Category Archives: Fiction

“Animate Atmosphere: A Basic Guide to Changing Clouds in a Changing Sky” – Fiction by Jeremy Schnee

A Cloud – Konstantin Bogaevsky, 1925

The grand finale of our Fall 2018 issue is Jeremy Schnee‘s marvelously meteorological short story “Animate Atmosphere: A Basic Guide to Changing Clouds in a Changing Sky.” 

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YOUNGER READERS MAY FIND IT SURPRISING that there was a time when clouds were largely ignored. They were mostly harmless, bearing shapely resemblances to other things, or adding background to photos, or shading out sun on hot days. Sure, they could be foreboding, like when you’d turn toward thunderclaps and see an anvil-shaped cumulonimbus barreling through the sky. Only small and specialized groups paid them much attention. Most of us learned and forgot their names in school. Our primary concern with clouds was how they affected our outdoor plans. Simply put, we took them for granted. Then the clouds demanded we take greater notice.

For millennia, clouds were made of water droplets, ice, and mostly simple air. They formed from the blending of warm and cold fronts, from fluxes in moisture, or from disruptions of terrain. We categorized them as cirrus, stratus, cumulus, nimbus, and various hybrids. We had some anomalies too: banner clouds sat like crowns upon mountains; noctilucent clouds looked like scratches on a sunset sky. To common folk they were high or low, rain or not, and sometimes just grouped into the generic description of “overcast.”

Some say these new clouds are due to the changing climate. Some say it is a side effect of humans trying to change nature. Some say the world has simply gotten out of whack, like a record needle drifting a fraction off course. But whatever the causes, and despite the dangers, these are exciting times. The scientific community is abuzz, media ever busy, and much that we once understood about the world is up for debate. Logging is dangerous and paper scarce. Distribution is interrupted. Roads and railroads are no longer interconnected. Pilots now have the world’s most dangerous job. A basic guide must, however, be shared.

Further studies will garner greater scientific understanding, but for the time being this guide is an attempt, a simple attempt to understand.

 

Ice Blotch (Pagosastrape)

The patter of rain and dot-by-dot darkening of sidewalks was once so straightforward. Perhaps a businessman walking to an appointment would use a newspaper to stay dry. A mother would slap rubber boots on her kids and walk them to school. A summer night stroll through rain might even be considered romantic.

We’ve all heard the urban legend regarding one such summer night’s walk: in a small Midwest town, a woman and her boyfriend were holding hands, until she stopped to tie her shoe. She let go of his hand and kneeled. A blue flicker filled the sky. When she stood and reached for his hand again, his fingers shattered. Their frozen crystals numbed her hand, she never regained nerve function in it.         Of course, as this phenomenon has followed many a rainstorm for years now, we know this story to be implausible. If ice-lightning struck within such proximity, she would have been frozen solid as well.

Like its electrical cousin, ice-lightning accompanies nimbus (rain) clouds. The strike comes not from the nimbus, but from a sort of symbiotic relationship. The changing atmosphere sometimes pushes clouds further upward. Nimbus clouds thus occasionally scrape the top of the troposphere (the lowest level of atmosphere and place where 98% of all weather used to occur). Three forces then combine: coalescing water droplets, escaping electrons, and freezing pressure that fuses molecules in a wart-like secondary cloud which forms atop the nimbus.

Though wart-like, the Ice Blotch cloud glows a beautiful radiant blue. When charge separation begins in the nimbus, instead of merely getting lightning, ice discharges too. Strikes are unpredictable. The lightning ripples over wet surface areas. The safest place to be is inside. Roofs and sides of buildings can thaw with no lasting damage. Giant oaks have been encapsulated in ice. A blimp once survived intact, though was grounded by the ice’s extra weight. The situation is rarely so ideal.

People don’t often take proper precautions for Ice Blotches. They huddle under canopies or overhangs. Worse, they hide in small spaces. Cars are often sealed in foot-thick ice sheets. Doors and windows get stuck, vents clogged. Roadways become instant hazards. Ice sheets have caused fender-benders in the triple digits. In a city like Los Angeles, where experience driving on ice is lacking, traffic delays have lasted for days.

On the bright side, the aftermaths can be rather beautiful. Tales of whole towns turning out to skate and sled mid-summer are bountiful. So are acts of heroism from kindly neighbors: if one is unlucky enough to be sealed in a car, sitting inside an ice bubble, looking through the din and savoring breath, there is no greater sight than a mob of people armed with crowbars and pickaxes charging in your direction.

Continue reading “Animate Atmosphere: A Basic Guide to Changing Clouds in a Changing Sky” – Fiction by Jeremy Schnee

“New Names” – Fiction by Khaholi Bailey

Madonna – Salvador Dali, 1943

A young girl approaches Catholic confirmation while remembering her Haitian roots in “New Names,” Khaholi Bailey‘s haunting & spiritual short story from our Fall 2018 issue.

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“WAKE UP, GIRL!” Lilith screeched. “Time to make the doughnuts!”

The Girl opened her eyes to a crescendo of light peeking between the pink comforter and the twin mattress, both soft with overuse.

With no response from her cousin, Lilith continued: “What did you say back home? ‘Time to plant the cassava?’ ‘Time to put on an Eagles Super Bowl Champion shirt and sandals made out of an old tire?’”

Lilith half smiled and folded her arms across her body.

“You know, time to get up, or something like that.” Lilith sighed loudly. “You Haitians have no sense of humor.”

The Girl prepared to leave the bed. She moved her head forward, closed her eyes, and slowly moved her knees away from her chest. The warmth that encased her was malleable and comforting, and for a few more seconds she luxuriated in this dreamy state between the world and her barely conscious mind. She likes this twilight of wakefulness more than any other state because it is before she realizes where she is and all that has happened. She felt for a second that she was once again on her mother’s lap where she used to lie. Before she could remember that that part of her life had gone away, she felt a gathering of wiry fingers pulling at the top of her head.

Lilith guided her up to a sitting position, first by lifting the top of her head then grabbing her shoulders. The Girl looked up at Lilith and was startled by the layer of makeup between Lilith’s face and the rest of the room. The Girl did her best to stifle a yawn, as to not inspire her cousin into another quip about foreigners and their odors.

The Girl placed her feet into slippers that were indented with Lilith’s footprints and headed to the bathroom. Without asking, Lilith followed and stood right behind her as she faced the mirror. Lilith took a handful of water from the faucet and poured it over The Girl’s hair. The Girl didn’t stop her. Lilith’s studious glare made her feel like she probably needed whatever help she was going to offer. She took a comb and secured it on The Girl’s hairline and pulled; the comb didn’t budge. Lilith leveraged her right foot on the toilet and leaned back with the left. The Girl’s head was pulled back, farther and farther until the plastic comb snapped.  She raked The Girl’s hair with her nails until she could gather enough hair into her fist. Lilith bent to look at her work. Sweat beaded on her nose, which wrinkled with dissatisfaction. She spat on her palm and smoothed it over The Girl’s rough hair. She took a rubber band and twisted her hair into a ball behind her head. She stepped back to look at her hard work, sighed and smiled at The Girl’s face. “All better,” she said, counting this as one of her good deeds for her otherwise hopeless immigrant cousin. “Maybe we break out the hot comb tomorrow.” She scanned The Girl’s hair triumphantly. “We’ll have to wake up extra early.”

The Girl’s hairline throbbed as she walked to Saint Angela Merici School for Girls, repeating in her mind a list of saints. She would have to choose one as her namesake for tomorrow’s Confirmation, but she still had no idea what she wanted to be called. So, she silently asked Saint Anthony for help: Help in remembering the names of the other saints; remembering why any of this was important; remembering which memories were real. She named her loa, her father, before Saint Diana and reminded herself that Catholic schools here did not honor her deceased father as her personal deity as they did in Haiti. She found herself closing her eyes and trying to picture his face more often lately, though the only reference she had was through pictures, stories from her mother, and her dreams. She was grateful that her loa kept her close by showing up in her mind as she slept, as she was too embarrassed to give him offerings once she moved to the States. She felt disconnected from him, but connecting to him through offerings isolated her from Lilith and her classmates. She figured it more practical to try and fit in here with the living and not with a man who has been dead for most of her life.

Continue reading “New Names” – Fiction by Khaholi Bailey

“The Jazz Man” – Fiction by Harley Claes

Jazz – Man Ray, 1919

“The Jazz Man” is Harley Claes‘s sensual & musical short fiction from our Fall 2018 issue.

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THE TALKING SHOP MONASTERY FOR TROUBLED SOULS was located within the inconceivable stretch of land in between Sunn and Elliot avenue, a hep spot for any lost bloke who finds himself awed by the remnants of the garden that once was, most many disregard. But behind the stacks of meaningless junk there is sentiment.

It takes the form of a vomit stain on the pavement.

There’s a manor behind it. You’d ought to think you’re seeing the bowels of the Earth. It’s all sodden with spirit speech & revolutionary manner. All of its inhabitants barely inhabited the body half the time. They were all too busy soul-searching.

But then came The Jazz Man, the most present of the local presence. He knew the tune, the vibe that set the joint in motion. His language was the music and the music his mantra.

He was a conspicuous character from the start. Could sit so undisturbed in a busy room. All the old folks had a kind word to say as he sat unspoken. No one else spoke his language.

 

During group meditation their only means of communication to him was a sitar loop that seemed to speak volumes. The circle of madhouse babble and artspeak made quite the revolutionary backdrop. Each melodic ragging soothed the bellied long-haired monks, that it was only a matter of ease that brought them to the light of jazz.

He hung his petticoat on the altar. They all hoorahed.

It was here they deemed each art a god, a holy practice.

The shell they shed like cicadas, all those bodies piled round on the burlap mat. Each passerby who heard that jazz spat obscenities like origins of the character were an offense to their tradition.

The lot of lucids was now ground for protest.

“No free thinking in my civil city! Enlightenment is a cult act!” They claimed, but not so wisely.

It was Bluebird that twisted the tables. She was bilingual. And knew each art naturally, had a hand for the harp and horn. Even wrote a few manifestos in her youth. The cat made a drag of her entrance. Clung to the poor pillared column that was at its end, already on tilt.

She kicked a saddle shoe to the ceiling and feigned speaking. Her bottom sat on the plum colored cushion where the Bobbies and the Rays served tinctured waters and teas. Mind you this was no ordinary establishment.

For one, it was rudimentary that they sit cross-legged when cushioned.

There was no leaving the premises without a piece to your name. And she, Bluebird of the talented gene, enticed each beneficiary with a tribute of her talent.

“Rosewine, Rosewine. You got Rosewine?”

“Straight with rainwater from the basin. That old barrel out back. Petals all garden grown. A soluble of white wine- you’ll adore it.”

And made so intrinsically with palms molded so thoughtfully around a moon mug, the drink was brought to her with bowed head.

She shifted in form of a painting, one elbow bracing the pavement. Tile disheveled with dirt stain, she was inviting every social strain with the flutter of a lash.

And the Jazz Man, The Jazz Man did what the Jazz Man can. He walked his way with the snap of his fingers down the great degraded avenue. Right into the premise of the great big bird blue.

To take a seat next to her– slightly slouched as she was sprawled. He rung up a Dharma Bum, one of their best beverages, a tea tincture. Milk-riddled. He sat in patience, a meditative state where he studied sheet music and one upped an octave.

Though something was an unusual distraction– a low-lite voice that screamed of vixen– and this had him interested.

“You’re a cat. Voice like an angel.” He says under his breath, hiding behind his dark skin as his voice boomed.

His big fumbling hands press against the oriental end tables that were used to snack upon.

Regulars were seen smoking hashish from hookahs, all gathered around in a rotating centerfold, fiendish for that muse. But big Jazzy only smoked from a pipe– puffing ground tobacco to entice the curious. And baby Bluebird had an itch. A song to sing, a tale to belt out all at once in soprano.

“Love is a beautiful thing,

Don’t you know it babe?

I love the Blues that I sing-”

“Hit the juke won’t you?”

She snapped and the religious fanatics came kicking to act on that beat. They did not understand the music, but they wished to. And the Jazz Man longed to convey the shock and bewilderment he’d faced from the voice.

Continue reading “The Jazz Man” – Fiction by Harley Claes

“Dear Anybody” – Poetry by Denise Jarrott

Grotesque – Takato Yamamoto, 2005

“Dear Anybody” is one of two uniquely romantic poems by Denise Jarrott in our Fall 2018 issue.

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I CAN FIND ANYTHING ABOUT YOU BEAUTIFUL, even the things that other lovers told
you were grotesque. You don’t even have to ask. It isn’t that
I am incapable of endurance. If anything, I can go for miles trailing that part of
you behind me, that part which cannot be contained.
I am here with
you at your window. The things it faces will appear as
I see them: the dirty sparrows, the iron fence with the grapevine motif, the mailbox
you painted to appear more friendly to the mail carriers listening to podcasts
                       or gossiping about who was cheating on whom. Woe to
your landlord who glued the sills shut, so that no one can hear me when
I scream. And how I’d scream, uncontained.

Dear Anybody,
I cannot say anything about me is pure, except how like bread dough my love for
you expands with each punch, each indentation, stupidly it fills itself in, to the shape.
I take my shape based on the container. I will love
you, Anybody, the same way I’ve loved everyone else, as if
I am rich in time, in patience, if only to exist with
you in the transparent blue window in which no one else exists. If only
I could prove to you how deep the water is through the glass bottom boat
you agreed to board with me, scraping along the latest reef. This is to say
I am about to capsize, and the red of this coral breaks my heart only to have it mend to
your specifications, a different shape.

Dear Anybody, this is to say that
you will break me in a very specific way, as all bodies do. Once,
I asked someone, in the space of a poem such as this one, to let me sleep in
your bed and feed me seeds and let me drink bitter tea, to tie up my hair so that
I can exist only as a body. Once, I gave a whole book to someone wholly different from
you but it is like handing them a snake that sits so still on the wrist.
I gave over my whole life like handing over a jar of buttons, expecting devotion.

Dear Anybody,
I can tell you this, if you let me, I will give
you the strange objects I have made of my life, but
I cannot tell you what to do with them.

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11C778AA-14A2-448B-A630-288358E1828EDENISE JARROTT is the author of NYMPH(Vegetarian Alcoholic Press) and a chapbook, Nine Elegies (dancing girl press). She grew up in Iowa and currently lives in Brooklyn.

“Chemtrail Mist of the New World” – Fiction by C.D. Frelinghuysen

A frustrated husband and his paranoid wife try to cope with their realities in “Chemtrail Mist of the New World,” C.D. Frelinghuysen‘s paranoid & poignant flash fiction from our Fall 2018 issue.

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MORNINGS BERNADINE HAUNTS THE PORCH.  She glides back and forth, white hair untethered, clutching the egg timer, glaring at the sky. “I dare you,” she tells it, as if we don’t live under the Atlanta flightpath. Right on time, Delta 49 appears from the northwest, slicing the sky with a white wake. Bernadine mutters and winds the timer to five. Ever since the Doctor cut her to half time for unprofessionalism she’s been able to perfect the details of her delusions. And after Bernadine squandered our savings I’ve had to unretire from my fine decade of alcohol abuse and represent morons at traffic court, but business is slow and so most mornings I’m stuck here with her.

Last summer at a minor league game Bernadine got beaned by a foul ball, knocking her into the next seat. She was out for a full minute, but when she came to she waved off the paramedics and pushed through the crowd to the parking lot. She grabbed the car keys and drove home, but took a strange route, and kept looking in the rearview. When we got in the house she had a whiskey and a Tylenol and went to sleep. At three a.m. she suddenly woke and shuffled into Tricia’s vacant bedroom, which we’d turned into storage, and booted up the dusty computer. She spends most of each day in there now. I’d heard of a man who dove headfirst into the shallow end and could play piano afterwards. Bernadine, during her brief time in the void, had mastered keyboard and mouse. I caught the ball off the rebound, by the way. Bernadine called it the instrument of her trepanation, and had it mounted above the fireplace. But the baseball was only the final straw that broke her. Lightning ignites dead woods, not the living.

It’s her fault I know every plane by its name, how many engines move it, every federal poison it belches, and why five minutes of linger tells you what sort of smoke is coming out.

Yesterday I had to coax her down from a box in front of Chase Bank, where she was denouncing the fraud of fiat currency. The police officer didn’t scold me, or laugh. He just wrote down the phone number for Braxbury Convalescent.

The timer erupts. Bernadine measures the sky, clicks her tongue, goes inside and shuts all the windows, despite the heat. She clomps down the basement steps and I hurl my spent smoke into the yard. She comes out wearing her gas mask, no longer a ghost but an olive drab and dumpy elephant. “Looks like arsenic today,” she gasps. The Brauns are watching from their window.

Continue reading “Chemtrail Mist of the New World” – Fiction by C.D. Frelinghuysen

“Last Halloween” – Fiction by Cameron Suey

Head of a Stag – Diego Velazquez, 1634

Parents struggle with the dire consequences of a high-stakes bargain in “Last Halloween,” Cameron Suey‘s feral & frightful fiction from our Fall 2018 issue.

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ON THE LAST MORNING I WILL HAVE WITH MY SON, I make him pancakes with fresh blueberries from the community garden mixed in the batter.  When the Patels from down the street heard the news, they brought us a flask of fresh maple syrup from the trees in the western woods, and I’ve chilled it overnight in the fridge. Butter from the community farm sizzles and spits on the griddle as Malcolm drags his feet down the stairs. Outside the kitchen window, perched on the skeletal frame of an old oak, the crow gazes at me. Its head crooks to one side and beetle-shell eyes flash in the October sun, fixed on mine. I look away.

“Morning,” I grunt, trying to keep the desperate quaver out of my voice. “Thought maybe you’d like to try some coffee with breakfast.”

He narrows sleepy eyes, skeptical of the offer, then shrugs. “Doesn’t it, uh, stunt my growth?” I wince, but he doesn’t notice.

“I think maybe one cup is okay.” I set the chipped, steaming mug down in front of him with the first batch of pancakes. “Just don’t tell mom.”

He tries to play it cool, like it’s no big deal, but I can see the excitement in the corners of his smile. He wraps his small hands around the mug, half covering the Notre Dame crest, and sniffs at the steam. I realize that I’m staring at him, so I look out the window again. The crow catches my eye and nods, then takes flight in a burst of sparkling black feathers.

After breakfast, Malcolm lays out his goblin costume, itemizing and accounting for each piece and prop. I watch from the hallway, passing by with the same load of laundry again and again. I don’t want to make this day any harder than it has to be.

From our bedroom, Annie’s tiny cries drift out alongside the sound of Rose singing gentle lullabies. Rose said her goodbyes to Malcolm as he slept last night. She doesn’t trust herself not to upset the boy, so she’s planned to stay with our infant daughter until he’s gone. I told her I would cover for her if Malcolm asked.

When I’ve run out of reasons to pass by his doorway, I go to the garage. In a box above the workbench, still packed from our move last January, I find what I’m looking for. A cracked plastic bucket, molded in orange like a child’s drawing of a jack-o-lantern. It was mine from childhood, in a place far away from here. I’d hoped both my children would have the chance to use it, but if I send it out with Malcolm, I know it won’t be coming back. Annie won’t be old enough to carry it for at least another year.

My throat is tight again, and I clear it to chase away the tears. What’s one more loss tonight, in the greater scheme of things? Malcolm should take it. He’s always loved it.

As I turn back towards the house, I hear scraping on the rafters above. The fox strides across the beam and sits on his haunches. I have an idiot impulse to fling the pumpkin at the animal, an impotent urge for violence in the muscles of my forearms. Instead, I sigh and nod. It looks at me from pools of liquid black, grey fur rising and falling with each patient breath.

There is no malice in those eyes, nor the others. We all know what has to happen tonight. Rose and I signed the pact when we came to this town. We accepted the risk, because it seemed worth it. Maybe it is, still. This is a safe town. Safer than anywhere else on earth. Annie will be exempt in future years.

The fox is gone when I look up.

Continue reading “Last Halloween” – Fiction by Cameron Suey

“On the Backs of Cats” – Fiction by Kathryn McMahon

detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights – Hieronymus Bosch, 1515

A couple fights to survive through their dystopian world of mutant rats & hyper-surveillance in “On the Backs of Cats,” Kathryn McMahon‘s fantastically frenetic flash fiction from our Fall 2018 issue.

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MY BOYFRIEND HAS A CAT NAMED KALASHNIKOV and the three of us go hunting at midnight. He brings his taser, I bring my magic whistle. Kalashnikov listens for the unique squeaks of rats with human ears growing out of their spines. Grenadine-pink test subjects that escaped during The Spills and roam the alleys eavesdropping on every conversation.

To pay rent, we sell the ears to collectors. What they do with them, no one knows. Ear-bearing rats are squishy, naked things, and I feel bad killing them. I tell my boyfriend this every night before we head out.

He has a glass eye that he records me with. I think he records his bar fights too because for him, routine is not enough. When we go to the pub through the crack in the museum wall, we hold hands by rotting dromedary bones and watch combinations of couples and talk about who in each pair would be better in bed. We never ask them to join us, though our lust is harmonic.

At home, I dance for him. He records me then too. It is exothermal, watching him watch me. But does he play back the audio, not just what I do with my hands? “I said I like that it’s only us. Are you listening?”

“Mmhmm.”

Before we go hunting, he shuts off the lights, draws the curtains, and it’s his turn to dance. So beautiful, rough-edged and pale. Taking off his clothes, he pumps up the music pissing out of the ham radio and holds it over the shelves of ears waiting to be sold, white and brown and black. So many extra ears, but for whom? My boyfriend claims the rats were released intentionally. He says the government is always listening, but I’m not convinced.

I lean back on our half-torn mattress. “Just because the ears are full of silicone wires, it doesn’t mean they care what they hear.”

His rollie is crisp red in the shadows, and he blows smoke away from me. “Oh, they care.”

“What, about how much we fuck?”

“They’re pervs.”

“You have theories about everything.” My boyfriend is an inventor and sometimes I wonder if I am another invention. A cog. A circuit. After all, he forgets I was the one who cobbled together the rat whistle.

“What’s mine is yours,” he says, gyrating and squeezing the curve of my belly.

Mmhmm.

Continue reading “On the Backs of Cats” – Fiction by Kathryn McMahon

“Questionnaire for the Gravitron Operator Before I Ride” – Fiction by Jennifer Savran Kelly

Gravitron at Night – photo by Minshullj at English Wikipedia [GFDL or CC BY 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Should you desire an early taste of our dazzling & discombobulating Fall 2018 issue before it flies on September 22, here’s Jennifer Savran Kelly‘s curious & captivating flash fiction “Questionnaire for the Gravitron Operator Before I Ride.”

Print copies of our Fall issue are available on Amazon, while digital (PDF) copies are available for $3US via PayPal— and remember, for the month of September, we’ll be donating 50% of all our sales to RAICES to help provide legal assistance for underserved immigrant families.

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  1. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS JOB? Do you live nearby? If not, where do you come from? Is it better or worse than here?
  2. How many times a day do you ride? How many a week? How many minutes of your life do you spend inside a dark merry-go-round that reaches twenty-four revolutions per minute in less than twenty seconds? How can you stand it over and over and over again?
  3. What is it like to be in the center? Is gravity affected the same way? Do you spin? Or are you still as the passengers (may I call them passengers?) whirl around you at warp speed? Maybe you don’t pay attention. I see you keep your head down as you exit to welcome new passengers.
  4. Why do you keep your head down?
  5. Is the ride safe?
  6. What’s so safe about giving up control? To you?
  7. What makes you qualified to operate the ride? You take our tickets like you’re afraid of taking but know you have to, opening your fingers, too long for your hands, outstretched, waiting for our tiny permission slips to fall into them. Do your fingers always tremble?
  8. What kind of person are you? When you hold a pen, do you hold it like you’re about to cross out whatever you’ve just written? Or do you plow ahead, the pressure of your hand smudging the words?
  9. What do you think of the riders? Do you love us or mock us?
  10. What about our faces, our fear and delirium splayed wide as speed plasters us to the wall? Does it frighten you how much you enjoy it—seeing us stuck? Out of control?
  11. Is that it? Do you like to be in control?
  12. Have you ever noticed you can be in control, have control, or take control?
  13. From whom do you take it?
  14. I’m over forty-eight inches tall, but how does that prepare me for more gravity? I was under forty-eight inches when I had the health teacher who thought it was fun to play Jeopardy-style games. What is dental floss? What is tobacco? What is stress?
  15. Did you know her—Mrs. Layton, who taught about the different types of child abuse?
  16. Did you know that was something you could get quizzed on in school?
  17. Do you know what it’s like to be sitting in a classroom, surrounded by friends, when you learn the real word for that disturbing attention you get from your step-dad—the one who tells you he’s giving you a “health lesson?”
  18. What is irony?
  19. Do you know what it’s like to have your brother try to save you, to rescue you from under that weight, only to be taken away for his service? What it’s like to be left alone with the ones you need saving from? To feel that fragile?
  20. What is an egg?
  21. Is that why everyone loves the Gravitron—the Devil’s Hole? They think gravity will return them to their bodies?
  22. Does it?
  23. In physics, a rigid body is a solid body in which deformation is zero or so small it can be neglected.
  24. What is psychotic? Does it run in the family? Did you ever stop to think it was you that was spinning out of control, dreaming about setting someone on fire just to watch what it would do to the flesh, how long it would take to burn?
  25. Right after he did it, my brother, he came home, and I never would have known anything happened. Not one trace of fear or regret visible on his face, not one sense that anything was different. It was how normal everything seemed that was chilling.
  26. Normal force must be zero.
  27. Is there an equation to help me make sense of this? What is the gravimagnetic moment (GM)? What coefficient at the GM equals unity?
  28. What is dizzy?
  29. Why can’t we ride for more than eighty seconds?
  30. What is one moment in a life?
  31. Is that how long it took?
  32. To watch the fire burn? To consume him?
  33. Do you think my brother knew he would survive?
  34. And pardon me, but I have to ask,
  35. Is it possible he thought, even once, about what that would mean
  36. For me?

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JENNIFER SAVRAN KELLY  lives in Ithaca, New York, where she writes, binds books, and works as a production editor at Cornell University Press. She has written for film and print, and her fiction has appeared in Green Mountains Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Souvenir LitGrist: A Journal of the Literary Arts (Online Companion), and elsewhere. She was honored to receive a 2018 grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Foundation for her novel-in-progress ENDPAPERS.

“Bodega Cat” – Fiction by Tabitha Laffernis

Cats – Otto Dix, 1920

The grand finale of our Summer 2018 issue is “Bodega Cat,” Tabitha Laffernis‘ fantastically frisky tale of a young woman seeking companionship & discovering primal urges in New York City.

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THE BODEGA AT NIGHT IS LIT UP WITH AN ACID BRIGHTNESS.

She smells freshly juiced. “That’s a real injustice of a person,” the cat said, whiskers twitching. “Exquisite face and dimensions. Sharp as a tack,” still talking, like it was normal. “But the real injustice is how they treat her. See how they’re complimenting her lip color instead of asking what her book is about? She comes in here, nearly every day, and they don’t know what she’s studying at grad school. They’ve never asked.” He looked at me. “She’s just the pretty girl, to them. Not like you. You’re not pretty enough to be distracting. They asked you.”

He was right, and as I started to ask why on earth he’d be qualified to say this, the answer made itself known. He was shaggily handsome, but not awww-inducing, nice eyes, slightly scrawny limbs, a shiny, healthy coat. Not the best looking cat I’d ever seen, but well-cared for with an inquisitive stare. You, it said. Yes, you.

“Are you negging me?” I asked.

“No,” he said, and I believed him.

“What’s your name?” he asked me.

“Kayla,” I said. “What’s yours? I should’ve asked first.”

“Gus,” he replied. “You’re interesting, Kayla.”

“Thanks.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a physician’s assistant,” I replied. “Derm.”

“Derm. Which one’s that again?”

“Dermatology. Skin.” Cancer and vanity, I sometimes say, but of course that’s reductive and I don’t want to seem petty. I flushed at the thought.

“Skin. Right. I wouldn’t know.”

The joke melts the ice a little.

As the girl walked past I saw a textbook sticking out of her bag. Aleinikoff, Martin, Motomura, Fullerton and Stumpf, Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. “That looks intense,” I told her, and she gave a half-smile. “Yeah,” she replied. “I’ve barely slept this semester.” The shadows under her eyes looked Sphinxy instead of tired. Her other hand held a plastic bag of potato chips, mac and cheese, frozen burritos. My moment of investigating her as a person immediately dissolved. Idiot bitch, I think. It just popped into my head, no warning. She’s skinny as a rake, except where it counts. My own basket contained some yellowing broccoli, corn popped in coconut oil, a sad but large carrot. This bodega is convenient; the produce is lousy.

“Come visit me again tomorrow?” the cat asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I will.” And I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while.

{ X }

It was innocent enough, to start. It was so hot. That night I’d lain on top of sweat-damp linens, sprawled so that each joint of my body hung as if off ball bearings. I lay there waiting for the man on the news that had been breaking into houses to steal money and stroke women, unable to sleep a wink, though I was so, so tired. I was tired because it was in my bones, that exhaustion of having to explain myself, of having to check myself at every second-guess. I was tired because I walked everywhere, a remnant from the days when I said I walked because I wanted fresh air, but really the air was fetid and I couldn’t afford a subway ticket.

I wondered if the man who was breaking into houses was maybe a nice guy. If he was just looking for something. He was just running his fingers through women’s hair; I wanted to run mine along the cat’s flexed spine, and I’m a good person, I thought.

Before he started breaking into houses my greatest fear was waking up with a mouse between my legs. Mouse shit appeared on the kitchen mantel, the vanity where my hair dryer sat, even on fresh sheets. I wondered where the cat was, slinking along a roof or a fire escape. Or if he was keeping the bodega clear of rodents, protecting it in the night, a service he hadn’t even thought to offer me.

That night, my torn underwear looked like an invitation. Not for vermin, I reminded myself. Not for the man pushing in A/C units to find sleeping beauties. And slid a hand into my knickers.

Continue reading “Bodega Cat” – Fiction by Tabitha Laffernis

“Loveless” – Fiction by AJ Ogundimu

The Lovers – Rene Magritte, 1928

This modern romance may start with a “classic meet-cute,” but things soon get all too real in “Loveless,” AJ Ogundimu‘s subversive anti-romcom from our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X }

WHEN HE TELLS HIS BIG EX THAT HE MET SOMEONE, SHE LAUGHS.

It doesn’t matter where in New York they meet, but they don’t meet on Tinder. This is a classic meet-cute.

She is 22, he is almost 30. He is skinny-fat and probably white but doesn’t have to be. He is a poet or photographer who studied English or Music. She is a metalworker or essayist who studied Comparative Lit or Gender Studies. They have mutual friends, but never go to the same bars.

He has an appeal, not ugly but not Hollywood or even Sundance. He doesn’t go to the gym, but if he does he’s not a protein powder, stock-option, Alpha Male. He wears graphic tees and his hair is messy, unlike everyone else’s.

She is not conventionally attractive, but (this is important!) she is not conventionally unattractive either. She has an undercut, bangs or a half-shaved head and she wears a lot of dark colors. She is not a gym-goer. She is white, and if not she’s Korean, and if not then Lebanese, but he makes an effort not to ask or comment about her ethnicity even though he wants to know. He wanted to talk to Blonde Friend or Leggy and European. He will tell himself that it’s because he likes quirky, not because he is settling. She talked to him because of his funny and nonspecific sexual charisma.

She wears Forever 21. He shops at thrift stores. She drinks chai lattes, he drinks black coffee, she drinks cider, he drinks whiskey. He asks if she likes Edith Wharton, she says yeah. He says he’s a feminist. He won’t say he wants to fuck her. She kind of wishes he’d get it over with.

They will hang out, at parks or museums, but they won’t go on dates. They will hash out the usual questions of family and occupation, while laughing at how typical these questions are. They are unconventional people doing conventional things.

When he tells his Big Ex that he is seeing someone, she says, That’s not a good idea.

During his worn and shiny monologue, he says marriage is a capitalist institution designed to keep women in bondage by treating them as property, wherein domesticity and child-rearing are handled while the man is left free to pursue career and conquest, relegating women to second-class citizens. He says all of this in a copious breath while she tries to eat a Japanese-fusion quiche with nori and raw salmon he insisted they try.

She wants to get married, but ignores his conversation and refuses a green tea mochi ice cream taco.

He shows her his vinyl collection so she fucks him to make him stop talking. He’s goofy but earnest and book smart, and if she never fucked anyone goofy she’d never fuck anyone. His breathing is too heavy and his head game is sloppy but he’s good enough. He doesn’t kick her out even though she leaves. He makes sure to say he wants to see her again. He texts to make sure she got home alright.

When he tells his Big Ex that he fucked someone she says, Well, that’s too bad.

When he talks about her she’s beautiful, never hot. He will not give sexual specifics. I really like her, he says. I think this might be something.

She talks to friends about Shakira and Roxane Gay. She demands her life pass the Bechdel test. She throws herself into work, eats croissants or berries, and drinks kombucha.

When they ask about him, she says he doesn’t seem like a creep. She describes his dick when they ask, in detail. Critiques his sexual performance. She defends his awful text messages. He’s kind of an underachiever, she says. I still like him though…

She shows up at his job and brings him a donut. They kiss in public now. They stay over. She is emotionally unavailable and has trust issues. He is unsure of his future and willing to take it slow.

They have a soundtrack. They have a favorite restaurant (It’s not the fusion place.) They compromise on the cider/beer question by always keeping wine around. They go clubbing, or eat brunch and walk around Central Park on Sundays. They take road trips. They smoke American Spirits even though they don’t smoke.

When he tells his Big Ex that he has a new girlfriend, she asks, Does she know what you’re like?

Continue reading “Loveless” – Fiction by AJ Ogundimu