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jocelyn hungerford

FAITHFUL by Jocelyn Hungerford

A cool Sydney night at the beginning of spring. We were smoking a joint on the verandah. The lights on the harbour twinkled and the possums were rasping out their mating calls.

He’d been ‘scraping it together’ for a year, he said, to be able to come here. A few weeks’ respite. Fights, a kid, a mortgage, a business.

‘Why don’t you leave?’ I asked. He looked shocked. ‘Because she’s my child. I won’t do to her what was done to me.’

I hmmed and murmured a soothing noise. I could feel his mood sinking. It seemed to be my fault; something in the curl of his lip, his nostrils wrinkling as if he smelled something wrong about me. I wanted him to be nice again so I butted my head into him and growled. He kept still, staring straight ahead. I leapt off the couch and crawled over to a stick the eucalyptus tree had shed. I picked it up in my mouth and brought it to him, making my best puppy-dog eyes and growling low in my throat. He started to laugh. He tried to take the stick and I wouldn’t let him. I bared my fangs and growled louder; he laughed harder.

He told me he wanted to kill himself. My emails were keeping him alive. I moved to his country and into his house. He gave me a box under the stairs where I could keep my private things. He said it was all mine. I could bury my bones there.

On the first night he made us dinner. It wasn’t spicy enough; I asked if I could put chilli in mine. His eyes flushed dark, angry. ‘What, and destroy my carefully balanced flavours? You might as well be eating dog food.’

It was hard to sleep. I turned around and around in the bed, trying to get comfortable. It made him laugh, the way I scratched about. When I fell asleep he watched me grinding my teeth. He teased me about gnawing on bones in my sleep. I didn’t like the laughing or the teasing but it was my job to keep him happy. And the rages scared me.

He liked to fuck me from behind. He came more quickly when he couldn’t see my face. He could get further into me. My arse looked better than my face, anyway. I didn’t have the same face any more: it was longer, leaner, whiskery. It put him off when I got excited and growled.

I stopped shaving and waxing. I let the hair under my arms and between my legs and on my legs grow. ‘You look like a fucking lesbian,’ he said. It didn’t stop him touching me, though, as long as I was facing the other way. Even my arse was starting to grow hair but he could still pull it aside to get into my soft wet insides. I didn’t like him so much now but animal, I still got excited. He liked to bite the back of my neck while I bucked against him.

One day I was out walking when a stranger started patting me. I was still allowed out by myself. His hand felt good on my head so I let him stroke my back. His hand felt good on my back so I rolled over and let him scratch my stomach. His hand felt good on my stomach so I let him put it between my legs.

It was getting harder to type because my fingers were shrinking and getting wider and blunter, and my nails thicker and sharper. Still, I was a clever dog and if I used my tongue and my nose I could still write an email. I wrote to the stranger: ‘I wantr to ber yoiur dog, panting afdter youy. Iu want youi to opwn me.’ We knew it was a game. He liked it when I stood on his chest with my paws on his shoulders, running my tongue through his fur. We were the same size. He didn’t mind that.

But because I didn’t wipe all the drool off the keyboard, my owner knew I had been doing something I shouldn’t. I cowered at his feet while he shouted, ‘I bought this computer for business purposes! It is not a toy!’ When he found the letters he said: ‘You’re sick. If you saw a doctor he’d have you locked up.’ He called me a bitch in heat, running around offering her arse to everything that moves. He called me bestial and chained me up.

He looked through my cardboard box and found a leash the stranger had given me. He brought out his whip: it was long and cruel and when he lashed me hard with it, my back arched and I whimpered in pain. ‘I’m only doing this because I love you,’ he said. ‘It’s for your own good.’ He whipped me again, harder. He was getting excited; I could see his cock bulging in his trousers. ‘I’m only doing this because I love you so fucking much. But I need you to understand what you’ve done.’

But I couldn’t understand any more. It’s hard to say what happened next; my mind isn’t as clear as it was. Words are harder to think, harder to form. I remember how quickly he went down; that although his chest and shoulders were broad, his legs were slender and he toppled easily when I jumped him. I remember his yell of pain and fury; I remember the sharp metallic scent of blood. I remember that I ate his entrails first.

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scott garson

FUTURE COOKIE by Scott Garson

They were running a charter school out of a city building that stood in a quiet bureaucratic limbo of disrepair. Hanes had laryngitis, but Gutierrez asked him to cover L3 for the teacher whose name he always forgot, a twenty-some boy who was unable to smile without blinking convulsively, as he might with a fist in his face. The boy had a cold. Meanwhile the boy’s students showed up, took seats, and moved to straighten themselves in their endless fight against sleep. Hanes knew one or two. Yevgeny, Ukrainian man, droll, somewhat pedantic. Fallou, kid from Senegal, hard-core: stocked dry goods over night and sold flowers on the street by day.

“So what was the lesson?” Lila B. wanted to know.

Hanes made use of his wounded voice as he let smoke seep from his body. “Modals.”

They sat on the crumbling steps of a fire exit on the building’s north side, with a view of the grounds: denuded tether-ball poles, chains hanging loose at their sides, like tools of affliction. Some malefic growth that would chime when the wind started in.

“They wrote fortunes, for cookies,” Hanes went on. “Only Lydia—you know Lydia?”

“Salvadoran?”

Hanes nodded. “She was bent on calling them future cookies.”

“Fuck did you do to your voice?”

Lila B. was a tall lesbian of arresting glamour. She brought to mind Morticia Addams—but with a tendency to go on manic jags. Hanes might have told her the rest of the story if he had been able to speak. How the woman, Lydia, had written her fortunes in the first person. I will visit my father next week. How he had been willing to let that slide—because she had produced the grammar—but others were not. Yevgeny, Alberto, Jinhui. They took over. They wouldn’t authorize this failure to get what a fortune was.

You will have much prosperity.

You will enjoy a quantity of wisdom in your life.

You will get nice house, good place for family.

You will be rich.

The fortunes, as they had been declaimed, kept going through Hanes’ head.

He turned around.

Gutierrez stood in the doorway. She was framed in graffiti—the word ‘SURVIVAL’ rendered in characters that interlocked as if part of an alien alphabet.

“Join us,” Hanes said.

Gutierrez ignored this. “What are you doing?”

Lila B. held up her cigarette and faced it. “Hello, I’m Lila,” she said. “Hello, Lila,” she said for the cigarette. “I’m Death.”

“We were talking about cookies,” Hanes tried.

Gutierrez produced an indignant smile. “I’ve got like ten situations I’m dealing with here?”

“All right.” He held up his hands in surrender.

He got to his feet.

You will live on streets of gold.

You will receive a marvelous surprise in the federal mail.

You will own a big ship. You will travel the sea.

In Hanes’ own future, he’ll come to recall this one bit of a day. He’ll remember standing, wiping the grit off his hands—and since the time will seem to float up pure, without lines of significance, he will feel wonder, and will cede to that. He’ll reinhabit this wayward piece of a life—when he fought to start a school, when students fought to learn. When he was still smoking. When they tried to dress okay, in shirts with uncomfortable collars, and tended to feel that the good in the world was far-off, like a storybook dream.

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harris lahti

DARK WOODS by Harris Lahti

Another flashbulb blanches the room white. “Smile,” her mother tells the purple, howling baby swaddled in its crib. Everywhere the baby—in picture, on magnets, JPEGs plastered across the internet. Roswell can’t even pull a frozen pizza from the refrigerator without being confronted with its alien face.

Roswell flips the channel from the couch. A nature documentary. Onscreen, a peregrine falcon divebombs an unsuspecting pigeon, and the baby’s howls mix with its cries.

“I think I’ll have a beer,” she tells her mother.

“I think I’ll have some unprotected sex,” she says. “Or maybe I’ll take the truck out for a joyride.”

“I said I think I’ll take a joyride,” she says.

Then Roswell goes over to the key rack her stepfather fashioned from the antlers of an eight-point buck and waits for her mother to chide her. She is fourteen, without a license.

However, her mother is too preoccupied to notice. And as another round of flashbulbs goes off, Roswell slides the keys from the rack. “Smile,” she hears her mother say, walking out.

Deer. That summer the woods were thick with them. Roswell drives the back roads, smoking her mother’s cigarettes from the glovebox, hoping to hit one. To wake up in the hospital, with her family assembled along the bedside. Not a full body cast. Just a slight brain bleed perhaps. Serious sounding but minor.

For weeks, she drives, smokes, hopes to hit one.

The way the trees clasp overhead is her favorite. The yellow spray of headlights on a grey asphalt tongue. The deer eyes that roll through the woods like marbles.

One night, a screech owl flies into the headlights, a frog elongating from its beak like a ragged hang-glider.

Another, a neon green asteroid slices the starry night.

And another, a hitchhiker: a sight so rare she stops to pick him up. It seems the next best thing to the deer, this dark figure seeping out of the woods. The way his thumb worms its way out of his torn coat sleeve intrigues her. He is so tall his knees press up against the dash. “I’m a Eunuch,” he says.

“Prove it,” Roswell laughs.

Afterward, the hitchhiker instructs Roswell to let him out. He sticks his head back inside the open window and orders her to count to a thousand before driving off. “One, two, three, four,” she counts as he seeps back into the woods.

Who, who. A screech owl comes to life.

Then Roswell stops counting, lights her mother’s last cigarette, and drives off again.

And as the trees clasp, the deer eyes roll through the woods beside her. Then, a deer emerges into the headlights, followed by another. Another, another. Until, suddenly, an entire herd has turned the asphalt tongue furry.

Roswell slows to watch them.

None of this is real, she thinks. None of this is happening.

She presses on the gas. The deer buck like crazy at first, but even crazier as the truck sends them flying. That last part is her favorite yet: the way the white underside of their tails explode like an endless stream of flashbulbs—pop, pop, popping.

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andrew higgins

DULUTH by Andrew Higgins

The plane fulfills its purpose: we are no longer ascendant. The engine winds down smoothly, a game show loss sort of draining. The tarmac is ice-sheathed but our skid in was mild. Men outside in reflective gear gesture meaningfully towards the hull, and we look at them through the ovular windows with a small, first-world pity. My body is still hallucinating movement at six-hundred miles per hour.

We are all seated uncomfortably, waiting for permission, exchanging mild sentiments until we can get off. The thin fury of air-conditioning is louder than before. The seatbelt chime rings, finally, and we all jolt to our feet. It’s a group-rise, liturgical. We’re hunched under the rounded ceilings, staring into our respective middle distances. The plane seems to close in on us as we stand in needless silence. The reek of a changed diaper leaking into the cabin. Benign mechanical screeches issuing from under our feet. Nearby someone’s belly croaks long with hunger. We’re a fuselage of bodies, wanting to get off.

The woman seated beside me, stringy-haired and jumpy, was telling me about comparative taxes rates in Ireland, where she lives now with her husband because of his job. “They take half!” She exclaimed quietly. “Half!” Her voice was nasally but reassuring, an accent I haven’t heard for a while. I can’t guess her age. She has that life-long waitress sheen, tight-skinned, wide-eyed, always chewing gum.

A man leans over his seat, giving us both a world-weary look. Balding, wide-set predatory eyes, his collar yellowing a little after our red-eye from New York. Our eyes meet and we raise our eyebrows at one another, a way of greeting. We are open.

“Ya know,” he says to neither of us in particular, “it’s not much better here in the States. Between state and federal, my 401k, and health insurance—my one kid’s special needs—it comes out to over 50% of my take-home, too.”

The woman glances up to me for confirmation.

I say, “That’s about right.”

Her face goes gloomy. She seems to be burdened by some previously unknown woe. “Ya know,” she says in a vaguely didactic tone, “a lot of kids are turning up autistic these days. I tell ya, I saw on the news that it has something to do with all these WIFI signals in the air!” Her eyes fall to her lap and she shakes her head, a look of pale distress on her face. “You just never heard of that autism before this whole online thing.” I realize as she says this that she’s much older than I’ve guessed.

“Oh, my son doesn’t have autism,” the man begins apologetically. “Tommy’s mentally retarded.”

Good afternoon passengers. This is your captain speaking. Looks like it’s a cloudy sixty-four degrees outside…

There is a silence that the woman beside me obviously wants to fill. “Well,” the woman starts in a vaguely conspiratorial tone, “if it weren’t for Comrade O-BA-ma’s health care plan...Plus! these government people with their federal salaries and pensions and benefits!” She shakes her head again, this time, at a world bent on specific fiscal waste.

The man dips his chin towards me, looking for the third side to our burgeoning revolt. “What do you do for work?”

I look at my feet.

“I’m a consultant, with the GSA.”

They both find a variation of frown-smile at this, and a feeling arises that we’ve all sort of had enough of each other.

The door opens and the plane is depressurized, an entirely controlled danger. We all descend into the small barbarism of hasty disembarkation. Bins are pried open. Bags are ripped out. I am pushed, I push back, and no one acknowledges it. Wordless negotiations take place between opposite sides of the aisle. Each of us has our own reveries and despairs and we wear them on our faces. The passengers all enter the terminal as a dissipating community, and we fuse as individuals into a larger faceless crowd. We will abandon all knowledge of each other: we are, above all, strangers.

Duluth is convinced it’s coming up in the world. This is my hometown, but I’m disoriented in the new terminal. welcome to the james l. oberstar terminal runs across an exterior skyway. It was built recently in memoriam of a late-senator, a Democrat, and I recalled this only dimly because my Republican parents say his name with offhand venom. I walk past a pseudo-luxury coffee house, local displayed prominently on the signage (although the coffee is neither grown nor roasted here in Minnesota). There’s a full British pub next door, its ruddy baroque wooden panels bleached out by the sunlight coming in through the wall-sized windows. Next, a languid young man, dark and vaguely foreign, coughs and offers me pink salt from The Dead Sea.

Travel noises. Intercoms, electric doors, the hushed tension of people moving toward destinations. I turn towards the baggage carousel, following a sign. The slow tide of traffic outside. A few passengers’ families have paid the one-hour parking fee to greet them indoors. I see the man hug the son he described and a few others who share his general traits. I am enjoying the sight of this, hardened by the city I now live in—one of the elite coastal bastions. Then the woman from the flight waddles up to my side. She peers at me, wide-eyed. I can see that she’s waiting to tell me a secret. I raise my eyebrows, a gesture of openness, and she begins speaking from the side of her mouth. “I can’t believe they say that about their own kids!”

“Say what?” I ask, confused.

Re-tard,” she whispers, casting a look to each side. “That’s like saying the N-word!

The word hangs in the air. I realize she’s come to misunderstand autism as some sort of PC term for mental retardation. Given her feelings about taxes and health care, I find this consideration mildly ironic. Bags begin thudding down onto the conveyor belt, and the silence her statement has engendered, I realize, belongs to neither of us. Goshes and darnits and hons fill the air. I part ways with my seatmate now and wish her a Merry Christmas. This is my tribe, what I came for.

I am home.

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X-R-A-Y ISSUE #5

DOWNLOAD ISSUE #5 JULY 2018simon graham // jim ruland // jonah solheim // shane jesse christmass // jason teal // jon berger // avee chaudhuri // alistair mccartney // elytron frass // marc olmsted // vanessa norton // jeff phillips // andrew miller // stephen mortland
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tyler dillow

EXCERPTS FROM COOPERSTOWN, ND by Tyler Dillow

I wash my hands, then my face.

He carries me in a bag. A brown paper sack, rough and unevenly cut around the edges. It’s dark. He takes me out of the bag and hangs me, right above his headboard.

Coffee boils on the stovetop. Snow falls outside as seen through a window. Music plays as heard through ears. Bodies touch hands; hands touch bodies. Altogether naked. Altogether, a mug sits on the corner of a table as held by gravity. All held down by the feet of a person. On the floor, linoleum; on the linoleum, dust. Outside wet, outside ice. Outside, a certain amount of snowflakes reached human lungs. When inhaling, hold your breath. Colonial abstraction. There you are, German Shepard on a leash. There you are. Ready for attack; ready to oppress. More willing to oppress, than any other feeling you’ve ever had. You say, you didn't know you had it, but you did. Still do. Every time you don’t look or more so look. A gun on your hip following the pattern of the generation before you. You are still very much them. We know, you watched Selma. You wanted it to win best picture. You even rooted for MLK. Ignoring the facts. Ignoring the fact, you were responsible for the ending.

Ten people died in an apartment fire.

My friend kissed the ground in appreciation of earth. The dirt isn’t soft. The opposite of the silk robe laying over his recliner. My friend—say his name is Mark—lives alone. Mark wants to dig up the bones of fossilized animals or fossilized people. It’s his first time outside in three months. Mark pays this kid to bring him his groceries, but he wants to dig through the crust of the earth. Mark found an arrowhead near the river, when he was fourteen. Ever since, he thinks, he’s Indiana Jones. Mark owns a leather satchel. Mark owns a dark brown hat. Mark ordered a bull whip, a few weeks ago, and it just came in. The arrowhead stays in his front-shirt pocket.

He stirs up goosebumps on my neck. The suns rising. It shines through my curtains. Cillian sits. Half his face is, ideally, covered by shadows like a Bacon painting. He is all obtuse and sexual. Blood red stains into yellow into purple into lavender. Him into me. Windows into walls into bathrooms.

About five miles outside of town, Ronald Reagan built a missile silo. Fuck North Dakota, he said.

A man walks out of a shop carrying a framed Magritte painting. A bad print in a bag.

An old Pontiac is parked across the street. Today is sun. A movie plays on the television—Hiroshima—low and inaudible dialogue can be heard. This movie always plays; we always watch. Air mixes with the blemishes on your skin. Listen to this, a novel sentence, too long sticking and stuck to the roof of your mouth. Hiroshima, Hiroshima, Hiroshima—the tipping slow release of a snail shell. Water drips out of the faucets, the movie plays. We watch.

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joseph haeger

UNCLE POOH’S SECRET RECIPE by Joseph Haeger

The first time I made grits I used water, the same way I made my oatmeal. Granted, I'd never had grits, but was told it was a staple food in the south, so when I saw a two-pound bag for a dollar at the Grocery Outlet it seemed like a no-brainer to give it a shot. I mean, this was a food that helped mold a culture.

The red sedan in front of me slows down, or I come up on her too fast. I tap my brakes to keep a comfortable distance between us. My speedometer reads thirty-five exactly. She's going the literal speed limit, but I'm not in a hurry today. All I have going tonight is cooking our family's new favorite recipe: Uncle Pooh's Secret Shrimp & Sausage Grits.

The grits were underwhelming that first time. This, I thought, was what an entire region kept in their pantry at all times? I made it just that one time, and I was so disappointed I threw the whole bag of grits into the trash. It was like eating a sub par oatmeal. The consistency of hot mashed baby food. I sprinkled cheddar cheese into the lumpy concoction, but the grits absorbed any flavor the shredded cheese had to offer, and instead made it into a bland, glue-like mixture.

A blue SUV zips past me. It's a two-way double yellow lined road, but some people can't ever stand going the speed limit. The impatience builds in the pit of their stomachs and they let impulse take over. Most people act on impulse at one point or another, like me with the grits.

It took the one meal of failed grits to decide they weren't for me. I could let the restaurants and family kitchens keep them in rotation, but they weren't going to enter mine. Or that's what I thought.

The SUV whips in front of the sedan and slams on the brakes. Smoke rolls off the tires out of the wheel wells as it skids to a stop. The red sedan's brake lights shine as they come to an abrupt stop.

My wife sent me a recipe she wanted me to cook for her: Uncle Pooh's Secret Shrimp & Sausage Grits. It was on the internet, so it wasn't all that secret, but I appreciated the attempt at mystifying the dish. She requested it, and I acquiesced. I wasn't about to withhold her request because I'd sworn off grits years earlier. I gathered all the ingredients, again going to the Grocery Outlet to buy another two-pound bag of grits, but this time it was a dollar fifty. While I portioned all the ingredients out I noticed water wasn't anywhere to be found. Uncle Pooh called for the grits to be cooked with whole milk and a heavy whipping cream.

A man in a dark blue suit steps out of the SUV. His clothes matched his car making it look like a surrealistic painting: him standing there blending in with his car with a double barrel sawed off shotgun hanging at his side. Before the sedan has a chance to open their door, or even attempt to drive away, the man levels the gun and fires. The driver's side window shatters—and while I know I'm imagining it, I think I see a mist of blood evaporate into the air. The man pops the barrel down and loads two more shells into the gun. He snaps it back and cocks the hammers, firing once more into the open window. This time I do see strings of blood launch out of the car. It lands on the gunman's lapel. He uses the back of his hand to wipe it away. He yells something that is too muffled for me to hear, then spits into the car.

The grits with dairy was to die for.

The gunman walks back to his car. It is still running, like he ran back inside for a forgotten cup of coffee. He pulls his door shut and drives away. The sedan's door opens, slow and methodical. The woman tries to pull herself out, but collapses under the weight of her body, crumpling onto the pavement. I squint to see if she's breathing, but can't tell. All I know is her eyes are open and she's laying on top of the double yellow road strip.

The heavy whipping cream thickened the grits so it wasn't mushy. It was able to bring the cheddar cheese flavor to the forefront of the dish without gumming the entire dish together like glue. It was rich and filling, but I couldn't help myself from getting seconds. And then thirds. It was me who had ruined grits the first time. It wasn't that I didn't like grits, it's that I made them like a jackass. I had trouble sleeping that night because I was so stuffed. Well, that and because I wanted to eat more grits.

The traffic from the other side of the road moves around the dead—or dying—woman's body. This isn't going to work for me. She is too central, and her car is on the shoulder. The line of cars begins to build behind me. Honks waft up from cars backed up in a line. I pull off to the side of the road, inching the tires over the curb and onto the sidewalk. I drift around the red sedan, keeping my eyes ahead to make sure there aren't any pedestrians walking down. Once I'm past the stalled car I drop back onto the road. My car bounces as it reenters the lane. The cars behind me follow my lead driving onto the sidewalk and continuing up the Post street hill. It takes cops forever to clean this kind of thing up these days. When I was a kid this would have been newsworthy. These new generations have no idea.

She wanted Uncle Pooh's Secret Recipe again tonight. I tried to play it coy, but I think she was aware of how much I loved the dish as well. It calls for bell peppers, but I'm going to try mushrooms and sweet potatoes instead, like a meeting of two regions in one delicious meal. Even if that's not good at least I know the grits will be worth all the effort.

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dylan gray

RAW LIVER by Dylan Gray

i am eating a bagel as the fucking cat jumps onto the counter and stares me with what i feel is hate. from the first day we met, the cat and i were never close. it was dereck’s cat. we bought it together, but it was more of his idea than mine. the cat and i kept our distance. when we broke up, he left the cat. it started throwing up all around the apartment. whenever i tried to go near, it would start scratching at the carpet. another morning, while i was sleeping, it sneezed in my mouth. i still haven’t forgiven it for that. but here i am stuck taking care of it now. staring at me now, i can feel it saying i hate you…i hate that you’re always here…i hate that i’m stuck here with you…i hate this depressing-ass apartment…i miss dereck…i hate you won’t leave me to die…know that if you were break your neck, i would eat your body.

but i don’t give in to intimidation. especially from a cat. i whisper back, so will i.

the cat hops down, saunters to its bowl. we finish our meals in silence.

in the morning i go grocery shopping. this is the best time to shop. afternoons are filled with too many old people looking at your skin. from there, it just gets worse. going in the morning decreases my odds of seeing anybody i would know. i hate grocery store conversations, or any conversation stricken up for that sake that we’re two people who sorta know each other. oh how are you doing? no one’s ever asked that and wished someone would tell them everything horrible in their lives. they’re just being cordial and i don’t appreciate it. next time someone asks me how i’m doing in public, i’m going to start crying. that would make them think twice before being polite.

and if i can’t go in the morning, i’ll wait until midnight, when i’m sure i’m all alone.

i place bagels, wine, butter, and seven cans of organic cat food in my backpack. this is will last me a good week.

7:56 am on saturday and i am paralyzed in anxiety. i had a dream i was writing a paper for class that was 10 days overdue and hadn’t started and woke up sweating in mid-panic attack.

at 8:03, my heart rate returns to semi-normal. when i walk into the kitchen, the cat is inside its food bowl. it looks at me and runs out. i place cat food in the bowl and a bagel in the toaster. at 8:08, my bagel is consumed.

i flop on the couch. my body wants to die but won’t because it hates me. i toss on my left side. i elongate the length of my body.  my back bends slightly inwards. the notches in my spine decompress. i flip over. i repeat and hold that pose until my heart rate slows and i am perfectly calm.

i feel slightly less corpse-like.

i turn on television. a male newscaster shouts RAW LIVER IS IN! i turn off the television. the thought of raw liver makes me ill. i scroll through my phone instead, but everyone online is talking about raw liver, raw liver! according to all the major news outlets, raw liver is on track to change the world. celebrities have come out saying they’ve been eating raw liver for years. i watch a video of a guy in a lab coating pointing to a pie graph. apparently, early humans favored the liver to all other forms of meat. he purports, animatedly, our innate fascination with raw liver, our predilection for its life-giving properties, our physiological desire for the cleansing sustenance. i chuck my phone across the room. i stare at the ceiling. i try to clear my thoughts, but all i’m thinking is raw liver. i see it floating in my mind, suspending in a black oblivion. it appears hyperrealistic and drips with blood. i imagine it floating towards me, like some dickensian phantom. i imagine myself and i’m run away, but as i imagine this, a separate but equally vivid image occurs of me not running away, of me approaching the gory wraith, grabbing either side of its flesh, bringing it to my chest, embracing the liver.

as both thoughts occur, i grip the sofa cushion. i feel crazed. i look for something to distract me. my copy of moby dick that i need to read for class lays on the coffee table. the pain increases. the recliner. purple. i feel at once uninspired/desperate/overdramatic by its banality. i feel ridiculous but have no idea how to change. with a recognized self-awareness, i let out a deep sigh. i think this as, vaguely, something someone would do in a movie if they were experiencing what i am. i feel slightly better/oriented. i am still in crisis, but i feel better in knowing i know i know.

i see the cat step out the bathroom. the sink is its favorite sleeping spot. i sense an air of smugness as it approaches. there’s something dark is in its mouth. i sit up to inspect closer. something dead. i scream. i retreat to the furthest arm on the couch. the cat rushes towards and drops the carcass on the cushion next to me. i scream again and, with an instinct surprising to even myself, hurl the bloodied corpse away. a red stain blotches the door now.

the cat perches on the purple recliner. taunting me. i fall for it. i lung forward, but it dashes the other way. it skitters towards its food bowl where, within a foot or so, it slows down, switching its pace from flight to composure, and, eats, mockingly, its chicken.

i think our walks humiliates the cat and this pleases me. with a leash around its neck, i walk it around the neighborhood like a dog. when the cat wanders off, i like to give it some leeway until, once it’s off-guard, i reel it back. the cat jumps in fright, its neck tugging mid-air. that is my favorite.

after a few laps around the block, we get home and i pour myself a glass a wine and log-on to facebook. the cat stares at the blank television. it’s mad at me. good. with the night to myself, i continue my work of flash fiction/poems i base on people’s profile pictures. this started with dereck. i feel as though it will be never be complete but i enjoy working on it. it’s my escape/invasion into reality. i can draw up people’s lives without ever having to meet them (and not that i would want to).

i click on a profile where its picture is of a skull wearing an american-flag bandana and breathing fire. i think it’s cool. his most recent status is from three months ago and reads “who do u miss”. no one has replied. this makes me sad. i thumbs-up his status. i hope he’ll like this. i scribble in my notebook story: sad skeleton feels lost/alone in modern america until he meets equally sad/alone blob of flesh and they have sex and become human. i stalk through dereck’s profile next because i hate myself. i go through all his most recently tagged photos. annoyingly infrequent. his most recent picture is of him with a group of people i’ve never seen before. the caption says “elemental”. i don’t know what that means. he’s at a hookah bar. we never went to a hookah bar. i suddenly want to go to a hookah bar.

i go to bed cry for an hour and feel empowered.

i turn on the television. still at war. i turn off the television. feeling queasy. but not because the news. something else is wrong.

i open the cat food. the bagel is toasting. but beyond the smell of canned chicken and crisping bread is something bitter, ammoniac. that is when i see the huge wet blotch on the couch. i bend over and give an investigatory smell. definitely that. i look up to see the cat sprawled on the recliner. it meows villainously. anger. i grab a pillow and launch it towards the recliner. it bumps the cat on the butt. a nefarious meow bellows. i must be going crazy, because i saw a flash of gold in its teeth when it meowed. i butter my bagel and slam the front door behind me.

i go to buy cat spray. while on the bus, i search on my phone natural cat urination repellant. i find: one part water to one part apple cider vinegar, with lemongrass, lavender, and peppermint for added aromatics. i have none of those except water. the man seated across from me is holding a bloodied paper parcel. he inspects around the bus and opens it. he places tiny bits of what i assume is meat in his mouth. could it be raw liver?

i ignore that and think of the cat. that stupid cat. why does it make my life so arduous? i google do cats spray in spite? some cat forums say this can happen, and i feel vindicated in my assumption that the cat has been plotting against me. i also find that sometimes the spraying can be caused by diabetes. i hurry off the bus, remembering that it’s already 5pm and the store would be infested with people. on my way out, i grab the cat food containing fish. its high omega-3s, i read online, helps prevent diabetes.

the cat has sprayed everything. i grab the refrigerator handle and it’s slick. i do yoga and my mat is soaked. i sit to read my copy of moby dick and the pages are stuck together, and putrid.

i go on a rampage with my spray too. i spray the litter box, the bed, the sink, the television, the lamppost, the countertop, the couch cushions, the recliner (the other side). in the hallway, we have a standoff. i make a scowl like clint eastwood (i think) and think, this town ain’t big enough for the two of us or i’m the sheriff around these parts and don’t you forget it. i imagine the cat personified in a dark, wide-brimmed hat, sometimes smoking a cigar, as my arch nemesis. i imagine when it sees me it says nasty things in foreign tongues, and if i were to ask them what it’d mean, it’d translate with perfect clarity into a language i could understand, and then we’d draw our sprays, unload clip after clip at each other until we are both drained, out of bullets, as the silence of war settles around us, our differences tangibly futile as we both lie bankrupt in our own self-pride.

and then we go separate ways.

until the sequel.

and then we go again.

monday night. i have not left the apartment. i have watched netflix in bed all day. this is my day of rest. after having not eaten today, i am decidedly tipsy after just one glass of wine. after this, i return to netflix underneath my blanket. it is under here where i am most content. do not take me from my blanket. leave me here to die entertained in peace. i do not wish to be disturbed world.

after a few hours, my body is stiff from stasis. i rise to my feet and touch my toes. i rise up again and again touch my toes. i do this again. and again.

my body feels better and in turn i do too.

in the kitchen i pour myself another glass of wine and open up my moby dick. after two hours of reading, i complete about forty pages. i decide i am going to sparknotes the rest of the book. fuckit. after that i pour myself another glass and turn on the radio. the news. i switch it off. a slight pressure presses on the back of my skull. i need to stop listening to the news. i finish the rest of my drink, grab the bottle and go back into my room.

i am awake. it is still dark. netflix is still open on my laptop. an empty wine bottle is in bed next to me and also, to my surprise, is the cat. i listen to it breathing. it looks so peaceful. i pet its fur. it’s very soft. i sometimes forget that this cat is only a cat, and not, like, a person who has an agenda or vendetta or desire to inflict war crimes; it wants to eat and sleep and be left alone. i feel that. something vague warms me, like a déjà vu, but nostalgic. i don’t think of anything but the solidarity of this moment. i pet its fur and feel myself getting sleepy. but as i’m going back to sleep when a horrible thought occurs  – i forgot to feed the cat!! my laptop crashes to the ground when i fumble out of bed but i don’t care. i am suddenly aware of how drunk i still am. i can’t even figure out how the can opener works. how did i ever use this?? i’m fumbling with the thing and my drunkass slices open my finger. leaning over the sink, i press a dish rag against the cut. blood drips from the rag into the sink. the cat stumbles in. in that moment, i forget my pain and tear into the can like a true fucking savage. the cat looks at me and looks at the food. i’m waiting. something like a bow or a thanks man! from the cat. anything to show me that i matter in this relationship. but that never comes. the cat stares at me. i will never know how it feels. no matter what i think it feels or want it to feel. i’m me and the cat is a cat. we’re two different creatures. the cat nibbles at the food some. I’m back at the sink. it turns around and walks towards the bedroom. with my towel-wrapped hand, i follow. it hops onto the bed and curls back into a ball. i return to my covers, clenching the towel and petting the cat until i fall asleep.

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sam phillips

BE SCARED OF YOUR YOUNG by Sam Phillips

What if it’s all torn down, she asked me.

I thought this was an odd question coming out of such young mouth. I wondered what exactly it was they teaching her at the preschool. We, me and her mother, me and my wife, are giving nearly half of our income to to that place.

What if it’s all torn down, she asked again and I had to figure out how to reply.

Time was running out.

Well what if what is all torn down?

My reply was hopeful, I wanted the next words she said to recapture her innocence.

The people that we love, and things that we love, and the thoughts that we think, what if it all falls apart?

Damn it. I realized I was in a spot. I was in a spot and after I got out of that spot I was going to have to go down to the preschool and find out what exactly the curriculum was. This was too advanced I thought. You can’t make my daughter think this deeply without my knowledge, or my consent.

Where did you get that idea, I replied to her.

What’s an idea?

An idea is a thought, like an opinion.

What’s an opinion?

You know, how I might say ‘I think that blue is a good color,’ I said while pointing to my shirt to show her again what blue was.

Oh, well what if those thinks don’t work anymore?

Well why wouldn’t they?

I don’t trust you.

Her eyes seemed blank, the words didn’t affect her and they did affect me because I knew I was losing control. I hate losing control and I hate knowing that I’m losing control even more. I like when the people around me can at least be nice enough to let me pretend that I still have it. I like when people pretend they still have it too. Then we can all go along thinking that we all have control, when in reality there’s just no possible way.

Why don’t you trust me?

Because you lie.

No I don’t darling, when do I lie?

You lie every night.

No I don’t.

Then why do you pretend to look around for monsters when you can’t even see them?

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s.f. wright

THE PAINTER by S.F. Wright

Lands wanted to be the next Jackson Pollack; his parents and siblings told him he should pursue a field in which he could get a real job. But Lands couldn’t see himself as a professional, and he figured, while he had the chance (his parents would pay for college, even if it was art school), he might as well study what he wanted.

Art school was, at times, memorable. Lands didn’t live the promiscuous, bohemian lifestyle he imagined an artist-in-training would, but he did get laid once (a fellow student who later left school to join a religious convent after a bad acid trip); he also developed a taste for booze: scotch, whiskey, gin—he loved it all. Alcohol made Lands’ life seem better than it was, and if he was too depressed for liquor to help him achieve even that, booze would still make Lands forget: that he had no future, that only with incredible luck would he ever make it with his art, that he’d probably spend his life working undesirable jobs and painting in obscurity.

After graduating, Lands lived in an apartment with two friends from school. But soon, even with two roommates and Lands’ working as a waiter and record store clerk, the city got too expensive. Lands had to move out; with nowhere else to go, he moved back with his mother. (Lands’ father had died of a heart attack when Lands was in art school.)

He got a job at a Pearl Art and Craft Supply. He still went to the city, but more and more frequently he visited alone, his friendships from art school dwindling. Usually Lands stayed home; shut himself in his room with a bottle of gin, vodka, or bourbon; and drank: not only to forget the day at Pearl Arts and Craft Supply, but also to numb himself to the fact that his was a squandered, sad, and hopeless existence. Lands’ mother disapproved of her son’s drinking; she’d yell at Lands when he passed out on the floor. But there wasn’t much she could do except kick Lands out, which she wouldn’t do.

When Lands was thirty-four, his mother sold the house and bought a condo. Also, Pearl Art and Craft Supply closed, leaving Lands unemployed.

He moved with his mother, having nowhere else to go, and for a while Lands remained unemployed. But he liked getting up when he wanted, drinking whenever he felt like it, and having no responsibilities. Lands even started to paint again (the condo’s extra bedroom had decent light for it), but his mother soon grew tired of her son’s not working. And what little savings Lands had was quickly going toward booze. So at thirty-five, he had to look for a job, and he applied to the Barnes and Noble which was situated across the street from the former Pearl Art and Craft Supply (now a Modell’s Sporting Goods).

Lands got hired. His mother was happy. Lands was depressed. He was able to get a daily seven-to-three shift, which meant he could drink if he had work the next day, as long as he started when he got home and cut himself off before it got too late. But Lands disliked the work, and he hated the customers and crowds. Only the first two hours he didn’t mind, when the store was empty except for other employees, and he shelved books.

For years Lands did this: working seven to three, five days a week; drinking when he got home; cutting himself off when he had to work the next morning; getting obliviously drunk when he had the following day off. His mother simply lived with his drunkenness, and as long as Lands kept it behind his bedroom door, mostly didn’t say anything.

Holidays were awkward. Lands would go to one of his siblings’ houses, or they’d come to the condo; and the elephant in the room was always what a failure Lands was: still living at home, no one in his life except for his mother. Or at least it felt like the elephant in the room to Lands. He saw himself as a failure, and couldn’t imagine how anyone else, especially his siblings, wouldn’t either.

Lands’ taste for and love of alcohol refined and honed itself into a discerning palate and passion for bourbon: Old Gran-Dad, Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniel’s. Good bourbon was expensive, though, and consequentially, Lands didn’t save much money. But he figured, What would I be saving it for anyway?

Lands still went to a museum every couple of months: the MOMA, the Met, the Guggenheim. Sometimes he thought he might see someone from art school. He never did.

And every few months or so, Lands would take a fresh canvas and put it on his easel. He’d stare at the canvas at first, but after a few sips of bourbon Lands would get inspired; he’d paint religiously for ten, fifteen minutes, thinking he was creating something of genius. But then Lands would get tired and feel more like drinking than creating, and he’d tell himself that he’d resume working on the painting the next day. He’d wake up the next morning, hungover, though, and look at these streaks of paint as nothing but a futile, aborted attempt at art. Lands would consider the painting with shame, and then throw the canvas out; he’d then try to forget what he thought was a terrible effort, even though he really didn’t know any more if it was or wasn’t, and then he’d get ready for work.

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