NEW THING KISSES by Robin Zlotnick

They breathed each other in for ten years before they married, and then they were married for forty years, and the whole time, they needed to know every bit of each other, not just know but suck in and taste, so they had this thing, a sort of game: any time she noticed something new about him, a wrinkle on his forehead or a mole on his wrist, she would kiss it and vice versa, like when a pie-baking burn bubbled on her hand, he kissed each blistered bump, and when her chin grew a hair he kissed that too, and when she yanked the hair out with tweezers and blew it away, he kissed her chin once more because it was new again since the hair was gone. Together they kissed their new things for fifty years, and then it got so they knew every piece of each other, or else they started predicting the changes, or else they didn’t want to see them anymore. In any case, the new thing kisses mostly stopped, and then one night he decided he wanted to stay up later but she wanted to go to bed at the regular time, so he did and she did, and when she got up in the morning she kissed the top of his head because that was new, coming to bed at different times, and he asked What was that for? like he didn’t know, so she kissed him again because he’d never asked that before. Soon they never got into bed together and he kept changing, like one day he came to bed and his left foot was shorter than his right, not by a lot, but she noticed it and she kissed it because that was new, then the next night he had one less finger, a pinky was gone, and she kissed the shiny stub because that was new too, and then the next night his eyes when he opened them were green and fearful but they had always been brown and kind so she, trembling, kissed those too. Every night she kissed his new thing until he was unrecognizable to her and then she could do nothing but kiss him—she didn’t think she had a choice—so that’s what she did; she kissed him and kissed him and kissed him and then she died.

Continue Reading...


My sons were watching a movie in the living room and I was upstairs, rummaging through their bathroom. I’m not really sure why, I almost never go in there, but there I was, and I’d had some wine, and we hadn’t left the house for twelve days, for Christ’s sake, so what else was I supposed to do? I looked in the drawers, looked in the shower, looked in the trash can, looked in the mirror and I looked old. I stuck my finger out like a cane, pointed it at the mirror, furrowed my eyebrows, and whispered at my reflection, “You pick up this hallway right this instant.” It was odd at first, seeing what my boys see. I thought about leaving, turning off the light, and joining them in the living room. But it felt a little bit good, mi petite performánce, so I tried, “You think I like being the bad guy?” And that felt a little bit more natural, so I kept going; I kept scolding that mirror.“That’s it, no phone for a week.”“Cut the shit, young man.”“You get your ass back up those stairs, NOW.” I was getting braver, the boys were in the living room, I was sure they were, so I gave my voice a slightly longer leash, “This is the last time I’m going to tell you to put that mother fucking phone down,” and “Hit your brother again and I’ll give you something to cry about,” and, yelling now, I mean, really pushing it, “You’ll drive me to suicide, Eileen!” Just how my mother used to say it. And then I turned the light off and left. But before I did, I used my oldest son’s toothbrush, because I missed him dearly, even though he was there, just down the stairs, watching a movie in the living room.

Continue Reading...

WHITEBOARD by James Kramer

Jon scowled at the wall. Chaotic and pastel Post-it notes fluttered like some mad lepidopterist’s daydream. Glue gave way and they fell slowly enough that it made him angry, in a vague and indefinable sort of way. The wall had become an armadillo. Bristled and cold. 

Jon came down the stairs in a flurry. He found Lu in the kitchen. His chest inexplicably hurt. He drank water. Held onto the sink. His wrists grew pale and cod-like. Lu studied her phone. Her toes played with the edges of the kitchen table. They explored crumbs and spidery calyces on a finished plate.

“Whiteboard,” Jon said. “I need a whiteboard for work.”

“You work from home,” Lu replied. 

“For the wall at home. The home office wall. Home work. I need a whiteboard for the home office wall. For work. Serious business.” 

Lu teased at her phone. Jon nodded. He made a sound he felt was conclusive. A guttural squirt. He felt he’d achieved something. Though he wasn’t sure exactly what. 

He returned to his desk and tapped at an imaginary piano on his legs. He willed his hands to type. To do actual work. He started to fantasize about learning the actual piano. His phone vibrated. Lu sent him a Taobao page. It was a whiteboard. The whiteboard was large and pristine. Intelligent, bright-eyed Chinese children gazed at it in wonder. They were fascinated, intrigued. There was nothing on the whiteboard, but still, the children were wrapped in awe. It was both a powerful and highly stupid advertisement.  

Jon tried to angrily descend the stairs. He tried to make his feet sound important. He re-entered the kitchen. 

“Can we not?” He said. 

Lu looked up. Her fingers autonomously continued. They didn’t need her. They flowed like ballet pins. Her phone made desperate, clawing sounds. 

“I know it will be cheaper in China,” Jon said. “But it’s in China and we’re not. We are not in China. We are presently not where the whiteboard is.” 

He went back upstairs. His knees hurt. Trying to stomp angrily had been dumb. He sat stiff and immobile. His phone rumbled across the desk. Lu linked him to a global dispatch company. The company promised to deliver 10kg for £52, Guangzhou to Brighton. 

Jon steadied himself on the stair rail. He almost fell and blamed his socks. They had significant holes. They were mostly non-present. They failed to be socks. In the kitchen his heart beat faster, rapid and tense. “Should we not use the Chinese order for stuff you actually need? Food, clothing? General comfort? Stuff we can’t get in England. Authentic Chinese stuff. That dried bamboo, the black vegetable that I don’t understand?” 

Lu looked through him. 

“Of course, Everything is cheaper in China. And if we were back there, we wouldn’t even be having this argument. But we’re here.” Jon started to leave. He felt immediately his strange, little victory escaping. 

“I’m tired,” Lu whispered. She curled her crimson toes. “I don’t see why you wouldn’t want a better one for less money.” She made her whole body disappear. Became somewhere else. 

“It’s a waste,” Jon said, softening. 

“Fine. Sorry,” Lu snapped shut. She held a piece of skin from her nails. Translucent, the color of jellyfish. “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. Can we just message instead, please?”

Jon felt a strong impulse to continue fighting. By the time he registered this, he had already begun. “Does everything have to be about being here?” 

Lu left the table. She came towards Jon with a force that made his knees buckle. 

“I know we are!” Lu ran upstairs. Her feet slammed on every step. 

That’s how you angrily climb steps, Jon thought. 

In the home office, the open window littered Post-it notes to the floor. They stuck to his feet through his absent socks. 

“I don’t want this,” Lu messaged. 

“I know,” Jon replied. 

“No, you don’t.” 

“I’m not going to buy the whiteboard.” 

“I don’t care,” Lu replied. 

Jon watched Post-it notes escape via the window. He wondered if they said anything substantial. He sat there and realized that none of them did.

Continue Reading...

THE SIDE DOOR by Michael Farfel

Wendy wore black. He loved that most about her. She made her way over, careful, slow steps, like a deer, like he was extending bits of food. “Your arms are smaller than mine. I just need to loosen that nut. But I can't reach it,” Carl said over the exposed engine.“Smaller,” she repeated and made a show of flexing her arms. He laughed, “You're just more compact, is all. Come on, sweetheart. Give it a throw?”She pulled her hair into a ponytail. Maybe it was her hair he loved most. She bent over the engine and maneuvered the socket into place. She had to stand on her toes. He leaned back and watched. Maybe it was her ass he loved most. She worked cautiously at first. One hand resting on the carburetor for balance. She held the wrench awkwardly—difficult to find leverage in such a small space.“Fucking thing,” said Carl.  Wendy looked at him, sad-eyed. “It’s not a big deal. Can’t we just take it to the shop?”Carl shook his head and smiled, “Let me back in there. I’ll get the fucker off.”“Patience, Carl. Patience.”She adjusted the socket wrench so that she could get both hands to it. With one elbow framed against the air filter she was able to apply more torque.  “Careful,” Carl said. Her face turned red as she put more of her body weight into the push.“Careful,” Carl repeated, leaning over the far side of the engine.With one more deep breath the nut broke loose and Wendy’s hand punched through to the engine block. She jumped back and let out a feral yelp. “God dammit,” Carl said. “Are you okay?”She held the new wound to her lips and a line of blood crept down her chin. Her wide, watery eyes glared with unwavering intensity. “Let's go to the sink and have a look.” He handed her a clean rag and she pulled her hand away from her mouth. Carl’s heart skipped a beat when he saw how much it was bleeding. They made it to the sink and she placed it under the cool water.“What the fuck?” he said. She didn’t dare look. The blood ceased its flow abruptly and you could see bone, as clear as day and white as snow. “What the fuck?” Carl repeated. “Is it bad?” she asked through clenched teeth.“We just need to get you to a doctor. Jesus. Oh God.” They took his work truck and he punched it out of the driveway. He couldn’t look at her. Her complexion pallored as shadows of street signs danced across her face. Occasionally she'd touch her hand to her lips.“Turn on the radio or something,” she said. “I can’t bear to listen to the throbbing.”He fumbled with the radio dial. Country music blared.

My love was deep for this Mexican maiden, 

He moved to turn it down, but she shook her head. 

One night a wild young cowboy came in,

He dared a quick glance at her hand. The wound had grown to twice its size—more and more bone.“Don’t pick,” he cried out. “We’re almost there, just a few more miles.”

with wicked Felina, the girl that I loved.

 He let her out in front of the emergency room doors. By the time he joined her inside she was already sitting.There were four other people waiting: a mother and her son, a short-haired woman and a square-shaped man. Each—except the mother—had injuries similar to Wendy’s. The boy’s outstretched elbow showed a swath of bone the size of an egg. The short-haired woman held her face in her hands, looking forward toward nothing, and under her right eye was the same thing. Bright white. Smaller than the boy’s and in the shape of Illinois. The square-shaped man had a gash across his forehead. The flickering of the fluorescent bulb cast the injury in stuttered light.Carl sat down next to Wendy and touched her good hand, “What’s going on here?”“What do you mean?” she was annoyed with the question and didn’t hide it. “I’m waiting for them to come get me and put me back together, Carl. Because of you.”He blinked his eyes as a sudden headache built above his nose. “But, what about them?” he motioned his head toward the others.She scanned the room then looked at him and shook her head. “That's none of our business Carl. You need to stay focused.”Three of her knuckles were now totally revealed and the injury crept up the back of her hand. He sat with her for what felt like forever. Fifteen minutes. Occasionally the square-shaped man would hum and the short-haired woman would make a show of adjusting in her seat. Carl focused on his feet. Every time he looked up their wounds seemed to grow. His heart thumped in his ears.“I’m going to see what’s taking so long,” he said, mostly to himself as he stood.The nurse working the front desk didn’t acknowledge him immediately, eventually pointing to an intercom button. She was safely tucked behind a plastic window.He pressed, “What’s going on here?”“Excuse me?” she responded.“Wendy. She’s been over there for an eternity. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Her hand, it’s...” he looked back at Wendy and took a deep breath, “... falling apart. It’s a major issue. We need help.” His words knocked together. “Right now, please. Right fucking now.”“Sir, please watch your language. We’ll get to her soon enough.”He looked over his shoulder again. The mother and son both looked at him. The boy’s wound now nearly encompassed his whole arm.“When?” Carl whispered. “Please.”“Sir, I assure you help is on the way.”“She’ll die out here, you stupid bitch.”The mother covered her son’s ears and gasped. Carl felt the eyes of the room dig into him.The nurse smiled and nodded, “Okay sir, I’m gonna call security now.” “I’m so sorry,” said Carl, “I just…” he put his face in his hands. The nurse was already on the phone, still nodding. Before he could turn around security had arrived. Two men. A small man with a small mustache and a much larger man. The smaller man wore the clothes of an hourly security guard with an emblem on his chest reminiscent of Nazi-era aesthetic, meant to strike fear. The larger was an actual police officer. Barrel chested, gun at the ready, super-human smile.“Everything alright here?” asked the officer, never losing eye contact.“Yeah, is everything all right?” repeated the security guard, never making eye contact.Carl nodded. “Fine, fine. Just waiting in the waiting room with Wendy.”“Who’s Wendy?” asked the officer.The security guard opened his mouth, but the officer lifted his hand in protest, always smiling.“What does it matter who? She’s sick and they won’t help her.” He pointed at the nurse. “They lack urgency. There is no urgency here.”“How about we step outside for a minute, Mister… What did you say your name was?”“No,” Carl said. “Wendy needs me.”“Wendy’s fine,” the officer said and motioned for the security guard to move behind Carl. “We’re gonna take this conversation outside. Let the autumn air cool us.” The officer winked.“No,” Carl repeated.The officer's gaze faltered for a quick second, he seemed to be examining something just outside of Carl. “Only two ways, sir. There’s the front door and there’s the side door. Do you understand?” the officer said, eyes refocused. Carl looked back and forth from the guard to the officer.  Nothing was making sense.“You see, I'm the side door,” the officer continued. “I exist as an act of kindness. Pure kindness. Unburdened by evil. You understand?”Carl laughed nervously, “You have the wrong guy. I’m here for Wendy. Her skin is—it’s melting.”In one lightning-fast movement, Carl was on the ground. The officer had pulled Carl’s arm one way and swept his legs the other. Guiding him down in an almost tender embrace.The security guard yipped and clapped his hands together. “Great. Wow,” he yelled out.The officer leaned over Carl, his smile ever wider, and said “The side door, then.”  Carl looked back at Wendy as the officer pushed him down a long hallway. She seemed fine. She smiled a full smile and Carl remembered that that was why he loved her most. Her teeth. Strange that he would’ve forgotten that, he thought. He waved and immediately regretted it because when she waved back he could see that her hand was mostly bone now. He felt himself scream, but couldn’t hear anything.The officer and the guard accompanied Carl all the way to his car.“Now, I’m gonna let you sit out here. Wendy is a beautiful woman. I’d hate for her to be stranded. But just remember what I told you.” “Two ways?” asked Carl looking up from his driver’s seat.“There is only one way, Carl.” The officer finally stopped smiling.The guard did two fast punches in the air and yelled out, “One way, buddy,” and slammed Carl’s door.

Continue Reading...

GIRL ON FIRE by Neal Suit

The first of the silvery sequins that grew and dangled from your skin appeared on your left shoulder, forming the shape of a crescent moon. I examined the sparkling protrusions rising near your collar bone, squinting as they glistened under the lamp.You booked an appointment with the dermatologist. They gave you a cream and told you to come back in a week if it hadn’t cleared up. They took pictures to show their colleagues and friends and the internet. They fawned over how you shined.Sequins sprouted on your arms, legs, neck, back, and forehead. Walking made you shimmer. The sequins not only reflected light but generated it, emitting an ethereal radiance. Your light seeped under our doors and billowed from our chimney, its slivers spilled out from our windows. People gathered to see the majestic illumination, took pictures and videos, posted them online and claimed you were a gift from God, a genius, an aspiration.Sequins soon covered your entire body, each of your movements a cacophony of glittering fire wheels, a dancing forest of whirring diamonds. I wore sunglasses everywhere I went, even when I showered or sought refuge in the garage. In the pitch black of midnight, our house remained alight. I covered you in a thick, wool blanket. The glare was still like shards of glass piercing my optic nerves. The blanket burst into orange flame, sputtered into black, and disintegrated into gritty, dark powder. You caught our bed on fire, the heat from your reflection incinerating the wood frame and synthetic fibers of the sheets. I could not hold or touch you for fear of being singed, my skin burned to blisters.Throngs assembled outside our house, hoping for a glimpse of you. When you left the house, crowds followed. Restaurants seated you at their best table without a reservation, a waiter standing by with a fire extinguisher in case your reflection combusted the table, the walls, the wine, the other customers. You were invited to red carpets, after parties, and award shows. Newspaper and television reporters called you a national treasure, a celestial being, a glimmering example of what can be achieved, what all young girls should strive to be. Fashion designers tried to sculpt dresses and gowns and jeans and blouses to simulate your luster, the marvel of your shine. All of them fell short of your grandeur and knew it.You worried that the only reason anyone liked you was for your sequin skin. You worried that the sequins would dull or fall away. You had nightmares that someone grew diamonds for skin, another ruby flesh, overpowering your shine, outdazzling you. Your brilliance grew. Your bright glow created a veil of blindness, even for you. Everyone stood back, averting their eyes, seeing only the blur of light, unable to get close for fear of burning their skin and eyes, being reduced to ash. The most they could hope to see is the remnant of phosphorescence from where you had been, the scorch marks on the concrete where you had stood, the remains of a dying star. All the while they muttered to each other, “Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she perfect?”

Continue Reading...


The first time I ever heard about Matthew, Mom was filming us on her Nikon D5300 and trying to get us to play this stupid game for her YouTube channel. The previous day she had filmed our reaction to her telling us we were getting a new brother or sister. We had been in a good mood then, ready to whoop and jump in the air and cover our mouths with our hands and run out the room. The bit she was filming that day was meant to be sequential, but Dad, a moron, had put our clothes from yesterday in the washing basket instead of spraying them with Febreze and folding them on top of the vasselier like he was supposed to. I had to wear this stinky, crumpled Ralph Lauren football shirt and Elise had to wear this stinky, crumpled Ralph Lauren pin-striped dress. My parents were very faithful to Ralph Lauren because it was where they got the idea to adopt from overseas in the first place, out of an article about a child model for Ralph Lauren, who had been adopted from India. The article was still on our corkboard. The title of the article was ‘SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE!’ 

Mom shoved a scratch-map towards us with the hand that wasn’t holding the camera and asked us to guess where our little sibling might be from by scratching out different countries. It was laborious. Elise scratched out the UK, and I scratched out Australia, and Elise scratched out Sweden until Mom got irritated. Dad pointed out a country that was the shape of an Airheads candy. Because it was a scratch map, it didn’t have any names on it. 

I was editing with Adobe Premiere on Mom’s computer when she got back from the airport with Matthew. We were going to film the first time we met him, but it was easier if it wasn’t the real first time so we could plan it. Elise ran and opened the front door but something was wrong. My first thought was that he came from a people that was extremely tall, like the Dinka people of South Sudan, because he was taller than Mom. But it turned out that he was just old. It obviously wasn’t what Mom wanted, because toddlers got more clicks, but she had been teasing this for weeks and had a brand deal so in the end she just had to take whatever she could and move on.

‘Hi,’ said Matthew. 

I thought he must be half Black, half Chinese because he wasn’t Black or Chinese. Unless he was…Muslim? Elise and I shook hands with Matthew and then he helped me edit a video of his gender reveal on Adobe Premiere. I was holding a large balloon filled with blue powder which Elise stabbed with craft scissors. When it popped the powder sprinkled over us like a Pokemon stun-spore animation.

Mom was disappointed because she had to scrap a lot of video ideas, like teaching Matthew English. The thing is, Matthew was actually really good at videos. He was spontaneous and could do cool stunts, like fifty cartwheels without getting out of breath. He said it was because he was raised in a mountainous atmosphere so the air down here went in really smooth and easy. Mom said, ‘I’m not trying to be David Dobrik.’ 

Matthew taught me a lot of useful things, the first two of which were how to clean your nose out in the sink and how to make your hand into a boat shape so you could eat without using cutlery. He also showed Elise and me how to play tigers and goats. First, you had to make a grid of thirty-two isosceles triangles. We made a huge grid in the yard out of rope and twenty Ralph Lauren promotional T-shirts. We needed one more tiger. Mom came out into the yard. ‘Be a tiger! We need a tiger!’ Elise yelled at her. 

‘Or you could be a goat,’ I said.

‘What?’ said Mom. She looked angry.

In the end, Dad was a tiger. 

Matthew got a job at the computer repair store so he could save up for community college. He actually had a lot of qualifications already, but they weren’t valid in America. He bought a car and sometimes brought Elise and me along on trips to the Asian supermarket to buy Lao Gan Ma and Bombay mix. 

Timi haru kasta chau?’ the shopkeeper used to say to us.

Hami sanchai chum,’ we said back.

Dad used to be the one who was behind the camera, but after he started going on more weekend work trips, Mom made Matthew the camera man. He was also the donkey-man. One day we were hiking along the Bison trail and Matthew had to carry a colossal backpack with a million changes of clothes in it so Mom could take a lot of photos and eke them out over the next month on her Momstagram. 

Mom found a boulder she want to take some photos with and asked us to climb on top. I could do it easily but Elise looked like a crazy squirrel trying to get up there in Keds, swinging this dumb Barbie-colored baguette bag prop. Mom rolled her eyes. It was funny ‘til it wasn’t because she ended up slipping and crunching her ankle. Matthew had to scoop up Elise and run with her back down the trail with the obese pack still bumping up and down on his back. Mom scooped up the baguette bag before she followed.

We went to the ER and had to wait on this gross foamy line of chairs. Mom started sneaking the camera out and zooming in on Elise’s face and then zooming back out and then zooming in on her twisted ankle. After like an hour of waiting she said ‘Hell,’ and then grabbed Elise’s arm and tried to make her hop over to a ward and lie down in an empty bed for the clickbait. She was dragging Elise and Elise didn’t want to be dragged and was leaning the other way and they ended up crashing onto the floor. A lot of nurses came and stood in a disapproving circle around them like nuns. After that we stopped speaking to Mom and Mom stopped speaking to us. She posted a broken-heart emoji on Twitter and started taking Dad on expensive dates downtown. 

For Matthew’s eighteenth birthday, we pooled our pocket money together and bought him a Canon EOS M6 Mark II. He also had some presents for us. They were adoption papers with our names freshly printed across them, and two airline tickets. We were finally going to be able to leave Trump’s America behind, and pick fresh golden raspberries off wild bushes. We were going back to Matthew’s homeland.

‘Your parents have agreed,’ he said, ‘and they’ll come and visit on vacations.’ We nodded happily. Mom and Dad were away in Guatemala. They were trying to find a new orphan there, a young one, with some modelling potential.

At the airport he bought us chicken nuggets and Capri Suns. Elise propped her ankle up across two chairs and rested her head back in Matthew’s lap. I leaned onto his other side. I felt content and languid, like a dog. 

‘I love you, Matthew,’ I said. 

He put his arm around me. ‘My name isn’t Matthew,’ he said. 

Continue Reading...


For whatever reason, I didn't want to lie to myself and say it wasn't cheating. No matter how undecided I was about Glenn, whether I was using the evening as a test to see if I really loved him or not, the fact of the matter was that I had agreed to the blind date and had therefore opened myself to the possibility of cheating. Of that in itself, I was undoubtedly guilty, but guilt, oddly, wasn't the emotion that came over me—it was irritation. That feeling was blown away, though, the moment I shook my date's frosty, glistening hand. 

My date was a hulking figure shaped in three spherical lumps. He introduced himself as Derek, and I told him I was Tushara. We were at a hibachi grill. When he sat down, he took off his mistletoe-patterned scarf and bowler hat. I slid into the chair next to him, still a bit stunned. I had a suspicion that, underneath that beige turtleneck he was wearing, he had buttons going down his chest. His carrot nose was pierced, and I was surprised to find myself liking it. The rest of him was harder to swallow. 

My date was a snowman. Like, a real, actual snowman.

Still, Derek seemed well-mannered enough. He ordered a water with extra ice. I got saké, warm. A delicate Chinese fiddle played over the restaurant’s speakers, its melody broken by the clatter of plates and silverware. Waiters who passed couldn't help but slow their gait to look at him, to say much less of the dinner-goers at their tables. I didn't like all the attention he drew. It was embarrassing, and it made me want to leave. 

After taking a drink, Derek cleared his throat and turned toward me.

"To address the elephant in the room, there’s nothing magical about the hat. I’m just bald underneath."

I forced a laugh, bad as the joke was, then took a sip of my saké to keep from rolling my eyes. "Solid icebreaker," I said, not intending for it to come across as sarcastic as it did. The night was already so much weirder than I'd imagined it. I couldn't even cheat like a normal person. In my whole life I had never cheated on anyone, so whatever this date was turning into felt karmic.  

"Thanks," he said. He patted his forehead with a napkin. "Any questions about my, uh, corporal situation? I know it’s a bit of a shock."

"I'm not even sure what to ask," I said. It was hard to look him in his eyes. They were two beady coals, right there plumb on his otherwise guileless visage. It was unsettling. 

"It's fine. You don't need to force yourself. I know it takes some getting used to," said Derek. He filled the pause with another sip from his glass. 

I pulled my phone out of my purse and sent a flurry of question marks and angry emojis to Mary, the co-worker who had set us up. She had asked me the other day how things were going with Glenn, what our Christmas and New Year's plans were and so on. Mary tends to get her hopes up for me in a way I find annoying, so I'd lied and told her I'd broken it off with him. When she asked me why I had dumped him, I gave her part of the truth—that he had asked me to move in with him, and that I didn't want things to go any further than they already had. It wasn't exactly a lie since I had been leaning in that direction. I still hadn't given Glenn an answer. 

Anyways, I told her I didn’t do blind dates on principle, but she kept pushing after the story about Glenn. She said Derek was a friend from the north who had come down on business —an equivocation if I'd ever heard one. If I were to get up and leave him at the restaurant, I knew I would never hear the end of it from her. I didn’t have many friends left at work. I won’t pretend that wasn’t my fault. 

"So, how long have you been working with Mary at the preschool?" asked Derek. I kept my gaze focused on the lotus-themed wallpaper hoping to get through as much of the conversation—and the night—as possible without having to look at him. I was already being rude, so what did it matter?

"Pretty much since I graduated," I said. 


"Mhm-hmm. Going on about three years now."

"Working with kids is difficult," said Derek. "I'll bet you're really passionate about your work."

"No. I figured out I don't like kids." 

"Should a preschool teacher be saying that?"

I shrugged. "I hate kids and the kids hate me."

Derek was quiet for a moment. Then he snorted. "You're funny. Mary's a little snarky too. Makes sense you two would get along."

"I tolerate her." I looked down and noticed my legs bouncing, so I crossed them. "How do you know Mary?'

"You could say we grew up in the same neighborhood." 

"Did Mary... build you?" I asked. I felt my face grow hot at the stupidity of the question, of the situation. 

"No," Derek said with a laugh, "but I did spend a lot of time with her whenever school let out."  

"Interesting," I said, although I was completely uninterested. In fact, the answer left me even more confused and irritated. I picked up the menu and wondered if Derek would pay for me. Surely, he would. He seemed like the type, and I deserved a free meal out of the night, at the very least.

"I’ve never been to a place like this before, where they make the food right in front of you," said Derek, smiling. "I’m excited."

My eyes were glued to the menu. "I’m excited for you," I said. The conversation was headed for another stalling point when the chef appeared at our table and began to put on a show of flipping knives. Derek watched, an expression of wonderment on his face, but something about it seemed strained. I heard a rhythmic ticking noise, though what it was I couldn't place. The chef tossed a bottle of cooking oil in the air, caught it, and squirted its contents across the grill. He brought out a lighter, gave it a flick, and the oil burst into a plume of flame in front of us. 

Though his body was already pure white, Derek seemed to pale. He raised the two twigs that formed his eyebrows, his mouth slightly agape. "Wow," he said, and he began to fan himself. It gave me an idea about the ticking noise. I looked behind Derek’s chair and, sure enough, he was dripping water from his backside onto the floor. 

"Are you okay?" I asked. It came out quieter than I meant it to, as if he were a child who had wet himself and I was trying to be discrete so as not to humiliate him. 

Derek jolted upright in his chair. "I'm fine. I'm good. Something wrong?"

"Well, it's just that you're..."

"What? Something in my teeth?" he said. His grin was polite, but the corners of his mouth were tense. 

"You're dripping." I felt embarrassed saying it, for some reason. Derek's façade broke for a millisecond, and his lip twitched. 

"Really?" he asked, turning around to check. "I hadn't noticed."

"As long as you know," I said. Had I known what was about to happen, I wouldn't have let him off so easily, but what did I know of talking snowmen? I don't tell diabetics how to control their blood sugar, so why would I nag a snowman I had just met over his body temperature?

"Appetizers?" the chef asked, and Derek and I agreed to shrimp and rice, no eggs for my portion. As the chef went to work chopping onions and pushing around clumps of short grain, the heat of his culinary performance soared. He erected flamethrowers and volcanoes out of his ingredients, and then, when they were piping hot, launched them playfully toward our plates and mouths. A flung piece of shrimp lodged itself into Derek’s chin like a harpoon, the steam allowing it to burrow deeper after impact. 

The chef, seeming a bit unsure how to deal with the situation, looked at it and said, "Now it’s shrimp on ice!" Derek laughed in good humor, but he was grimacing. I wondered how much more he could take, why he was trying so hard to make a good impression. I had been sending him nothing but bad signals. 

Derek’s patience with the chef’s unintentional torture and my cold attitude reminded me of Glenn, in a way—how his selflessness always made things more uncomfortable than they needed to be. Mary had told me the other day that it had taken her husband a week to notice she'd dyed her hair a shade lighter. Not Glenn, though. If I was quiet for so much as a second, he’d ask me what was wrong. When I stayed over at his place on the weekends, I couldn’t even change into a new T-shirt without him feeling the need to tell me I looked pretty in it. Maybe he sensed I was getting cold feet about us. And regardless of the thought behind it, it’s kind of dumb to compliment someone for wearing pajamas, isn’t it? 

Glenn’s a nice man, and, at first, I thought his fussing over me was cute. I’d been in a string of casual relationships for a while, so when Glenn came along, I thought I was ready for something serious. But the more time we spent together, the more Glenn’s concern became smothering, his deference annoying. When I told him I had started weekly therapy, he grabbed me all suddenly and started whispering sweetly how proud he was of me, how good and courageous my decision was. I didn’t know if I had a boyfriend or a second therapist. 

Still, there’s something about Glenn I couldn’t get away from. He’s brave, I think, in ways that I’m not. The kind of bravery that lets you do karaoke sober. He’s generous, adventurous, open-minded. When we spent a weekend in New Orleans back in August, he gave a ten-dollar bill to every street performer we came across, even the suspicious drummer kid smoking a roach outside Jackson Park. Nights like those, Glenn could be the best person in the world.

It was easy to fantasize about our breakup and whatever came after when I was alone, but I always felt weak when I was with him, and I would start second-guessing everything. That's probably the thing I hate about myself the most—I'm never cynical enough when it matters. 

Poor Derek was trickling, but somehow he and I had made it through the preparation of the main course. The chef lit up another oil splatter to clean the grill, and Derek endured it wearing that same pained grin. Singe marks speckled his arms and sagging dimples. 

"Buddy loves to kick up the temperature, doesn’t he?" said Derek.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked. "Yeah.” Derek’s eyes widened, and he nodded vigorously. “Don’t worry about me. He’s turning the grill off and we’ve got our dinner here. Let’s go ahead and eat." 

Derek lifted a spoonful of fried rice to his mouth. In an instant, his snowball hand slid off his wrist and plopped down like a blob of yogurt, spoon and all. A middle-aged woman eating tempura in the booth across from us let out a sharp gasp. Everyone in the restaurant turned and froze. Our chef, who had been in the middle of wiping down the grill, looked over to the manager at the front of the restaurant for rescue. The manager only shook his head and ducked behind the lectern. I stared at Derek's mushy hand resting atop the mound of fried rice on his plate like an overzealous dollop of mayonnaise. 

"God, this is so embarrassing," muttered Derek. His idiot smile finally disappeared.   

I found myself scooping Derek's slushy hand off his plate and putting it into an empty cup. 

I locked eyes with the manager as he was peeking over the lectern. I mouthed, "Check, please." 


Lately, Glenn had been pushing for us to get to know each other’s families more. His family was small—he’d lost his parents when he was young, and both he and his sister had been raised by an older aunt. I think it would have been easier if it was a big family. I come from a big family, so I can trust in generational distance and my louder cousins to keep things superficial, but Glenn’s family is claustrophobic. I can't ask Glenn if I forget someone's name. There's only three of them. And as much as he wanted me to get along with them, I didn’t want to spend all my Sunday afternoons with his nosy aunt and hermit sister. 

I thought about how I might end things with Glenn. Glenn and I had never told anyone, nor did we speak about it much, but we had begun as a one-night thing, originally. For me, Glenn had sprung into existence from the corner of a bar. I figured, at first, that was where I would eventually return him. He was good in bed, so I replied whenever he texted me, and Glenn pushed our relationship along from there. He was the one who had asked us to become exclusive, he was the one who had changed our dates from coffee shops and bars to sit-down restaurants and weekend trips, and he was the one who had asked me to move in with him. Wouldn’t it be fitting then if I ended things by slipping out of his life as easily as he had slid into mine? To tell him that I had cheated on him with a gentlemanly, bohemian snowman because, like I had always tried to tell him, I wasn’t cut out for anything serious?

I feel like I’m misrepresenting Glenn, or maybe it's that I can only say how he acts when he’s around me. He teaches math at a Catholic high school. He’s an assistant coach on their football team. I’ve been to some of their games, and I’ve seen Glenn chew out his students in front of the crowd, in front of their parents and siblings and friends. God knows who else. The Glenn on the sideline who spits and yells is not the one I talk to every day, so it makes me worry if other parts of him I don’t like will surface given time. That's the point of dating, isn't it? To be around someone until you figure out why it'll never work between you? Sometimes it takes one evening and other times it takes a year of saying yes until you can't any longer.   


Derek had his head inside one of the freezer doors in the frozen section. We were in a Walmart, the one across the street from the hibachi place. Vapor leaked out around him along with the hum of the freezers. I was shivering with my arms folded across my chest. Shoppers prodded their carts around us in the aisle, and I wordlessly apologized to each. Mary still hadn't texted me back. 

"I’ll be fine, just give me a second," said Derek. I stood a measure back from him and the freezer, waiting. We had gotten his hand reattached, but I wanted to make sure he was out of danger before I took off. He had lied about his condition in the restaurant, after all.

"Does this happen a lot?" I asked.

"No, I’m usually pretty good about managing it. Doctor says it’s anxiety."

"I mean the melting."

"Yeah. It gets worse when I’m nervous. I’m a nervous melter," said Derek. I felt bad about it, but the remark made me snicker. Derek missed it though, his bulbous head resting between a stack of DiGiornos. It was a bit of a shame, too, since he had been trying so hard to get me to laugh at dinner. I doubted he would say anything half as funny in the remainder of our time.

"I haven’t been out in a while," said Derek. "I bet I look pathetic."

"You’re fine. I haven’t been out in a long time either."

Derek turned his head. "Oh yeah? What’s the story there?"

I thought about lying to him. Instead I said, "I’m not really sure what I want, if I’m being honest."

Derek took his head out of the freezer and rolled it around his shoulders like a ball in a socket joint, casual as a morning stretch. “Silver Bells” crooned softly over the store's speakers. It was December, after all. 

"That’s understandable," said Derek. "Everybody goes at their own pace. Take me: I’ve called off two weddings last-minute, but I’m trying to put myself out there again." 

"You had a fiancé? You’ve had two fiancés?" I tried to imagine Derek getting down on one knee. 

"And both times I got cold feet. I mean, I always have cold feet, but—"

"No, I got you," I said. Derek caught me smirking that time. He grinned and smoothed his soft-serve scalp. 

"It’s scary, you know? Normal relationship stuff is frightening on its own, but I’m a snowman. There’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with that. A bad weather report could kill me, so how could I ever be a life partner to someone?" 

"I can't quite understand that," I said, "but I can empathize. I used to think I was going to marry the guy I dated through high school and college, but he dumped me senior year. I loved him––he was my first love—so I feel like I never really learned how to date until I was older, and now it feels like all the good men are taken or maybe I still don't know how to look. I don't know. I sound whiny and simple when I say all of this out loud." 

"No, it's not simple or stupid or anything," Derek said. Our eyes met. 

"Listen, Tushara, I’m sorry about dinner. Mary probably twisted your arm into coming. I won’t be hurt if you want to cut out." Again, Derek put forth a weak smile. 

"Maybe that's for the best." I crossed my wrists behind me, and my fingers tethered themselves onto the handle of a freezer door I didn't know was there. Across from us, I spotted a tub of Very Berry ice cream. "Actually, I’m up to grabbing dessert if you want." 

Derek raised a twiggy eyebrow. "Really? You know a good bakery around here?"

"I was thinking ice cream. You down for ice cream?"

"Can’t. I have sensitive teeth," he said.

"You’re joking."

"Of course I’m joking," said Derek. "I’m a snowman. I’m always down for ice cream." 

When I had the tub in my hands and closed the freezer door, I saw Derek gleaming behind me. It didn't seem forced like it was at the restaurant, either.

"What?" I said.

"Nothing," he said. "I just think you're a good person, is all." 

I wasn't sure I agreed. I've never been one to like compliments, especially unexpected ones. I may have blushed a little. That's all I'll say. But then I remembered Glenn, and whatever had been warming inside me vanished.

We took the ice cream and a packet of plastic spoons to the car. Something about the way Derek brought his head low to ease himself into the passenger seat caught me. He had to adjust the seat to give himself more room, but even once settled you could hardly fit a hand between his head and the car ceiling, and his left arm smothered the entire middle console. He swallowed up space no matter where he was—like Glenn, you couldn't ignore him if you wanted to—but being boxed inside the car with Derek magnified his presence, made me notice just how immense he was. I, on the other hand, had always felt a bit sad at how little I filled the space around me. I'd have to lean my whole body over to rest my arm on the console as nonchalantly as Derek. The distance between me and him was all on my end. 

"Can you move your hand?" I asked. Derek complied, and I slammed the tub of ice cream down on the console. We opened it, digging our spoons in. Derek’s lips turned pink and purple. The color of the ice cream diffused around his chin like a drop of paint in clear water. I put my spoon down and reached across to touch the coloring. Derek's face had the same texture as packed snow. 

"There’s something I have to tell you," I said, and Derek cocked his head. "I’m with someone right now, and I’m thinking about leaving him. He wants me to move in, and I like him —I really do—but I'm scared. I keep making up all these excuses and explanations, but I don't know what I'm afraid of." 

I looked down and saw that my hands were shaking. I brought them into my lap to keep it hidden. Derek leaned back and mulled over my confession with a bite of strawberry ice cream. The car was off, and the radio was off, so I heard nothing but the crunching of Derek’s enigmatic maw, a sound that reminded me of boots on fresh snow. 

"You should leave him," said Derek.

"I’m surprised that’s your answer."

"Really? Did I seem like an optimist?" 

"You were just talking about putting yourself out there."

Derek laughed. "I guess I was. But I think, in most cases, if you have doubts about something important, you should play it safe. You and I are paranoid people. I have my reasons, and I'm sure you have yours."

"Maybe, but look at us," I said. "This has obviously not worked for either of us." Derek crossed his arms and leaned into the window, away from me, but I continued. "I think we should try something bold for once."

Derek knit his stick eyebrows together and sighed. "I don’t know about you, but I’ve already faced mortal danger tonight, and I’m getting a little tired."

"It’s okay," I said, "because I’ll be the one taking all the risk this time." I leaned over, closed my eyes, and pressed my lips against Derek's. It took him a moment to register what was happening, but eventually he got around to kissing me back. I expected at least a shiver, but instead I only felt numb sloshing my tongue around the insides of his frozen mouth. It wasn't satisfying but it wasn't horrible either. More than anything, I was saddened at how little Glenn came to mind. There was no sinful thrill or overwhelming guilt. No invasive, on-the-fly comparisons. This was a man who loved me, and I could hardly think of him in the act of cheating on him except for noticing how little I noticed him. .I climbed on top of Derek, and he pulled off my cardigan. My inner thighs felt like fire, his lap was so cold. 

My mother used to tell me that my grandparents had lived almost their entire lives without ever having seen the snow. It was only when they came to America in their twilight years that they had first felt its gentle sting upon their cheeks and upturned palms, but the new experience had shaken them deeply. Nothing reminds you of the fact that you are a warm-bodied, living being more than the shock of cold. I knew that Derek and I would never speak again after that night, and I knew Glenn and I weren’t going to make it either. 

What happened next—it didn't matter anymore whether I was making a mistake or not. All that mattered was that I knew what I wanted in that moment, so I held tight to it. Mary would chew my ear off once I told her everything, and that was fine. I still had time to figure my life out. This was a winter story, but the seeds of spring were still packed tightly beneath the frost.

Continue Reading...

DELICIOUS by James Cato

Like most Saturday mornings, I’m alone cleaning the streets. The morning sun hurries through the cloudless sky, already buttering me with sweat, though Las Vegas sleeps. I slog around with trash pincers and make peace with the place through solitude.

Before, I worked afternoons and wore my baseball cap with the army patch. People asked questions. Where was I deployed? What’s it like being a woman in war? Did I ever shoot someone? War stories drew people in. They tried to stare through the ugly by looking at me.

I’m picking up after a parade; I can tell by the debris. Streamers stick to the sidewalk like snakeskin. Buzzards hunch atop asphalt burgers and chicken bones, sharing sticky leftovers with lizards and scorpions. I call it desert-dessert. Delicious. They help me clean.

When I wore my hat, some people would blame me, yell at me. Others would thank me. Nobody knew any better. I came from a small town, the only way out spelled A-R-M-Y. At eighteen I copied the boys and picked up my M16 with dreams of returning to a big city. I guess it worked—Vegas, baby.

I pause, my sack heavy with trampled food, fancy pants, a sparkly shoe, ragdoll condoms, a brunette wig, and Everclear in a grenade bottle. A creepy plastic bag crinkles in the center of the road, juddering in the heat mirages, weighed down by a shrouded cylinder. I drift toward it like a hooked fish.

I was asked if I got flashbacks. People heard of IEDs disguised as garbage, but they hadn’t heard of daisy-rigging. That’s when one decoy IED, planted somewhere obvious, is linked to another, hidden. You never have a clue. To those asking, I just said: It gets easier. 

My jeans swish against the steel under them, long jeans because my legs don’t get hot anymore. A vulture beats her wings to defend her breakfast. I promise her I’m not interested. A scorpion scuttles by, tail up. I give my pincers a few clicks in solidarity. A spiky lizard pauses in my shadow. He can only go a few minutes exposed without cooking alive, so I rest, offering my shade. I eye the heat weeping from that ominous bag.

Some people were curious; some were killing the cat. The latter quizzed me on my childhood. Where I grew up, we'd placed dime bets on lizard-scorpion fights in jelly jars. “So you’re a tomboy,” the people replied.  No. I always chose the lizard, and I always lost. The scorpion was daisy-rigged too; it distracted the reptile with mean claws then stuck them with the flagpole stinger. One girl chided, “If you hadn’t trapped them together, lizards and scorpions would never fight.” I agreed with her.

Nowadays I rarely see anything but downed drunks and desert-dessert out here. Even when I do, my head is naked to burn, no more army hat. Still, there’s that familiar horror. It’s everywhere in Vegas—bodily fluids, confetti, meat, clothes, sun, photos, torn food, glasses, vomit, tamped dunes, smoke, torn packaging, friends, sere vegetation, shattered porcelain. Remains of a night gone wrong. The striking indifference of the desert.

A few men with chapped lips liked my figure, and I stared at their legs. They looked at my shirt sticking to my chest or at my hair curling in the heat and made sly intimations, but I just stared at their legs. Stared as if there were nothing else, no man, just calves sliced like porpoises through a propeller, toes pointed like fairy shoes, two dogs with eager snouts. They gave up eventually. Probably after telling me they had the world’s longest tongue.

This bag on the center line has a prim little knot to cloak its contents. I reach down and work it free, hand shaking. Inside, glowing in the sun, is a full angel cake in plastic armor. I smile at it for a full minute before I bring it to the curb. Yes, an untouched angel cake, forgotten, a gift from fate with no strings attached. I join in desert-dessert with the vultures—delicious. Like remains of a night gone right.

Continue Reading...


Ten months before she wants things to end, she buys two figures sculpted in soapstone, one male and one female. She positions them on the bedroom windowsill, where they will be the first thing seen each morning, the last thing seen each night. Every day she moves the figures a fraction apart. Every day she turns the male slightly into shadow, every day she moves the female closer to the light.

Eight months before she wants things to end, she redecorates, weaving bad memories throughout the apartment like mold. She scents the inside of their pillows with crumpled pine leaves to remind him of the skiing holiday where she flirted endlessly with the waiter. She covers the coffee table in the lounge room with black and white art magazines, like the ones in the waiting room at couple’s counselling. She displays erotic prints on the lounge room walls: a ballerina who looks just like her, wrapped around a dancer who looks just like his best friend. 

Six months before she wants things to end, she conceals a thin wire through the lining of the sofa, from her side onto his. Every time he says something romantic, she pulls the wire a little at her end so it scratches the back of his neck, thin and pointed like a needle. ‘I missed you today,’ scratch, ‘I like your hair like that,’ scratch, ‘I love you,’ scratch. 

Four months before she wants things to end, she talks to him after he falls asleep. She slips the curtain back and lets the moon inside, licking the walls like patterns on a zoetrope. She watches his eyelids dance as he grows restless, smiles as his peace of mind strains. She leans closer, feeds his subconscious with hatred. She whispers names of her past lovers, intertwines them with the names of poisonous plants and sexual positions. She tells him what she liked, what she doesn’t like with him. 

Two months before she wants things to end, she chooses a symbol to mark the culmination point. She decides on a cross. She bombards him with this image at the conclusion of everything. When they finish eating, she places her knife and fork in a cross on her plate. When the T.V. show ends, she crosses her legs. When the day is over, she marks a thick black cross on the kitchen calendar. When they finish having sex, she strokes a cross against his back with her fingertips. 

One month before she wants things to end, she begins to highlight words in newspapers, magazine articles, cereal boxes, instruction booklets. Words like ‘terminate’, ‘dispose’, ‘detach’.

On the day she wants things to end, she knocks the soapstone man to the floor, leaves it lying face down under the bed. She whispers belladonna and the name of her first lover over and over as he sleeps. She circles every spiteful, affecting negative that she can find—‘separate’ on the laundry powder, ‘divide’ on the cake mixture, ‘dissolve’ on the salt. She leaves him a note, ‘See you tonight’ followed by ten thick black kisses. Cross, cross, cross, cross, cross, cross, cross, cross, cross, cross.

When she returns from work, the house is still. She smiles at the inertia as she moves from room to room. His marks are already fading, no footprints on the sofa, no ring stains on the coffee table. His clothes have been cleared from the wardrobe; his accessories have been taken from the drawers. As she wanders through the kitchen, she ignores the water filter blinking ‘empty’, pretends she doesn’t notice the microwave label urging ‘Do not dissemble parts’. In the bedroom, evening turns the cream walls sepia, on the windowsill the soapstone woman absorbs the last light and warmth from the fading sun.

Continue Reading...

THE ROT OF THAT by Darina Sikmashvili

City women bucked when you tried to do a nice thing. To carry this or that, to open a door. To offer guidance in a terrain they weren't used to. Danny remembered telling one young woman with a gristly attitude that she shouldn't get too flustered about the noises at night. Houses out here make noise; nature is a talker. She was there to buy firewood. He was trying to do her a favor. But the girl just raked her tongue ring across her teeth and looked the other way. Danny wanted to reach into that mouth with his fingers and yank the ring right out. But he took her money, tossed the wood into the trunk of her car, and watched her get the fuck off his property. 

This woman wasnt like that. The feat to mask a certain softness immediately endeared her to him. She reminded him a little of his Josephine is why. He liked the way she studied her surroundings, his property. The way she offered, in earnest, to help wheel the wheelbarrow across the rain-silken earth. Hesitant, she asked: was the wood dry? He assured her, he wanted to. Dry as bone. It'll catch quick. Come see for yourself. Come closer. Close. 

But she would not. 

Josephine liked it, he thought, even under all her lecturing. Liked how ridiculous Danny found it when she'd go calling up specialists for the houses little things. How by the time some jackass quoted her a price like he was going to drive her around in a limousine while the pipes got replaced, Danny would return with the parts to do the work himself. 

This was early, when he was courting. Trying to teach this city mouse in an ugly, old, inherited house how to lean back and relax. What needed mending? She need only show him.  

Daniel,” she'd whisper. 

Danny,” he'd correct. 

He rose with the sun. His hands, eager and aching to meddle, to fix. But fixings not what partners are for. She called him that. Partner. Like they were fixing to rob a bank. 

Always a musky fear when Josephine climbed on top. She rode him and looked up, or worse, inward. He burned holes into her eyelids trying to will her out of a private celebration and back into bed with him. He felt not like her husband then but some thrill dispensary. A utility. Hed let her work herself until he swelled with wrath. Then he'd fake boredom, pluck her off, and turn her on her stomach. Hed grind to find her tool parts, isolate them, but it would come to naught. Softened by adulation, always.  

Josephine left him in the winter, in the middle of the night. The inherited house was his if he wanted it. He chopped what he could into wood to sell. He chopped the trees. He torched every last living thing on that plot of land but mother nature sneered. Spring came. Shrub returned lush and grass soothed scalded earth. 

But what of the rot of loneliness? What of that? 

Continue Reading...