Sometime in the Middle of a Long Summer ~ by Madeline Hanley

It is the kind of morning where I pour the day’s coffee into the remainder of yesterday’s coffee and then hold the cup for a long time before I begin to drink.

 

The youngest boy asks, “When’s swim team practice?” Nobody told him the group disbanded because only one kid at a time could fit in the pool. “Don’t worry,” I say, “It’s more of a solo sport anyway.”

 

The cat has been sunbathing in the flowerbed, getting yellow pollen stuck on the end of his whiskers. He’s got yellow around his mouth, as if he were a cartoon cat that just ate a yellow bird. The youngest boy has been eating flowers too. He says it’s not because he wants to be like the cat, but because he likes the taste.

 

The cat smells like litter and sweaty paws and dirt from the tomato garden that didn’t produce any tomatoes this year. The youngest boy still has that sweet little kid smell. I sometimes wonder if the flowers make him smell sweeter.

 

Last night, the youngest boy grabbed a slingshot and told me he was heading to the park to take down some baddies. I suspected there were no baddies, only a field of dandelions with heads to pop off with rocks. When he got back he was covered in pollen so we threw him in the kiddie pool. We threw the cat in too. We scrubbed both their pollen mouths until all our limbs were covered in criss-crossed red lines.

 

My coffee is cold. The youngest boy must be cold too. He’s been sitting in the pool all night, picking at the scratches that have not yet formed into scabs, the lower lip of his clean mouth sticking out. He tells me he doesn’t care what I say. He’s going to wait for the rest of the team to show up.

***

Madeline Hanley lives and writes in Raleigh North Carolina. She received her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel and Cease, Cows.

Two Questions for Rick White

We recently published Rick White’s elegant “Eric the Astronomer.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) This piece was inspired by a photo, and the thing I especially love about that is … there doesn’t seem to be a tower in the photo. What made you create a tower from this inspiration?

The inspiration for “Eric the Astronomer”

Recently I’ve been going through my photos a lot, just remembering all of the good times back when we could go out and be with other people. I’ve got a bit of an obsession with time and the idea of ageing, not in terms of vanity but rather, it just freaks me out how quickly time goes by. I often think of myself, maybe thirty years from now looking back on my photos and wonder where I’ll be and if I’ll even recognise myself. That particular photo really struck me for that reason. It’s got a certain ‘old-timey’ feel to it anyway with the jetty and the wooden boats but what I really like about it is that although the weather is miserable, my wife Sarah and I are clearly very happy and enjoying ourselves. So I wanted to write about it in the context of a character looking back at one very specific, very happy memory (I’m getting to the tower…). We decided to decorate our bedroom, so we moved everything out of it and put it all in to the spare bedroom. It’s amazing how much you accumulate without even realising it and so while we were painting our bedroom, the spare room was absolutely full of stuff. Loads of books all piled up on the floor, a couple of guitars and amps, lots of picture frames, ornaments, candles, even an old typewriter. And I loved the room like that! That’s how the idea of the Tower came to mind. Just an old guy, sitting amongst a pile of things that other people might call ‘crap’ that makes him really happy. That became Eric and his tower of memories.

 

2) This story is so heavy with loss, but also with love and hope. Do you think Eric will ever reach the heaven he is nearing, or is it enough that he sees it from where he is?

This is such a great question, and so difficult to answer! Even though the story has to do with loss and isolation, I didn’t want it to be sad. I don’t think Eric is sad and I don’t think he would want us to feel sorry for him. I think that Eric is happy and proud of the life that he has lived. He’s spent his life accumulating all these wonderful memories which he rightly cherishes and enjoys. I think in this story ‘Heaven’ is simply the end of Eric’s journey, I don’t think he’s expecting anything else. But before the curtain comes down he’s just having a little fun taking inventory of the life that he has lived. All of us will experience loss in our lives and if you live long enough then you will reach a point where you’ve got more good days behind you than in front, which is quite a heavy thing to think about. I’m not religious at all but I do believe that the people we love are never really gone because they leave a mark on us and on our lives. We are more than just a physical presence, we’re something more ethereal and so in that sense, Eric is not alone.

Eric the Astronomer ~ by Rick White

Eric the Astronomer lives alone, in a tower made of memories. Old notebooks, scribbled front and back. The musings of a day, rendered indecipherable by time. Yellowing sheet music of songs reticently tinkled for loved ones who appreciated the effort. Copper-bottomed frying pans which made French toast on Sunday mornings.

The things that are left behind after a life has happened.

He sleeps most of the day in his bric-a-brac minaret, until night falls and the stars and the planets come out, answering his call to prayer.

With mighty Jupiter he shares a glass of Scotch, and talks of his father – of whom he remembers very little – apart from the way he used to wink with just the corner of an eye. How that one tiny gesture would make him feel bigger than himself.

He dances with gentle Venus and tells her his favourite memories of Juliet and the life they shared together. Tonight it’s the time it was too rainy to take a boat out on Rydal Water, and a goose chased them along the lakefront. Neptune laughs.

Venus twirls across the firmament, and as she spins, she unravels spacetime like a spool of silk. The fabric of the universe detaches itself, rending apart the threads of this great celestial tapestry, and it’s as if Eric could reach out in to the nothingness and touch Juliet’s fingers one last time.

The solar system rearranges itself around him, and a single object falls slowly from the sky, dragging a comet’s tail in its wake. It’s an umbrella, and it lands softly at the top of the tower.

And so it goes on for Eric, night after night – this dance, this worship. And every night, Eric’s tower grows a little taller, heaven gets a little nearer.

Nearly, Magnolia ~ by MJ Iuppa

Photo by Meghan Rose Tonery

Walking in Prospect Park, in the sun’s first warmth, magnolia trees seem to be involved in their own contagion, ignoring the rash of people, who hurry to get out of their heads full of worry. No one notices that the trees are congested with heavy pink buds, ready to unfurl.  The people rush past, with caps pulled down, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone who might tell them to go home. Where is home? The magnolia branches point in all directions. She stops and takes a picture of this profusion, in

spite of feeling nervous about being seen outside.

***

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 Carolyn Oliver

We recently published Carolyn Oliver’s stunning “The Patron Saint of Fury.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her micro:

 

1) I love that this story opens with miracles, with healing and hope. And yet we are being introduced to the patron saint of fury. Do you see fury and hope as being connected, or is there a dichotomy that this story is wanting us to examine?

I do see a connection between fury and hope! Without hope — in a state of despair — there’s no reason to be angry. To be furious is to know that a better world is possible, to long for that better world, to need it. Fury is a force that can propel that better world into being.

2) This phrase near the end of this tiny piece, “bones of our untroubled dead” is so powerful. What makes these dead untroubled?

I tend to think of death as a long, long rest—a dreamless sleep. Only the living bear the world’s troubles and share its sweetness.

The Patron Saint of Fury ~ by Carolyn Oliver

First came the miracles: all the guns melted, the forest fires quenched, one child unwrecked, then three, four, thousands. When she appeared, her halo so deeply rainbowed it gleamed luscious black, the oceans shivered. Riot and strike, emblems of her right hand; text and rough song, emblems of her left. Tenderly, so tenderly, her holy gaze gathered beheaded mountains, plains soaked deep with oil, water-poisoned cities. She stung our lips with the nettles of her mercy until we whispered her newborn name over the bones of our untroubled dead, and rose to save our lives.

***

Carolyn Oliver’s very short prose and prose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Indiana Review, Jellyfish Review, jmww, Unbroken, Tin House Online, Copper Nickel, Midway Journal, and New Flash Fiction Review, among other journals. Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.

Two Questions for Francine Witte

We recently published Francine Witte’s thoughtful “Cab Ride.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) That opening sentence is such a great way to introduce us to this narrator, that they think of both numbers and love as made-up things. What do they believe in, do you suppose?

This narrator is cynical of most things when the story begins. Having been disappointed in love, they believe that love is not a real thing, but a made-up thing in the same way that humans developed numbers as a way to count things. To narrator, there is probably nothing that truly exists except that we decided it exists.

 

2) I like, too, that we’re never really told what the situation is, but we are given hints: “My mother, of course, is dying,” the cab driver’s 5-year-old daughter. This is such a subtle style of storytelling! Were you ever tempted to out-and-out tell the reader exactly what is going on?

No, I am never tempted to explain more. I like saying as little as possible. You can say very little and the reader will get it. I like reading stories that work that way. When I read a story like that, I feel like I’m part of the construction of the story. The trick is to find the right thing to say. But that’s what makes the writing fun.

Cab Ride ~ by Francine Witte

The meter starts, numbers twisting and ticking away, and it doesn’t matter because numbers are a made-up thing like love.

The city outside whirs by, men hammering buildings together, baby carriages, and store signs, all of it blurry and Monet. I’ll put this painting in my head with the others.

The cab driver is 55 or 80, a hug of gray hair around his head. I don’t think much about cab drivers. I figure they like it that way.

My mother, of course, is dying.

The cab driver drives past the hospital. “Wait,” I tell him, “I said St. Elizabeth’s.”

“I know, he says, switching off the meter. “Let’s go look at the river instead.” I’ve heard of things like this. Kidnappings, hijackings.

One minute, my mother was asking if I wanted my eggs scrambled or fried.

The cab driver’s eyes in the rearview. “Hospitals can wait a few minutes,” he says. “My daughter,” he continues, “she was only five.”

When we get to the river, the slap of an autumn morning as we step out of the cab. All around us, the usual joggers, the seagulls climbing the sky.

“Those birds,” he says, “they have this sense of direction. It’s built into their wings.”

We get back into the cab. We head to the hospital. I open the window and let in a whoosh of air, a sudden swoop underneath my arms.

***

Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two full-length collections, Café Crazy and The Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) Her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind has just been published by Ad Hoc Fiction, and her full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This was recently published by Blue Light Press. She lives in New York City.

Begin with an Ice Cream Cone ~ by Melissa Saggerer

When you drop your ice cream cone, you can ask your mom to share hers with you. Yours was a twist, but hers is vanilla, and even though it’s not your favorite, it’s sweeter now, more satisfying. While you’re still prickling with longing for the melting lump on the pavement, you’re okay. When you’ve used up your favorite watercolor brick – Prussian Blue – the color of the northern sky as it darkens, the sea when it’s deep, but not too deep, and the boat in your dreams, you can try to remake it with other colors. A different blue, a purple-r blue emerges, might you like that too? When your first boyfriend stops calling, you can put a dinosaur band-aid on your heart, tending to your pain, something tangible to touch, say, yes, this happened, but also, you will heal. When you move, when you miss all of your friends, when you even mourn your post office attendants, the trees you no longer see, you can begin again with new routines. Find a coffee shop where they always smile, find someone to go to a laughing meditation with, laugh it away until you’re crying, ha ha ha, ho ho ho, hee hee hee, and when you wipe the tears away, you feel a little better. When you get married, and your father isn’t there, you almost wish you had asked him to walk you down the aisle, but you thought it was too paternalistic, you asked him to read a poem instead, but now that he isn’t there, you wish you had given him that request. You can put one foot in front of another, and you can smile, you try not to cry, you look at all the people you love, you try not to cry. When your first pregnancy does not result in your first baby, you can hold a pillow at night. Imagine all the things that would have followed. When loved ones die, you can think of the good times, you think of their hard times. You wonder if they’re floating in the ether, if they’re meeting angels, if they’re mingling with grandparents, past pets. When you lose your job, you can make lists, reassess your strengths, try to reinvent yourself. In your doubt and your struggle, you try to find hope. When you lose your way, you can try to follow the breadcrumbs back to the beginning, and start again, with an ice cream cone.

***

Melissa Saggerer has been a bellhop, a museum curator, and a library director. You can find her flash in Leopardskin & Limes. On twitter @MelissaSaggerer.

Galatea ~ by R.A. Matteson

No one asked her if she wanted to be real. Just as Pygmalion tore her from the earth, battered her shapeless form with his chisel, scraped her skin smooth, dressed her (undressed her) all without asking, he had not thought to ask if she wanted to come down off the pedestal. The fickle goddess, too, had forced breath into her, had given her no warning.

And now she knows that she is not the first woman to dress as she’s told, to smile the smile someone else has given her, to stand, silent as stone, watched by people who think they love her. She is not the first and this company is the last thing she wants.

Sometimes at night, when the wind is hot and salty, she imagines going down to the water as it laps hungry against the sand. (Oh, she hates the hunger). She imagines walking into the waves. Letting the water drag her down like the rock she was.

Maybe she could once again become stone, like the white fingers of so much coral. Maybe, in the secret dark, where he cannot see her, she will be crushed into some finer gem.

***

R. A. Matteson lives on Lake Superior with a cat who often sounds lost even when all the doors in the house are open. She has been published in Molotov Cocktail and would like to tell you a story if that’s ok with everyone.