NEGOTIATIONS by Adrienne Marie Barrios

Marriage, /merij/, noun: a series of negotiations. 

At least, inside her head, it was. She had these little rhythmic mantras to keep from fucking it up, like my plate is on the left, or the left tray goes on top. She’d repeat it to herself, over and over again, like someone with OCD stuck in a tick—Left tray goes on the top. Left tray goes on the top. It wouldn’t do to burn one half of the muesli. My plate is on the left. My plate is on the left. It wouldn’t do to give him her sandwich; he hated mayonnaise. 

These negotiations, these little balancing acts, like bargaining chips between her stomach and her mind, her feelings and her general day-to-day life. Everything she ever did came down to one of these negotiations. These haggling sessions. 

I’ll just take one more scoop of veggies. My plate is on the left.

But then I’ll have more veggies than he does.

I didn’t eat lunch, and he ate his sandwich and apples, like he does every day. My plate is on the left. 

But he might notice that my burrito is bigger than his.

Well, I’ll keep my veggies, but he can have the extra piece of bacon. I did make five, after all. My plate is on the left.


Better put a couple bell peppers in his. My plate is on the left.

That’s better.

My plate is on the left.

Always, these negotiations. Always weighing the potential outcomes, sussing out what might happen if she did this or that. If she chose what she wanted. If she put herself first. If, for once, she defied his unspoken demands.

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CUL-DE-SAC by Christopher Linforth

In the backyard, firecrackers fizz in our hands. We dare each other to throw first. We draw the firecrackers to our mouths, chomp on them like cigars. Watch the fuses burn. Blue smoke drifts up our noses, down our throats. We hold the smoke inside of us, blackening our lungs, exhaling when we feel sick. Then we hear the gruff voice of our neighbor and the bark of his dog. He threatens to call our parents, CPS, the police. As we withdraw the firecrackers from our mouths, they bang. Fine gray powder coats our still-intact fingers. We laugh and throw the charred remains over the fence. Our neighbor peers over the top rail; his eyes and shiny pate glint in the midday sun. We know he is on tiptoes, even standing on a brick. Where are your mom and dad? he asks. They are gone, but we do not let on. They left days ago. A trip, they said. To visit relatives. They didn’t fool us—our family is close with no one. Our parents always said that was our fault. But we care little for what our neighbors think about us. This is our neighborhood, our street, we decide what we do here. We light more firecrackers, wave them above our heads. Our neighbor steps back, disappears from view. We lob the firecrackers over the fence, hear them explode in midair. An animal whimpers, then a soft voice speaks. We lie in the grass, try to glimpse our neighbor through the gap at the bottom of the fence. In the dirt lies a mound of tan fur. The retriever lolls on its side, legs shaking unnaturally, its watery black eyes rolled back. Our neighbor hunches over his dog, drives the brick into its skull.

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GLORIA TIPENE by Kaye Gilhooley

Really? Is it? Gloria Tipene in layers of dirty designer dresses? Gloria Tipene with hay-thatch hair and farmer’s cheeks? Gloria Tipene who is watched and wondered about aloud, shuffles along the street stopping at each bin and lamppost and shop window that catches her magpie eye; carries her life in a performance of plastic bags, string-tied parcels, pull-behind and push-forward trolleys; whispering harshly and sometimes shouting her lines.

Is that Gloria Tipene, dazzled by the display of gold and rubies and pearls and diamonds, dreamily tracing the circles of engagement rings, wedding rings and earrings with her skinny dirt-encrusted fingernail. Lingering on miniature markers of life’s journey she gently taps, strokes the glass-bound dog and breathes. Startled by the sudden appearance of a shop assistant, drops her finger and flees, melts into the mass of other people not like her.

Gloria Tipene, despite the grime and clutter, despite the owl hood eyes that can’t look up but see everything, despite the words that come with every shuffled step but never address another person, never more on a stage or film set to be heard and adored. 

Yet, Gloria Tipene holds inside the poise of unicorns and the daring of dragons. Rainbow blood pumps through her veins and heart and brain. She re-holds conversations with directors and artists and politicians, re-signs fans’ programmes, hands, arms. In her hand-stitched heart knows that she is loved by thousands and by no one.  

Glimpsed sometimes on the next street, by the traffic lights, under the bridge, I never get close enough to check, to gaze closely on that clue-filled weather-worn face. 

Gloria Tipene always just far enough away to never really be sure and one day will disappear and tread the pavement boards no more.

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BODY OF BLOOD by Sarah E. Harris

The average adult carries seven percent of their weight in blood. Number of wonders and of sins. 

Blood is a sacrifice and so is a woman, which I suppose explains some things. Like: the scar at the top of my head, from the hospital machinery when I was born. Like: loving the taste of a copper penny, acid and hard and bright on the tongue. Like: the vertigo that comes even now, standing suddenly. How hard it is to hold this ground. 

When the pain started they said it was nothing, then they said to seek therapy, then they said it was a solid mass, a simple procedure. I imagined a ball of hair and teeth turning into a grinning mouth, a grim bezoar with a changeling smile, expanding through the bright fruit sizes in all the baby books. A pea, a blueberry, a lime. And all the time my blood baby grew strong, grew from fruit to fist, grew until they could not ignore her, and she was seen.

It will have to come out, they say. And everything else with it. All that sticky mess, they say, and laugh with bezoar faces. When they take it from me I will be hollow at the center, unmoored, all my strength withdrawn.

They recite their saving phrases; in and out, small incisions, a short recovery. But I know the truth that grows in me, which is that the stories are wrong, and the science too. Wheat made bread is no longer wheat, grapes made wine cannot return to grapes. This is my body and my blood. Its copper taste, its sticky richness. Take it. Leave a scar. 

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With no foreboding of the approaching cataclysm, an orange brown finch, pecking at fallen crumbs, is startled by a fat gray pigeon flying down; a nervous young man watches the barista behind the cart in the courtyard; the barista clears the moist used espresso grounds from the filter with two loud thwacks against the rubber bar as her phone chimes in a text message from that boy listed under her contacts as ‘tinydicpic’; the sun hits the four story glass building reflecting the five story concrete building opposite; a broad shouldered well-suited man holds the hand of his elderly father, slowly walking along the sidewalk; the air swirls ever slightly between the buildings, kicking up a napkin and a leaf; a bee flits between the flowers on the bush in the corner; a man, deep into middle age, his pot belly accentuated by his polo shirt tucked into his jeans, carries his mocha gingerly so as to not spill any; one lone nebulous cloud in the blue sky creeps toward the sun, but never quite covers it; a one-footed pigeon rests on the gravel landscape along the wall; the palo verde tree soaks up the spring sun; a teenager on the wooden bench pauses from his game app to trace with his eye the figure of a business woman rushing past, getting particularly stuck on the curve of her hips; a woman tells, with a tone of disapproval, her younger sister, “I understand, I understand”; the hazy daytime moon drifts towards the horizon; a woman stands in the sun outside her black sedan, searching through her pocketbook for any loose change to feed the meter.

A block away a man, naked, filthy, crawls out of the storm drain.

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This may come as a shock, but since my death I’ve spent copious hours (each hour a lifetime) relearning the laws of the living. I rediscovered what it means to mourn when you wept capriciously at the side of my casket. I’ve also reimagined gravity as the weight of my sorrows sifts through the sieve of time’s welcoming hands. But now, my boy, my final hour is upon me. The hourglass drains, and so I must transmit, as well as the dead are able, these lessons I’ve procured since the time we spoke last:

The dead’s days, too, are numbered. Upon entering death’s doors, all personal memories are stripped from the ghost-mind until only those of fleeting, trivial observations remain. When I was a girl in pigtails, I once watched from my bedroom window a mourning dove fly from its branch, only to hang in the air, flutter its wings, and return to its branch. After the dead have fully detached from their sorrows and hopes (I had so many for you), we are granted access to a lens through which we may temporarily view the lives of those we loved. 

I was there, at your wedding, and you were right to tell your wife I would have loved her.


When the last grain of the dead’s days approaches the tunnel toward the bottom chamber of the hourglass, we begin to fade completely. We are sent back briefly to embody one of our trivial memories from a torn perspective outside of our bodies. 

I’m flying from my branch, only to hang in the air and flutter my wings before returning to my branch. 

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AT NIGHT by Craig Rodgers

The clock reads 2:04.  The bedroom door is closed.  He stares. He closes his eyes.

He opens his eyes.  The clock reads 2:09.  The bedroom door is open.  He closes his eyes. He opens them.  He stands and reaches out and he closes the door.  He gets back into bed. The clock reads 2:11. He closes his eyes.  

He opens his eyes.  The clock reads 2:36.  The bedroom door is open.  He stands and pads his slow way through blue dark to a bathroom at hall’s end.  He urinates with eyes closed. He returns to the bedroom, one hand shutting the door behind him.  He closes his eyes.

He opens his eyes.  The clock reads 2:43.  The bedroom door is open.  He stares. Brow furrows. He leans and reaches and without getting up he pushes closed the door.  He stares another moment. He closes his eyes.

He opens his eyes.  The bedroom door is open.  He sits up in bed, throws legs over the side.  His feet touch cold floor. He stares. He pushes the door closed.  He waits. The clock reads 2:49. The clock reads 2:50. The bedroom door is closed.  He curls his form back into bed. He stares. The clock reads 2:53. His eyes fall closed.  

He opens his eyes.  The bedroom door is open.  The clock reads 2:59. He stares.  He stares. The clock reads 3:01. He pushes closed the door.  He stares. The clock reads 3:05. The clock reads 3:08. He stares.  The bedroom door is closed. He stares. The clock reads 3:15. He stares.  The clock reads 3:30. The bedroom door is closed. He stares. He stares.

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TO CUT A WIDE SWATH by Therese White

I smell ammonia. Old people. We visit Great Aunt Alma for no reason. It’s Sunday, reason enough. Her room: a single cell, a single window. The bed backs into a corner. Her white bedspread, a canvas. Little blocks, cut from her underwear, lay stacked: pastel patches. Her arthritic finger points to them. Her mouth opens; no words exit. Tan knee-highs choke her calves. Her strap slips off her shoulder. Her feet are firmly planted in sturdy, black loafers.

My grandparents are not surprised; they are blasé.

I stand mute, wondering what language Alma is forgetting: French or English. My plain face stares kindly, as I remember a recent verb conjugation in Madame Lessard’s class: couper...tu coupes...she cuts.

My grandmother wrests away Alma’s scissors. Arms outstretched, Alma breathes in quickly, cups my 14-year-old face, whispering, “Magnifique,” and I blink.

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This is what we burn. The dead. Our ghosts. And illness, like a brand, held long above the fire. Our misunderstandings do become our monsters we admire, for fear is nothing if not love of sorts, obsession. The village men below this home implore upon my grief and seek solution, save their wives, forgetting mine, your sister, and my dying son. You are not a killer, my unrested child, but these men do not know you as I did: a daughter and a weeping lung upon a bed that lies an empty tomb. What sins do we exhume for peace of strangers. Buried deep into the snow, your ruddy face is like you never died. This is the myth, so the liver they must take and wound you. Your brother takes into his mouth your heart, the viscid flakes, the frozen liquid in half-rot, abrasive on his tongue, and summons in his gut a nausea, an ancient violation. Old kings ate their fathers to sustain their lion hearts, but God does not abide by these pursuits. Not years before, these fathers burned such sins upon a witch-like pyre where now these desecrations are communion, Christ-like healers, tonic-waters. Your consumption kills. The men of the village sleep calm inside their homes that night and in two months when little Eddie dies, I bury, and they hold their wives in satisfaction of a prophecy foretold, an obsession that they laid to rest. But science will not know this for another many years. In five, you’re born again and offer up to man a devil we don’t know that you had written. Long buried in the heartless mire, your cold blood does sail a thousand tales. Our misunderstandings do become our monsters we admire.

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TROUT by Kaye Gilhooley

I took up fishing late in life. My husband says I fish too much. The smooth length of the rod in my hand is powerful. Did you know my Daiwa carbon 9ft rod is rated to 15 kg? 15kg! That’s the weight of a small child.

I fish in the fast stream that borders the south of our farm. It’s the closest boundary to the house. It flows under the bridge and soon feeds into the river, wide and deep.

I took up fishing when my daughter went missing. Trout. My brother called her that because when she was a baby ready for feeding her little mouth opened and closed like a fish searching for flies.

And she loved the water. That hot summer I took her down to the stream every afternoon and dangled her feet in the cool rushing water. She giggled so much. “Again! Again!”

Never again.

Sometimes I stay all day, pacing up and down the solid bank, dragging the heavy line through the rippling water, the hook set low near the sinker to trace the bed. I’ve seen the odd strong fish in here.

We searched for her all around the farm, split up.

“Over here!” shouted one of the village boys.

Tiny silver shoes, scuffed on the toes, and Cat-in-the-Hat socks.

Abandoned on the bank.

They all came. Police in waders. Divers. The new Filipino priest.

I drag the hook along the stream bed. There are no rocks down there. No bumps or hollows. A smooth surface they said. Nothing to snag on.

I haven’t got time for fly-fishing. All that wasted back and forward motion. I need weight in my hand. Power. To get to the bottom.

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