Micro

THE WOODHOUSES, THE MARITAL BED IS LAVA, SLEEPWALKING by Ariel Clark-Semyck

the woodhouses

"greensleeves" floats through the halls of the high-rise & stops in for the showing.  the new tenants are young & comely.  they pay no mind to the plea of the piano or the hospital stretcher rounding the corner.  the woman’s blonde hair curls inward at the ends, teasing the tip of her heart-shaped face.  the man wears a powder blue linen suit & slaps her ass while the realtor isn’t looking.  they each excrete a gasp when they see the living room.  they make a show of admiring the antiques, the burgundy drapes.  they take a thoughtful glance at the writing desk.  i can tell they can’t wait to paint everything white.  maybe yellow as an accent color.  their first night in the apartment, they peel their clothes off in silence & couple on the bare floor.  smoke reaches through the keyhole of the closet & threads its needle through my eye.  it’s nice to have company. 

   

the marital bed is lava

i watch the occultists sit down to roast beef & mashed potatoes served on fine china.  they swirl their glasses & playfully bicker about the pope.  it’s chocolate mousse for dessert.  one wife notices the funny undertaste but eats it anyway.  smoke trails from the armchairs, through the parlor room, to the kitchen where the women wash dishes in rubber gloves.  back in their own bedroom, the husband sits five inches away from a televised boxing match while his wife unhooks her garters & comments on the other couple’s dining habits.  her body collapses to the floor & turns into a slinky.  he picks her up, an end in each hand.  her coils stretch & condense from palm to palm as she whispers baby names in the dark until morning.  andy or jenny, andy or jenny, andy or jenny suckle at my heartstrings.  romance is feeding each other grapes for twenty years while our voiceovers pop off.

   

sleepwalking

sadism is not a good replacement for self-fulfillment is the kind of shit she says to herself as she wipes the blade on her hem & exits stage left.  the hallway tonight is drenched with thick black air.  it gets stuck in her hair.  it wears her body like a dress as she paces back and forth, the hands grabbing at one another like two animals in heat.  one hand mounts the other hand & rubs & rubs.  is watching it die the same thing as taking its life?  she caught a cricket under a glass once & waited until morning.  she caught herself under a crumbling pedestal & waited for years.  this little hand.  she takes her hand to her nose & then takes it in her mouth.  this little hand.  she sucks on the knuckle of her index finger.  the air watches this, its appetite sharpened.  it sops from her hair down to her face & sucks.  she thinks goodbye would be like going to the grocery store & picking up a pound of ground chuck or a gallon of milk.  the air turns her head over & over on its tongue.  is watching him swim further out to sea the same thing as watching him drown?  she thinks goodbye would be like sitting on the shore with the sun in her eyes, like taking a photograph of the sunset so she could look back on it fondly whenever she liked.  one hand mounts the other hand.  the air has whittled her down to an echo of the sound of him at the end of the hallway.  he is grabbing another beer from the fridge.

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CLUTCHING by Melanie Maggard

Maybe you’re off the highway, cleaning out the deep fryer at a bowling alley in a college town in Virginia, the alleged state for lovers. You’re a boy in jeans and a Fresh Prince t-shirt, a short apron splattered with an eagle rising from a pool of blood. Townies and good ol’ boys order deep-fried chicken wings, burgers, nachos with canned cheese sauce the color of cantaloupes. They heehaw, drunk on Buds and Jim Beam, high on the split they just picked up in the last frame. You cringe with each dropped “g,” but we’re all dying, anyway. You’ve dropped into the gutter of loneliness, after dipping your toe in and realizing it feels just right. Here, now, things make sense, you’ve got orders and tasks. Your manager wants to crawl up your towering body and perch her fat ass on your shoulder like a crow, squawk in your ear while nibbling on crinkle fries. Sometimes while closing, you get lost in the cleaning and think: this could be it, all there is to life, every day an echo reeking of cooked meat and freezer burn. You’re in college, and they tell you the whole world is in front of you, places you will go, things you will see and do. But at 20, with maxed-out credit cards and a grand in engineering textbooks to buy, you keep hunting for the tracks of that dream. Your hands are burlap and chaps from bleach and scalding water. Your head explodes with formulas for lift and drag when all you want to see is space. Some days you sit on the tacky floor of the storage room, cry for the girlfriend studying literature six states away. You wonder if she’ll stay true, if you will. You finger the keys in your pocket and chew on how long it would take you to drive to her. She’s everything you need right now because she sees you as more than who you are today. She’s your best friend and you think of her alone in her apartment, crying while she spoons the pillow you slept on last summer. You breathe deeply and for a moment you smell White Rain strawberry shampoo. The bottom of this hole you’re in is round and smooth, but you devour it, you endure.

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THREE MICRO FICTION PIECES by Cressida Blake Roe

Apocalypse Needs a More Exciting Plural Form

Proposition One:

The plural form of apocalypse isn’t nuclear fallout, environmental degradation, contagions, Horseman, acts of God, or St John’s Revelations. Instead, it sounds more like a woman fleeing in broken counterpoint to the screech of subway brakes and takes the shape of a fist slamming through a wall two inches from a child’s head: finales too small for the tabloid headlines, too colossal for folding away between pages, out of sight.

***

The train didn’t stop in time. They said she didn’t mean to die. Her husband thought, in front-page letters three inches high, that she always seemed perfectly happy. He didn’t know her nightmares, when she drowned in sealed vessels feeling less afraid of the water’s weight than the sharps of the sky. The sky strikes down, opened hand/closed hand. Nobody asked how many times the hand struck before. The child dreams of his father’s eyes staring out from the hollows of gun barrels, and the bullets whiz toward him, too slow for mercy. 

Proposition Two:

The plural form of apocalypse is a paradox, implying a multiplicity of ends to worlds that can only end once. Only so many parallel universes can exist. Discarded cataclysms shake hands, murmuring with low voices in the slush pile of the gods. They were not violent, heartrending, pyrotechnic, pretty enough to make the cut. Better luck next time. But only so many worlds demand obliteration.

***

The moon crawled out of the mountain just after midnight, and the first people who had awoken pointed up at the slanted horizon. 

“What dread god had arisen?” we asked ourselves. “What power comes to glare down with its cold eye?” 

No one has answers. We drown our faces in the pond to drink its milky excrescence and punish the river that shatters its shadow. We open our wrists and drain the blood so that the land runs red and silver, loving this newly minted god the way the rain loves the soil.

Proposition Three:

The plural form of apocalypse invites destruction déjà vu, wearing the mask of innovation: a banality of hatred opening the same chambers and igniting the old fires. Leviathans press at the surface and leer, flooding the womb and crunching the sun in their teeth. In these days that are ending, each forged beginning chokes its hold and calls this gasping silence gratitude.

***

We unhinged our jaws to their fullest extent so that we could devour those who had and those who fed themselves on those who had not. We filled up the gaps in what had burned. If the world insists on forgetting our bodies, shoring up structures of good that would not otherwise remain, then perhaps it will overlook the traces of blood left behind, the bone shards, the tears of children in empty schools and parking lots, the mothers who lost their mothers, those who were no longer able to breathe.

  

Spooky Action at a Distance

And for now we are, indeed, here: six hours from sunrise. 

The wheels rattle on towards tomorrow, and arrival. Until then, we sit in the lamplight glare and reflect on the meaning of terror, white-masked and waiting just behind us, a little out of sight. Perhaps the railroad ties will contradict the past, rushing away in the dark. Once, I asked you for a cigarette, but the smoke, wreathing in new patterns, intercepted the message. Six hours from sunrise, but nothing ever changes. Once, you asked to feel my edges, torn and fibrous from too much handling by those less considerate, used into an illusion of comfort. Have I said how I hate the presumption of nostalgia, wielded by old women? You cannot respond, weeping iron tears that do not fall. Six hours from sunrise, and nothing will ever change. No, you say at last, understanding the futility of this rattling, toward a destination that neither hell nor heaven can declare. Curling memories lie damp all around, rotting with the slow ceremony of forgiveness. I wished I could touch you in return—you, who I address as though such a distinction could alter this journey. But my absent face cannot communicate these desires, and they slip between the lines of light, lost. Terror watches through broken eyes and considers. Outside, in the rattling dark, we are six hours from sunrise. 

And for now, we are, indeed here.

  

A Brief Treatise on the Unreliability of Memory

You taught me to speak of myself in the third-person, as though life were a story that could be rewritten.1 Anonymity lifts the weight of four letters branded across her breasts: SLUT, bullet syllable shot back and forth across her battlefield body and never reaching anywhere,2 when the dismembered diagnosis of language bears no resemblance to the possibility of a cure.3 In the third-person, she wrote a poem.4 In the second-person, you write a letter.5 In the first-person, I am still trying to understand why hope feels like such an indefinable burden to carry.6


1 He seduces her, in one version. In another, tree roots no longer scar the ground & she suffocates on dreams 

2 deep in sleep’s ivory box, where her mother tongue suggests how lucky it was that he was such a good guy. 

3 Symptoms remain untreatable except by passing apologies in counterfeit coin, love honed on an edge pure enough to cut men away. 

4 The poem is a life that never ends. What sounds true only becomes a lie about somebody else 

5 addressed to a ghost that refuses to exist in a post-trauma reality. She never learned how not to ask for justification, 

6 sexless & obscure, taken from strangers with the same imperfect excuses.

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IF YOU CAN, LISTEN by Jake McAuliffe

First off, endings are quiet. As something/somelove dies, a spacetime wound will appear to you and crickets will come out. They will flood your ears and tickle your canals like cotton. Some cheeky crickety fucks are going to use your body as a musical instrument. This is normal. I think every bone and pipe inside the human body was placed on purpose. You may have heard the theory of “intelligent design” but try this: crickets frisking your insides for anything that can shake the air. That’s music, baby. And that’s how tinnitus comes about. It’s insects. It’s our slow air for death, the one which we alone cannot play. I heard it only yesterday. In the worst white room, my love pinched my palm pink before her last breath smashed the air flat. Then, C sharp.

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NAVIS by DM O’Connor

Tricky Dicky Manure, my first boss, said the raccoons on Lake Huron were dexterous enough to pick bicycle locks with their fingernails. He paid three fifteen an hour. His desk sat in the corner of a steel Quonset ex-military hangar which could hold every boat in the harbour in winter and only the coolest air in summer. Atop the desk: a hammer and a dictionary. Tricky Dicky liked shade, hated sweat. 

My interview was to fill the diesel mower without spilling a drop. One drop and you’re gone. Raccoon nails can cut a flap in a screen easier than a razor then open a fridge and shotgun a six-pack before you hear a floorboard creak. They shit and make love on the roof, occasionally simultaneously.

Dicky weighed a ton and wore a skipper’s hat. I got to keep and return all the empties I could find on the docks and riverbank. After a sunny long weekend, the deposit on the bottles and cans would surpass twenty dollars. New Dicky words: groin, dredge, ketch, bowline, teak, epoxy, latex. After drydocking the vessels, the season’s finale, I’d stain, varnish and winterise everything the tractor couldn’t load into the hangar. Dicky would drive off to Tampa Bay and I’d go back to school. 

Kelly’s Boogie Parlour’s staff docked a barely-buoyant houseboat in Tricky Dicky Manure’s Marina. Boy, did they leave a load of empties. Often bikini bottoms drip-dried over the dead soldiers. People passed out everywhere. On Labour Day, Dicky sent me to collect the arrear dock fee which gave them a real kick. You want our rears? They showed me full moons. Hosed me up and down. Cannonballed into slime. 

The boat finally sank that night and the staff skedaddled. I had to submerge into the algae and tie the winch cable under the back pontoon axle brace. Dicky towed her halfway up the bank, told me to douse her in diesel, which I did with pleasure before he tossed his lit Romeo y Julieta into the scuttled pontoon. 

Through the anticipatory silence before the flames took, I asked Dicky why vessels were always referred to in the feminine. The blaze grew, as did the red of his neckless face: I could tell you some inane jokes, paint and powder, metaphorical replication of a mother’s womb, she keeps you dry and warm, a place to sleep, maintenance costs, deep respect, blame Latin. All trite truisms. Next summer, you should find a better job. You’re worth more than I say.

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FOUR STORIES by Joe Aguilar

Face Tattoo

I get a tattoo of my face over my face. Now my face looks even more like my face. It’s my face twice over. My wife asks me if I’m in a good mood because today I look brighter than ever. I tell her yes. It’s true. I’m true. My truest face.

  

The Man with the Tiger’s Head Who Answers Phones

I have a human body and a tiger’s head. People stare at me on the train. I avoid their eyes. I answer phones at the company that makes weapons. Nobody sees me over the phone. My voice is deep and splendid like a purr. I sleep very deeply. In the dream I run through a jungle. The trees are on fire. Somebody’s screaming.

  

Night Meat

  1. In the cabin we eat meat for nourishment.
  2. Chad leaves to look for more meat. Where is Chad?
  3. Vlad goes to look for Chad. Where are Vlad and Chad?
  4. We are hungry enough to lock the doors. Tad and I knock on Brad’s door. Poor dead Brad!
  5. I wander the woods full of nourishment. The moon tracks me like an eye.
  

The End of the World

I am out for my morning run when I see the mushroom cloud blossoming over the skyscrapers. Then I hear the explosion and am knocked to my hands and knees. The air smells sweet like ozone. A car alarm is going off. The end is near. I run into a gas station. A microwave beeps. The cashier has hung himself with a red licorice rope. A hotdog turns behind glass. It starts to rain.

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CHASE by Frankie McMillan

Mr Whippy here and there, up the street, down the street, swerving his pink and cream van to avoid a dog, Mr Whippy his face emperor white, hunched over the wheel wondering what dogs want with Mr Whippy.

Mr Whippy glancing in the rear vision mirror, kids still chasing him on bikes, their heads ducked under the handlebars, a mother jogging with a baby on her hip, ice cream, ice cream but Mr Whippy is wrecked, days leaning out his window, handing out cones with the perfect pointy top, pulling on levers, eyes squinting in the bright sun. his ears ringing.

Mr Whippy turning off his ice cream shaped speakers because Green Sleeves isn’t what he wants to hear right now. He turns into a leafy suburb, checks in the mirror again, sighs with relief. Mr Whippy parks under a tree, eases himself into the back of the van, pours sacks of skim milk into the machine, fondly pats the metal side, re stocks cones, wipes the sticky window sill, tugs on his ear again.

Mrs Whippy shining a torch down his ear canal, slush in his ear she laughs, a cul de sac of sprinkles and Mr Whippy, tired though he is clamps a pale hand on her thigh. Mrs Whippy wriggles loose. Mr Whippy rises.

Out the bedroom door, down the hall, out into the night. Mrs Whippy runs smooth and light as a girl and Mr Whippy follows, his legs pumping, dogs barking, the whole street cheering him on.

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YOUR HOUSE ON ZILLOW by Stephanie King

You died on a Wednesday. In the years since, when the anniversary falls on a different day of the week, everything feels off somehow. That dreamy, floaty feeling of a day, like trying to describe what it is to have loved – but not like that – a man who is gone. They say men and women can’t be friends, but it was never a problem.

Now your wife has put the house up for sale. I guess the mortgage was too much to handle on her own. I scroll through the real estate listing like playing the world’s worst first-person shooter game. Click. There’s the accent wall I helped you paint, back before accent walls were passé, the rich maroon color reminds me of your mother’s homemade cranberry sauce on all those Thanksgivings, or Manischewitz at the seders I spent with your family after mine moved away. Click. The nursery I helped fill with absurd baby gifts, retro toys that you already had tattoos of. Click. The rose trellis in the backyard where we snuck out to smoke weed and your wife pretended not to notice, because she didn’t allow smoking in the house, but when we came back in, she had put out a cheese tray or just-microwaved popcorn.

We’d been a pair since you moved down the street from me in the summer of our twelfth year. Our hijinks progressed from slipping salami through the locker slats of our enemies in middle school to the fall break when we were both home from college and took your grandma’s mobility scooter “mountain biking” up on the trails up behind your house. We took nips from a ­­­­­­­­­­pint of Wild Turkey you’d stolen because we weren’t old enough to buy one. We had to push the scooter home after the battery died, laughing so hard we almost pissed our pants. Your grown-up house is all the way on the other side of town. Someday, whoever buys it might discover the Halloween plastic severed foot we hid between studs when we replaced the drywall after a leak in the upstairs bathroom.

The house pictures don’t capture the sound of your laughter, bouncing off the walls. The living room looks staged, not like the place where I spent the night on the sofa whenever I got too drunk or it snowed too much to go home. The guest room doesn’t mention that it’s the room you died in, downstairs because you got too weak to make it up to your own room, the hospice nurses discussing your care in hushed voices in the hallway while we sat around the kitchen table poking at sandwich trays we were too disheartened to eat. I see you everywhere in the house, looking for your shadow lurking behind the ornate standing lamp in the living room or in ceiling corners like a spirit in a horror movie. Now I am your haunted house, everywhere I go.

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DIVORCED by Amy Barnes

A car the size of a house rams our house that’s the size of a house. Thunder from a 1986 Thunderbird shakes me out of my canopy bed to the window to the street. It’s the moment I know my mother is a liar, a big one. She lays there lazy for too long or maybe not long enough, in her satin-sheeted bed and satin-matching lingerie with a man who isn’t her husband or my father. Her lipstick is smeared and our house is too, a brick mouth opened up on one side. When the red lights encircle our house with the car-shaped hole in it, Mama staggers out wearing this not-father-man as a blanket. It’s not enough to hide him or her. The neighborhood sees extra glimpses that should have been kept secret -- breast tops, upper thigh thunder, rumpled bedroom hair. My brother and sister and I all stand in the cul-de-sac all in our night clothes, clothed by midnight, staring at the full moon-shaped hole that has appeared in our house galaxy, stars guiding insurance adjusters and curious neighbors who watch papers float out, folded blowing into the sky. My mother and father’s signatures land in front of our house when the papers settle. We argue over who gets what name or what parent but it’s late and we have school and cold feet so everyone goes back to sleep, except me. I follow the policemen until they find my father a sidewalk away drunk on moon and moonshine next to the battering ram car that we used to take together to the beach and back. The muscle car isn’t parked next to oceanside muscle men anymore, just idling on the curb by a curbed man sobbing into his I went to Virginia Beach and all I got was this t-shirt t-shirt. There are hangers full of my father piled in the back seat next to fast food robe wrappers and receipt pillows and balled-up Kleenex and lawyer lists of divisions of property and parents. I stand by him in bare feet and bare anger, pat his bent shoulders and ask if he needs directions home.

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BABY ON BOARD by Natalie Warther

It’s not a lie. It’s just a sticker. A sticker that says there’s a baby on board, when technically there is not. Can you blame me? You’ve seen how careful people are around a new mother. Otherwise, they are reckless. Besides, people lie about much worse. And there is no sticker that says “Be careful, please, I have a lot of student debt.”

Plus, it’s not like there aren’t important things in my backseat. The screenplay I’m writing about a boy who wants to play major league baseball, for example, and a pile of towels from my mother’s garage.

Why should I want a baby anyway? My sister and her husband had a baby. They sent me a picture in the mail. Everyone looked scared.

Last week there was a whole list of specials at Vons because the 4th of July was coming and people needed beef and various dips. I grabbed my coupons and my grocery bags. On the 1, an SUV to my left matched my speed. We traveled together for too many seconds. I accelerated, but so did the SUV. The driver was looking at me, I could feel it, he was burning holes into my profile. I wanted to tell him to keep his eyes on the road, but our windows were up, and I was trying to keep my eyes on the road.

I sneaked a glance. It was a woman. She was motioning at me to roll down my window, so I did. What else can one do? The freeway blew into our cars. She was shouting at me, we were both pushing 80, she was shouting, “WHERE’S YOUR CAR SEAT?” I got a better look at her. 40s. Three kids in the back. “YOU NEED A CARSEAT FOR YOUR BABY!” The kids were staring at me: their first criminal. This woman is crazy, I thought, and then I remembered the sticker.

“I DON’T HAVE A BABY!” I yelled, but she didn’t hear me over the traffic.

“I’VE GOT YOUR PLATES. I’M CALLING 911.” She passed her purse back to one of the children to get her phone. All of them looked in horror at the pile of towels in the back.

I panicked and shouted louder, “THERE’S NO BABY ON BOARD! I DON’T HAVE A BABY! I DON’T HAVE ANYONE!” She heard me this time.

The SUV accelerated and I switched lanes, tetrising myself deeper into the system of cars who handled me with care. I am a fake mother, and a bad writer, and a common liar, and maybe a fraud, but the freeway forgave me. They made room for me. They indicated before turning and allowed me to merge. The Volvos, the Mazdas, they flanked me, escorting me, and before I knew it, I was where I needed to be, parked in a good spot right by the doors.

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