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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THE COUCH ATE MY MOTHER by Julia Breitkreutz

The couch unhinges its gray jaws and my mother’s unresisting body sinks into the wide gap between the soft cushions. When I first notice that the couch is eating my mother, the slight folding of her pelvis into the gray polyester fabric is so subtle of a shift that I would have easily glanced over if not for the noise—thick and wet—like leaving the YMCA as a kid. With a beach towel wrapped around my small frame, I remember how my orange Crocs quickly filled with a thin puddle of water that had dripped off my body. The sound of my skin and the chlorine water coming together in the confined space made me laugh as I walked with my mother—hand in hand—across the hot pavement towards our van. A squelching sound. 

*

The couch’s black, slimy tongue has revealed itself and is wrapping around my mother’s thin, unshaven calves. It releases this thick gray goo across her wasted body, like the glistening trails slugs leave behind on our driveway. I grab and pull my mother’s arm—we all do—but the action only seems to increase the rate at which the couch devours her. 

*

There are the pills—yellow and white and some pink—that Doctor Gordon tells us we must give her three times a day. Dr. Gordon has a thick belly upon which he folds his wide hands when we tell him that the pills aren’t working, that our mother is still being eaten. He is already scribbling a prescription for more pills as we speak.

 I wonder what color they will be this time. What shape.

*

I hold my mother’s head up and away from the floral-patterned pillow and notice the indentation her head has made in the fabric. I press the glass to her thin, chapping lips. As the orange juice drains from the glass, I find myself wondering exactly how long it takes for the colorful pills to exert their power after dissolving within a body. 

*

Soon all that is left of my mother’s body is her head and neck. We take turns spoon-feeding her vanilla yogurt mixed in with strawberries for breakfast and warmed-up beef stew for dinner. I fill up a red bowl with warm water and massage shampoo into her hair, cupping the water in my hand and rinsing away the suds as she sinks a little deeper, the end of her chin now hidden. 

There is a moment in which I think I notice a flicker in her eye. For an instant, I convince myself that she is actually looking at me as if she suddenly remembers that I am her daughter and she is my mother. Just as quickly as it is there, it disappears and the couch makes a slurping noise, taking a few centimeters more of her into that space which we cannot reach. 

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ROLLING by H. A. Eugene

The day came when he didn’t know what else he could possibly do, so he climbed up a great hill and lied down on top of it. And then he started rolling. 

He accelerated, faster and faster, and after a few exhilarating bangs and bumps, found himself, once again, at the bottom. But he didn’t stop there. He kept on rolling—through the woods and into town. Eventually he rolled into the city, underneath the highway that bisected its sprawling map, past the train tracks, and beyond the outlet stores that marked the suburb’s edge. 

Rolling, rolling, rolling. 

Until houses changed to warehouses, and warehouses changed to land with unshaven grass and ravenous trees that crawled over rocks and monopolized the dirt; until that dirt turned to rock, and that rock, a chalk-like substance that ended at a cliff whose edge dropped into a churning, interminable darkness.

The sea.

And with no regard for what lay ahead, he plunged right off that edge—and splashed directly into the foaming brine. But this didn’t stop his motion, no. Instead, he continued rolling—underwater. On the sea floor, over massive dead reefs, and beyond the Continental Shelf, then down into the Mariana Trench, where water flows beneath the water.  

And even in this lightless submarine plain of great pressure and gurning silence, he kept on rolling. 

Rolling, rolling, rolling. 

By this point, it was as if motion had become a type of stillness, and stillness, motion; a convolution of senses, all but ignored by his ceaselessly spinning purview.

Like those numerous wrecks—missing machines, long since abandoned and so time-worn, they appeared ancient.

And those ruins—so eroded, they appeared constructed by time and chance, and not by people.

And those bizarre entities—yes, there were creatures down there! But as organisms go, they were barely alive, in the sense that he understood ‘alive’ to be. And the exact shapes of their oblique bodies—to say nothing of how they lived at all, this far down—would never be known by him. Because—like the wrecks, the ruins, and every other mystery that whirled by—they appeared only as colorful slivers of light, beheld for barely a stroboscopic moment; far too quick to ever be properly defined, or explained. Because he was rolling. 

Rolling, rolling, rolling. 

And he kept on rolling, even when the waters became still, and the air rejoined the surface, where birds made feasts of dead things in the briny surf. 

Mind you, by this point, he, himself, was dead; though that hardly mattered. His lack of life did nothing to stop his rolling; though eventually, his body did fall apart, smallest bits, first. Fingernails, then fingers. Then hands. Then arms. And those biggest chunks of him dissolved into bone and mush; then sand, until that sand broke up into the smallest possible units of matter; mindless doo-dads that kept on and on and on; compelled by heat and cold, to a state of endless, un-feeling motion.

Rolling, rolling, rolling. 

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REST STOPS AND PARKING LOTS by Aaron Burch

Because I didn’t want to pay for a hotel. Because I could afford to pay for a hotel, but it seemed like a waste. Because, as much as I enjoy sleeping in and then being lazy and watching TV in bed, I wanted to get up and moving and on the road as soon as possible. Because I’d paid for and slept in a hotel the night before, and I’d do so again the night after, and I thought a night in my car would both save me a little money and make me appreciate the nights when I did get a hotel.

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AT THE POLICE STATION, WITH SKETCH ARTIST by Alana Mohamed

The most startling thing about him was the realization that he must have been beautiful when he was younger. I like to look into people’s faces and imagine them other ways: older, younger, dying, terrified, on the brink of extreme cruelty. This man did not look capable of cruelty, though it was dark out and difficult to tell. He seemed like a good man who had grown up and seen life turn in on itself and now he was in a hard way, with such a striking face and such deep lines.It was a foggy Tuesday and I was exhausted from a hike through four supermarkets to find limes. It was unusual of me to be out so late at night and to stare so brazenly at a man. I’m embarrassed about it now.He carried stress in his brow, I remember. It furrowed when I didn’t immediately comply. I couldn’t hear him at first. He was a frantic whisperer and I was at a loss to make him stop. He got close enough to reach for my bag, a vintage store relic I bought to be interesting, and I finally understood. I imagined his whole face smoothing out at the sight of hungry children or a pregnant wife, and I decided to give him everything. I shoved my bag in his hands along with: my wallet, $73 in cash, and two credit cards I never use; the keys to my apartment; a small can of pepper spray; three overnight pads I carried “just in case;” a water bottle with no water; half a package of Tums; the three limes I had finally claimed. “For gimlets,” I explained when he looked up.“Funny lady,” he whispered. He thought I was joking. I liked that.He didn’t like it when I took off my blouse. Instead, with alarm: “Look funny lady, I don’t want any trouble.” I told him I wasn’t trying to give him any trouble, just the clothes off my back. “That always spells trouble,” he said, shaking his head. It’s true, I carry some baggage from past relationships, but he didn’t have to assume it was like that.I said, “You’re being very rude and I didn’t take you for a rude guy.”His eyes widened—they had been narrowed the whole time and I’d assumed he had a natural Clint Eastwood squint, but when he looked at me, years melted off his face. I could see that underneath he was like a Disney Prince, handsome and prone to severe errors in judgment. “I don’t think you’re a rude guy,” I amended quickly.“I’m not a rude guy, I’m a stranger trying to rob you,” he reminded me gently. He stood there with my purse, I with my shirt off. “I just wanted to give you something. This is a very nice blouse.” It was white silk with puffed sleeves, my mother’s from her secretary days. I thought it would suit his color, or maybe he’d enjoy it brushing against his skin the way I had as a child.The creased brow deepened. “I don’t want you to give me anything, I need to take something from you,” he said. I couldn’t imagine caring about the difference between the two.“I thought what you needed was help,” I told him.“I think you need help.” He said, reaching out with his hands. I looked at his peeling fingers and thought, “Yes, I do.” I opened my arms wide, he hooked the purse strap on my outstretched hand.“No, no, I insist,” I tried to return the stinging rejection, but he was already backing away. I shrugged my top on intending to follow him. When I looked up he was gone and I was lost in the fog. I keep failing to recall his face, though I can’t stop thinking about it: old and wrinkled, young and wide-eyed at the same time. Instead, I can only see it buried in the puffed sleeve of my mother’s favorite blouse, a phantom that will not shake loose. Surely this is some kind of crime.

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SHOSTAKOVICH’S THIRD FUGUE by Derick Dupre

Dmitri finds himself on a deep south farmhouse tour. He’s not sure of how events have contrived to bring him there. The last thing he remembers is packing a bag, he was folding clothes and packing them, though he’d be at a loss to say where he was originally going or why. Outside the heat is murderous. While walking down a wide hall behind an oblivious but garrulous guide, Dmitri’s distracted by the virtuosity inherent in the hand that made a certain crown moulding, stops to admire it, fails to take his meds as he should every day at this time, and has an episode. He denounces Stalin, Jefferson Davis, and the mother of Jefferson Davis. He is incoherent and has to be restrained. In the ambulance he wets himself. Following a brief chat with a state psychiatrist, he receives a new prescription and is discharged. Once outside, he throws away the prescription, which the lady at the discharge desk pronounced per-skip-shin, and begins a slow walk to nowhere.

Dmitri is now at a Bob Seger show. Again with the uncertainty of being present at this kind of spectacle, but fuck it, it’s Seger, a musician of the people much like himself. After a few of the hits, he panics and flees the arena, perhaps due to the hostile nature of certain members of the Bullet Club, some of whom had arrived in a busted maroon Blazer with a vanity plate that read NITEMOVZ and were more than a little pushy. He’s picked up rambling in the parking lot and is admitted for the second time during his vacation. Being a generally nonviolent, humanity-loving kind of person, he’s released on a promise to stick with his regimen.

Following an interval of unknown measure, Dmitri awakes to the shock of cold water all around him. He’s chained himself to his rental bicycle and has ridden it into the river. As the bicycle’s frame is of an intermediate strength aluminum alloy, it doesn’t really sink the way a desperate type like Dmitri hopes it would sink. He flails among the seethe and gleam of passing ships that stalk through like bright white skyscrapers. He finds his way out, bicycle in tow, and collapses on the shoal.

He hasn’t been the same since his official denunciation, which sort of marked the beginning of this vacation, but he wants you to know that he’s here voluntarily, that he wasn’t dragged here by the authorities, he walked in here after drying off and losing the bicycle.

Here is a double-wide that the state calls an extension of the hospital. An annex of misery and Xanax.

After a few hours he’s familiar with his surroundings. He grabs a handful of riffled and soiled magazines from a small table and shuffles back to the bed, where he applies various fragrance samples to his wrists. He’s pissed because he doesn’t have his composition book nor his teddybear. “I’m righteously indignant and I deserve to be,” he says, rubbing a magazine on his arm.

Arms akimbo now, hands groping the flesh around his hips, muttering: “Doesn’t matter anymore, you made a horrible mistake. I made a mistake before I even knew what it was, okay? Rice-a-roni. That’s what was left of her leaving. I’m back. I have a son. All I know right now is, Al? I would certainly hope so. Get the fuck out of here. One two three really doesn’t work. Black rainbow phoenix.” He stops abruptly as his meandering jowls settle on a rice krispie treat. 

He pads over to the sink and picks up a can of deodorant and begins to spray his underarms, a crystal mist clouding around him, the scent meant to approximate a fine shore breeze, aerosol misting through his spunlace shirt and clouding around him so that he appears to be a figure removed from some faraway moor, the can whistling until it’s empty and the entire room smells like a chemist’s idea of sunset on the beach. He sits on the bed.

“Topamax is what had me in the bed when I couldn’t get out the bed. I don’t know how to prove I’m not crazy. I been taking the goddamn shit they been giving me. I wasn’t acting manic, I was proving a point with the animal police. I’m even off food stamps, I’m copping food stamps from Sergei. I should go to film school. I know how to operate that equipment, I did that shit in high school. I happen to be very talented at film production. In the past two and a half years I can count on one hand the days I haven’t been locked up, creatively speaking. I can blame that on Andrei and on my denunciation. He started playing with cocaine. Feels like I got the whole world against me. But the world’s against everybody. It’s up to me to make it better for myself.”

The doctor nods rhythmically and turns up his hearing aid. “You’ll have to speak up, Dmitri. I didn’t get any of that. Did you mention a history of cocaine abuse, or something about when you first realized that you were Jesus Christ?”

The deaf doctor in a multicolor striped lamé shirt, black slacks and shoes, and beechwood cane whose handle is a sterling silver clenched fist and whose ferrule holds a needle containing an exquisite cocktail, a B-52, a mixture of Haldol, Ativan, and Benadryl intended for the rowdier customers. Dr. Halberd has only used this once, on a customer who had a history of practicing martial arts.

Dmitri jumps to his feet and says, “You don’t know a thing about me, and although I’m willing to play along, it seems you did not read the advance literature about me, you who compulsively laugh when you don’t understand, which makes me think there’s something now a little delusional about this whole thing, like when my holiday place setting is next to a relative my family is ashamed of. The whole time I’m glad that my blood is different, is the iron-rich coagulate I know it to be.”

Meanwhile Dr. Halberd is still nodding like a drinking bird, worrying a spot on the heel of the silver fist, drifting, and begins to analyze his own problems. He wonders if he’s fucked up anybody’s life, if he’s the one somebody blames their moods on, their anhedonic routines, their mistrust of strangers, their pessimism regarding romance. I don’t think I’ve fucked anyone up like that, but it’d be a sort of perverse honor if I did, he reasons to himself. Maybe a customer or a few of the nurses. He thinks about it and taps his cane twice on the floor, says, “Good, all very good, we’re just going to keep you here and monitor your progress. There’s rice krispie treats on the table.”

Dmitri, defeated, sinks back onto the bed and watches Dr. Halberd’s image recede from the room in the small mirror above the sink. He decides that he can safely say this is the worst vacation ever. Hands laced behind his head, he looks out the window at a distant office tower and hears a voice in his head, it’s Bob Seger’s voice, whispering:

“If I ever get out of here, I’m going to Katmandu.”

This piece originally appeared in Neutrons/Protons in 2014.

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RESTORATION by Myna Chang

Nobody tells her how to remove her father’s blood, how to cleanse the pools and spatters of a life stolen.

The county sheriff doesn’t warn her about the stickiness, or how very much of it there is, puddled on the floor between the cash register and the chicken feed. He doesn’t tell her about the crust that will form if she puts off cleaning until the day after the funeral.

No one helps her call the professional crime scene cleaners in the city. Their phonebook advertisement mentions special equipment and emotional distance. They promise ‘restoration’ — but she is outside their service area.

Her friends can’t anticipate that the smell will be the thing that finally pushes her over. They don’t reassure her it’s okay to retch; her father surely understands, he never would have wanted this grisly, intimate task to fall to her.

She doesn’t yet realize that, for the rest of her life, she will choke at the drip of spilled coffee, or spasm breathless when she glimpses a puddle of rain.

Right now, she only wants someone to tell her how much bleach she will need.

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MY MOM TOLD ME TO EAT TINY SANDWICHES by Dough Mahoney

my mom took a picture of me walking to the car. she took a picture of me in the car. we drove towards eatonton, georgia.

i wanted to vape but couldn’t. or i could, but it would ruin the trip. i didn’t vape.

i read a few pages from black jacobins.

i asked how long the drive was going to take. five hours, my dad said. i thought he was joking. i asked if he was joking. he said he wasn’t joking. five hours isn’t too long, i said.

i drank coffee from a thermos. i finished the coffee. i ate a couple jolly ranchers. my dad asked for a jolly rancher. i haven’t had a jolly rancher in fifteen years, he said. fuck, he said. this is good.

my mom put the address into her phone, but my dad said he wanted to look at the directions on the car dash gps. but my mom wanted to take the scenic route. but the car dash gps would only take us the fastest route. but my dad really wanted to use the car dash gps, even though the phone gps hooks up to the car’s bluetooth, and can announce the directions over the speakers. i said we can take the scenic route and listen to mom’s phone, or take the short route and dad could use the car dash gps. he asked why the car dash gps couldn’t take us the scenic route and i said i didn’t know. we listened to my mom's phone. my mom’s phone told my dad to get off the highway and onto a two lane road. my dad asked why we were getting off the highway and i said because we just agreed to take the scenic route. he got off the highway.

i decided to relax and look out the window at the united states of america. the united states of america looked shitty. we passed a lot of crumbling houses and dollar generals and advanced auto parts. the small businesses looked decrepit and old and were mostly no longer in business. we passed a pyramid shaped building that was all roof. it was a roofed pyramid. upon further inspection, it was a roofing business. they had multiple flags supporting the reelection of the sitting president.

eventually my mom had to pee. we tried to pee inside a dairy queen but the dairy queen was drive thru only. we can just go through the drive-thru, my mom said. but we came here to pee, my dad said. did you want ice cream though? my mom said. my dad said he didn’t want ice cream. i saw a popeyes chicken across the street. i said we could go there maybe. my dad said people have been shooting each other to get their chicken sandwich. i said i had the sandwich a couple months ago and that it was really good. my dad asked me if i had to shoot anyone to get the sandwich and i said no. i just drove through the drive through and bought it, i said. i ate it in my car. he asked if i fixed my car’s air conditioning and i said i hadn’t. you ate a chicken sandwich alone in your hot car? he said. yeah, i said. why? he said. i said i was doing laundry and popeyes was close to the laundromat. cool.

we drove to a gas station/tiny sandwich restaurant. i put on my mask and went inside. i vaped in the bathroom. i hit the vape four times. didn’t want to leave the bathroom. did a big one and left the bathroom, feeling light headed. to my mom i said, does dad want popeyes or should i get some tiny sandwiches from the tiny sandwich place? my mom told me to eat tiny sandwiches. i walked from the gas station part of the store to the tiny sandwich part of the store. i ordered three tiny chicken sandwiches. my dad left the gas station part of the store and entered the tiny sandwich part of the store. what are you getting? i said. he said he didn’t know. the lady said she was ready to take his order. he looked at the menu. i envied how quickly he was able to decide. tiny hotdog, he said. and a tiny chicken sandwich. i ate the tiny sandwiches in the car. my dad ate his tiny sandwich. my mom asked for a bite. she took a bite and moved her head away from the tiny sandwich and she had a whole pickle slice in her mouth. you took my whole pickle, my dad said. it slipped out, my mom said. there was a lot of mayonnaise on the tiny chicken sandwiches, but i enjoyed them regardless.

i fell asleep for a couple hours. when i woke up my dad kept saying piggly wiggly or publix, piggly wiggly or publix. publix, my mom said. we drove past the cottage/country club neighborhood where we were staying and drove eight more miles and then we were at publix. inside publix my mom said get whatever you want. i walked to where the soda waters were and got two twelve packs of soda water. what is that? my dad said. life source, i thought. soda waters, i said. soda waters, my dad said. we bought more stuff. there were a lot of people inside the publix. felt like too many people. we’re going to get the corona virus, my dad said. i was at costco the other day and this guy got mad at an employee. he said, ‘how can you tell me to wear a mask when you can’t even wear yours right? your nose is hanging out of your mask.’ they had to kick him out. i said i didn’t understand why people couldn’t just wear their masks without getting upset. i said i saw a video the other day where a dad and his teenage son were in a grocery store and the dad was yelling about not wanting to wear a mask and trying to fight the employees and his son had to literally pick him up and carry him out of the store. i said, he yelled ‘i’ll fight you pussies’ and then yelled ‘i’ll fuck a retard’ while being carried out of the store by his teenage son. my dad thought that was funny. we shared a laugh. i shared a laugh with dad. my mom took a picture of me sharing a laugh with my dad. she showed me the laugh sharing picture. you couldn’t tell we were sharing a laugh because we had our masks on.

we all walked toward the restroom. my dad walked in the restroom after me. i was in a stall and he was at the urinal. i wanted to vape but didn’t want dad to see the vapor. i peed and looked at my phone, hoping my dad would finish pissing and leave the bathroom so i could vape in the stall. he finished peeing and walked toward the sink. i thought that he might think it was weird if i stayed in the bathroom stall after i had already obviously finished peeing, so i walked out of the stall. my dad dried his hands and left the bathroom. i washed my hands and then dried them and went back into the stall and vaped three times. left the bathroom. didn’t feel like i had vaped enough. felt ready to be at the house so i could vape more leisurely and frequently.

my mom said she was getting really hot. my sister was also with us but didn’t do or say anything interesting so i haven’t mentioned her yet, but she was there the whole time. so my mom was talking about getting a hot flash. she said she needed to sit down. i told her to go sit in the car and give me the list and we could get everything else. she was sweating heavily and said she was feeling dizzy but didn’t want to go sit in the air conditioned car and drink a gatorade for some reason so she just kept saying she was hot and dizzy until we left. she ate a burrito thing in the car and drank a gatorade and said she felt better.

we stopped by a water sports place because my dad wanted to look at the boat we were renting. him and my sister went inside and i stayed in the car with my mom. my dad texted my mom and said we had to come inside and sign waivers. my dad and sister were watching a video on a computer screen and my dad said we had to watch. so we were just standing there because there weren’t chairs. a cop repeated a slogan about the importance of life jackets. something like keep it on georgia. not sure if that’s what it was. should remember because he said it many times but i don’t. pass boats on the left. if a boat is heading straight at you swerve to the right. the water cop said something about what green, red, and whites buoys meant but i stopped paying attention. my dad asked a teenage employee questions and he answered exclusively by saying i think so, until my dad asked if big people like him can wakeboard and he said, i think so… yes. drove and arrived at the cottage airbnb neighborhood where we would be staying for the next three days. it was in a gated community. a lady at the gate asked for the address we are heading to and my dad said 128 [something] and the lady walked into a shed-looking building to type something into a computer, presumably. my mom said it’s actually 129 [something]. my dad hurried out of the car and walked into the shed, which i wasn’t sure if he was allowed to do, but he came back outside and everything was fine, it’s fine to go in the shed i guess.

we drove to the house. unpacked stuff. i vaped in the bathroom. felt good. my dad opened a beer. or a twisted tea. not sure. my mom made a joke about how much wine she brought. we talked about the cottage. we all agreed the cottage was good. walked upstairs to where i was staying. there were two queen beds in the room, facing each other. i sent a picture of the queens beds to my friend and he replied obscenely haunted energy, then said i feel like this is the last text i’m ever going to get from you. i didn’t text back. my mom said we should fill our thermos with sangria and walk to the lake. so we did that. my parents sat on adirondack chairs on a small man-made beach. there was pool behind us. why are we doing this? we should be at the pool, my mom said. we walked back to the house to put on suits. i lead the way, cutting through people’s yards and a golf course. my parents doubted that i knew where i was going but i assured them that i have an incredible sense of direction. i navigated us flawlessly back to the cottage, unsurprisingly. i looked at my phone and it was 7:30. it’s 7:30, i said. should we go to the pool? my mom said. it’s gonna be dark, i think, but i’m down for whatever, i said. everyone said they were down for whatever. my mom said maybe we should just relax at the house. we all said that sounded good because we were all down for whatever.

my mom poured wine. i poured wine. my dad drank a twisted tea or a beer. my sister put on her roller skates and skated around. we sat on the porch. my mom told me to tell my sister that she’s good at roller blading. you’re really at roller blading, i said. my mom took a picture of me telling my sister that she’s really good at roller blading. i went on youtube and typed ‘how to..’ ‘how to uncork a wine bottle without an opener’ popped up and ‘how to get your dog to pee in a toilet’ popped up because i had searched those things on youtube recently. i finished typing ‘how to wakeboard beginner’ and watched videos. the idea to standing up is to let the boat do the work. let the boat do the work, i need to remember this, i thought. i searched wakeboard crashes and beginner wakeboarding tricks. my dad told me i should focus on just getting up. i said i wanted to watch trick tutorials just in case i was a natural. we went inside and my dad gave me a self help book. 12 rules for life by jordan peterson. i asked him if he’s read it and he said no but he listened to most of the audiobook. he said he’s trying to read things above his thinking level. said he didn’t understand the book but thought i would like it. um, my mom drank more wine and a line of conversation happened between her and my dad and they ended up having a push-up contest and tying with five push ups each. we sat on the couches. i noticed my mom and dad stopped drinking alcohol so i also stopped drinking alcohol. i looked at my phone for a minute and then i looked up and my family seemed to have disappeared. my dad yelled dough mahoney, which is my name, and i walked up stairs and they were sitting in the upstairs living room. dad wanted us all to sit in here, my mom said. we sat in the upstairs living room for probably 30 seconds and then my mom said she was going to bed. i said it’s like an hour past y’all’s usual bedtime, and my dad said he’s been staying up until midnight recently searching craigslist for a pressure washer and then said he was going to bed. i borrowed some floss and said goodnight. i locked the door and vaped heavily and opened twitter. theo posted a video of jordan peterson on joe rogan’s podcast talking about how he went on an all meat diet and then drank apple cider vinegar and couldn’t sleep for 25 days. i searched jordan peterson on youtube and watched two minutes of a compilation video of jordan peterson explaining why he refuses to call people by their proper pronouns. no further investigation of jordan peterson was required. i read a book about the stock market. i stared at the empty bed directly across from me and decided not to think about it.

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MAMÁ’S MORNING by Moisés R. Delgado

Mamá kept her morning in the bathtub. But why a morning, I once asked, why not instead call her moons a night? Or a waxing? Or why not simply call them moons? Without a moon, mamá said, the night would be dark—my moons are anything but dark. But to be a morning, mamá said, wouldn’t you give anything to be a morning—to even be one panel of light? I wish I could have been more like mamá. I know she prayed the same. When she called me her cielo we both knew which sky she meant. On what would be her last time replacing the night’s moon with one from her morning, mamá said light still travels even after the star has passed. I wanted to say we only see light because we are distant. I wanted to say what of those who are close. Do they see light—does light ever linger? But I kept silent this once and, as if it had never been removed, I helped mamá lift one of her mornings into the night.   

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RETURN TO PLANET CLOWN by Nathan Hoil

Clowns vomit clown food. Clowns vomit anything dead that they find in the neighbor’s pool. I am looking so sharp I am made out of scissors. I do not remember a happier day. 

The lungs in my stomach are hungry for air but I go back in the house and try not to think about all the dead clowns in my yard. Not even my loved ones love me. 

“You’re too cute,” I say to a clown moments before they light me on fire. 

I always thought I would live to see my own ghost. The horizon is a drug test and the clown gods are dripping their noses all over life’s malfunctioning carnival ride. Two clowns are making out and I don’t like the noises I’m hearing. 

No clowns are clowns on purpose and the yard is lighting squirrels on fire. Crowds of burning squirrels are diving into the neighbor’s pool. I’m sure the world feels foolish for being so dumb.

 

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