Two Arms ~ by Jessica Cavero

Where’s The Love?

When Hanson sang where’s the love, I was in her room, the two of us sewing doll-sized sleeping bags in ivory wool. We collected beanie babies and boy band lyrics, imagined our future loves with hair as long as ours, watched the stick-on stars on her ceiling glow. In her dollhouse, each pink room was furnished with couches and tables, a blue glass spiral staircase that shot straight through to heaven. We had dinner on the first floor. Passed around porcelain dishes of warm meatloaf and spaghetti and I felt like one part of a sitcom family where everyone was loved.

Everlong

When she moved out of state, I played freeze tag with white kids in the Catholic school parking lot. I adapted to this new logic, understood that to be touched meant to stop all motion and speech, to tell your heart be still, tell your body be still, to vanish and hope someone would undo what had been done.

That was the summer of my retreat, where I listened to girls retell the worst years of their childhoods. How did they get through it? Some of them shared poems they had written. Some of them shared music. Crossfade, Foo Fighters. One of them brought pieces of shell and cut glass she had found on a beach, each one tucked into a velvet-lined box and separated by tiny compartments. One of the fragments was smooth and curled, like a baby’s finger.

We all sat in a circle after that, dropped notes we had written into a black velvet sack that was passed around. I don’t remember what the counselor told us to write. If it was something I wanted to let go of or hold onto. Maybe both.

Spring Days

Fourteen years later, I made my first attempt. In recovery, I slept. In the summer, I looked for music to wrap around me like two arms. I searched videos in bed. Watched seven boys dance in perfect synchrony and sing of childhood, of first loves and coffee shops, of running and running and all I know how to do is love you. They held my hand through the night. They did. And they sang while I took pictures around my neighborhood like a tourist: sunflower stalks, rabbits, little gnome statues in conversation with each other.

I couldn’t stop eating onigiri in those days. I had everything I needed. Koshihikari and Kewpie mayo and nori and tuna. I would click-click-click my phone until I found BTS and the recipe I bookmarked. Sometimes I think this is all I know how to do, cultivate devotion in small, tender acts so I try to do it well: cup the rice and mold it into a ball, feel the warmth of my own hands and god I swear it’s like holding myself.

***

Jessica Cavero is a writer living in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Barren Magazine, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf and elsewhere. Her short story “Toguro” won the 2017 Katherine Anne Porter Prize from Nimrod International Journal. You can find more of her work at fightfayre.net.

The Invisible Woman ~ by Rachel O’Cleary

The invisible woman likes to perch in people’s windows. She likes to sit on the other side of a pane of glass and watch the visible men and the visible women eating dinner with their visible children. She likes to listen to the muffled chatter, the pinging of cutlery against plates, the low rumble of the radio. She likes to press her nose to the cold glass and watch the visible fog formed by her invisible breath.

When there is a cat on the other side of a window, it inevitably meets the invisible woman’s gaze. Its sharp eyes narrow, its back ripples into a towering hump, and it shows its needle-sharp teeth. As she sulks away from its silent hisses, the invisible woman thinks that she can almost remember what it felt like, to be seen.

Sometimes the invisible woman sits in the picture window of the big red house on the corner. She presses her back to the brick frame, stretches her arms above her head until her fingertips graze the lintel, and points her feet into perfect arches. She feels every muscle in her body, taut and primed, and she imagines the thick coils of rippling fiber, the unseen landscape of herself.

Inside the big red house lives a couple with two teenaged children: a girl and a boy. Recently, the invisible woman has noticed that the girl is flickering. Every morning, the girl stands in front of her full-length mirror and runs her hands over the curves of her breasts, her hips, her thighs, as they waver in and out of clarity. The invisible woman watches, breath held painfully tight in her chest, afraid to exhale until the girl settles once again into solidity.

The invisible woman begins waking up early so she can follow the girl out of the big red house. She trails the girl down busy pavements, whispering encouraging words into her dark hair as it flutters in the invisible woman’s face. She tells the girl that she is stronger than she knows. She tells her that the world is a lonely place for an invisible woman. She tells her to be brave. These are all the things the invisible woman wishes someone had told her.

The invisible woman thinks it’s working. The girl’s footsteps are growing firmer, louder. She looks people in the eye as she passes them, and they look back. Not up or down, but straight back. Sometimes the invisible woman makes believe that these people are looking at her, too. Sometimes, she thinks they really are. Sometimes, she looks down at the place where her hand should be, and she’s sure she can see it, quivering in and out of her field of vision.

***

Rachel O’Cleary studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and lives with her husband and three children in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs. You can find a list of her published work at https://rachelocleary.wordpress.com, and she occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.

We Worry For Cats ~ by Eric Scot Tryon

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. So we flee our apartments, those boxes that stack atop one another like Legos. Eleven stories in total. We flee our apartments grumbling about testing the system on a Monday morning, a heads up would have been nice, an email, a note on the doors. Some of us still in pajamas, a rogue Cheerio stuck to our chin, others with wet hair and mis-matched socks, no shoes, all flooded out like roaches from behind toasters, microwaves and forgotten loaves of bread. We sit scattered about, under trees, on benches and cement stairs. Keeping our distance from neighbor-strangers, the men we smile at in elevators, the women we nod to in the mail room.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. They don’t stop after a minute like we expect. Or five or ten. We sit scattered about, under trees, on benches and cement stairs. Noses buried in cell phones. We watch our battery percentages like ticking time bombs, picturing chargers on nightstands, kitchen counters, plugged into laptops. Oh how we long for them. Noses buried deep in cell phones. We play Candy Crush, we text our mothers, we punch emails to bosses with trained thumbs.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. Some of us try to call management. This is unacceptable. We have Zoom meetings to attend, we have scared cats under beds, we have lives to live in those boxes that stack atop one another like Legos. Eleven stories in total. We watch our battery percentages like ticking time bombs. The numbers dropping fast, counting down like it’s goddamn Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. What do we do with that last percentage? Who do we text? Which feed do we scroll? Which photo do we like? When the screens go black we look around and wonder which of these neighbor-strangers is the one we hear fighting on the other side of the kitchen, saying things to his wife we have only heard in movies. We look around and wonder which of these neighbor-strangers is the one crying at night above our bed. As we lay, scrolling ourselves to sleep, the sound of their sobs becomes the white noise that finally puts us under. We look around and try to match unknown faces to the lives we hear on the other sides of walls.

The scream of the alarms can be heard for two city blocks. We long for chargers, we worry for cats, we wonder for neighbor-strangers. And then we see it. Smoke twirling its way up from the rooftop like an angry ghost. This is not a test. We grab madly for our dead phones to snap photos, to Tweet in all caps, to text our friend in Boston.

***

Eric Scot Tryon is a writer from San Francisco. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, Pithead Chapel, Los Angeles Review, Pidgeonholes, Monkeybicycle, Cease, Cows, Longleaf Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and elsewhere. Eric is also the Founding Editor of Flash Frog. Find more information at www.ericscottryon.com or on Twitter @EricScotTryon. 

Rock ~ by Kik Lodge

Five boyfriends ago and I’m out in the backyard with my big sister, my beautiful big sister, Annie, and we’re shouting far into the night in our nighties, to hell with home, to hell with Dad, and we say hey you, clumps of blazing rock, bear witness to our words, never will we be anyone’s woman, we’ll be the dancing dead before we’re anyone’s woman, got it? and Annie whenever you are, I’m whispering this now, Doug’s upstairs, his fist in bentonite clay, he has a hole where his soul should be, I swear, and I’m out here, torn like Mama, and get this stars, I am enough on my own, I’m yelling that now, Annie, even if life’s a haze and the night is biting into me, I’m yelling that now in my nightgown.

***

Kik Lodge writes short fiction in France. Her work has featured in The Moth, Tiny Molecules, The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction Ellipsis Zine, Splonk, Bending Genres, Janus Literary and Litro. She likes cats and trumpets.

Made in Her Image ~ by Lori Sambol Brody

My Golem daughter packs for college. She packs her sweater sets, her sensible black boots, her button-down shirts. She never wears crop-tops or low necklines. She packs her jeans. She does not write on her jeans with a ballpoint pen, drawing hearts and lines from her favorite songs, the lyrics she knows make me blush. She does not worry holes in the fabric with her fingers. Her bed is always made military-tight, fairy lights strung over it in a bell curve, photos clipped on the wires spaced exactly three inches apart. My Golem daughter never sits in boys’ cars in front of our house, windows dripping with tears.

She folds her clothes in her suitcases as if she were the one who worked at Brandy Melville. She packs her two sets of extra-long sheets. She packs the new shower caddy she’ll bring to the dorm showers to haul her Pantene conditioner for dry hair, her Jergens Extra-Dry Healing lotion, the hair gel she uses so her bangs will lie just so. She packs she packs she packs.

My Golem daughter is always focused.

Her eyes are now on her suitcase, her bangs covering the word I wrote on her forehead, אמת, truth. The truth is: I can destroy her, erase the letter aleph, א, to change the word truth to death, מת. The truth is: for my Golem daughter, I hold her life in my hands. How easy it would be. I watch from the doorway to her room, examine the soft pad of my thumb: I can rub aleph off with a light touch and she will turn back to what she’s made of. I thrill at that power, I wonder if. I’ve had only two years with her.

I bring her a set of towels, because she will need those too. Thanks Mom, she says, and her voice sounds like running water, like dirt and magic and crawling things. I shiver; I love the way she calls me Mom. Are you sure you want to go away? I ask. She knows that she’s the first Golem to go to college. An Ivy League, no less. It will not be easy: will my daughter’s roommate notice the truth inscribed on her forehead, will she seek to brush the letters away, will there be an aura of uncanniness that repels her? Or will they stay up all night whispering in the dark under her Ikea duvet, talking of classes and dreams and boys? Oh, Mom, she says, and she shakes her head, high ponytail swinging.

That night they found her, I knelt on the banks of the creek. The water ran winter-fast and the wet earth smelled of decay. I howled and even the coyotes were afraid. I formed my Golem daughter with tears. I formed her with clay and algae and foam. Mud crusted under my nails. The police found no DNA under hers. I lumbered from the creek bed and my Golem daughter followed me, naked and solid. Her flesh like my flesh, transformed from mud. In the bedroom, I pointed to her canopied bed, to her desk. This is your room. I slipped a dress over her head, zipped the back, tied the belt. Her hands up as if she were still a toddler. You are my daughter.

My Golem daughter does not bleed and she cannot break. She tells me, I will always love you. I grip her tight with hands that formed her from fistfuls of mud and magic. Hands that made her stay.

***

Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Craft, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her stories have been chosen for the Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction anthologies, Wigleaf Top 50, and the Longform fiction pick of the week. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

Pre-Ghosting ~ by Todd Clay Stuart

The ash in the backyard is dying. My wife and I could see it from our second-floor window, could hear the groan of its hollow limbs as they cracked and swayed in the cold March winds. Widow makers, the limbs are called. The branches of the tree once held waxy, green parades of leaves, but are now weighed down full of silent space left in the wake of the slow march of death. It could be said the tree is more of a wooden sculpture of a tree than anything else. Yet, still it stands, as a monument to things I won’t let go. Water, air, fire, they take on the form of our bodies, like shadows, like mirrors, anything made of light, your hands, your face, translucent in repose, the light moving through you like the opposite of a storm, the reverse of a hurricane, everything made of light, the accoutrements of the illusionists. The bedroom window is new and arched to better frame the night stars since we discovered our favorite constellations were out of view just above the top of our old window. About the stars: we forget they are still there during the day. We just can’t see them because the arrogant sun demands our full attention. My wife’s hair went gray, then white in a matter of seconds. I want to believe she prematurely made herself look like her future ghost, so I would more easily recognize her spirit after she died, so I would be less startled if one day her ghost appeared beside me and hooked her arm through mine during a funeral or a parade or the opening of the first tender buds of spring.

***

Todd Clay Stuart is an emerging Midwestern writer and poet. He studied creative writing at the University of Iowa. His work  appears or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, FRiGG, Milk Candy Review, New World Writing, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife, daughter, and two loyal but increasingly untrustworthy pets. Find him on Twitter @toddclaystuart and at http://toddclaystuart.com.

Origin of a Face ~ by Eileen Frankel Tomarchio

Sometime after I died, I came back as a button. An ordinary, four-holed flat from one of my well-worn sweaters, buried inside the pickle jar of buttons my daughter kept on her bedside table. Co-mingled with so many elbowy fluteds, fleshy cloths, cold-skinned celluloids. My new purpose unknown to me except to wait. Sometimes my daughter dug a finger deep and grazed me. Sometimes she turned the jar in such a way we all tumbled like the innards of a kaleidoscope. Many times, she let the jar drop in anger and land with a thud on the carpet. Why did none of my fellow castoffs squirm or shift at the sound of her crying? Were there no souls in here but mine? Today, she shook the pickle jar like a can of whipped cream before plonking it down on the nightstand, leaving me splayed against the glass, my eyes and lips in damsel Os. I could see her, finally, in full. 

And she could see me back. 

My daughter had always made the world into faces. Appliance knobs, wall sockets, river rocks, sewer grates, water-stained plaster, rust marks on a bicycle, urine bubbles in a toilet bowl. The thread-hole buttons she snipped and horded were the most expressive of all things. They returned an infinitude of gazes. More than I could ever match or mimic, for all my trying. I’d catch her in animated conversation with her specimens arranged in small families on the ledge of the bathtub. And when I’d enter the bathroom, she’d look up at me and go silent. Still smiling, but distantly, as if she were mirroring what I couldn’t express. As if I were faceless.

One snowy night, I stayed with her anyway, filling the tub with warm water as it cooled, as she shivered from waiting for her father who wouldn’t be home for hours. Or days. I don’t remember. She let me watch her kissing games with buttons stuck to puckered fingers and thumbs. Her pretend car wrecks and ambulance runs on slick ceramic roads. Her tsunami waves pinwheeling the buttons to the depths. But at my time for bed, she pounded the water with her fists, dashing the mothers, daughters, fathers. She fought me as I raised the drain stopper, screamed as the tiniest collar buttons were drawn down and left juddering at the trap by the suction, dozens of tiny cries for help bubbling up into her ears and mine. She saw that I could hear them. She saw my terror. I lowered the stopper and together we scooped up the babes, toweled them dry—their eyelashes beaded, cheeks flushed—whispering there, there.   

On Kleenex beds beside her own, the buttons slept and slept. My daughter shushed my goodnight with a finger to my lips. They had earaches from all the water, she whispered. They needed quiet. Her finger stayed, tracing my features. The face that was there, a little less faceless. I watch her now through the thick glass. Her lids damp with sleep. Does she recognize her mother? I think tomorrow will be my rescue. She’ll reach in and scoop me out, or dump the jar and pick through the ocean of scowls till she finds my smile. She’ll feel a hint of warm blood, a human heartbeat. She’ll pull away the faint ghost threads still looped tight through my holes, like scales falling from my eyes. She’ll bring me to her ear so she can hear me whisper there, there.

***

Eileen Frankel Tomarchio works as a librarian in a small New Jersey town. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Forge, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon, Maudlin House, trampset, and elsewhere. 

at your mother’s funeral ~ by Mustapha Enesi

at your mother’s funeral

your name is one of the things your father can’t stop thinking about. it is why street children see him, carrying a massive dusty hair with empty tins of milk clanking against the other around his neck, and run after him to clap and chant:

papa Gozie dance for us.
dance like your mama’s daughter.
dance like your papa’s daughter.
like your daughter’s daughter.

it is why his madness is bigger than the weight of his problems. your father’s madness began at your mother’s funeral. at the funeral, your father was the first to throw earth over her casket. to sit on the floor and tell the crowd of the names he’d thought of naming you. to cry. to wish you were with him. to throw himself at the foot of your mother’s grave and shout, ‘my Chiasoka, you were not supposed to die too.’ to hold the pastor by the neck. to spit on his face. to demand that he resurrect your mother like Lazarus. to ask the pastor the reason he could not move like Jesus, why could he not be like the son of God? why was he not God so his slaps could carry the weight of his grief off his shoulders. to chase away everyone who came to pay homage to your mother. to cane these people with the dried dogo yaro tree branches littered on the floor. to return home and make himself a hot cup of bland tea. to sip the tea. to throw the mug at the wall. to pack the broken pieces. to unpack the broken pieces. to call your mother’s mother over the phone—your grandmother—and call her a witch. to end the call. to call her back and apologize. to laugh at himself. to sleep. to wake up and go back to sleep. to trail the walls of your mother’s room, looking for signs from God, a writing on the wall. to find nothing except the last scan of you in your third trimester, fully formed, ready to come to life. to pack his clothes. to unpack his clothes. to write a note to your mother’s mother saying:

You should have left Chiasoka for me. My wife was coming to see you when she died. You took her and our daughter. You should have left Chiasoka for me.

to send the letter. to unsend the letter. to sit at the foot of your mother’s wardrobe. to flip through the photo album. to hate himself. to blame himself. to decide to unalive himself. at your mother’s funeral, your father was the first to never let go of the grief of losing you both. to never stop living in his imagination. so, he let his hair befriend dusts on the street. and marvel at the name he would have called you had you not died. and snarls at street kids who chant and clap for him. your name is one of the things your father can’t stop thinking about.

***

Mustapha Enesi is Ebira. His story, ‘Kesandu’ won the 2021 K & L Prize for African Literature, he was a finalist for the 2021 Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize, theme winner in Aster Lit’s 2021 Fall Writing Contest, shortlisted for the 2021 Arthur Flowers Flash Fiction Prize, and his flash fiction piece, ‘Shoes’ was highly commended in Litro Magazine’s 2021 summer flash fiction contest. His works appear in The Maine Review, Kalahari Review, Litro Magazine, Eboquills, The Story Tree Challenge Maiden Anthology, and elsewhere.

The Dollhouse Detective ~ by Georgia Bellas

for Frances Glessner Lee

The teacups have roses on them, rims gilded. Loose tea leaves float at the bottom. A wedge of squeezed lemon tossed on a matching plate. Half-eaten scone. Lavender crumbs. The tablecloth is heavy, clean but with faded stains. An unopened letter sits next to the plates. A scarf hangs from the back of the carved wooden chair. Purple. The bodies are everywhere. Almost no room to walk. Looks like a child’s slumber party but there are no pajamas or sleeping bags. The house settles, little creaks and moans. A radiator clanks loudly, starting up. The ouija board is on a table next to the couch, planchette still clutched in the old lady’s hand.

***

Georgia Bellas is a writer/artist/filmmaker. Passionate about puppets and plants, she is a ventriloquist and plays theremin in the hypnagogic band Sugar Whiskey. Her teddy bear is host of the podcast Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour.

There’s Something About the Night ~ by Beth Moulton

Inspired by Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”

There’s something about the night, the way it lays on my shoulders like a silk blouse. Like the silk blouse I was wearing the night we met, at that 24-hour diner down the block from the place I used to live. There were just a few of us, sitting alone in the same place, when you walked in. You sat next to me. I didn’t like it. You were a stranger and you were too close. I tried to catch the eye of the waiter, but he was elbows deep in the sink, glasses clinking in the soapy water. So I ignored you.

There’s something about the night, the way it makes people do strange things, things they would never do in the daytime. I drank coffee, I fixed my lipstick, I nudged my cup towards the waiter for a refill. You took out a cigarette but didn’t light it, just held it like you were waiting for something. Our hands brushed together—perhaps an accident. I turned then and looked at you for the first time; I have looked at you thousands of times since. Yesterday I looked at you for the last time.

There’s something about the night, how I can stand at a window in a brightly lit room, with people talking and laughing and clinking glasses behind me. All of us, alone in the same place. Or maybe it’s just me. I try to look out at the night, but the whole time the night is looking in at me.

Editor’s note: Prior to this story being published, we learned the devastating news that the talented Beth Moulton has passed away. We will miss her and her beautiful stories so much — it means the world that she has shared her work with us. If you would like to honor Beth’s memory, a scholarship has been established in her name via https://creativelightfactory.org/donate/. Thank you so much!

***

Beth Moulton earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College, where she was fiction editor for the Rathalla Review. Her work has appeared in mac(ro)mic, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Milk Candy Review and other journals. She lives near Valley Forge, PA with her cats, Lucy and Ethel.