POW, POW ~ by Ellen Rhudy

She says she once shot a thief, right in the hand, on the beach in Florida.

Where the thief came from, how she caught him, why she had a gun on the beach? Where he stored his stolen treasures, tied to the drawstrings of his shorts or tucked beneath one arm? Where the police were in this scenario, a man spurting blood as he rushed the white-tipped waves? At a certain point, maybe too late, you realize that asking questions only closes the story, and you return to this photo: striped bikini, hand on hip, sand sprawling into the water, smile wide enough it cracks her cheeks, everything gray gray gray—except her lips, painted red, and her eyes, painted blue though brown in truth. Spinning like she’s in a cowboy movie just after the shutter clicks, eyes narrowed against the sun, gun raised in right hand. Pow, pow, pow, clouds of smoke and sand erupting, screams flush with joy—and there’s the story, yes: the one true story, the only one you need her to tell, the one you will tell for her, laughing, when she’s no longer there to tell it herself.

***

Ellen Rhudy’s fiction has appeared in journals including Story, Split Lip, Cream City Review, Okay Donkey, and Pithead Chapel. Her story “A Writer’s Guide to Fairy Tales,” first published by Milk Candy Review, is a Spotlighted Story in Best Small Fictions 2020. She lives in Columbus, where she recently began working toward her MFA at The Ohio State University. You can find her at ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.

Two Questions for Kathryn Kulpa

We recently published Kathryn Kulpa’s powerful “Road Runners.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) The characters in this story are so vivid, so real — even in this small space! I love the detail about trying all the Slurpee favors; it gives them so much character. Did you have an image of these girls in mind when you set pen to page?

These girls came to life the minute I started writing. They took shape in motion, on the run. It’s hard to say exactly how I picture them visually, because they change their look all the time, trying on different versions of who they could be. Clothes, hair—they try everything, like the Slurpees. I see them as the kind of best friends where people call them “the twins” or ask if they’re sisters; they don’t actually look alike, but they feel alike. The kind of best friend you can only have when you’re that young, and friends are everything. It’s like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it: your friends are your forest. They hear you. They witness. And when you’re with them you can do anything and not be afraid.

 

2) There’s a dark note here, with Todd and his gun, which could be read in a couple of different ways. This part of the story speaks to a kind of toxic masculinity that the girls, despite their friendship and power and running, still will have to face. Or will they?

Todd took the story into a darker place, for sure. At first it was fun—he thinks he’s going to trick them into taking off their tops while his buddies hide and take pictures, but they’re actually pranking him—but the more I thought about Todd the sorrier I felt. As much as he tries to victimize them, he’s even more a victim of toxic masculinity and its expectations, and when he can’t prove his manhood with the girls he turns to the gun. That darkness is sunk so deeply into our culture that it’s something we all have to face. I don’t think any of us can outrun it. But you can refuse to be defeated by it, and that’s the way I like to think of these girls—still running.

Road Runners ~ by Kathryn Kulpa

We made up our minds to try all the flavors of Slurpees, even the ones that sounded gross: hot blue Margarita, coffee-banana jolt. Life is boring but we’re not, is what we told everybody, flashing our toe rings and our Slurpee-colored hair, and when Todd Paquette dared us to take off our tops we said we would, told him to meet us at the shut-down skate park, and flashed him our painted chests: FUCK, said yours, the U teasingly cradling your nipple; YOU, said mine, our t-shirts held to the sky across the cracked and empty cement bowl, red letters big enough for his watching friends to see. We stayed long enough to see his jaw drop, linked arms, raised middle fingers, ran home with all their too-late slams following us like wind, skanks, lezzies, hos, nothing could catch us, not even the news next morning, Todd with his father’s gun, we heard that and kept running: whatever he’d tried to prove to them and failed, the crushed look in his eyes when our shirts came up, what he felt when we were gone and his friends hurled their words at him instead of us: none of it would find us if we just kept running.

***

Kathryn Kulpa is an editor at Cleaver Magazine and has work published or forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020, Atlas & Alice, X–R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She was the winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash fiction collection Girls on Film and a finalist in the 2020 Digging Press Chapbook Competition.

The Thinnest of Veneers ~ by T.L. Sherwood

There was a double rainbow. I called to tell you to look out your window, to share, to bear witness, but it went to voicemail and even if you had checked your messages right then, you still might have missed it. You never check your messages, so I don’t leave any. I delete details of when you call me back. I’m sure you do the same. In a million years, a decade, ten minutes from now there will be no known connection between us, no trace, no artifacts left to probe for meaning. Passion dissolves, love disappears. We’re stardust. As flimsy as the colored air.

***

T. L. Sherwood’s work has appeared in New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, Page & Spine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She often dreams of birds trapped in rainbows, lives in Springville, New York, blogs at https://tlsherwood.com, and is currently working on a novel.

Last Tree Standing ~ by Hun Ohm

It had been many years since she last returned. By then there were no family or friends left in town to greet her. One by one they had all exited – this one from divorce, that one from disease, and still others who had simply headed down the main street, around the bend and into the fog.

It was this same fog that she walked through from the bus station to the edge of town. She crossed the freight tracks and stone bridge, then turned south down the dusty road bordering the family land. In the opaque air it seemed nothing had changed, even now after her father’s demise. The land rolled with unmown hay, the fence posts stood sentry, awaiting mending. But as she drew nearer the homestead the fog thinned, and she saw there were no more trees left in the yard except one. Jagged stumps betrayed the wild swings of his drunken rages, timber poorly bartered when the crops failed again, and again.

Only the weeping cherry remained. The tree beckoned her to shelter beneath its outstretched arms anew, and to see his last words in the hatchet half buried in its trunk. She wiggled this back and forth until the blade dislodged, and the leaves rustled in relief. Above the fresh notch, the weathered bark bore witness to her childhood carvings. She traced her fingertips along the shapes and figures she had first conjured in the old shed to which her father was prone to banish her. For unfinished chores, or untimely manners, or no misdeed at all when fever took her mother and he wished to despair with drink unmolested. The shed still stood behind the tree, bare before the horizon. She unlatched its door, and peered inside.

There were his rusted tools hanging on the wall. There was the damp smell of earth and cobwebs, the same cracks between the planks that would tease of an outside that was forbidden. There had been the silence as well, save her shallow breaths and whispered pleas, the vise gripping her chest while daylight slowly smudged away until the unseen night things rubbed their eyes, began to stir, and she knew he had forgotten to retrieve her again. How she yearned to open the door right then, or to hack it into a million pieces. Not to creep back into the house, no, but so that she might slumber beneath the weeping cherry like a wayward sprite in the olden times, with branches canopied above her and the world pitch black despite a bejeweled sky promised in the just beyond. She asked once more for the intoxicating blossoms to cast the spell for sound infant sleep, notwithstanding the miles she might someday travel to leave that place or return, with her thin limbs curled and her tiny fists clenched, an axe head cradled against her chin.

***

Hun Ohm is a writer and intellectual property attorney. He lives in western Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in New Flash Fiction Review, JMWW, Bull, Necessary Fiction, The Citron Review, Literary Orphans and other publications.

When We Left Earth, The Whales Came With Us ~ by Hannah Canjadig-Taylor

We loaded up tanks & fastened them with chains to blimps & rocket ships, secured their chambers with krill & oxygen & trained marine biologists in little green suits. We hauled them through the exosphere, defied all laws of safety & science as the whales tugged behind us in their glass boxes. Over the growing years, we spent hours in our classroom writing their names with yellow-orange crayons on cardstock paper, sang stories about the orcas & other types of whales. Blue. Beluga. Humpback. Fought over the plush Narwhal in the reading corner. Narwhals have always been the most loved. At night, our fathers read us bedtime stories as we gazed out the porthole glass & pointed at the nearby cubes of water, smiling at the aquatic creatures from our quarters. After months & months of watching whales from our windows, their numbers started to dwindle. We lost Sabrina &Thomas & Kenji & held a funeral for them before their lifeless bodies were launched into the blackness of space. Verses of our song were cut for concision’s sake. We forgot about the Long-finned pilot. The Sei. The Amazon River Dolphin, which yes, was actually a whale. When we finally arrived, to the new home with the new ocean & the new sand colored like cadmium, it was time to say goodbye to whoever was left. Each surviving whale was plopped into the swirling waters. We sang them our whale songs, waving from the shore as the tide lapped at our bare skin. They swam away, calling back in a language we would never learn to speak.

***

Hannah Cajandig-Taylor resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she reads for Passages North and Fractured Lit. Her work has appeared in journals like Drunk Monkeys, Kissing Dynamite, and Pretty Owl. She loves to play Nancy Drew games on her computer and recently ordered a rock tumbler online.

Hunger, Thirst, Listen ~ by Michele Finn Johnson

It’s a Friday during Lent, so I feed the baby jewel-toned purees—carrots and green peas, avocado, butternut squash. He’s unsatisfied. He wants meat. Chicken meat. Turkey meat. Stewed crockpot meat. Something stringy and shredded; something he could choke on. He squawks at me, mouth outstretched.

 

Last Lent, I was overly pregnant and iron deficient, but determined to maintain a forty-day meatless existence. My OBGYN recommended supplements; the baby’s father pushed red meat. He made jerky from the various animals he’d killed and presented me with his leathery offerings. I refused. You’re so damned pale, I can see your heartbeat, he said, flogging me with a stick of deer.

 

To take the baby’s mind off meat, I take him for a walk in the desert. It hasn’t rained in months; saguaros poke out their anorexic ribs. Down, the baby says, this month’s favorite word. He’s only just beginning to sense the true value of having feet, and so he quickly teeters onto his bum. Waa, he cries, the fuchsia bloom of a barrel cactus just out of reach. No baby. Ouchies, I say, once again denying him his deepest desires. The baby cries and cries. I scoop him to my chest, digest his wails.

 

The man who is the baby’s father accuses me of malnourishing our son.

Just because you’re a hippie, it doesn’t mean he needs to starve.

Just because you’re an animal killer, it doesn’t make my baby a hick.

The man who is the baby’s father grabs the keys to his F-150 and slams the front door.

I hate his words: hippie and starve.

I hate my words: killer and hick.

 

The baby’s father is a good man. He is a man who sings an amazing catalog of nursery rhymes; he is a man who tiptoes down the hallway when the baby is finally asleep; he is a man who tests the temperature of the baby’s milk on the inside of his wrist; who burps the baby to absolute splatter-patterned completion. He’s a man who stayed when we both know he would’ve been long gone by now, if not for the circumstance. I hunger for our beginnings, listen for some hint of it in his throat. When the baby’s father comes home, I know that I will eat my words.

 

Meanwhile, the baby sits in his highchair, preoccupied with an orgy of Cheerios. He sees me and starts to pound his chubby fists on the plastic tray. Cheerios tiddlywink into the air. The baby looks like the man who is his father when he is angry.

I’m close enough to smell that his diaper needs changing. The top of his head is translucent; his skull is a river of purple-blue veins that pulse with each scream—Momma, Momma. As I wipe his tiny bum, he transforms into a songbird, cooing. I listen to his song as I unbutton my shirt, never fast enough to satisfy his thirst. He grabs at the tentacles of hair that hang in front of my face; he jibbers something that sounds like Hungry, Hungry, again and again like a refrain.

***

Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Booth, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, won an AWP Intro Journals Award in nonfiction, and has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and on twitter at @m_finn_johnson.

 

Amelia ~ by Noa Covo

Amelia Earhart rebuilds the plane after the crash. She buries her navigator under the soft sand as her pleas for help fizzle over the radio and linger in the air, ignored. When a week passes, she gets into the cockpit and aims the plane at the sky. She passes through the atmosphere unimpeded. (The atmosphere knows it isn’t its place to stop her. There is an order in the universe, and in it Amelia Earhart is above forces of nature and other people’s opinions.)

She discovers gas giants and sun spots. She counts stars and watches them dance. When she’s lonely, she tunes in to the Martian radio programs and listens for her name. (Our celebrity, the Martians say, our very own Amelia.) When she passes the asteroid belt, she wonders if women on Earth wear pants yet.

She’s due to come across Voyager One soon. She doesn’t know it’s the farthest human-made object out in space, but maybe it will remind her of us. Maybe she’ll send us a message when she sees it. Maybe she’ll lean into the radio and say this is Amelia speaking. Maybe she’ll glance back at Earth and notice for the first time how far away it is. Maybe she will grieve the fact she can never return. Maybe she’s always known she never intended to.

***

Noa Covo is a teenaged writer. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review, Okay Donkey, and Waxwing. Her microchapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow this July. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.

My Drugstore Queen ~ by Sabrina Hicks

Maeve walks the CVS aisles high as those Mylar balloons, the ones that break free from their cage or slip loose from a hand, trapped in corners of tall ceilings. She tears the plastic seals off tubes of lipsticks and compacts of iridescent eyeshadows, coloring her face like the wings of a still hummingbird as I run down the aisles after her, inhaling pine and lemon, Skittles and holiday chocolates, skimming the Hallmark cards celebrating lifetime achievements she’ll never imagine: graduations, marriages, births, anniversaries. The pharmacist yells over the counter, Girls, you have to pay for that now. Maeve inspects her newly painted nails she finished in aisle 5b, Alley Cat black, pouts her Jolly Rancher red lips, tugs down her sun-faded top and whispers in his ear with her warm watermelon breath words that throws him back to middle school and hard-ons. We’re both thirteen, but no one ever thinks Maeve is thirteen. Not ever. She turns her head, sticks out her candy-coated tongue. We have the place now. Outside the rain hits sideways and somewhere Maeve’s mother is finishing her shift at Waffle House and will walk across the street to the trucker bar, tend to the drunks and bring one home; somewhere my mother is cooking dinner and will wait for me, looking at the clock, meatloaf growing cold while my father watches football. And all I smell is sun and possibilities when Maeve peels off the seals of scented lotions: coconuts, Hawaii, waves. Do you smell the beach? she inhales, closing her eyes long enough to feel she is slipping away into a riptide. She grabs hair dye. We become blonds and get the fuck out of here. And I nod, thinking I’d follow her anywhere. Maeve, the only girl who’d talk to me in eighth grade. Maeve, the girl my father called white trash. We get the fuck out of here, I repeat. Maeve, the girl who will go missing in two years and never be found, looking like a stained-glass saint under these florescent lights.

***

Sabrina Hicks lives in Arizona. Her work has appeared in Wigleaf Top 50, Split Lip MagazineLost BalloonBending GenresBarrenMatchbookEllipsis Zine, and other publications. More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.

Two Questions for Steven Genise

We recently published Steven Genise’s thoughtful “An Abridged List of Small Gratitudes Heading into Month Five.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his piece:

 

1) What I love about this piece is that the gratitudes, while small, hint at largeness. Was it hard to leave unsaid the large things and let the small things do the speaking?

It’s not that it was hard to leave the large things unsaid, but that it was necessary.  The large gratitudes—that I am here, that my family is well, et cetera—draw attention to the reality that we’re only allowed those things because of privilege and luck.  Not because of formal action, but in spite of it.  The systemic issues in our society are the result of policy choices, and so to describe the large gratitudes would mean not reveling in those things, but instead being reminded of the hundreds of thousands that CAN’T find gratitude there because they’ve been intentionally left behind.
The small gratitudes, though, are a practice.  Not everyone has a little yard with a little patch of sunlight, but my hope is that in reading the piece, they can find those small things in their own life for which they’re grateful, and in doing so find some peace from the larger problems around us, in the face of which we feel increasingly little agency.

2) What would be your perfect pandemic breakfast, if not bacon and eggs?

Just before the pandemic, my wife and I went on our honeymoon to New Zealand where, much to my wife’s dismay, I acquired a taste for Marmite on toast. It has been my true go-to pandemic breakfast; I only hope that the very, shall we say, UNIQUE taste of Marmite doesn’t become permanently associated with this year.