweets @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his very cheap website nickperilli.com.

To My Sister, Who Threatened to Haunt Me ~ By Shawn McClure

Photograph by Shawn McClure

I had every intention of answering your angry email, the one in all caps where you called me names and promised to haunt the crap out of me. I kept trying to think of a response, but I ended up with a whole book of things I was eventually going to say, but never did.

On the day of your escape, a gentle, mad dream lingered: a flock of birds moving as one body; a cloud dispersing an undiscovered kind of rain. I couldn’t ponder the meaning of the dream for long, because the pipes burst and we had to call a plumber.

The rest of the day dragged as if through flood waters. Pinpricks of your darkness decorated the sky like black stars. I guess I knew there was something wrong.

Still, I didn’t know for sure until three days later when Mom called at an unusual hour. Small hairs stood up all over my skin when her number lit the screen. She spoke with soft bravery about the policeman who found you and how kindly he broke the news. We both knew how it happened; you had been trying to tell us for years. When I finally hung up the phone, I ran outside, through the cold, toward the mailbox to see if you had reached out one last time. The box was empty. I felt the blade of my guilt and measured its sharpness against your death.

So, I can’t tell you I wasn’t mad or that we loved the nice version of you. I call Mom every day now. She has a new habit of saying “I love you” at the end of our conversations. I know she speaks to both of us.

Together we took out the quilt you made for her so many years ago. We admired your stitches. We love the vintage fabric. We ran our fingers over the satin trim, touched the bumpy, white knots of flowers. We agreed that you were the most talented of all of us.

But I am the one who always notices signs, symbols and omens. There are tiny flowers stitched into the pocket of the quilt, along with the words ‘pride and joy’. I am the one who noticed that there is one for each sister except you. You stitched yourself out, like you never existed at all. I folded up the quilt that had the wrong number of sisters, and bit my tongue to keep my observation from Mom.

I haven’t shed tears. I am outside myself. I like to hear the things Mom remembers. We keep turning you over in our palms. We turn you this way and that, so we can watch your facets flash and dim. We look at your manic joy. We remember the little depressions. I wanted to tell you I remember that time when I was ten when you tried describe your sadness, and the time you tipped a pine log toward the light to show me the tiny green world that grew there. We look at your miracles and the flaws all at once. Sometimes I can tell that Mom is crying in the phone.

We see your pain now, we see what you were trying to say. We saw both the beauty you brought, and the damage you caused, and we tried to separate them. We saw the quiet. We felt the wind stir and pick up force. We saw the sky darken and get ready to open. We witnessed the pipes burst. We saw your last emails blinking, threatening us from our inboxes. We heard you scream into the phone and instead of slamming it down, we hung up quietly, because we were not angry.

We saw you gather yourself and disperse like a flock of birds, all noise and motion, here for a moment, and every moment after, and never truly gone.

***

Shawn McClure writes short fiction from her kitchen table in a house in NJ and sometimes publishes it on the web.

Change is Coming ~ by Kathryn Milam

She touches your fingers across the table. Talks about her art, the way the brush veils the canvas, how paint clings to the heels of her hands, the chiaroscuro figures of women at work, children at the border. The waiter brings oysters on the half-shell, plates of veal glazed with butter and mustard, a raspberry torte to share. A young man plays contrapuntal notes on a cello, Bach’s Suite in D Minor. She says, the sea. She says, the Palamora Motor Court. She says, soon.

You smooth a curl from her brow. Outside, the harvest moon sags over tree tops. Her face gleams amber. Across town, your husband dozes in your bed, one ear cocked for the children.

***

Kathryn Milam lives in North Carolina. Her most recent stories have appeared in Appalachian Heritage Magazine, Lunate Fiction, and Flash Fiction Magazine. She’s the founder of Readings on Roslyn, a literary salon that has hosted forty writers and more than 3000 readers in her home. Her MFA is from Bennington College. Follow her on Twitter @MilamKathryn.

Two Questions for Sarah Freligh

We recently published Sarah Freligh’s gorgeous “What We Remember.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love the details you use to paint the girl in this story — she is so real and so vivid here. Are there longer versions of this story with even more detail, or has it always settled in nicely at micro-length?

This one has settled into micro-length, but it’s yet another iteration of a girl who was a minor character in my poem “Yearbook” Class of ’69” from my book Sad Math. I’m fascinated by the girls who sat in the back row of high school classes, who spoke only when called on and who disappeared into another life at the end of each school day. I’ve resurrected her here and will probably do so again in a series of yet-to-be-written micros as a way of making amends for all the people my younger self looked past.

2) Music plays a really important role in this piece. The transistor radio, Diana Ross, those hard, high notes at the end. Do you think the girl found her salvation in music? Was she safer there?

These days we have all kinds of devices — high tech headphones and earbuds — that wall us off from the world even as we’re knee deep in its grime and glory, but first there was the transistor radio. I want to think she plugged into that radio and fell into a safe place — her salvation and her heaven.

What We Remember ~ by Sarah Freligh

The holy roller girl who writhed with the fever of Jesus on Sunday while her pastor daddy twirled snakes like lariats over the heads of sinners crying to be cleansed. Who bused in from out-county on Monday, undressed for gym in a mop closet. Who stuffed a transistor radio down her pants while her pastor daddy handed out salvation in front of Sears. Who believed she’d ascended to heaven whenever Diana Ross sang in her ears, all gauze and sequins, whenever Smoky baby baby-ed her down rows of corn where she danced with her tall green partners. The nights her father came to sanctify her. The day she collapsed in gym class and sang to Jesus in her gospel tongue, an arpeggio of gibberish, all amen and hell yes. How she came back to us a ghost girl, rinsed of all but the hard, high notes.

***

Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Press Poetry Prize and the 2015 Whirling Prize from the University of Indianapolis; A Brief Natural History of an American Girl (Accents Publishing, 2012), and Sort of Gone (Turning Point Books, 2008). Recent work has appeared in the Cincinnati Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, diode, and in the anthologies New Microfiction and Best Microfiction 2019. Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006.

“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.

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.

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.

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.