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Formations

by Oksana Marafioti

Love. Vulnerability. One is a ghost without the other.

As children, we’re masters of affection. We overflow with it. Love comes naturally, like the seasonal flu. You hurt us, we love you still. More and fiercely. Like you’re worth saving even if the world gives up on you. Having no idea this gift is precious, we squander it on those who don’t always deserve it, but it matters little, because our hearts are in bloom.

Until the onset of adulthood.

By then, our scars prevent us from blooming too much.

Adulting and vulnerability are well-known oxymorons, not the norm. Once we’ve grown, emotional dignity becomes a commodity.

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Picture Stones

by Susan Niz

On my wrist, a single round bead, white with purple marbling, suspends on a knotted black cord. In one spot, crossing my vein like a rope bridge over a blue river, a single, dull thread wears thin. I hope it will stay on until he returns from Guatemala. With each shower or yank of my sleeve, the bracelet gets weaker. I hold on to it, precarious, as if it will tell me how things will turn out. As if, when he returns, I’ll put it on a silver chain and then things will be safer, better, more secure. As if keeping it will bring him back.

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One More Thing to Make You Proud

by Tara Wine-Queen

My grandmother, called Nanny, was magic.

She saw everything good. If there was an ounce of goodness to be found, no matter how much flesh or how many years of disappointment and weariness it was hidden beneath, she could find that light, and she did. Once found, she would study it shrewdly but briefly, take in its shapes and test the sturdiness of its walls. She learned its contours, and then, sometimes with great delicacy, and sometimes with a great reckless enthusiasm, she would stretch it until those whose eyes were less suited to light-catching could see it, as well, and bask in the warmth of its wholesomeness.

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His Demonstrative Gallantry

by 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.

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Goodwill Romance

by 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.

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FTO Star

by 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.

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Split

by 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.

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The Woodlands

by 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.

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A Matter of Touch

by M. Betsy Smith

I stare at my cell phone in a sick state of disbelief. I had missed Justin’s one call. He left a message that I play again, hoping it’s not real.
“Mom, how did I get here?”
I hit stop unable to listen to it in its entirety.
“I don’t know,” I whispered.
I’m not sure I can do this anymore, being privy to his suffering and the hell he lives in. It’s too hard. But I am the one he needs; the one he reaches out to, his mother. I know that if I abandon him he won’t survive.

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Shadow Boxing

by Laura Iodice

The room is dark; a large queen-sized bed sits in its center. The Old Man who occupies it is propped up on a pile of pillows, the skin on his cheeks sagging like so many yards of curtain valance; his eyelids lowered to half-mast; his mouth yapping up and down like a marionette puppet whose strings have been pulled by too many hands.

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Passing Silent Messages

by Susan Dashiell

Miss Dinuzzio and I sat catty-corner in snug armchairs with three stacked nesting tables between us. She removed the glass bowl from the tabletop tattooed with faded cup rings.
“Do you have any questions?”
“Nope. I think I’m okay.” The job was straightforward. I would step in as Mother’s companion, so Miss Dinuzzio could teach her Saturday morning piano lessons in peace.

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Quantum Solidarity: Making Hajj at Bear Lodge

by Kevin James

The mind-numbing atrocities at home and abroad dare me to respond. It’s as if world events conspired to belittle me, taunting me to try to make sense of bloodbaths by religious extremists with death machines improvised or designed. Perhaps it’s this very feeling of alienation and impotence that fuels the rage behind the headlines.

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The March Against Death

by Jeff Richards

I was standing on the steps of the Lee Mansion looking down on the crowds crossing Memorial Bridge and beyond that Lincoln Memorial. The crowd split and went to either side of the Memorial. It looked like a million people though I’m sure it was much less.

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The Bonsai Tree

by Sara Wetmore

A few months ago, I gave up on my office dracaena. I’ll admit, it had been having a rough time. Its leaves had all nearly fallen off, its stems soggy, its color faded. Truthfully, I had been thinking of letting it die for a while. Not just gradually either. I wanted it to suffer,

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Me and the Milkman

by Pam Munter

Each morning at dawn, he would stealthily enter the house through the unlocked back door. In the early 1950s, no one in our neighborhood locked their doors. I was sometimes awakened by the tinkling noises of glass and the opening click of the refrigerator, but seldom by any human voice.

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5 Rules for the Problem Dog Owner

by Jennifer Jarman

Small, dark, almond eyes blinking eagerly at me through the thin grid of fencing, a narrow head just reaching my knees, ears perked forward like twin radar dishes, his entire sleek, black body wobbling from side to side in an unthreatening display of welcome and happiness.

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Driftwood

by Keith Wilson

As a student at Northern Michigan University, I ran for hours on the wooded trails and the paved bike paths along the shores of Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan, where driftwood accumulated on the sand. I wasn’t a collegiate athlete or even a competitive one. Running had nothing to do with school except for keeping me from studying.

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Lonely in the City

by Sabrina Qiao

The first week I moved to Manhattan, I was so excited I couldn’t eat. I lost two pounds and gained a Metrocard, an apartment sublet, and a new internship.

I was supposed to be living at home, working the same internship I’ve had since I was a college freshman—not out of loyalty, but out of love for my father.

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