cathy ulrich


This man who’s in love with you, he’s married. You play in the symphony orchestra together. He’s a second violin. You play the oboe. What he likes best about you, he says, is the purse of your lips when you play. He is sharp elbows, good posture, freckling of gray hair at his temples. His hands are very soft with you.

His wife used to be a dancer when they met. She doesn’t dance anymore.

You know how it is, says the married man. How there were things you used to do and now you don’t, you know how it is.

I love you, he said once, tipping your head up, kissing you on the chin. Looked at your face. I love you.

Thank you, you said.

You saw the brief flicker of his face. You can’t remember the last time you wanted something.

He spoke to you the first time after a concert, said something clever about Chopin. You thought it was charming, how his flirtations all involved dead composers, how his fingers trembled when your hands brushed.

You meet the married man for furtive dinners at an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town. You always order the lasagna, pick at your salad, let him select the wine. You sit across from him, generic strings playing on the speakers overhead, reapply your lipstick after you’ve shared breadsticks, liking the way he watches the color spread across your mouth.

Did I smear any?

He says: I can’t tell.

He says: Let me get closer. Leans across the table, wipes at your lower lip with his fluttering thumb.

There? you say.

There, he says.

This is what he tells his wife that nights he meets you: rehearsal ran late. You don’t know if she believes him, don’t care if she does. You would like to have known her when she still danced, would like to have watched her onstage, legs shuddering with effort, beautiful. You wonder what he loved about her then, cleft of her knee, pigeon-toed walk, tendril of hair escaping a ballerina’s bun.

Do you love playing the violin? you ask him.

He tilts his head. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.

You nod, dab at the corner of your mouth with your napkin.

You love the oboe, of course, he says.

Of course, you say, flick your eyes to one side.

You always get to the restaurant early. There is something romantic about the waiting, you think, in a restaurant you don’t like, for the man who loves you. The hostess is always the same hostess. She knows your face, knows your table. Doesn’t offer you a menu anymore, doesn’t make small talk. You like that about her, and the way, once, you found her in one of the bathroom stalls, tissue wadded in her hands, balanced on the lip of the toilet, crying.

Sorry, she said, sorry, I’m sorry, so sorry.

You didn’t think her apology was for you, pulled the stall door closed on her. Left before it came open again, relieved yourself in the men’s room, one finger tracing graffiti on the wall, for a good time, call, wondered if it was the hostess’s number.

When you met the married man again the next week, neither you nor the hostess mentioned it. She didn’t even blink, just took you back to your regular table, poured two glasses of water.

Have a good dinner, she said like she always did.

You never finish your lasagna, let the waiter take it away with the remains of your salad. They used to box it up, but you left the box behind, again and again. The waiter smiles blandly when you order your lasagna and side salad. The married man is always trying new things, always offering to split dessert.

What’s the special? he asks, selects a wine that pairs well. You leave traces of your lipstick on the rim of your glass, rub at it with the broad part of your thumb until your skin is stained too.

When dinner is over, you let the married man walk you to your car, let him put his arm round your waist.

You say: Dance with me.

Above you, the moon is half hidden by clouds, and you think how much larger it is, really, than it seems, and how hard it is to believe that anyone has ever touched it.

You say again: Dance with me, and the man who loves you pulls you close to him, desperately, you think, the way your oboe teacher used to kiss you, sways you back and forth to the sound of music playing from your car radio.

The lights go off in the Italian restaurant; you have the parking lot to yourselves.

You’re a terrible dancer, you say, keep your voice kind. How can your wife stand it?

The married man stiffens, tries to smile.

I guess, he says, she can’t.

The hostess comes out the side door, a bag of garbage in her hand. You smile to her, tiny cat-smile, and let the married man tilt your head up, run his mouth along your throat. You stare up at the moon until you hear the latching of the restaurant door.

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abandoned toys 'r' us love story

stone cold steve austin sits unaccompanied by a military grade transport vehicle, unflinching in someone’s captured breath, hidden amongst a dark spot on a crowded aisle, watchful and waiting beneath elsa’s hollow glare and woeful pale complexion.

piped music aches in surges from corners and unmarked spaces in the ceiling, whispering ‘so many times’ or ‘say you were the only / toy for me’ underneath ruptured squeezes from a presumably cheap keyboard. aisles creak with age, while skateboards precariously occupy spaces in plain view. the ghost walks with a wry shuffle from sports to outdoor. nerf guns remain unloaded and boxed, resting as an implication. a singular basketball hoop gathers dust, unswished.

small animals infiltrate daily, badgers and cockroaches and spiders and eels and mice and foxes, each looking for their next meal, or action figures, or a crib for a small child.

the ghost wanders at a speed that allows his bed-sheet attire to drift cautiously behind him, almost summery in its airiness, bright and filled with an inherent grieving, from his deathly birth to the point at which he approaches a small wooden cabin, sugary and juvenile with its caricature architecture. he crouches down at the plastic green entranceway, and raps his knuckles across it, polite even in haunting.

is there anybody in there? he asks, hoping.

abandoned sports world love story

and from a small hole that a hungry and ponderous fox had made in the far left hand side wall by the car seats and baby clothes, permeating into the sports world next door, a wilted and frail voice makes its way through the air, in a pink and hazy way, lifted by suspicion and communal yearning, navigable in expectation, crossing paths with words like adidas, and drifts softly into the other side, where it reaches a small wooden cabin.

you sound like a ghost, the voice offers.

and the ghost stands up.

captain america sits still nearby, with a stern, discerning look on his face.

friction buzzes within the ghost, as he shuffles mournfully towards the car seats and baby clothes, in search of the voice.

he approaches, hesitant, a fearsome anticipation akin to some desire to stroke a particularly endearing grizzly bear, and brings his face up to the small hole in the large wall.

oh, you are a ghost. wow, i’m getting good at this. wow, replies the voice, gruff and ashen. what’s your name?

the ghost thinks for a second, and then for a few seconds more, before looking down at himself, then through himself, into the walls and shelves behind him, wide and towering, filled to capacity with beautiful things, named things, all staring outwards with a consummate sheen.

what would you name me? the ghost asks. if you had to?

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The two women with blood sprinklers in their eyes stood at the railings and looked down at the water. It churned about like great whips of cream under a lazy spoon, throwing petulant fountains of oyster salt over the groynes. Foam bubbled at the shore when it came in with the morning tide and seagulls barked at the brooding ceiling of grey. The flags along the pier whipped against their poles with heavy slaps.

'The doughnuts are smaller than they used to be,' Poppy said. She brushed the sugar from her fingers and fished the pebble from her pocket, a souvenir from the night before. It felt dry between her forefinger and thumb, like the rub of a tongue against a brick wall. 'Oh, God. Betsy.'

A woman wearing a pink meringue for a dress was walking barefoot along the beach, lipstick-pink heels in one hand. One of the straps of her dress was halfway down her arm but the white sash was still tied over one shoulder. Her cheeks were purple pomegranates, clashing with the pink of her dress and the orange knit-bundle of her hair.

'God, I hope she didn't sleep on the beach,' Poppy said. 'Let's—'

'I can't face anyone yet,' Marie said.

A seagull came into landing on the dome behind them and war-cried, its gullet throbbing with undulating golf balls. The other gulls joined the chorus of laughing madness and swept low over the pier, looking for smash-and-grabs.

 'Listen, Marie, it happens all the time. No one's going to say anything. Dave probably did the same thing on his stag—'

Poppy's words dropped between them like ducks shot from the sky. Marie removed her elbows from the railings and followed the boardwalk out to sea. She watched her feet, heard their rhythmic clapping against the wood. She watched the zoetrope of water in the recesses between the boards, washing up against the iron pilings below. The rank rot of tequila still lined her throat and she tasted it on her tongue.

 'You're not thinking of telling him, are you?' Poppy asked.

Marie walked on, past the kiosks selling joyous Saturday rock and oversized rainbow dummies and fish and chips and crepes. She leaned up against the face-in-the-hole photo board and doubled over. Poppy opened the paper bag of doughnuts and held it out under Marie's mouth like a horse's feedbag, wincing as it filled up.

Marie straightened up and wiped the back of her hand across her lips. She looked at the picture on the board, of the bride and groom riding off together, their faces missing; through them she saw only the sea, bleak and rusted green, frothing all the way to France.

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oliver gaywood


Annabelle always answered her aunts accurately, as abruptly and authoritatively as an adolescent. Their ambitious attempts to addle gone awry, the astonished aunts acted aloof afterwards, averting avuncular attention.

Boastfully, I birthed a bright and bubbly baby. Belle behaved brilliantly and blossomed beautifully. The bairn boosted brainpower by borrowing books before bravely badgering bigger brothers; battling, besting then beleaguering Bobby and Billy.

The clever child collected certificates: creative calligrapher, crossword completer, chess champion. Certain with challenges but clumsy with chatter, companions cold-shouldered the classroom chief.

My darling’s dad was delighted his daughter devoured details. Daddy diarised daily, diligently depicting developments: dilemmas debated, doctrines deduced, dissertations debunked.

Elsewhere, emotions were elevated by the enraged ears and eyes of early equals. Envy evoked as their enthusiasm eloped. Even equitable elders were earnestly embarrassed.

Friendships faltered and feelings faded, but our family's faith was forever firm. Father felt fantastic forecasting future feats. He fuelled fate’s fires with fulfilling facts, fanned the flames with fables and fantasies.

The girl's genius grew and grew. Good at geography and glorious with grammar, she was guided to grand goals as she gathered golden grades.

He hurrahed, not hearing his heroine’s harboured hopes: her hunger for a hip hairstyle and a humble hobby. He had high hopes for Harvard, however she hankered for a horned horse and a happy home.

I was immensely impressed -- Ivy institution or not. I imparted infinite intelligence into an inspirational infant. Impossible? Inconceivable? Irrefutable.

Indecently, I idolised the incomparable intellectual; ignored the inferior imps.

My jealous juniors jostled for a jot of justness. Jovial and jolly, jesting and joking, their jubilance was jettisoned when my jewel journeyed into the joint. Their joy juxtaposed with jeering.

Kin gave no kindness nor kisses, only knuckles and knicks. The kid kept on, knowing that kudos knocks keenly for knack and knowhow, that knowledge is key.

Lessons in language and a love of libraries led to a learned and laudable lass. Not a lamentable lady who languidly loses her love of life; a listless life learnt from ladies who lunch, who laze, who leech -- not liberated, leading ladies.

My mother made me miss the modern movement: “Make meals and mend materials. Marry a mediocre man and make that man merry.” Mundane matters for madeup mannequins.

My method motivates: Memorise melodies, maintain morals, master the mind. Make men move mountains.

No numbing natter.

No novelty nuisances.

No nonsense.

Our offspring will be outstanding. One is outstanding: onwards to outdo and outlast. Others observe and obey; their optimal output is only okay. Ours outshines and outrivals, overachieves and overwhelms.

Predictably, us proud parents pushed the perfect protégé, pleased with praise prised from piggish pouts.

Pa, particularly, prioritised -- preferred, perhaps -- the prized progeny. Pushed the poor pair to the periphery.

Queued in a quiet quarantine, a questionable quagmire, a quantity of queries qualified for quick-tempered quibbles and quarrels.

Robert reacted rottenly and rallied relations to rebel. A revengeful ruse rose into a ruckus, a rough rumble as Robert raged and regretfully rushed.

The sister stumbled and slipped, spun and swirled, smacked and splatted. Screamed and screamed and screamed.

Small savages silently scurried.

She slowly stilled, sitting splayed by the stairs, saliva spilling into streams. Skin sliced, skeleton shattered, skull split.

Surgeons said she's safe but she should step slowly and skip school -- shirk strenuous science, stressful studies and simple sums.

"She's spasticated" shrieked a small scamp, sobbing sorrowfully into his sleeve.

Teachers toiled tirelessly, tutors tried tenaciously to train. They told the tricks of times tables and the tantalising tales of Tolkien and Twain. Then Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Tired and thwarted, terrible tantrums traipsed in.

Unnecessarily upbeat uncles ushered us in. Unfortunately, useless utterings were unable to undo the ugly and unwanted upheaval. The unkind universe usurped utopian understandings. University is unachieveable, as unlikely as an undergraduate unicorn.

Vindictive vengeance by vitriolic vigilantes vanquished the viable valedictorian. Vividly visualised victories vanish.

William whimpered -- "We... we wasn't... we weren't..." -- whispered what we all wanted: a world where we watched the weird and the wonderful, where we weren't wholly watching the wonderkid. A world with worth. William wishes well, but wishes won't work for our weakened warrior.

X-rays were explored by extra experts who explained the extent exceeded existing expectations.

As young as you are, you yawn. Yesterday's yardstick is youthful yore. You yap, yelp, yell. Your yokel yowls yet to yield. You yearn, yet you yawn.

Zonked and zombified. Zeal zapped and zest zithered. The zenith zoomed to zero, zipped to zilch.

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ashley naftule


Pennies are spilling down my throat. I can feel the copper pieces smelting as they pass through my lungs, pooling at the bottom of my guts. Something cold and sharp is waiting there to greet them.

It takes some effort to peel my head off this hot pillow. I've never slept on a pillow this big before: it's as big as the bean bag I had back in my dorm room days. My cheeks are burning and a strange scent has hooked its fingers into my nostrils, like the way a cooling pie on a window sill can hoist cartoon hobos into the air. That smell must have shaken me awake: the smell of burning popcorn.

The light around me is liquid, flowing and congealing and dissolving into shapes. I see a gas dial, a key, a tree with a cherry at its heart. They disappear in the swirling light, replaced by stars and flickers of arrows. The click-click-click of a turn signal. And a familiar voice floating above it all: Ric Ocasek.

An unfamiliar voice, out of the frame, asks if I'm okay. I say no, of course not. I've mistaken Ric Ocasek for Benjamin Orr. This is his song, the best Cars song. I show the voice I know what I'm talking about by singing:

“Who’s gonna tell you when/it's too late.”

Orr is far ahead of this part of the song, but it feels wrong for me to not start at the beginning. I try to sing the next line but there are pennies in my mouth and that sharp coldness in my gut feels like it's spreading.

“Who’s gonna tell you things/aren't so great,” the invisible voice sings to me. A hand, soft and gentle on my shoulder.

I can't hear Orr anymore. All I hear is sirens and small metal wheels spinning and a door wrenching open and panicked voices and calm voices and a sound that throbs like the whole world is being squeezed and released squeezed and released and it's my heart I know it's my heart beating but it's in my ears now and that can't be right it doesn't belong there I don't belong here.

“Oh, you know you can't go on, thinkin’/nothing’s wrong.”

I don't know if I'm singing those lines or if it’s Benjamin or the hand on my shoulder. All I know is that I love this song. I love this song so goddamn much. And I hope I’ll get to hear it again soon.

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brad baumgartner

TO BE OR NOT TO BEFUDDLE by Brad Baumgartner

Drowned out, like an ant’s ear drums (having not yet “ears to hear” in order to “listen and understand”), as it sits, uncertainly, on a twig placed atop the crevice between a washing machine and a dryer, is our consciousness of Consciousness. The twig is also a razor’s edge, on which the ant balances itself, and in which lurks the seed of the failure of gravity. On one side of the razor’s edge the ant enacts faith upon its future, knowing in full measure that it will not fall if it maintains (via will) the clarity of balance. On the other side of this razor’s edge, however, sits the unknown permeability of caprice, the strange undoing of the twig by the unevent of the opposite of sound, a gone-poof where the ant’s lack of ear drums has nothing at all to do with anything.

This caprice lets loose the will’s nonsensical parody of itself and asks skeptical questions of it pertaining to hidden biological functions, hereditariness, what happens inside a vessel of blood, etc. This nothing at all to do with anything is actually a something, but a sum-Thing that does not require one’s active thinking of it to be anything. Is this something then a nothing? And could it not also be said to be the wyrd relationship an individual might, quite unsuspectingly, that is, ignorantly, have with oneself, as one peers into the tilted mirror of being to see something so bewildering that the experience of this being-fuddled becomes a comico-frightening endeavor, one which promises nullity but secretly vows erasure?

Ultimately, one must balance oneself on this twig, but in such a way as to simultaneously remove the twig’s being-as-precept, to exhort the blurring of the gap between oneself and the world and of the crevice’s acosmic blurring of world and world. Blurring the gap dispels the incisive derision of identity, of the plugging up of the ineffable, of the fear of falling. Make not love with the succubus that indicts and invites the mirror of being’s reflection, but rather with the one that calls it into question.

If one would only realize that one is always already the deaf ant…. that our ear drums resign us to a certain mode of consciousness in which fear itself is the ultimate, illusive sound….


The elders in the community often spoke of an old dreadlocked sage who was brought into prison. He never said a word to anyone. But one night, as the sage slept deeply in his room, a guard heard these words being whispered from the sage’s unmoving mouth:

“I know a room, a room you cannot enter. I know this room from the inside-out. It took me a long time to find my way into it, and now that I’m there, I wish not to leave. It is so cozy; at once intimate, comfortable, and yet large enough to fill a universe. But just as you see this room from the outside-in, not yet able to walk in, I have a restraint as well. I cannot open the door to the outside. That door must be opened by one who has found the key. Until then, I will keep the windows clean, so that an onlooker’s gaze can view the inside of this beautiful room. At this time of year, the windows will surely be dirtied by sandstorms. But they must. What else can a window be other than itself, an eternal passageway that, like Janus, looks inward and outward at the same time, beckoning the senses to become what they were meant to be, instruments of divinity.”

The guard continued his service until one day, long after the old sage had passed away, he earned his retirement papers. The people in his community were surprised when he opened up a small shop fixing windows. It is said that he charged no one for his services.


As a young man, the old dreadlocked sage once came across an unsightly Thing in the woods. The Thing whispered to him:

“Have you ever known that all of your words are completely useless if you cannot attribute to them the non-experience of a divinity so vast that its own incommunicability becomes its manner of suspension (of dis-belief), where the love of its lostness and the lostness of its love combine to form one ubiquitous, auto-flagellating Word, the Word, the One to which your lofty unborn gaze draws itself. This cataclysm of utility marks your dereliction from the divine, that ontological slaughterhouse in which you place your trust, confining you to the horizon where cosmic thought is banished by your own reptilian nature.

Think about this, and then swiftly forget it: non-thinking is the only way out of this reprehensible hologram of yourself. The world is purely world until it becomes other than itself, just as you are merely you until you are other than yourself, which is to say, not you and not-not you, but rather what is you when the is is not. You are dwarfed by your own incomprehensibility. Step outside, which is really inside, and then reverse the outside to be inside and the inside to be outside. This Outside-Inside is the negativity of the All, and once you reverse the reversal you may be granted entrance into the eternal darkness that is your shimmering light.”

The old man never told the Thing that he was in fact deaf, and just nodded. Though one day, many years later, after many trials and tribulations, he watched himself (as if from atop a hill) pass his younger self on the street. The man stared, bewildered. His younger self winked, mutely mouthed hello to him, and walked off into the sun-lit city. At that moment, the old man heard and understood exactly what the Thing had told him.

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william falo

THE RESCUE by William Falo

The sirens wail and I howl along with them. My human sleeps. I lick his face and feel coldness. Why doesn’t he get up? I bark and lick. He doesn’t pet me. Something is wrong. My tail hangs low and I whimper. I spin in circles, but not happy ones.

The door is banged open and two men come in with a bed on wheels. I stand in front of my owner and growl.

“It’s okay.” One says while the other one grabs me. I am small. He puts me in another room and shuts the door, but I stick my nose in at the last second and it doesn’t shut tight. They wheel my owner out and I follow onto the street. The truck drives away with sirens and lights flashing.

My small sore legs can’t keep up and I am lost. I lose the smell and can’t find him. My tail hangs low and my legs hurt. I find home. A woman there says words that sound bad. I recognize two of them.

“I’m sorry.” She picks me up and takes me to a building with a lot of cages. Barks fill the air.

I whimper. “Sorry,” she says again.

She is gone. Another person puts me in a cage. It is cold, but there is water and I drink for a long time. A blanket in a corner is not a bed. Tiredness overcomes fear and I sleep on it. My owners face fills my dreams and I whimper through the night.

People come and bring food. Once in a while, a kind hand is extended and I lick it.

The cage has an outdoor opening and the sun is shinning, but I stay inside on the blanket.

My hearing and seeing are not like they once were, but I see people come inside. Some pet me, some read the papers on the cage, while others shake their heads.

Days go by. Dogs that I recognize from smell vanish. Others leave on a leash with people, some are led toward the back of the building and never return. I whimper.

My bones are sore and a chill is inside me. I can’t live much longer.

The coldest day that I ever knew feels like it could be my last. The door opens and someone walks toward me with a crate. They smile. I know when someone is happy, but are they kind.

They stop and reach out a hand. “You’re a good girl.” The woman opens the door.

I back away, but she is quick and scoops me up in her arms.

“We’re taking you out of here.”

Inside a crate, I whimper and my legs start to shake. I can’t stop them.

A hand occasionally reaches in and rubs my ears. It’s not enough to take my fear away. I remember the dogs who vanished.

Before long, I am inside a house. A woman opens the crate and lets me out. I shiver, but the house is warm. There are other people here too. Some have uniforms on and others stand by themselves. The woman picks me up and brings me over to one of them.

His hands shake and he doesn’t try to pet me.

“Jake,” she says. “It’s okay. This dog has been through a lot. Her owner died and she was left at a shelter.”



He reaches out his shaking hand and rubs my ear. “She’s not too bad for a dog.” He gives a slight smile.

Another man came up and pets me too. He has only one arm, before long I was in the lap of a man in a chair with wheels.

“Anna. Thank you.” He says to the woman who brought me here.

She takes me to a woman who stayed away from all the others. Her dark hair covers her eyes and she doesn’t look at me.

“Emma, I have a dog here.”


“I know you used to like them.”

Emma looks at me. She isn’t happy. I sniff toward her and smell blood. A line of recent cuts covers her arms and I try to lick them, but she pulls away.

“Take him away,” Emma says.

“She was living in a shelter alone for a long time. Her owner died. They were going to euthanize her soon.”

“You saved her?”



“Because someone needed to and I’m going to bring her here every day.”

“A therapy dog? Will I be able to take her home?”

“Maybe, but first I got to teach her.”

Emma reached out and I was put in her arms. She rubs her hands through my fur. Tears fell down and she wouldn’t let go of me for a long time.

“Will you bring him back tomorrow?” Emma hands me back.

“Yes. I promise.”

“I’ll be here.”

“Great.” Anna walks out with me in her arms.

“You made a great impression tonight. This place is for people suffering from all kind of mental disorders including PTSD and depression. Someone told me Emma was suicidal and we got her in here. She was abused and refused to talk to anyone before, but I knew she had a dog once. I hoped.” Anna stops and wipes her eyes. “I think she will look forward to seeing you tomorrow. You may rescue her.”

She drives to her house. Inside, I lay down in a soft bed.

“Tomorrow I start training you to be a therapy dog.”

Before she finishes talking, my eyes close and I see my owner’s face and feel his hand going through my fur. I hear him speaking.

“You’re safe now. You’re a good girl.”

When I open my eyes, he is not there, but I notice that my fur is ruffled. I close my eyes and drift back to sleep. I am safe now.

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jason graff


Katie just wants to rip it out. A length of string, some fortitude or, even better, a burly man in uniform, a marine or naval officer would do. Clearly, it was the eye tooth on the upper right side of her mouth that was the trouble. Why shouldn’t a stranger pull it out? How much better would a dentist be than some twine, a golf cart and a driver with a heavy foot?

She sips her iced coffee through a straw whose tip has been stained by her lipstick. She knows she wears too much but “they” say men like it thick. And today isn’t one of those days that finds in her in the mood to tell “them” to fuck off. For the last half hour, she’s been working on some young guy who’s looking to spend some of his father’s money. She’s tried to get him to see the wisdom in buying a place rather than renting one. He’s got a red crew cut, an unusually ruddy complexion and ‘Stacey’ tattooed in cursive on the side of his hand. Whoever did the job didn’t know how to do an S properly in cursive. It lacks the top loop. This bothers Katie almost as much as her tooth.

The kid leans further forward as she talks about the condos still available in the building. This guy’s no marine but she thinks about asking him for help. A great investment of his time.

She cannot be sure by the way that he is looking at her if he is listening to what she is saying. Opening her bag, she places some papers before him to show him things in print that she has already said. Katie would feel better if his eyes were elsewhere.

She furtively checks the buttons on her blouse, as though his pale blue eyes might’ve slipped one loose through sheer effort. But of course he hasn’t. Of course, he can’t help her like that either. She touches her tooth through her lip. Well, her eyes ask him with finality, are we done here?

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babak lakghomi

I KEPT LOOKING FOR IT by Babak Lakghomi

After working as a dish washer, my sister found me a job that paid more than the minimum wage. Every morning, I had to wear a wetsuit and dip my hand deep into a pool of sewage for a sample. Sometimes I had to get into tanks and wash off sludge from filters with a hose. Otherwise, I mostly sat in a control room full of screens with the other operators. I kept an eye on pumps turning on and off, numbers changing on screens. I had only dropped out of college in the third year, so this was the easy part for me.

It was a hot summer and most days the operators were hung over, or outside feeding a ground hog they’d tamed. One of them, a boy younger than me, had an infected wound he kept touching. Watching him touch the wound made me reckless. I wanted to escape that place, like I’d always escaped everything else.

When I complained to my girlfriend about the job, she thought that I was just being lazy. She reminded me of the better pay, of my similar complaints working as a dish washer.

Outside, the smell of wet grass and trees would take me back to my childhood, to our backyard where my sister and I would roll worms into little balls.

The sewage plant wasn’t accessible by public transport, and every day I took a long walk from the last bus station, walking in the bank of a river. Wild geese blocked the narrow road, and cars that passed had to honk and wait for the geese to clear the road. I would walk past the geese very quietly not to attract much attention.

One morning as I was walking by the river, I saw a little bird, the size of a sparrow, with a red tail and a long beak. I didn’t know what kind of bird it was. I’d never seen anything like it. I kept looking for it on other days, wondering if I’d really seen it.


I don’t know what happened on the night when I punched the door. I was still staring at the hole in the door when the cops showed up.

My girlfriend had called 911.

I would have never hurt her.

The next day, my girlfriend came to the station. We both cried. She’d called my sister who came in after she left and bailed me out.

My sister wanted to take me to her place, but I told her that I had to go to work, and she drove me there.

The geese were blocking the road, and as we were waiting for them to pass, I told my sister about the little bird I’d seen one day.

She pulled over and stopped the car by the river. We both sat there in silence, our eyes searching the horizon.

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troy james weaver

CALCULUS by Troy James Weaver

Calculus, 8:00 A.M.—Concentration is already an issue, even when I’m on my meds, and this asshole named Martin, who knows where I sit and why, was in my spot when I came running into class five minutes late. I took a seat in the back, deciding it was a waste to even try to pay attention. It was spite on his part, no doubt, a power play, him just being his dickhead self, probably because I’d fucked him within the first week of class then ghosted his ass, like, man, I don’t owe you shit, get it? And like most men, he didn’t get it, would refuse to get it, like, I just wanted to have some sex, no strings attached, that’s all, and he’s all wanting to tell me he’s in love and stuff. I tried to explain to him that I’ve already been through middle school. He told me he felt used, and I told him, So what? Did you enjoy yourself? That’s what it’s all about, not some gooey dating bullshit. You should be happy

After class, I told Martin to go fuck himself for taking my seat then went to meet up with Christina at the Student Center. I was starving, but had no money for food, so I drank lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup while she talked on and on about her weekend in Boston, all the food she’d consumed, all the booze she’d drank. I hardly caught any of it, just heard blips of sound and nodded, occasionally said, Damn, you serious?

That was the only class I had on Tuesday, so when Christina finally ran out of breath, I went home and masturbated to an old X-Files episode until I was tired enough to go back to sleep. When I woke up, I had a text from this guy Kevin who I met at Club X one night last semester. Took him long enough—I think he was scared of me. It was either me or my penchant for trying to get some pegging done inside those strange wide folds of a sloppy night. I tried with him, as is my modus operandi, but, trust me, there’s no convincing anybody when you’re dealing with a nerd of that magnitude.

Chelsea called me around noon. “I’m pregnant. Again.”

“Yeah, what’s new?” I said.

“It’s already grown quite a bit. I’m three months into this thing,” she said. “I’ll have to have a real abortion.”

I knew what she meant by real. She ate morning-after pills like they were candy.

“I’m sorry, girl. Whose is it?”

“That guy Kevin. The guy you hooked up with last semester,” she said.

“That’s totally weird—he just texted me out of the blue, wants to take me out for some beers sometime.”


“Don’t worry, I haven’t responded yet.”

“What’re you going to say?”

“Obviously I’m going to tell him to get lost.”

“No, for real, you should go,” she said. “Seriously. He doesn’t know I’m pregnant. You should go, for real. Get the inside scoop.”

“I have no interest in doing that,” I said. “He got super pissed when I suggested doing butt stuff. He yelled at me. Said, ‘What, you think I’m a faggot?’ and I was like, ‘No, dude, it’s just something people do, okay, chill.’”

“He said faggot?”

“I know, right? Total douchebag,” I said.

“Probably has a tattoo of Elliot Rodger on his foreskin.”

I laughed. “Yeah, we need to get ourselves a couple of Chads, don’t we?”

“Yup, I’m tired of these incel assholes. I don’t even want to ask him for money. He’s probably one of these dudes who will try to tell me I have to keep it, you know.”

“Oh, definitely, he shouldn’t know about it,” I said.

The alarm on my nightstand went off, signifying lunchtime with dad. We had lunch together twice a week, even though I couldn’t stand him. It was just one way around not having to eat Ramen or Mac N Cheese for the umpteenth time in a day.

“Hey, Chels, I have to go. Lunch with dad. Call me later, okay? All right, love you. Talk soon. Bye.”

We always ate at Applebee’s. We always sat in a booth. My dad always ordered the same thing. I always tried something different. This time it was a monstrosity called a brunch burger—a cheeseburger with hash browns and a fried egg, loaded with ketchup. I scarfed it down while my dad told me he was thinking about leaving my mom. He kept talking and talking and I kept chewing and averting my eyes.

“Well,” he said. “What do you think I should do?”

I burped and grabbed my stomach. “Goddamn, that was a lot of food.”

He just looked at me, waiting, sipped a bit of his Coke.

“I’ll tell you one thing—I’m going to have to abort this fat-ass food baby in a minute. Hope you’re cool with that.”

“Jesus Christ,” he said, unamused. “Can’t you take me seriously for even ten goddamn minutes?”

“What do you want me to say?” I said. “You want me to comfort you—tell you it is okay to leave my mother? You’re fucked. Sure, that’s what I say, dump the bitch. Is that what you want from me?”

He looked embarrassed, ashamed, and I was good with that, even though a part of me felt sorry I’d made a scene.

He drove me back to my apartment without uttering a single word. I stood in the parking lot for a minute, wondering what in the hell was wrong with me, I mean why couldn’t I have just kept my mouth shut? But also, my mother didn’t deserve to be deserted like that, did she? No, she didn’t, so…what the fuck ever. Fuck him.

I went into my bedroom and sprawled on my bed, watched General Hospital on mute while texting Kevin. I told him I was not interested in going out for drinks, not in the least, not ever, and he should just up and lose my number, because, frankly, I’m way out of your league, dude.

He never texted back, thank god.

Chelsea called me later that night, as promised, and said she wanted me to go to the clinic with her next Tuesday. I told her, “Of course. I’ll be there. Hang in there. Try not to freak about it or anything.”

“I’m feeling all right,” she said. “Thanks for being so good to me.”

“Of course—I love you, boo. I’ll see you tomorrow”

I called my dad and canceled our lunches for the next couple of weeks. I said, “Sorry, dad, but I can’t handle you anymore. I’m not your fucking marriage counselor. Maybe if you want to get together sometime and ask me how I’m doing, we can do that. But for now, until that can happen, I don’t want to see you for a while.”

I hung up the phone and a sad satisfaction rippled through me. I couldn’t believe that this life we live is real, and all you can do is try to make the most of it, you know, even when everybody and everything is so fucked up, including yourself.

I had to vent, so called Christina, told her all about my shitty day, and that golden bitch, she let me.

“Wait,” she said. “Maybe your mom should peg your dad.”

“No. Gross.”

“Seriously,” she said.

“Fuck off. No.”

“I mean, you never know,” she said. “Maybe then he’d see the light.”

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