An Abridged List of Small Gratitudes Heading into Month Five ~ by Steven Genise

  1. That even though I can’t bring myself to get up early (or on time) most days, on the days I do, I can make pancakes and eggs for my wife.
  2. That on the days I can’t, she suits up like Diver Dan and brings us coffee.
  3. That even though we’ve spent more than half our married life thus far in one room, we got married before all this.
  4. That we moved out of that studio apartment last year.
  5. That even if it is very small, we have a very small yard.
  6. That even though most of that yard is in shade, there is an even smaller patch of light that I can put a garden box.
  7. That our dog doesn’t hate us yet.
  8. That we don’t hate each other yet.
  9. That we don’t hate our dog yet.
  10. That even though our dog does hate our garden, we still managed to salvage some lettuce.
  11. That that lettuce was edible.
  12. That even though when I sit at my desk to work my neighbor can clearly see that I’ve been wearing the same clothes for a week, he doesn’t say anything about it.
  13. That even though my wife and I are both depressed, we were depressed before all this too, so in a way we’ve been training for this.
  14. That we’ve been taught to practice gratitude.
  15. That this is an abridged list.
  16. That the things left off this list are much more important than the things on it.

***

Steven Genise’s work has appeared in Gone Lawn, Flash Flood, Menacing Hedge, Crack the Spine, and others, and he is the fiction editor for Cascadia Magazine.

Mirror, Mirror ~ by Mileva Anastasiadou

 

The girl in the mirror stares back at me, like she’s angry. She should be me, only she isn’t. I make funny grimaces to make her smile, but she frowns instead. The girl in the mirror laughs and laughs, then says she misses me. She makes it clear she wants me back.

 

The girl in the mirror looks down, like she can’t stand me. She’s bright, shiny and happy, like I used to be. She’s pretty and funny and everything I was before, unlike me now, unlike this dark figure that stands across her. She’s had enough, she’s bored with me. She turns into an eagle and flies away. I have no shadow now, no reflection. I ask of her to stay, but it’s too late. Even I have abandoned me.

 

The girl in the mirror waves from afar, like she doesn’t care. She doesn’t recognize me, like I have unzipped me to come out as somebody else. She says she doesn’t want me like that, while she flies high in the sky, and I can’t know what she means, for the mirror doesn’t work, I can’t see me now, can’t face me, but I’ll be like her again, I’ll grow wings, I’ll be an eagle, somehow we’ll meet and we’ll be one again, and we’ll fly out of this, out of this room, out of sorrow, into the vastness of the world, into the sky.

***

Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Spelk, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Bending Genres, Open Pen and others.

The Day Her Husband Died ~ by Rudri Patel

The day her husband dies my mother removes the red bindhi from her forehead. She is a widow now. 

The day her husband dies my mother slides her gold and platinum bangles down her arm, one by one: clank, clank, clank.

The day her husband dies my mother sheds all her colored clothes. She wraps a simple, cotton sari around her body.

The day her husband dies my mother starts 13 days of mourning. She prays to the deities for peace because her husband’s soul may still be here.

The day her husband dies my mother stops eating Subway sandwiches. He exerted his last breath, while she was staring at the yellow and green Subway wrapper.

The day her husband dies my mother wails like an infant, curled on his bed, beating his chest, banging her fists to conjure up a magic power to will him to life.

The day her husband dies my mother lifts the black mangal sutra necklace, from her neck.

The day her husband dies my mother leaves their home. She can’t live in the same place where he died.

The day her husband dies my mother leans on her daughters to help her understand; we don’t know what to say.

The day her husband dies my mother breathes a sigh of relief. Four years of hospital stays, doctor visits, medical bills, lukewarm coffee, parking passes, people who talk too loud in waiting rooms, and sleepless nights are over.

Many days after her husband dies my mother begins again. She now has choices. She can leave the kitchen messy, watch television all day, and play poker with her neighbors. She can do this without shame and guilt.

Many weeks after her husband dies my mother has permission to plan for the future. She can commit to plans with her friends and not feel guilty if she smiles, wears extra red lipstick on her lips, and struts her hips with meaning.

A few years after her husband dies my mother says out loud in surround sound, while waving a red, white, and blue flag, the word, “Freedom.” Maybe he can hear her, but she doesn’t care.

***

Rudri Bhatt Patel likes words She is the co-founder and co-editor of The Sunlight Press and on staff at Literary Mama. Her work has appeared in Pidgeonholes, Mothers Who Write, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. 

Ways With Water ~ by Rachael Smart

He drives with coffee between his thighs and steam ghosts up the windscreen. You tell him to outwit the traffic with blackberry jelly inside your llama print knickers. Once the consultant has studied polar images on screen and spooned about inside you, she shakes her head, informs you to expect clots. Back home his kisses taste of rust and hurry, of pâté before you knew it, tequilas with a twist of salt.

 

The winter your house turns into an aquarium, he leaves. You bale water out of the kitchen, remember to sleep out of the rain. Silverfish rush in the porch whilst you crave junk food and doze out the pukiest days in blankets soft as veal. At the safe mark you paint the nursery the colour field, sort out a roofer, start to desire tea with two sugars. You take her along to clinic –  you’re positive this one is pink –  and when the tightenings come early you think: at least this one is live.

 

The hospital prescribes the beach to walk the hurt out of you but all you do is sea gaze, estimate volume by cubic inch. He shows up off the cuff, teaches you how to skim stones out into the shrieks. When you brave a dip he holds you at the waist as though you need him to move and points out creatures in the shallows, but you don’t see any when you peer into the green. They breathe through their feet, he says, and the salt water gives your thighs hard, irregular slaps. You think of the midwife: take as long as you need, the second-hand frisk of her fob. You think of starfish hands in miniature: limpid, lilac, how you couldn’t warm them.

***

Rachael Smart writes essays, poetry and short fiction. Recent work has been published at The Letters Page and Unthology 11. Her story ‘The Inconsequential Codes on Lipsticks’ was shortlisted for The Bristol Short Story Prize 2018. She reviews literature for 4Word and STORGY.

Two Questions for Defne Çizakça

We recently published Defne Çizakça’s gorgeous “The Deceased with Red Skin.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love the specificity of the funeral rituals here — there is something so beautiful about entrusting your body to someone who will have “prayers and spells in [their] mouth.” Were these based on any specific funeral rites, or are these purely your own creation?

I was inspired to write this story after a visit to the Brooklyn Museum, where I came upon an exhibition titled “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt.” It was only my second time in New York City and I was keen to explore all the landmarks, but the display was so fascinating I kept returning to it day after day.

The ancient Egyptians believed that rebirth for a woman was only possible if she temporarily turned into a man in the hereafter. This was because, in their worldview, only men were fertile. They were the ones who created the fetus which they passed on to women during copulation. Women did not have the creative power to birth themselves, hence the necessity to become a man to facilitate the next incarnation. Priests assisted by marking the woman’s coffin with red — the color of men — and reciting spells and prayers that addressed the deceased with masculine pronouns.

Walking through the museum, I felt these rituals might have offered a window of opportunity for someone. The burial rites mentioned are based on ancient Egyptian ones.

 

2) I’m especially drawn to the transformation offered in this story. Do you think the narrator will find what they are seeking in this death?

I really hope so. On the one hand, it is uncertain whether the priest can make the transformation last. He seems unreliable. On the other hand, this journey is to an in-between realm. By definition, it must house possibilities we are ignorant of. Perhaps ones that are even more beautiful than the narrator’s expectations.

The Deceased with Red Skin ~ by Defne Çizakça

At our first meeting, I kneel before you. I offer you my hair, shaved off and tied with a ribbon, a votive for a new beginning.

 

This is how you say it will go:

Firstly, I will have to die. Then, I will have to trust my body to you. You will wash it. You will have prayers and spells in your mouth. You will place me in a marble coffin. You will mark the coffin with red. You will empty my insides and fill me back in with linen. You will coat me with warm resin. You will wrap each one of my fingers in cloth.

 

All of this will take 70 days: the dying, the emptying, the filling. I do not care for the jars that will hold my organs. So we agree on a cheaper price. You promise the heart will stay in my chest.

 

There will be a crossing across the water, you explain. A man will steer the boat. At daytime we will be on the ocean, at nighttime we will be in the land of the dead. It will be very hot on this boat. I will find it difficult to breathe. The man will be a God I have not yet met. He will paint my face and hands and feet red. As he paints me, you will give me male pronouns like I had always wanted. You will etch the words on my marble tomb. In the coffin, with my body made hollow, I will start turning from woman to man. The impossible made true in death.

 

The problem is, you tell me; the change would not last long enough under normal circumstances. With less experienced priests. This world has its rules, as does the afterlife. You cannot break them without a price so this is how it will go:

 

You will do to me whatever you want in the coffin because I will be neither here nor there, neither male nor female, neither red nor blue, neither dead nor alive, and I will be very scared. You do not tell me just how scared. But you promise that the results will be worth it. No one will question me ever again. No one will have a doubt.

 

You caress my shaved head and take my gold coins. You say, go to sleep. You say, surrender if possible. You say that I am a bare horizon. You say, know this: in your new body nothing will feel too terrifying, or too beautiful, ever again.

 

And limb by limb I stretch out this tired self.

***

Defne Çizakça is a writer and editor based in Istanbul. She has taught in Turkish prisons, Scottish museums, and Argentinian bookshops, and is currently working on a novel about anarcha-feminists. She can be found on Twitter: @defnecizakca.

Conjuring Distant Planets ~ by Tommy Dean

Faith stands in the back yard, listening to the tree limbs creak, wondering what it would feel like to have one drop on her neck. She thinks she’d like to feel all the pain this world has to offer her at once. The unknown is startling, a shadow that creeps around her house, like the whispered names of the unborn brothers she’s never met. No documents. No pictures, but she can feel their presence. She finds them in the bent tip of the bladed grass, on the spectral shimmer of lighted chrome bumpers. Hot to the touch.

Since they hide and flitter, she tries conjuring up a pony, hands waving magically, lips mumbling phrases starting with Hocus Pocus and ending with divorce. The last one made her dad disappear except for every other weekend. The pony she wants more than her dad, and though this makes her feel guilty, she doesn’t give up until a pair of squirrels chase each other around the base of the tree and into the skinny arms that continue to hold up the sky.

She’s very interested in finding the seams of nature, to report the unraveling of the universe.

She waits for it to fall, for a star to settle next to their patio furniture, for one of her wishes to come true. Nature won’t bend to her will no matter how long she stares, eyes dry, until she cries, her mother’s voice a one-sided conversation with her best friend, Becky, who her father calls a drunk. But only on the weekend, only while sipping from an amber glass bottle that spins the light across the ceiling, a smoky planet she can’t reach but would love to visit.

When she tells this to her father, he talks about astronauts, the way their space ships blow up like firecrackers, how space is an idea, a way for scientists to gossip and spend his money.

Faith says she’d like to spend his money. Puts her hand out and taps her foot. Horses don’t just show up in the back yard, you know?

He holds his hand above hers, and she tries to ignore the way it shakes.

Can you feel that? he asks.

Yes and no, she wants to say, not sure which one is the key.

Some day I’ll teach you about electricity. I’ll tell you about life and disease, and the rot caused by oxygen.

Does it hurt? she says.

Only as much as you want it to, he says.

She waits, hand poised, wanting something to appear, something flashy and bright, anything but these lies aimed like streaking meteors meant to make her feel better.

***

Tommy Dean is the author of Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. His work has appeared in The Bull Magazine, The MacGuffin, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, New Flash Fiction Review, and elsewhere. His story “You’ve Stopped” was chosen by Dan Chaon to be included in Best Microfiction 2019. It was also included in Best Small Fictions 2019. Find him @TommyDeanWriter.

Peacock Feathers ~ by Sudha Balagopal

I date a man who has wings; a man who can fly.

“I’ll set you up with a pair and we’ll travel together,” he says. “I want to show you the world.”

Faint remnants of exotic places he’s visited cling to him. He smells of green grass and treetops, of apples and walnuts, of pinecones and snow, of ocean and sand.

When he wraps his arms around me, I hear the rattle of wings as I nestle in the cloak of feather- warmth. I listen to his heart under my ears, more rapid than mine, reassuring in its strength and pace.

He gazes into my eyes, and I’m swept into their sharp, intense brilliance.

Sometimes unwelcome thoughts arise―a yearning for arms with warm skin, a wish for a sharp knock on the door instead of a swooping entry through the window. I run my fingers through the rich plumage and remind myself of what attracted me in the first place.

As promised, he brings me wings. They’re in the colors of a peacock’s feathers, iridescent turquoise, blue, and navy.

“You’ll be gorgeous in the sky,” he says and takes me out to the mountaintop on a sunny day. “Come,” he says. “Fly with me.”

“How?”

He lifts and flaps the broad span of his wings. “Like this,” he says, and his feet float off the ground. “Follow me!” The words drift in the wind.

I flap and jump, flap and jump; I cannot defy gravity.

When I look up, he’s soaring in the distance, his shadow an oblong patch on the side of the mountain.

I dance, wings shimmering on my back. He won’t turn around.

If he ever returns, I can tell him what I now know—peacocks are the male of the species; they cannot fly distances.

***

Sudha Balagopal’s short fiction appears in, or is scheduled to appear in, Split Lip Magazine, Lunate Fiction, Bangor Literary Magazine, Pidgeonholes and Vestal Review among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fiction and appears in the Wigleaf Top 50, 2019.

Saint Egg ~ by Alex Evans

They told us that we needed to learn responsibility. They told us this in a room where the ceiling tiles had blooming brown stains. We felt like saying, you need to learn responsibility, but we said nothing, because what is there left to say, anyway? Instead, we kicked our feet against the undersides of our desks and ran the worn-out soles of our tennis shoes against the cracked linoleum. The rumbling and swishing sounded like distant traffic.

The eggs were in enormous shrink-wrapped cartons. These were not organic, free-range, feel-good-about-yourself brown eggs from happy chickens. These were industrial, 120-per- carton eggs with paper thin white shells. We knew that they had been taken from the cafeteria, probably left over from last Thursday’s “breakfast for lunch” menu. These eggs had already lived unhappy lives, and we knew we could only disappoint them further.

It is your responsibility to take these eggs with you everywhere you go for the next week.

The covers of the fluorescent lights were filled with dead insects, and their bodies cast speckled shadows on our desks. If your egg cracks, you will fail the assignment. We nodded. After you crack the egg, there is no going back.

We went up one by one and collected our identical eggs. They felt fragile in our hands, but we could not stop running our fingers across their smooth surface, pressing in slightly, searching for weaknesses. We left the room, left the building, went home, and set our collective eggs down on our collective desks. We had normal evenings. Spaghetti or chicken or tacos or toast for dinner. Not eggs. Homework. Chores. Television. We lay in our beds, and the eggs sat nearby. We tried to sleep. Maybe we succeeded. The eggs said, kill me.

We couldn’t be sure. It could have been anything. The rustling of the sheets, a garbled voice from the street, noise from the TV still playing downstairs. It could be a dream. We listened harder. Kill me , the eggs said. Kill me. We stayed still, staring at the ceiling. There was still tape residue up there from the glow in the dark stars we’d taken down last summer. We’d decided teenagers don’t like glow in the dark stars. We’d decided teenagers don’t like a lot of things.

The next day, none of us said anything. We do that a lot. None of us said anything, and therefore all of us were quiet. We had our eggs in our pockets. Some of us had wrapped them up in bubble wrap, blankets, tissues, mittens. There was a rumor of a boy with a miniature cooler filled with packing peanuts, his egg buried in the middle. We understood: his egg would be safe, but that was no way to live.

It finally happened after fifth period, right before lunch. We were all in the hallway, and we all heard it. A snapping, but wetter. A squelching, but crisper. The sound of an egg breaking. We all froze, unwilling to look, to see if it was our own egg that had broken, and in the silence, it sounded as though all of our eggs let out a sigh. When the egg was found, the buzzing lights reflected in the whites, casting a halo around the unbroken yolk. We bowed our heads.

That night, in the darkness of our bedrooms, we held our eggs in our hands, turning them over and over again, waiting to hear them speak. We thought about the first fallen egg. Its fluorescent halo. Saint Egg. Canonized. Sunnyside up. That night, our eggs were silent. We fell asleep and dreamed they were in bed with us. We rolled over them, smothered them, pressed fractured shell and sticky yolk into our bedsheets. In the morning, the eggs were whole, untouched, sitting on our nightstands.

By the week’s end, only seven eggs had broken. They told us that this was a record. “You should be proud,” they said. “You are very responsible,” they said. We nodded. They were right. We are all responsible.

We held out our eggs. The eggs said, kill me. And together, we squeezed. The shells gave way, and the shards pierced the palms of our hands. We did not speak. The yolk ran down our bare wrists and dripped onto the desks. It ran onto the floor and stuck to our shoes. The room was silent. They did not say a word.

***

Alex Evans is an English teacher and writer living in the American Midwest. His small fictions have appeared in X-R-A-Y, Soft Cartel, and Ellipsis Zine.

To Ever Love One Girl ~ by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Cousin got whipped with the watering hose in the backyard so the neighbors couldn’t see. Uncle when catch her kissing one girl in town. He looped the hose and beat her over and over, slower than the sun beating her ehu hair into a matted mess on her scalp. I no get one lesbian for one daughter. You neva goin see that girl again. You goin to church. You goin for pray. Each sentence a looped mark on her naked skin as he pulled her pants down and she tried to cover herself, crying and pleading. No please. I not one lesbian. I neva like kiss her. The heavy smack of that green snake shimmering in the sun, empty of water and engorged with hate, filled the yard as we cousins and sisters watched Uncle, his red browned skin and salty peppery hair, his fisherman’s arms, teach us that it’s better to lie and to not be beaten and to suffer the drowning beneath the waves of beer and cigarette breathed fathers and uncles and cousins and brothers, our flesh torn by coral lined rocks as we tumble and toss, submitting to their little deaths, than to ever love one girl.

***

Melissa Llanes Brownlee is a Native Hawaiian writer. She received her MFA in Fiction from UNLV. Her work has appeared in Booth: A Journal, The Notre Dame Review, Pleiades, The Citron Review and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the 2018 New American Fiction Prize and the 2019 Brighthorse Prize.