Not Legal Advice ~ by Christy Tending

This is not legal advice. I am not an attorney. (I am definitely not your attorney.) Your mileage may vary.

Do not talk to cops. Do not give them any unnecessary advice or answer any unnecessary questions, even if they seem benign. Even if you think you aren’t doing anything wrong. Even if they seem nice. Even if they tell you that your friends already talked. Even if you just want to clarify, if only you could explain, if only you could make them understand. Even, even, even.

I’m telling you a joke: How can you tell when a cop is lying to you? They’re talking! We laugh, because it’s true. (Then we stop laughing, because it’s true.)

Do tell a cop who has arrested you before, who has a kind face, despite the fact that he has been trained to lie to you, despite the fact that you are not to speak to him, that you are pregnant so that, just in case, maybe he won’t drop you on your face while you’re in handcuffs.  Tell him this, and watch his face congratulate you. Tell him this—not to make conversation or to receive those congratulations. You say this, not for yourself. But for everything that stirs inside you, for everything in you that yearns for a future. When we say we are doing it for future generations, we mean it.

And then, after you and your friends have your arrest citations in hand, the cops thank you all for being so cooperative and professional. You and your friends will talk about this for years to come. How odd it was. How it may have restored your faith in humanity. (Just a little bit. Against your better judgment.) But ACAB, y’know. Because we haven’t gone soft and forgotten our history over one small kindness and act of dignity.

The window did not feel pain when it was shattered into a spider web, cracking under the pressure of a brick, which also did not feel pain. And yet, the cops will avenge these symbols more readily than they would a child’s life. They will ascribe pain and meaning and intention and fucking symbolism to it. They will make false equivalencies and fashion straw men and demand obedience. They will not come to save you. They cannot protect you because that is not how this country’s history fashioned them.

Do not talk to the cops because maybe one day it will take two of them to arrest you and if you are feeling cheeky, you might ask them whether it makes them feel like big strong men that it takes two of them to arrest one of you. You are 110 pounds soaking wet after a summer of lawbreaking recklessness and chopping wood. They are decidedly not. Do not talk to the cops because if you ask them whether it makes them feel like big strong men, they might (because they are big strong men) then dislocate your shoulder. Do not talk to the cops because range of motion is nice to have and because if you talk to the cops, it will hurt when it rains. (And because, my god, you think, aren’t I lucky, really. It could have been so much worse.)

***

Christy Tending is an activist, educator, writer, and mama living in Oakland, California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Ms., The Everymom, Scary Mommy, The Mighty, and trampset, among others. You can learn more about her work at www.christytending.com or follow her on Twitter @christytending.

Two Questions for Felix Lecocq

We recently published Felix Lecocq’s shining “Wedding Video.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love how the details here give us a sense of time and place — the VHS tape, the leather couch and that great line “You got married in a time before sound.” How necessary for this story was it to be set in this specific time?

To set the tone for myself while writing this piece, I watched many home videos on Youtube of strangers’ weddings from the 70s. My favorite part is when someone looks into the camera and laughs in surprise. I highly recommend looking these up.

It was important to me that the wedding took place before digital cameras. I’ve always loved the materiality of old videos—their grain, their spots, their decay. This story is about grief and wanting to preserve the memory of a dead person, both in the world and in yourself. The “you” in the story lives on our side of the television, and he’s looking through the grain, into a memory. But there is so much texture to old videos that you can’t ever forget that they’re not real.



2) The way the white space works in your favor here is so effective! For me, I think of the characters watching the video as being a younger sibling and an older sibling, but I suspect other readers might picture a different relationship — which doesn’t take away this story’s beauty at all. Did you ever consider adding more information to this story? Or was it always this tiny, beautiful snapshot?

“Wedding Video” is from the point of view of a child who doesn’t understand grief but is looking directly at it. I wanted to write about that uncanny childhood feeling of knowing that the adults around you are upset but no one has told you why. The reader knows as much as the child knows.

This story is actually semiautobiographical. It is informed by a childhood memory of visiting the house of a distant relative in California. After his wife passed away, he sat on his couch for weeks, unable to do anything else. As my mother cooked for him, I sat with this relative and watched a video with him, which I remember to be a wedding video.

Recently, I was informed by my family that it was, in fact, a video of his wife’s funeral. I may have misremembered this because Vietnamese people often wear white to funerals, which I could have interpreted as a wedding dress, but this is just speculation. In my memory of the video, I had resurrected his wife. I remembered her alive.

Wedding Video ~ by Felix Lecocq

The VHS tape hisses & you’re married. A grainy summer day. You & her in the black doorway, fuzzing. You looking at her & her looking at you. A handful of rice flies across the screen. On this side of the television, you & me alone in your living room, Mom in the kitchen. It’s summer here, too & California is the house where I watch you watch you. On this side of the television, you don’t move. The reflection in your eyes, blue. Flickering. You got married in a time before sound, when everything had to be said in color, bodies shimmering like air above the road on a hot day. The leather couch squeaks under my seven-year-old thighs, but you’re not even blinking, not even as you’re crying, looking at you & her looking at you & her, the lens flares like a firework, her white dress floods the screen & she’s laughing so hard her mouth might swallow her face.

***

Felix Lecocq is a Vietnamese American writer and copyeditor living in Chicago. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in HAD, Peach Mag, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. His chapbook of lyric essays, Mosquito: A Memoir (2022), was published through the University of Chicago Migration Stories Project. He is working on his first novel.

Truck Stop Tattoo ~ by Mikki Aronoff

Had another waitress served you, she might’ve sashayed to your booth, called you honey. Your coffee would have been hot, your cherry pie warm, a scoop of vanilla ice cream unfurling like a flag.  You’d grabbed utensils from my hand, broadcasting swastikas on the backs of yours. Later, I asked Lucy to give you your check and fled to the lockers to change. Outside, moon frost on truck cabs, gas pumps, a hungry mama cat. Light sliced through the room’s mesh glass window, casting a grid over the dark blue numbers inked on my arm, the same as my grandmother’s.

***

Mikki Aronoff’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Ekphrastic Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Intima, Thimble Literary Magazine, London Reader, SurVision, Rogue Agent, Popshot Quarterly, The South Shore Review, The Fortnightly Review, Feral, The Phare, Sledgehammer Lit, Flash Boulevard, New World Writing, Emerge, The Disappointed Housewife, Tiny Molecules, Potato Soup Journal, and elsewhere. Her stories and poems have received Pushcart and Best Microfiction nominations.

Coat Rack Elegy ~ by Emma Tessler

She looked at their little coats hanging on their hooks, the little arms dangling emptily on the wall, and she thought, as every parent before her had thought, that someday their arms would grow and fill coats with long empty arms, and how she wished that she could wrap her own long arms around theirs and they would be like pads of butter on warm bread and they would melt into her and they could be one person again, though not exactly one, but certainly not two, or three, rather they could be like the matryoshka dolls that lay halved and scattered on the floor, and they could nest within her again, being themselves but also being her and never having to worry about which empty coat arms they would fit into because her arms were the only arms that ever felt the cold.

***

Emma Tessler is a psychotherapist and writer living in New York City. She is on Twitter @emmatessler.

Season Finale Cliffhanger ~ by Jared Povanda

A python swallows a mouse on Animal Planet, and the homeless girl watches that same clip loop over and over in the warm interior of a Best Buy two towns from hers, wondering how long it will take for the tiniest of its bones to dissolve. The homeless girl hates thinking of these sorts of endings as solid things. Curtains with weight enough to hide behind. Blackout, wool, never sheer. Never sunlight through thin glass. Never the beautiful and uncertain endings she dreams about—the ones where the mouse keeps kicking until the python’s mouth opens to blue skies. The ones where homeless girls make it out alive.

***

Jared Povanda is a writer, poet, and freelance editor from upstate New York. His work has been published in Uncharted Magazine, Pidgeonholes, and Hobart, among numerous others. Find him @JaredPovanda, jaredpovandawriting.wordpress.com, and in the Poets & Writers Directory.

Little Runaway ~ by Kathryn Kulpa

Bus stop, wet day, here you are, waiting in the rain like a girl in an old sad song. You finally have a chance to be lonely. Unprotected. No longer snug in your mother’s soft flannel coat pocket. To be the stranger, the outsider. The girl at the bus stop hoping she’s getting on the right bus because she doesn’t know anyone to ask. Standing by the trash barrel with its peeling black bars, avoiding the man on the bench singing about red, red, roses; where have the roses gone? There are no roses here. A car slinks by, long and low, dinosaur footprints of bass stomping out of half-closed windows. You fade back onto the sidewalk, pretend to study rain-torn flyers on telephone poles. MISSING. LOST. HAVE YOU SEEN ME? Girls who stole away, or were stolen. Girls who are not you but who could be. You’ve never lived before in a place where it rains every day. Smell of clothes drying on radiators, crumbling mulch, eucalyptus buttons. Even the wood of the windowsill gone soft, so soft your fingernails leave crescent-moon marks when you stare out your window with no curtains, only the green aquarium light filtered through pine trees and rain. I could still go home, you think. Think of your phone, smashed and sparkling on a dust-dry highway miles from here. The wood gets softer every day.

***

Kathryn Kulpa teaches writing workshops for Cleaver magazine, where she’s a flash fiction editor. You can find her stories in Atlas and Alice, Cease, Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Flash Frog, No Contact, and other journals. Her work has been chosen for Best Microfiction and the Wigleaf longlist.

2011 blue Subaru speeding to the end of the world ~ by Harsimran Kaur

They are poised like French paintings, their boyfriends young and dangerous – the kinds that say here, babygirl; here’s how you deal with daddy issues or you’re so fucking fine. Their faces are unmatched with fear, hair tied in agony. They’re seventeen going on thirty, with bodies pierced with magnets. They say “marb red” to the convenience store clerk and then drive away with fifty more dollars in their pockets. They look at you in French and speak to you in German. They prefer boys who like sleek women, always taking out things from inside of them. For example, a baby that once climbed out of their frail bodies, later left wasted on the sidewalk. When they were young, the sun felt warmer on their face and their names rhymed like a poem. Now, they part their hair like they part their ways. Always late to parties. The life of parties. Pretty girls. One of those girls you stare, stare, stare, the distance seeming never-ending between you and them. But these girls, these girls eat quickly, taking the edge of their hunger. Go swimming in circles and sigh after their head bursts through the skin of the sea, always speeding past the world in their blue-rimmed sunglasses. Your mom doesn’t like them but you do because these girls know shit. They are left to themselves, the world around them is disguised in cheap stakes of cigarettes and ashes. They go to graveyards in search of peace. They build sandcastles that fall easily, headfirst onto the ground, take you to the lakes and dump you there, gawk at your dead body, take out your lungs and wear them to breathe like you, cut your heart in pieces and stare at it for a solid ten minutes before eating it, break your ribs to sell on their Etsy shops, make bracelets out of your eyes, pierce your nose and keep it as a souvenir on their desk. Burn all the water, and scream “fuck you” at anyone and everyone that says oh you’re so young. They darken themselves more with Dollar-store mascara and kohl, every inch of them clad in despair, I want you bad. These girls then drive to the end of the world with new lungs, hearts, ribs, eyes and noses. You only stare. The distance is never-ending.

***

Harsimran Kaur is a senior in high school in India. Her work appears in In Parenthesis, KNACK, Jellyfish Review, Big Windows Review, BULL, Jersey Devil Press, and elsewhere. She can be found on Instagram at @playitasitlaysss.

Let me bake you a circus, my love ~ by K.A. Nielsen

I’ll pitch the shaggy dough right there on the field, stab my shovel in deep to scoop and turn, knead the great globby mess until it’s smooth. We’ll cover it with the circus tent—bright red and gold stripes—smell the yeast working its magic, watch it rise in the midday sun. And as the dough rises higher than high, we’ll call all our friends, tell them “Come to the circus and bring your blowtorch.” And when they all come, we’ll pull off the tent, stand small under the hill of dough. With blowtorches in hand we’ll count—one two three—then let the flames roar at the bread-to-be. I suppose we’ll need ladders to bake the top of the bread. And of course, we’ll sweat buckets, I know. But even with the blowtorches biting in our hands, we’ll smile. Our stomachs will grumble at the smell of the bread. Our eyes will hunger with the crust turning gold. And then when it’s baked, we’ll turn off the blowtorches, see what we’ve made. And though we’ll want to eat the warm circus right away, we’ll wait. We’ll shove our hands deep in our pockets as we lick our lips, until finally, finally we hear the organ playing from inside. That’s when we’ll know it’s time. The circus is ready. And you, my love, you can do the honors. I’ll hand you the saw. You’ll slice a door in the side, standing back when the steam puffs into the air. You’ll carve deep into the bread, up, over, and down, and the more that you cut, the louder the music will ring, tootling arpeggios calling us in. Then just as the door is nearly cut through, all our friends will grasp on and pull off the door, the great bready door, so warm in our hands, and with great toothy smiles we’ll eat it all up. Then as is the way with a freshly baked circus, we’ll push through the entrance to the air pocket inside. Already the circus will be in full swing. The ringmaster grinning with breadstick moustache. Pizza crust acrobats spinning and flying. The brioche bun elephants gleaming soft shiny crusts. And you and me, all our friends, the whole damn town, we’ll nestle into the soft warmth of the loaf. And as we marvel, we’ll tear off bits of bread, eating our fill. We’ll laugh at the clowns, all funfetti and frosting, cheer for the animal crackers jumping through hoops. We’ll hold our breath for the hard-crusted man as he’s launched from the cannon. And yes, I’ll watch the delights, that much is true, but the greatest marvel will be your lips stretching in wide laughter, then parting gently in gasp, then stretching wide again.

***

K.A. Nielsen (she/they) is a U.S. writer living in Sweden. Their work has appeared/is forthcoming in Fusion Fragment, The Hunger, LandLocked, Sledgehammer Lit, and elsewhere. They are on the internet: www.kanielsen.net and @_kanielsen_.

Lovely Boys ~ by Anna Pembroke

i

They play in their garden every evening, spilling out of the doors at six o’clock sharp. I’ve never seen young boys with such restraint. They kick their foam green ball from foot to foot, and when the rare miss comes, apologise to each other, and sprint to fetch it. I hear their tinny voices saying sorry, and decide that when I have children, I want them to be apologetic.

ii

Sometimes, the oldest pushes the youngest on a chain swing, and he doesn’t squeak ‘higher, higher’, he just sits there, legs dangling, perfectly content to leave his brother in control. Four boys and all of them impeccably behaved. I want Jim to watch, sometimes. It’s 5.58 and I’m washing up by the kitchen window, scouring pots of burnt stew with iron wool. Jim says I’m crap at cooking, and I apologise, just like those lovely boys. Look, I say, as the spring light glances off their rounded cheeks. Shut it, Jim says, pulling the tab from his can and throwing it across the kitchen. Jim doesn’t really watch, not like me.

iii

Yesterday, the one with curly hair moved an outdoor chess set to the patio all by himself. His little hands turned red with the effort, wrestling their bulky frames in fits and starts. When his brothers came out, they embraced him as a thank you. It was a real squeeze, none of that light tapping on the shoulders. One day, I’d like to teach Jim how to hug.

iv

Pink light sifts in through the open window as the match commences, and their laughter floats above my sink. I’m so caught in the smile of the youngest, a wiry six-year-old in a blue jumper, that I don’t hear Jim’s question. I realise this only when his face is inches from mine. Are you listening, he hisses. I asked you a question.

v

I often wonder whether they notice me. When I’m feeling brave, I wander along our shared fence and pretend to water the hydrangeas. I notice the minutiae of their expressions. A scrunched nose here, a bitten lip there. A robin titters from my apple tree and the blonde one steps towards the trellis. Fly away, he says. Shoo. His face is expressionless as he jogs back to the game. What a lovely boy. His parents must be so proud of their gorgeous children. The last time I saw their mother, she was unpacking brown bags from the car. I nearly hugged her. I haven’t seen her for weeks now.

vi

They finish playing at seven and I hear the cuckoo clock chirrup as they file inside. Did you remember to buy beer, Jim says. You stupid bitch, Jim says. All the lights go off next door. I extract my fingers from the yellow gloves. The power cuts out, and we’re shunted into the dark. I’m going to ask next door for some candles, Jim says. I’ll go, I reply. No, you won’t, he says.

***

Anna Pembroke (she/her) is a writer and English teacher based in London, England. Raised in South Africa and Nigeria, she taught in Malaysia for a year before beginning a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at the Open University. She spent the Fall 2018 semester at the Aegean Center in Paros, Greece, studying creative writing and photography under Jeffrey Carson and John Pack. Her most recent publication is a poem in Messy Misfits Zine. Find her on Twitter @annaisediting.