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SINK by Elane Kim

When my brother was young, I fed him fruit that fell from the trees in our backyard. What I fed him wasn’t really fruit, but the buds of what would be sweet in the spring, and the not-fruit didn’t really fall from trees in our backyard, because there was no backyard. Back then, we lived in an apartment complex with studded walls and a pool that yawned and stretched past the pale sun. The children all thought the pool was haunted, including me, because somebody’s son drowned in it in the 60s or the 80s or some other era we saw through blurred television screens. We all knew the water was always awake: green and unmoving, glass-eyed and watching.

My brother was the smallest of us all, and the most afraid. Of drowning, I thought, or of the stillness that would follow. I knew he was young because he still believed in ghosts and spirits and mothers with mouths that said no. My brother was most like himself when he was with me: always hungry, always swallowing. The day my brother stopped being young was the day our mother left him poolside in midsummer. On that day, the sun was a rotting orange. I watched him sink like fruit, surfacing as white foam. I watched the water swallow him without ever having been hungry. 

When my brother was young, so was I. I fed him not-fruit from not-trees and he ate and ate. That was before he knew wholeness in the arms of a mother, before he became the stillness of water.

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WHEN WILL MY RAPIST’S CLOSET BE CLEANED? by Meg Tuite

“Hysteria comes from the Greek root hystera, meaning ‘uterus’. Originally, it was believed that hysteria and hysterical symptoms were caused by a defect in the womb, and thus, only women could become hysterical.” –Shalome Sine

Vivid and startled, blood spits out a song, a sigh, signals a stale rustle of corruption. A pulse rouses itself from the uterus. And those subterranean tubes palpate the last fumes of incessant weather before swirling the rays of dusk down the toilet. I am a girl of fugitive parts. Cut with a straight knife. Glue fists the slit where loot, diced and unkempt, is hacked out bit by bit.

Welcome to the trail guide for hysterectomy. I am a girl whose inner wilderness is cohabiting with feral beasts. They attach to my uterus. My surgery is a uterectomy. There is no hysteria to remove.

Predarectomies: removal of the predator. It’s a goopy, ugly, long procedure. No one visits and flowers do not arrive. There’s so much to remove.

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TWO MICROS by Caleb Lyons

 

It Was Clouds

On my way to his house in Malibu, a song about life and death in Los Angeles played on the radio. At the house, the artist carefully signed his work and handed it to me. I wrapped it in glassine and told him his show in New York looked good in the pictures. He gave me a bag to gather avocados from his trees. We talked about how great Chicago is and why we left.

3 years later, when the artist died, I went back to the house in Malibu to pick up his final piece. It was clouds. Have a nice day was the wrong thing to say to his partner.

 

Dog Food Man

I loaded the mold of the man made of dog food into my van and drove it to the wolf sanctuary. To gain their trust I had to let the wolves smell and lick my face. They ate the dog food man while the artist videotaped. The owner of the sanctuary wanted to be clear that while she appreciated the financial donation, this was not the wolf image she was trying to promote—wolves eating men, wolves eating dog food, wolves eating dog food men.

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DUCK, DUCK, OWL by Michelle Ross

The ducks are a pair—Mallards from the pond in the nearby park. Every evening, they claim the shallow end of the swimming pool, float in languid circles. They’re not threatened by the woman watching them from the canvas chair. They don’t even startle when she goes inside the house to pour more prosecco. 

The woman is a divorcée—she’s lived alone in this house twelve years. Her grown daughters transplanted thousands of miles away. Boyfriends have spent the night from time to time, but there’s no boyfriend now.  

The woman notes the elegant (pompous?) curve of the ducks’ breasts and necks. The male duck, with his gaudy, iridescent green head that seems snatched from another body, looks like an Egyptian god. The female, with that snippet of blue sash peeking from her wing: a beauty contestant. 

The woman imagines the ducks are her daughters. Some instinct they don’t understand draws them home each evening. 

Of course, even if this were true, as ducks, they wouldn’t recognize this as home; they wouldn’t recognize the woman as their mother. Ducks know nothing of filial obligations, and this is to be expected. This is an acceptable trait for a duck.

But: duck shit. In the water. On the cement around the pool. The woman worries about diseases. 

Also, on the phone, when her younger daughter calls to say she can’t visit that summer (she offers up excuses like items she’s trying to pawn to pay off an overdue bill—How much for this? How much for that?), she tells stories of duck multiplication. Two becomes fifteen then fifty. When the woman’s older daughter calls to reprimand her for the candy the woman sends her grandchildren in the mail, she says of the ducks, “You’re not doing them any favors, you know. The chlorine is bad for their skin. They’d be better off if you scared them away.”

The owl is plastic—made in China. It doesn’t even weigh a pound. But when the woman walks out the sliding glass door, the owl in her outstretched arms, the ducks fly away before she is even certain she wants them to. 

That night, and for many days and nights after, the woman’s only company is the plastic owl. Even after she hides the owl in the cabinet with the fire extinguisher, she feels its eyes always. They never leave her.

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AND WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT by Francine Witte

First time I met my brother, he was a hum in my mother’s swelling belly. 

***

When he was 10 and me 14, we’d mock our parents’ arguments. We’d sneak up to the attic. He’d put on Dad’s soggy fedora and kick my bottom hard. When I flinched, he’d say, “hey, that’s how Dad does it.”

***

I remember the first dead rabbit. It was the winter it wouldn’t stop raining. Always on the edge of snow, but not. My father scowled at my brother, who was something like 11. “What’d you go and do that for?” He shook the dead fluffy thing at my brother over the dinner plates. “If you wanted to be useful, you could have killed a chicken.” 

My mother tried to explain we could eat a rabbit. She said she’d put it right into a pot of water that very minute. The rain, a rattle at the window, and Dad throwing the rabbit straight through it, the sudden hole, the shattered glass, and puddle on my mother’s clean linoleum. 

***

When my brother was old enough, first thing he did was join the army. He expected Dad would be pissed and was ready for it. Oddly, Dad just sank back into his armchair and fluffed up the newspaper. “It’s good,” Dad said, “you’re good at killing shit.”

My mother said, “There’s plenty to do in the army besides all that. There’s learning responsibility and how to be a good husband.” She stroked my brother’s shoulder. “And what’s more important than that?”

***

My brother didn’t get a military funeral. Deserter, or something. They cremated him, and my mother scattered most of his ashes into an aimless wind. “Now it’s like he’s everywhere,” she said. Dad, on the other hand, couldn’t even say my brother’s name without a snarl. “Best to forget a mess like that,” Dad said and never mentioned him again. 

After that, my mother would sit up nightly, quietly, in Dad’s armchair. Dad would be upstairs snoring the whole house into a tremble. My mother would take out a tiny jar where she kept a handful of ashes she’d sneaked home with her. Some nights, I’d find her there, slumped into sleep, one hand on her belly, one hand on the jar, as if there were some way or other she could connect the two. 

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THAT GIRL by Sarah Freligh

we used to laugh at, the girl who walked the hallways head-down, cold-shouldered by lockers, who blistered her fingers twisting Kleenex into flowers for homecoming floats the cool girls would ride on, yeah, that girl

was nobody we knew until she went missing and then we remembered how in first grade she peed a puddle that spread and smelled of cheese and fish and scattered the class until the janitor showed up with a broom and a pail of red dust, remembered the Show and Tell in fifth grade when she shared the broken glass she’d found on the street and swore it was amber, remembered how some guys at our high school spray-painted her name across the stadium bleachers where they used to fuck her and how they laughed at her afterward

that girl

who will be winched-up blue and broken from a lake and live on forever as a yearbook picture on a TV screen, dust of blush, lipstick pinking her mouth, nobody we remember, that girl was nobody we knew. 

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WE THOUGHT YOU MIGHT LIKE TO KNOW by Jamy Bond

That your mother is dying alone in a room at St. Francis. The stale sighs of a ventilator echo through the hallways, pumping one last moment of life into her over and over and over. There’s a sad sliver of hope in the sound of it, and in the silence that follows.  

She forgives the insolence, the years you spent overseas and never called, the sporadic letters full of vacancy, even your cold indifference to her cancer diagnosis. She has mostly forgotten your teenage shenanigans: the time you snuck bourbon into your lunch box and drank it at school, nights you slipped from your window to smoke joints in the woods with your fast friends, the sign you nailed to her door that said 10 Bucks a Blowjob Here. 

She understands your abortion at 19. And again at 22. 

Do you forgive the way she pushed you into that closet and locked the door, left you whimpering in the darkness, touched you in a place that makes you shiver still? Have you mostly forgotten her unhinged delight at your discomfort: describing what your father liked to do to her in bed, seducing your boyfriends, raging that you weren’t good enough for them?  

Do you understand why she intercepted the letters your father wrote to you after he’d left, and burned the t-shirts you slept in because they smelled of him?

She wants to see you.  She wants you to take her vein-roped hand in your own, stare down at her cratered face, the fading blue of her eyes, and listen as air snakes its way into the hollow blackness of her mouth.  

You are not supposed to feel this way; to long for the rattle of death. A leaf unfurling in your open palm, the rise of a spring sun and the green earth blooming beneath it.   

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OUT OF JOINT by Miranda González

Edgar was a man with a peculiar malady. It wasn’t just that he had a voracious appetite for all things internet and a quick temper. No, it was that when he read something online that upset him, his nose became, quite literally, out of joint. Each time he furiously disagreed with a news article or a post from an opinionated relative, the cartilage of his nose would turn ever so slightly—imperceptibly—counter-clockwise.

The phenomenon seemed to begin following a particularly distressing piece of journalism about an out-of-state investor buying up his favorite Texas burger joint. (He could never enjoy his patty melt now, knowing that some suit in Chicago was profiting.) Over the course of the next several months, irritating digital content nudged Edgar’s nose along in its rotation: newspaper op-eds by unqualified authors, videos of senators pounding the table about the debt ceiling, and a downright unreasonable number of pet and baby photos.

The overall change had been so gradual that he, and even those in his neighborhood and the software development company where he worked, didn’t notice. Nobody had the habit of looking Edgar directly in the face, but some did observe that he sneezed more often and more loudly than the average person, especially if someone turned on a dusty ceiling fan. To his credit, he always carried a handkerchief and remembered to cover his blowholes when a fit struck.

Then, one day, just as mysteriously as it had begun, the nasal movement stopped. It could have been the article about the Iranian gasoline export to Venezuela—or the one on opera singers performing to an audience of plants. It might have been both. But whatever the case, Edgar’s nose locked in at a one-hundred-and-eighty degree angle from its congenital placement. There it inexplicably stayed, nostrils pointed at the sky. In the months that followed, the nose never again resumed its axial migration, no matter how many times his cousin Lily spammed his newsfeed with inflammatory Paul Rudd memes.

Edgar did notice that he was constantly battling sinus infections, but he could have sworn he had always suffered from them—particularly around cedar and oak season. It was his damned allergies to blame, of that he was sure, even though the skin prick test at the allergist had come out negative. So he found himself again and again at his general practitioners’ office.

Eventually, after prescribing yet another round of penicillin, Dr. Galgani spoke up.

“Listen, Edgar,” he said. “Your sinus problems could be solved by a rhinoplasty.”

Edgar nearly choked on his mucous backflow. “Are you suggesting I get a nose job, Doctor?”

The doctor squinted. “You do realize your nose has a, let’s call it, unusual orientation?”

“Unusual orientation!” Edgar shouted. He snatched the prescription from the doctor’s hand, stormed out, and drove to the pharmacy, snorting all the way. There he bought some overpriced yogurt and ate it sitting at the blood pressure machine while waiting for his medication. (The antibiotics always did a number on his intestines.)

At last, he made it home, orange bottle in hand. After dropping his keys on the hallway table, he flicked on the bathroom light. From every possible angle, he examined his nose in the mirror. It looked perhaps a little red, he thought. Shrugging, he grabbed a glass of water and swallowed his pills.

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MOMENT by Chad Redden

A little raccoon, more sponsor than mascot, came with the moment, came down the tree. We waited below the tree, Ryan and me. Waited for the racoon that came with the moment, but it was a tall tree, it took some time. For the racoon. For the tree to grow that tall, how many years I cannot speculate. I cannot look at a tree and say how much time it took for a tree to grow. It took some time for the racoon to reach the ground. After a while Ryan had to leave, before the racoon could reach the ground. Ryan could not wait, he was due at work. The bakery department at the grocery store. “Those doughnuts aren’t going to pull themselves out of the freezer. Aren’t going to thaw themselves. Aren’t going to decorate themselves,” Ryan said. "It’s fine," I told him. "I’ll let the racoon know." I did. The racoon understood. I gave the racoon a little pink glass rock from an aquarium I had in my pocket. I stopped by an aquarium earlier in the day. It was on the sidewalk for free. All I took was a little pink glass rock. The racoon was thankful, spun the little pink glass rock around in their little racoon hands. Like a little cloud of cotton candy but shiny, glassy. I said, “I wish Ryan were here to see this, it’s joyful. Guys thawing out doughnuts don’t get a lot of joyful moments, they’re too busy decorating them.” Then I said to the racoon, “I don’t know if you know about doughnuts, but they tend to bring joy to the person eating them.” The racoon dropped the little pink glass rock, then picked it up, spun it around in their little racoon hands again. I said, “That’s alright, it’s fine, it’s yours, try again.”

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BEFORE THE FATHER/DAUGHTER JAILHOUSE DANCE by Meg Pokrass

1.

Before seeing your daddy you wait with the other girls who have criminal daddies and you size them up. Your nose doesn't hide like theirs does, doesn’t hang down in shame. It dangles smack in the middle of your face like a lifelong promise. You’re proud of your strident, unapologetic nose, the nose you inherited from him.

"You all waitin’ to dance with your bad daddies too?" one of the droopy girls says. You aren’t interested in bonding with fools. You wonder if these girls wake up to the sight of a mother pulling crust from her eyes, saying, what the hell is this stuff that settles here? Do you think it’s made of tears? 

2.

What you’re excited about is how you'll look to your daddy, now, at this age, with women in rare supply. Girls who wait to be let inside a jail to dance in the arms of their criminal daddies should think about these things. You know that getting inside the jail and seeing your daddy will make you think about the feral cats you’ve been feeding in your car since you turned sixteen. That dancing with him will help to keep them alive.

3.

The day your daddy left for prison he held you high up above his head and loved you like a thousand criminal daddies. Raised you to the tips of his shoulders and showed you how, exactly how, to touch the ceiling and that he wasn’t a fucking criminal, okay? That is the daddy you trust. The one you’ve been dancing with forever. You recall his sharp black stubble, his bigness. How his confidence grew against your smallness. 

You can feel his fingertips spinning the dial.

Hey daddy, you say to your face in the mirror, applying lipstick, smiling like a criminal daughter. I’m stealing you back. You’ve already locked me up.  

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