Issue 21 / January 2019

"At night, she would lie awake on the floor where she slept on a thin mat and instead of wondering why she never complained and always did as she was told, she concluded that she must have been neglectful in another life. It was tempting to imagine that in this life she was paying off the sins of her past and the result would be a future of contentment, but the cautious words of her mother would show up and remind her that to do anything now to alter the future would 'break the rules of the heaven.' "
- from "Water of the Heart" by D. E. Lee

Issue 21

Velodrome

John Bersin

I want a cigarette. More than anything else in the indifferent universe, I want a cigarette. But of course, it is not possible. Even though it is possible, of course. Instead I lay awake every morning wishing I had a cigarette, waiting for the alarm to ring. I get out of the bed in the morning at five a.m. I shower and shave, or don’t, it doesn’t matter, and after I purge myself, I drink a viscous, green, fruit-and-vegetable smoothie, an execrable American contribution to sports science.

Issue 21

Water of the Heart

D. E. Lee

The fish scales had been designed to protect fish from predators but to Valerie they were constant reminders that beasts of prey were ubiquitous. Thin and curved in clear plastic boxes, they lined the walls, topped the tables, and stuffed the closets. Their presence made her aware of her powerlessness against the good intentions of Pru Damphouse. Even at night, lying on her side on the floor, when sleep should have brought comfort, the fish scales violated her from the containers at her head, while the glow of the nightlight sank the room into a kind of vague stillness...

Issue 21

Pangs of Eternity

Jeremy Bender

To grow tired of someone is a temporary condition, whereas love is forever. Everyone has heard the platitude “absence makes the heart grow stronger.” Yet now the masses confront a predicament unheard of – the ability to be too much in touch with the one they love from a distance. It is easy for one to think that they grow tired of their lover: pictures of yet completed meals, micro insights, and constant anecdotes flood our consciousness.

Issue 21

Adrift and at Risk: Guide

Yusuf DeLorenzo

What did I, Ettore, know of Algiers when I was swept to sea in the year 1788? What could I know? I was barely more than a boy living in a hammock strung nightly from hooks in a kitchen at a seaside bordello. My mother died giving birth to me at that bordello, the House of Beautiful Swallows, so she never told me the stories of the ruthless Barbary pirates, the brothers Barbarossa, Dragut, Mezzo Morto, and all the others. But Josephina did, the kindly old lady at the House whose promise to my mother on her deathbed was to raise me as her own. I loved her, I loved the stories she told me, and I loved the pirates.

Issue 21

Brigida: Chapter One

Kate Spitzmiller

Marcus did not come home. None of them did. Five thousand men. The entire Ninth Legion. Gone. There were rumors. Rumors that the tribes of Caledonia had annihilated them; devoured their lines like the ancient giant Cacus, who consumed live human flesh and displayed human heads on nails outside his cave on the Palatine Hill. I did not believe in monsters, only in gods and men. And I knew that the Romans had displeased the gods of Britannia, had spilt the blood of the tribes upon her dark, rich soil for generations. The Selgovae, the Parisi, the Carvetii. And the Brigante.

Issue 21

Unfollowers: Chapter One

Leigh Ann Ruggiero

Barb Eklund didn’t choose where she was born. She knew no one could. But her birthplace, instead of being something she was passingly grateful for, became a regret lodged between her ribs like the pain of a torn intercostal. Her parents brought her from Maryland to rural Ethiopia when she was four. Barb didn’t understand what she was leaving behind when she boarded the plane: her stuffed cat Oscar, the season of winter, or the red bike with training wheels she rode when winter was in abeyance.

Issue 21

His Demonstrative Gallantry

David Kennedy

The distinguished members of the Senate were by now regretting their heartfelt devotion to the business of the people. The session had extended itself well into May, long past the days when the cherry blossoms that so adorn our national capital had bloomed and fallen, and as June wore on the heat became oppressive, then nearly unbearable. Yet the Democratic Party, having assumed the majority in the congressional elections the prior November, had proven incapable of effectively conducting the people’s business.

Issue 21

The Makings of Willa Mae: Chapter Four

Jordan Clark

It had been a typical day for Willa Mae. She kept herself underneath the black walnut trees, out of the beaming summer sun, picking at the bugs as they crawled past her. She bent down and watch as they scrambled over one another in haste. Every once and awhile, she’d stick her thumb down and squash the ones causing trouble to the others. Her teeth would grind as she did it, her finger digging into the dirt to sink those bugs deeper and deeper. “Go on,” Willa Mae would say to the rest of the herd. “They ain’t gon’ bother anyone now.”

Issue 21

Goodwill Romance

Claire Coenen

As I walk out of the store into the parking lot, I feel smug about finding a $5 sundress. The dress is just right for summer, made of light material, bright blue. It makes my eyes pop. Snagging quality clothes at consignment stores gives me a sense of satisfaction, and I almost always find at least one treasure when I shop at Goodwill. About fifteen feet from my car in the Goodwill parking lot, I notice a shiny, black truck slow down as it approaches me. The man driving it stops the vehicle beside me. He pokes his head out the window.

Issue 21

FTO Star

Debra Groves Harman

When I was a child, I lay in bed at night and fantasized about using a razor-sharp knife to carve fat off my body. First, it would be my stomach, and then my arms. My double chin bothered me too. I had started the habit of keeping my chin lifted up, so the beagle-like droop of my double chin wasn’t so obvious. It didn’t occur to me how horrible it was to think about slicing flesh off my own body. I just knew I hated being fat.

Issue 21

Split

Andrew Jason Jacono

When I was a kid, I’d see severed heads floating in the dark. Every night my mother would scratch my back, kiss my forehead, say I love you, then shut off the lights. It would usually take a long time to fall asleep, and sometimes the dreams were good, but once or twice a week, the heads would squeeze through the cracks in the walls or descend from the ceiling. They’d surround me, wan and stiff and misshapen. They liked to watch my skin change color, from calm olive to tousled red to chilly white, and the way my lungs would seize up when they drummed their stumpy necks on my chest. They liked even more that I’d weep, silent and catatonic, hapless in the fog of my unconsciousness.

Issue 21

The Woodlands

Mandy Fishburn

At the end of my sixth-grade year, my mother sat my brother, my sister and me down on the couch to have a “talk.” The last time we’d had a family talk like this was six years before when she’d told us that she and our father were getting a divorce.
This couldn’t be good.
“I’m an alcoholic,” she announced.
What’s an alcoholic?
“I know I’m sick, and I need to get help.”
Oh — maybe that’s why she sleeps a lot.
“I’m going away to a hospital for a few months.”
Uh-oh.

Issue 21

How to Win at Losing

Marrie Stone

Take a selfie. Consider the pros and cons of removing your shirt. Remind yourself that it’s a rare man who, at forty-eight and no stranger to Big Gulps and barbeque ribs, should ever remove his shirt. Instead, stand in front of your canary yellow Corvette and raise your cell phone camera high on its stick. Higher. Lean on the hood. Button your shirt. Higher. Make a mental note to buy a bigger shirt.

Issue 21

Daffodil Road

AS Renard

A SHIVER pricks his spine. It is a soft tingle, just enough to rouse him from the depths. Face down in a pool of drivel, the young lothario is unsure of his place in the world. This reluctance is palpable as he drinks in the blackness like a homemade amer, slowly swishing the gloom this way and that across his tongue to best capture its flavor. The acrid tone confirms his suspicions — here is a realm detached from the sovereignty of his dreams. Not Eden, but Gethsemane, where dangers are many and miracles few.

Issue 21

Hooked and Hanging

Marina Hatsopoulos

Even in the dark, I spotted Stefano’s loose stance on the platform as my train from Rome pulled into the station. The guys I was used to spending my days with—engineers, lawyers, investors and other entrepreneurs—had more skills than him, for sure, but they didn’t look like that. I’d never mentioned it to John, but then again, why would I? I jumped off the train and stood on tiptoes to reach around Stefano’s neck. He brushed my curls away from my face and looked at me, as if at a painting, up and down.

Issue 21

Names of the Dead

David Bontumasi

They gave me a pencil and a single sheet of paper and they told me to write slowly and clearly, so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. I looked first at the angular man with the protruding chin standing above me and then the round dark-haired woman who stood slightly behind him. I thought it odd that they were the same height and their skin the same color: a lifeless, milky pink. Their faces blended together to make one misshapen head. One of them smelled like potatoes, though it may have been both of them. It made my temples throb.

Issue 21

Limfill

Siu Siu Sik

About three months ago, if you had had the opportunity to visit Lucy, you would surely have seen me, wrapped in a white plastic bag, sitting on the floor and leaning against the side of a shoe rack against the wall right beside the door to the outside. Certainly, you would have been able to tell, by experience or by instinct, that I was not supposed to be deserted there, indeterminately, in that unsightly condition.

Issue 21

Parking Lot

Timothy Ryan

Pulling into the long-term parking lot at Dulles, Cindy trolls past metal wheeled containers lined up like colorful storage facilities in the hold of a military transport, finding a spot in the Blue Lot, Row H, Number 58. She estimates forty meters to the bus shelter. Gazing up through the windshield. Jet contrails across the blue overhead as sharp as scars. Meandering, fading, they bleed into the sky like an accelerated version of the human body healing and forgetting.

Issue 21

“For Poseidon,” “A Marriage,” and “Sons”

Brittany Mishra

That night in the temple, when he hurt her, the asps found her ravaged, her hair tangled; they buried their tails into her scalp as tree roots sew into earth and soil. They kept her safe from his sea, enthralled her, and pointed with their tongues to her escape. They guided her through meadow and forest to a quiet cave high atop a cliff.