nick gregorio

STILL, BIRDS by Nick Gregorio

Joe’s head bursts and fills the office with blue birds. Singing, chirping, flying figure eights around the ceiling fans. The red-faced, foamy-mouthed ranting Bill just popped Joe’s head with should’ve produced something more vicious. Snakes exploding in every direction like those gag cans sold at junk shops in malls. Or badgers, gnashing their teeth, snarling, sinking their teeth into people’s calf muscles. But blue birds flying, tweeting Jackson 5 tunes, swooping, diving, gliding, barrel rolling over the network of cubicles is…I guess that sort of thing just doesn’t add up for me. Standing in a mess of bird nest that acts more or less like a bed for Joe’s body, so he can regrow his head in comfort, I clench my teeth to keep my own head from popping. Last Wednesday, rhesus monkeys leapt from my shattered skull, threw clumps of dung at everyone in the office—but mostly at Bill. By the time my brain was finished stitching itself back together, the suit he’d worn that day was in a ball on my desk. The note on top of the heap told me to dry clean the thing. Immediately.

The Monday before that, late getting back from lunch, I kept tapping my toe on the gritty linoleum in the fast food restaurant down the road a bit. Couldn’t stop looking the kid behind the counter up, down, up, down, while he built order after order on tray after tray. Struggled to not stare at the number on my receipt. Not a single tray of food was mine, and not a number that came whimpering from that kid’s mouth was on the crushed piece of paper in my fist. I filled the place with bees. When I came to, I had to apologize to a bunch of blotchy, swollen people with my new hair matted with honey.

And the day before that I was home on the couch. Doing nothing in particular. Had to clean wads of earthworms and dirt off the walls, the hardwoods, the couch, the coffee table. Brinkley, my golden retriever. Once the worms had begun to dry up and stick to my driveway, I googled names of therapists, made a list. But once the ink had dried on the last letter of the last name, the worm thing was another funny story I could tell my buddies at the bar. They’d laugh, we’d drink, and the worms would’ve been ground into the driveway enough by then that it’d be like they were never there at all.

Six months or so ago, my general practitioner told me that exploding my head could be a stress reliever, even a cathartic event. “But considering the frequency at which you’re blowing your custard,” she said, “And the often morbid and violent creatures that fly out, I can’t say it’s exactly healthy.”

Even on the pills, I was still spraying my desk down with maggots. Showering the lunch room with piranhas. And because of the hatchling crocodile incident a month or so back, a portion of my paycheck will be relegated to Dana-from-accounting’s hospital bills for the foreseeable future—finger reattachments are neither cheap, nor guaranteed.   

Ever since, though, people manage to smile when we happen to lock eyes. They ask me to happy hour. Or make sure I get a piece of cake during office birthdays—especially Joe.

Still, “How about that game last night,” and “Doing anything fun this weekend,” and “Think we’re going to skip over fall and go directly to winter again,” can become tedious. At best.

I’ve named all the birds by the time Joe’s head grows back. Melody is the plump one who perches on computer monitors whenever she gets tired of the fan circuit. Chorus is the quick one who darts between people’s legs, around their heads. Song likes the acoustics in the bathrooms the best. Tempo flutters from shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. Note stands, chirps, chirps, chirps under the nozzle of the water cooler, enjoys a little bath anytime someone needs a paper cone of water.

And Mark opens the fucking window and lets them all fly the fuck away.

That’s when Joe stops by my cubicle, calls me bud.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Thanks for asking.”

“You don’t look fine.”

I unclench my fists, my jaw.

Relax my eyebrows, my shoulders.

Catch my breath.

“I’m good,” I say.

Joe says good, knocks on the top of my cubicle wall—like, knock-knockknockknock—to mark his exit.


He turns, raises his eyebrows.

“Why did birds fly out when your head blew up?”

A smirk, a shrug. “I don’t know. I like birds.”

“Me too.”

Joe says but like it’s a question.

“But birds never fly out of me.”

Joe nods, says, “I just like to remind myself that most everything doesn’t matter, and I’m the only one who gets to decide what does.”

“Aren’t you afraid?”


“And still, birds?”

“Still, birds.”

Joe’s knuckles on the cubicle again.


Out the window, Melody and Chorus and Tempo and all the rest of them, they fly new patterns. They zig-zag, barrel-roll, zip to, fro. They sing that Jackson 5 tune again. And I can hear them even though they get farther and farther away.

My head out the window, I’m listening, watching their blue little bodies turn into black specs on a blue sky. They’re singing tweedily deedily dee, tweedily deedily dee.

People call my name.

Joe first.

Bill next.

Then Mark.


They start yelling my name.


Even louder.

But I keep watching, singing along, watching.

And then I feel it.

The pressure.

It’s going to happen again. Again.

And just before my head breaks open, I cross my fingers for birds.

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georgia bellas


I wash dishes. I am 12, 27, 14, 19, 31. I am two in a yellow shirt and checked shorts and a bowl cut standing on a chair at the sink, hands clasped above the soapy water, grinning open-mouthed at the camera while my mother is in the hospital recovering from another Cesarean section. I am nearly 43. The age my grandmother died. There are bubbles. Lots of bubbles only my mother can make, her knuckles raw and red.

We use a dishcloth here, not a sponge. There are systems. Taxonomies unfathomable to the uninitiated. Flour is in the second cabinet on the bottom with pots. Cornmeal bought to make cornbread once is up with boxes of pasta and cake mixes and cans of tuna. Chocolate chips are underneath the silverware drawer with miscellaneous items like a hot water bottle, the cover to an electric skillet that no longer exists, and instruction manuals for decades’ worth of appliances. But when we were children their hiding place was higher, above the sink in a yellow ceramic mixing bowl with J.R. engraved in cursive on the bottom. My grandmother’s initials.

The bowl is still there. The dishes are the same. Same plates. Same flowers. Same chips. Same cracks glued back together.

Chia seeds are in with the paper plates and liquor bottles, Styrofoam coffee cups and cracked leather thermos for Scotch, in the bottom cabinet by the back hall door, where mom goes to smoke her cigarettes and take calls on the cordless phone. The Seagram's purple felt bag protecting the Crown Royal is plusher, more regal, in my memory. But the paper stamp still seals the bottle with a cross, 1962. The chianti in a straw basket is empty but for dust. Ouzo is plentiful. When you are Greek, people give you ouzo. Bottles for anniversaries, Christmases, baptisms, celebrations. Or Metaxa, five star. Too good to drink. That goes in the back hall, up high, out of reach.

Turn on the radio when washing the dishes. Set the dial and travel to the ’80s or ’90s. Dishcloth. Bubbles. Light. Wash. Rinse. Dishcloth. Bubbles. Wipe. Dream.

Warm weather, Garfield Aries nightgown. Cold weather, blue Saint Joseph’s sweatshirt from oldest sister, first to go to college. Black and rainbow shell afghan crocheted by great-grandmother who died when I was two. She used to hold me, would take two buses across the city to come see us when I was a baby. I don’t remember being in her arms but my middle name is hers.

Unopened Clapper — As Seen On TV! — wrapped in plastic. Mr. Coffee, unused. My parents drink Maxwell House.

Chests and boxes and rooms and drawers and wallpaper and photographs. Cedar chest holding secrets. Family histories squirreled away where no one can find them. Family histories hiding in plain sight. Pencil lines on the kitchen doorway marking heights over the years. I haven’t grown since junior high.

There is always dessert when you are here, a brownie or ice cream, some sweet treat. It used to be Little Debbie’s snack cakes or chocolate pudding, sometimes a toaster strudel.

It is 2018, yet there’s a new X-Files on in my parents’ bedroom. Same room, same Mulder and Scully. The images flicker, dark and blurry on the screen, as pixel-poor and crappy as the first time around in the nineties. I sit on the edge of the bed and my mom brings me a toaster strudel on a napkin. The time warp runs deep.

I wash the dishes. Same plates. Same flowers. Same chips. Same cracks reglued. Still holding together.

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CVS by Sean Thor Conroe

April 2018—

It’s been two months since I’ve purchased anything besides tobacco and rolling papers since I’m two months behind on rent and it’s been two months since I got my SNAP card approved and my check from my construction gig has yet to arrive and every bike delivery payout I get goes straight to keeping my almost maxed out credit card almost maxed out, but tonight I’m making a concession since my next credit card payment isn’t till the end of the week and I can’t, haven’t for the life of me been able, to find any of my goddamn uni-ball pens—need me my uni-ball pens—despite all the room cleaning and organizing and item-culling I’ve been doing for when, once my check arrives, I will leave this godforsaken city I don’t even know why I returned to, well I do actually, I came back to mend things with X, then still O, so I could be near her, fake woke-ly “be there for her,” since her recurring gripe was always “her being there for me” while I ran all over the country in my van or on foot, only now I’m near her, much too near, and need to get out, away, long gone, especially so since the book about running all over the country in my van or on foot I wrote for her is complete, has been submitted, is out of my hands until further notice, if ever, after much self-destructive, responsibility-shirking, job-dodging, mostly nocturnal and consistently manic dedication, meaning it’s now time to write again, only I can’t find any of my goddamn uni-balls, all I have is this U-Haul ballpoint that keeps dying on me every third word, so I’ve decided, have been left with no choice but, to break my abstention from purchasing anything besides the entirely essential, to bite the bullet and trek out to CVS late-night to cop a uni-ball two-pack, only if I’m to do that, figure I might also grant myself the concession of purchasing one sucrose item, something chewy or chocolate-y or nutty, since during these past two months with zero or negative money, of doing without all amenities beyond the entirely essential, I’ve also been deprived of cannabis and stimulants and psychedelics, one of which, at separate points since I’d stopped running all over the country in my van or on foot, I’d self-prescribed in micro- or perhaps-not-so-micro-doses so that I’d be optimally equipped to write the very best book about running all over the country in my van or on foot, which was, of course, at root, an apology to X for running all over the country all those years when I could have been There, with Her, working on Us—all of which strategic self-medication of course had nothing to do with her deeming me unfit to remain her O—all to say, I’ve been such a good boy of late, the least I could to was grant myself one dose of sucrose, yes, that’s what I’ll do, only by the time I gear up, decide on which podcast I’ll walk to, walk, and get to the CVS candy aisle, the kind I’m eyeing, turns out, are 3 for $3, 2 for $3, or 1 for $1.50, so I mean, sure I could just get one like I said I would, only Reese's Pieces or Milk Duds, whose to say which is better, neither is since both are best is what I’d say, except both is $3 and both plus another is also $3—damn right I’m looking at you, Charleston Chew—so fuck it might as well cop all three, and stat, the way this graveyard security guard keeps eyeing me, pacing up and down this aisle like I am at this hour, making jerky, juke-like movements each time I change my mind, forcing him to look up from the YouTube video he was pleasantly enjoying before I had to pull up and kill his vibe, so now I’m at self checkout, clutching my movie-sized candy boxes like I’m prudently preparing to save a few bucks at the concession stand at, say, the Black Panther premiere I’ve bought tickets in advance for, like I’m a regular ole twenty-something doing regular ole twenty-something things, off to a movie with a couple pals, coworkers or classmates, all set to surprise them by providing them with their choice or Pieces, Duds or Chews so they can save a couple bucks of their hard-earned paycheck or stipend or grant money on this weekend outing they’ve been looking forward to all week, only it’s not the weekend, it’s Tuesday night, technically Wednesday morning, and there are no pals, is no paycheck, nor a movie, there’s only this 3 for $3 deal and my sadness I will try to sugar coma my way out of once I get home, if I even get home before finishing all three, I’m not even at Walnut and my Pieces are dust, and come Market I’m combo-ing my Dud dregs with my all-but-chewed Chews, chomping like a cow or mouth-breather how moist my mouth is, jeez I’m damn near home already, pump the breaks a sec would ya, the whole point was to deliberately ingest the sucrose in conjunction with caffeine in order to optimally spearhead the new writing Jesus fuck the goddamn uni-balls—

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DIRTY SHIRLEY by Sophie Ruth

I have a rash on my neck and it must be because I wear my short necklace to bed every night and it tries to choke me in my sleep.

I look over to my left at the wine bottle left over from my time with A. I think I wear the necklace to bed because I miss him. His hands did what I wanted them to and he wore the same sneakers as my dead grandpa. For the first time, I wonder what shoes my grandpa was buried in. I strongly consider asking my grandma and then decide against it. His memorial service was held last month even though he passed away over a year ago. It’s all because my grandma doesn’t like pity. On the way to the memorial I ate chocolate covered raisins, and when I read the ingredients I was disgusted to discover they contained milk fat. When we got to the funeral home, I made myself throw up in the bathroom. When I walked out of the stall to fix my mascara in the mirror, the Rabbi walked in. I thought at least this is the best place to be seen with wet eyes.

I want to have a baby. I want to have a baby and I think about what it’d be like to have a baby with everyone I’ve been with this year. Except the one from vacation, he doesn’t count. And if I am forgetting anyone, that means they don’t count either. There are already two guys I call my baby daddy in my head and they have no clue. It’s all their fault for being all the same and reminding me of my father. What is familiar to us is a curse because that will be what we attract. So you better pray you get born into some good shit.

Sophomore year I had about 6 hickies around my collarbone and neck. The rest of my skin was snow white and I wore a shirt that showed it all. I went to listen to a hot drummer play music and a different hot drummer gave me the hickies. I told Ariana I wanted to hit on the hot drummer. She said you already have hickies from the other hot drummer. You don’t even care do you, you like it. I smiled in the way that I knew I was made of cherries only then.

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ANALOGUE by Sara Kachelman

I share a face with a famous killer. Before I was nobody. Now women ask to have their pictures made with me. When we stand together I slide my hand down their backs until they quiver. It thrills them. I am a dangerous man! The killer kills women. He says it is not sexual. I know him. We stood next to each other in a lineup. I admit he is attractive. We shook hands at the station. “You are good at what you do,” I said. “You are good at what you do,” he replied. Then he winked. I had the extraordinary feeling of watching myself on film. They released him that day. Lack of evidence. I know I should not like him, but I do. He is a man who does not take himself too seriously. The killer has a good supply in Amsterdam. He passes a woman in the bike lane after the bars close. He has no preference on how they look. As I said before, it is not about that. Maybe she looks slow or small or kind. He crashes a few meters in front of her and grabs his leg, moaning. Then the woman stops and offers to call an ambulance. When she gets off her bike, the killer jumps her and drags her aside.He's a strangler. He is consistent that way. But women are so stupid, they continue going out at night. They pretend they are smarter than the others before them. Many died before he was caught. They caught him in a public latrine. People have no respect. Before the killer was arrested I squatted in a cathedral with other young foreigners. But now, with endorsements, I may be able to afford an apartment of my own.  I am the most popular disc jockey in town. Dark wave, doom metal, post punk. Many women want to fuck me. I take them to the park at night. I put my hands around their necks. I squeeze until I feel their pulse in my hands. They beg me never to stop.
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MORE MORE MORE by Neil Clark

First thing on your first day, you were instructed to go down the basement and have a picture taken for your security pass.

Down there, they told you a joke and said, “Now hold that smile and look at the camera.”


They printed the photo and handed it to you. You were pleased with how it turned out. Your smile was genuine. The joke they’d told you was a good one.

Then they passed you a piece of sticky tape and said, “Stick the photo to your forehead, please. And smile a little more.”


They printed the second photo - of you smiling a little more with the first photo stuck to your forehead. Handed it to you. Told you to stick it to your forehead.

“Please smile more and look at the camera.”


They handed you that photo. “Stick it to your forehead. And can you smile a little more than that, please.”


This process continued through your lunch break and into late afternoon.

“More.” ‘Click’ “Even More.” ‘Click’ “More still.” ‘Click’




By 5pm, the floor was scattered with discarded photographs and pieces of used sticky tape mottled with dead forehead skin. Lactic acid paralyzed your jaws and cheeks. The corners of your mouth trembled, not daring to drop south.

They asked if you’d stay a few more hours. They just wanted your security pass to be perfect.

“Of course,” you said.

Finally, they clipped clothes pegs to your cheeks and hoisted them towards the ceiling.


You showed your security pass to your new boss and got asked why 745 unanswered emails had built up in your inbox since the morning. This, you were told, was not in keeping with #1 and #177 of the Sacred Company Values: ALWAYS HAVE A CLEAR INBOX.

At your retirement party sixty years later, you preach all 177 Sacred Company Values in a stirring speech that you cap off by raising your glass and saying, “More more more!”

Your employees applaud. Raise their glasses high. Hoist the clothes pegs on their cheeks higher still as they repeat, “More more more!”

Afterwards, in private, you make sure your inbox is clear before unhooking your own sixty-year clothes pegs. Your cheeks droop to the floor and dangle by your feet like tired rubber bands.

You place your security pass on your desk. Before leaving the office for the last time, you stare at the old photo: your innocent face; its plush hoisted cheeks; your trembling mouth; the photo taped to your young forehead.

You look at the photo within the photo, then into the photo within the photo, the photo within that photo, the photo within that. You keep going. Deeper. More deep. Deeper still, until your eyes pinpoint the first photo taken on the morning of your first day. The one with the genuine smile.

It was a good joke, you remember.

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This love story has nothing to do with me. I’m not involved. Even the small parts—the earrings, the dog, the money—I only care a little bit about. What’s actually important is how it ends. It ends on a boat.I started following Lorenzo because he lived next door and he looked exactly like me. It was an added advantage that he was ignorant of almost everything. For example, he never noticed I was following him. I followed in my car and on foot, I took buses I didn’t have to and sat in the row behind him. Lorenzo always wore headphones.I was amazed at the emptiness of his life: how much of it he spent at work. There was a coffee place across the street from the BMW dealership. I read some good books there when spying got boring. Mostly self-help books. How to Find a Job. How to Find a Job Part 2. How to Find Another Job. Etc. Lorenzo biked to work.I saw him sell. He made my hand gestures. His teeth were whiter, he seemed more at ease than me but I saw him clench his jaw after customers walked away. I followed him back by car, relying on mild traffic to make my otherwise menacing creeping speed look accidental.I’d watch and wonder, is that what my back looks like? Do my shirts also get detucked during the day? I guess I hoped some other stranger (maybe another neighbor) was following me. (He could answer my questions.)The whole time I lived next door, I never heard Lorenzo play music. Which means he wore headphones inside his own house. Do you see Lorenzo? As tall as a refrigerator, pale, blue eyes, prematurely grey hair; long pants even when it’s hot outside, button-ups. I never saw the inside of his apartment, I can only imagine it perfectly. Delivery people rarely came so he cooked his own food. Then came Sheila. Sheila ruined everything. One day Sheila thought, “Well, why don’t I buy a car?”On that day I did what I’d never done before: cross the street, cross the lot, come inside and look around. BMW 1 vs BMW 2 and so on. Made a thinking face. Fixed my posture like I’m a regional manager with kids.Lorenzo looked up and saw me. I saw his face go, “What? No way. What?” And he got up to come talk to me like I was a normal customer and cancel out the uncanniness. But he failed. The door opened and he was distracted.It was Sheila.Short as an oven, artificially white hair, very small nose.And Lorenzo forgot I exist. Seeing Lorenzo see Sheila, for a second I forgot I exist too. Sheila broke through his big ignorance. I felt him change.I assumed they became boyfriend and girlfriend because I heard him say, “I’m Lorenzo” and I heard her say, “I’m Sheila.” My face was velvet drapes. I didn’t belong there anymore. I dashed out and never followed Lorenzo again. I went home and fed no pets, watered no plants, watched no TV. I didn’t read anything. I didn’t have plants or pets or a TV, although I did have books.Next day, a knock at my door, a note slid under. 

Dear Weirdo,

I know you’ve been stalking me. Stop. Get help. Or I’ll call the cops.

 I thought about telling him I’d already decided to stop, but no. I didn’t want to stoop to his level.I did want to explain myself, though. “Hey buddy” or “Dude” or “My man” or “Uh excuse me?” My fingers went numb with excitement as I contemplated the first words I’d say to Lorenzo.I opened the front door in time to see a shiny BMW pull out of the parking lot. Sheila driving, Lorenzo in the passenger seat. I felt whatever song they were playing, the car’s bass hurt. I thought, “BMW must stand for ‘Blasting Music, WOO!’” I thought, “Ha.” Then I thought, “Blasting music? Lorenzo, you’ve changed.”I was going to go back in but I saw something glint in Lorenzo’s bristly welcome mat. I bent down and saw two earrings. 

. .

 Modest but elegant. The kind of restrained jewelry that says, “I’m actually rich.”I picked them up and put them in my jacket. They clinked together with spare change. I walked to the beach. It was 7 on a Wednesday night. Lorenzo and Sheila were probably on a mid-week date night date. They were probably eating dinner at a place where the napkins were linen and on a table, not paper that came from a cube.I got a dollar slice and took it to the beach. I sat on the sand and munched. I chomped. I scharfed. I was some kind of gavone I kept my mouth open because the slice was so hot.A lady was walking a dog. Both of them were tiny and white with frizzy hair. I love dogs so I trained my eyes on some adjacent cloud so I could watch the dog out of my peripheral vision without making the lady suspect I was staring at her. I didn’t want to stare like a “weirdo.” But soon enough I was staring because the dog saw something and started barking. But not a normal bark, a bark like it was begging for its life, crazy. The lady said the dog’s name four times: confused; cloying; stern; scared. She pulled on the leash but the dog pulled harder and the lady fell forward and let go of the leash. The dog looked left and darted left then looked right and darted right then stared straight ahead past the horizon and ran into the water.“Oh my god,” I said.“My dog,” the lady said.Then the crazy thing. The dog doggy paddled maybe five feet out. Retrieval’s no problem, right? Except a dolphin slid by and swam under the dog, essentially acting as a self-steering surfboard for the dog, who was shuttled far away before our eyes. I imagined doggy legs quivering.“Wow,” I said.The lady looked upset.“Don’t worry,” I said. “He’ll probably come back when he’s hungry.”She nodded at me solemnly like I was right. Or like she wanted to tell me to go fuck myself.A long whistle insinuated itself. It was Lifeguard Joe, huge arms, with his paddleboat.“Let’s go,” he said. This was the day he’d been preparing for his whole life.The lady started to walk over but fainted.“Shit,” Joe said.“Wait,” I said. “Sir, that dog is my wife’s pride and joy. She’d never forgive me if I didn’t try to save him myself and besides the dog is very anxious and only responds to me or my wife.”We rowed hard for a long time. I teared up when it was clear the dog was gone.“Dolphins move fast,” Joe said. “I’m sorry I got your hopes up.”We got back but the lady was gone now too. Or maybe we’d just rowed away from her by accident and she was still waiting. I never saw her or Joe again, after I helped Joe put away the rowboat.I lay on the beach. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was outside. My jacket wasn’t actually warm. But I bet Lorenzo and Sheila were snug near a blazing candelabra at their fancy restaurant. BMW’s had seat warmers. I left the beach and took a Lyft home. The driver’s name was Fred. I said nothing.When I got back my key didn’t work. I tried four more times before I for some reason knocked. Of course nobody answered.I used the flashlight on my phone to look at the lock. I also saw an envelope taped to my door. 

Dear Tenant,

We are alarmed to hear of your behavior which has affected another tenant. We have changed the lock on your door using your security deposit. Your possessions will be returning in due course.



I fidgeted with the earrings, turning them around in my fist like they were stress release balls but they weren’t stress release balls so one I wasn’t less stressed and two the earrings stabbed my palm. My bleeding hand.“Fuck.”I didn’t want to stain the jacket pocket so I slapped my hand onto Lorenzo’s door and smeared. I smeared until the tiny hand holes stopped.On the boardwalk I saw flyers. “See This Dog? Call 1-800-LORENZO, it belongs to (my gf) Sheila’s sister, $5,000 reward.”Who was the dog? The dog on the dolphin. I was touched by Lorenzo’s generosity. And if he could be so selfless, I could too. Why not? We looked just like each other. This flyer told me something about myself, some soft bright thing.I remembered where Joe left the boat.I picked it up.I ran to the ocean while carrying the boat.The whole time I was thinking how meaningful Lorenzo’s flyers must’ve been to Sheila.Imagine, some guy loves you and proves it.Tries to find your sister’s dog.The water was too cold but I ran further, slowly.I threw the boat on the water and got on.Sheila was opening Lorenzo’s door, probably, returning from a visit with her sister.I paddled.Lorenzo finished cleaning the kitchen. He got a glass of water for each of them.I was looking left and looking right and paddling forward.Lorenzo showed her dogs up for adoption on Craigslist. He showed her pictures of a dog on the beach. She smiled. She said, “Our own family.” She said, “Alaska.” She lay her legs on his lap. She knew he wanted to quit his job. His life before her—creepo neighbor, shitty job. His life with her—“it would be amazing,” he said. She put her hands on her stomach.I didn’t dress for this; it was cold. I thought salt from the water was being blown into the holes in my hand. I had nowhere to live. I didn’t even know what dolphins do at night.For all I knew Lorenzo was proposing to Sheila that night, on the couch, on their way to Alaska. They were sharing his headphones. They were on Craigslist selling his bike. Lorenzo was reading a book about Alaska, learning everything, stroking Sheila’s hair. Attentive.The moon was big. No stars or clouds. And I saw a tiny white dog gliding toward me on the back of a dolphin. The dog was making its long way from far off and I realized that in my fantasy Lorenzo had cleaned my blood off the door before Sheila came home so she wouldn’t get scared.The dog telepathically asked me, “Are you scared?”The moon telepathically answered, “He is.”The dog was zooming now, closer, and I tried to paddle backwards but couldn’t. I was excited like I’d been playing a game with someone better at the game than me. He was about to make the winning move and out of admiration I took pleasure in my own defeat because it was his victory.The dolphin zipped past me and into the horizon forever.I paddled.
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THIS IS WHAT I WANT by Tina Wayland

This is what I want.

I want to change the locks on our front door. My front door. I want to pry the deadbolts from the wall, break them with a hammer. Feel the echo of every strike travel up my arms and through my skin, settle in my bones.

I want to throw away the key that hangs from your belt buckle, forget the way you’d bend your hips to the lock like a dance, swaying to catch the keyhole, then tumbling into the room as the door swung open, catching your balance on the picture of us that always hung crooked.

I want to sweep out whatever’s left of you under the bed—the t-shirt you bought at some concert and wore until it grew armpit holes. The corners of old condom wrappers and clumps of dust made from your dead skin, like some snake that took years and years to shed its old life.

I want to scrub your fingerprints off all the dishes, remove the grease stains your lips left on the glasses, the smudges on the silverware. I want to erase the way you hold a cup in your palm, fingers splayed, balancing its weight against your skin. That delicate touch I thought you took with everything.

I want to pull down all the pictures of you off the wall, leaving nothing but dirty outlines and patches of clean nothingness underneath. The parts you couldn’t get to. I want to tear them to pieces, destroy every evidence of you, of us—

—at the beach that first summer, when I burned my mouth on marshmallows and cut the pain with the last of your whisky

—with our used blue Cavalier, when you made the salesman take a picture of us—me in the backseat, and you upfront, my chauffeur in a tweed cap

—at your graduation, wearing the long black gown I spent hours ironing, trying to take out every crease so everything would be perfect

—in the mountains on our last trip—late spring? early summer?—when you wore a new shirt I didn’t recognize and I asked you about it but you didn’t answer…

I want to de-ink this tattoo of our names on my arm, turn the intertwined letters into serpents that eat one another whole until we disappear. You folded your fingers into mine when I said it hurt, promised to run the pain into your own skin so we’d be forever imprinted on each other. So we’d be carved into layers too deep to cut out.

I want to wash your smell out of everything. Bleach the towels and sheets, scour the white leather couch where you’d sit texting, laughing, telling me never mind, babe, doesn’t matter. I want to whitewash the blue screen that reflected off your face in our room, in the middle of the night, filling our space up with the light of words that left me in the dark.

I want to rip up every road that drove us to your parents’ farm, where you’d toss hay bales into the attic and bless me when I sneezed. When the cows came in for winter we’d warm up in a stall—the thick, animal smell of us filling the barn, the cattle echoing our lowing. Once you called me city girl and I bought a checked fleece to prove you wrong. I wore it the day you wanted to leave early, and when I stood up my shirt was covered in hay. A hairshirt. My hair tangled in straw.  

I want to forget all the names you ever called me, all the things you whispered up close or not quite far enough away—




—I can’t…

I want to break the hands of the clock that ticked away at our final days, filled every room with a beating heart that hadn’t yet broken. I want to tear the spines from the books you’d bring back, pages warped and lined in yellow marker like beacons. Like warnings. I want to take back all the times I said OK, stay late, study. Then you’d stack your books in piles by the bed, the bookmarks bent but barely moving.

I want to burn the stairs where you stood when you told me. The long, spiral staircase that we’ve walked a hundred hundred times to our apartment. My apartment. I want to set the top step alight and watch it burn away the memory, turn the wood to ash that will fall to a pile and scatter in the wind, your chain of painful words floating down some dirty alley to bury themselves amongst the other garbage there.

I want to forget the way you held my arm like we were at a funeral. The way you said her name, a life preserver, a rescue raft come to whisk you away. I want to erase the feel of your cheek off my fingers, where they slapped you hard enough that you lost your balance. When you grabbed the railing I wished it would melt in your hands, let you slip through the molten metal, trap you forever at the top of the staircase.

I want to retrieve all those years. To be 18 again. To tell myself not to listen. Cover my ears when you asked me to come for a walk. Push you away when you pulled me behind the tree. Plucked a leaf and held it up to my face. Told me I was a reflection of nature, with the green of the earth and the blue of the sky in my eyes. I want to warn myself that your kiss was not worth it. That your hand cupped my cheek in a clasp, not a caress. I want to stop my back from falling against the tree trunk and letting go.

I want to go back and delete it all.

I want it to never have been.

I want us to have never existed.

I want you to have never been here at all.

This is what I want.

This is what I want.

This is what I want.

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It had been arranged that she would take a stroll through the engine room before supper. Captain Venkman had assured her that they would hold a place at the captain’s table for her if she were detained. Not for his command were the martinet’s peevish demands. He prided himself on, not only an “untight” ship, but a downright anarchic one. “I have found over the years of our voyage, Randi,” the captain had confided on their first interview, “that a rudderless, aimless, and frankly lost ship is no place for unnecessary rules.”

“Some might differ,” Randi protested gently. She sensed a game of some kind that she wished to negotiate in a properly playful spirit. “In the absence of external order, internal discipline is said to be the only refuge of the survivor, don’t you think?”

Captain Venkman laughed long and heartily at Randi’s words. “That might apply to the usual kind of lost, where there is still hope of finding one’s way, but you see, the Sundstrum is not merely lost to land or destination. Within we are truly lost to the world.”

"I don’t understand,” Randi said. “There are plentiful provisions, and the crew and passengers all seem filled with hope and expectation.” She found her breath caught in her throat. “I myself have someone waiting. To be told there is no hope…” She regained her composure and rebuffed his warm eyes with a sharper tone. “You said that anarchy reigns here, Captain. I see no evidence of this. Everyone seems perfectly well behaved, and the ship and crew are smartly appointed. There is lights out at nine bells, and stewards fluff our pillows with alacrity and cheer.” Her voice faltered and tears clouded her eyes. She was furious and distraught.

Captain Venkman gave Randi a monogrammed handkerchief stitched with HMSS in the queen’s blue and gold. “I’m sorry, Randi. Of course there is order and regulation. Up here there is hope and steady compass, sextant and GPS and the stars. There will always be steady progress marked, and made. I only meant to suggest that if you are a little late for dinner we will understand, and accommodate.”

“But Captain, why invoke this vision of chaos?”

“Randi,” and here Captain Venkman’s eyes darkened and his voice grew low and rough, “it’s the engine room. Down there, we are lost. There is no governor. There is no way.”

“Do you forbid me to go, then? Why not declare it off limits?”

Captain Venkman stood then, the cabin suddenly shrinking with his girth. “No, Randi. I don’t forbid your stroll through the engine room.” He pushed open the cabin door roughly and stabbed a shaking finger into the passageway. “I command it. Go.”

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