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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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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NOSTALGIA by Timi Sanni

I fumble with my keys and find the odd, crooked one that opens my apartment. Relief instantly douses the fire of anxiety burning through me. At first turn, the door unlocks and opens and I almost fall flat on my face. For a split second, fuzziness fills my mind like a giant wad of cotton. The thought of burglars crosses my mind but is quickly replaced by the overriding smell of onions wafting from the kitchen.

Two people had been robbed in this same building last month and I never fail to lock the door behind me when I come back home from work. But in my euphoria as I hurry into the kitchen, I have left the door ajar.

Aremu is cutting a fish on the chopping board when I enter, wearing the same grey sweater and blue jeans he'd worn the last time he left. He hears my footstep and turns, with that signature smile on his face. I make to throw my hands around him and pull him in for a hug, but he shows me his hands covered in fish blood and kisses me on the cheek instead. Sleeping butterflies rise in my belly and begin to flutter their wings. He pulls away from the kiss and continues chopping.

I expect him to be his usual talkative self, droning on about things he’d seen or done all the time he was away Or even something completely random like the last time he’d come and was droning about fish heads. “Do you know that in the abroad, they do not eat fish heads? They throw them away. I once read it in a book a long time ago, a science-fiction book, what’s its name? err…Arena, but then again, this white man I had lunch with in restaurant in V.I last week brought it all back with his peculiar disgust for fish heads. What a waste! I mean, give it to a Yoruba man and watch him suck the bones clean. And by the way, you really should read…”

But he is quiet tonight. He reaches for a plate in the rack unsuccessfully, the strain visible on his face like a grotesque mask, so I help him. I hand him a plate that had broken over a year ago, exactly one month before mother’s death. An event my superstitious colleague, Biola would later claim to be an omen. The plate is covered in an intricate flower and thorn design. Red and purple and gold and green. My mother was an artist and had designed the plate herself. The last artwork she made before she went to bed one night and her soul deserted her body in the dark, still quiet under the watch of a waning crescent moon. I'd stolen it.

Aremu stirs the soup in the pot so perfectly as though he was a chef, as though the ladle belonged solely within his palm. The bottom of the pot is black from constant use and very much less scrubbing. I do not think much of it now, but later in the night I would reminisce about how two months ago I had thrown this same pot away when it started leaking.

Aremu’s silence is beginning to worry me so I announce that I’m going into the bedroom to change my clothes. I walk out of the kitchen with a jumble of thoughts on my mind. Shouldn’t he be happy to be back? Was he still mad at me over the little issue we had before he left? Or was it something from where he had gone to? Did one of his friends say something bad about me again? I make a mental note to ask him what’s wrong as soon as I finish changing into a casual dress. Better to address the elephant at the table than wait—a mistake I won't make a second time.

I have a quick shower and put on a pair of blue leggings and a black, low-cut top that had "Phenomenal Woman" written on its front. I wear the blouse because it’s Aremu’s favorite. I had worn it the day we first met.

The memories vanish like colors thrown into darkness, I walk back into the kitchen and find it empty. The smell of onions and aroma of boiling soup gone. The plates neatly stacked in the rack and the cooker devoid of a boiling pot of soup.

I run into the living room to see the door ajar, the space in the doorway bearing the scent of loss. My necklace dangles on my neck. I walk towards the door half-praying that the night breathes robbers into the apartment, hoping they walk in, demand my jewelries, hoping they get impatient and let loose a bullet into my body, because to live in a world where Aremu is a wind is to live within the image of death.

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THAT’S MY BOY by Jo Gatford

The cartoon cat hits the cartoon dog over the head with a wooden plank and an angry lump rises from the top of its head. The dog’s face turns red and steam escapes its ears like a whistling kettle. The cartoon cat is frightened. He presses the lump back down with his finger but it returns the moment he lets go. The dog is furious. The kettle blows. The dog chases the cat around and around and around. Frantic music plays. 

We teach our son the word ‘gentle’ by stroking the back of his hand over and over but he still bites our thighs with what we hope is affection. We joke about gauging his height by the teeth marks. We scour baby books for advice but the only two options are: ‘bite him back’ or ‘remove the child, sit him on the floor and ignore him’. It doesn’t say how long for. Biting him back seems the more logical choice but we try the floor trick and he is immediately enraged and tries to bite me again. You watch him do it and read out loud: repeat until the child associates biting with the withdrawal of attention. I have to leave the room before I lose something fundamentally tied to my sanity and our son falls asleep in his own snot, stuck to your chest. We google abandonment issues and separation anxiety and anger management in toddlers and the next day I clamp my teeth around his soft doughnut forearm just tight enough to imagine what it would feel like to press down until my incisors hit bone. His arm is so small my jaws could meet in the middle. His skin tastes like yogurt and sun cream. I blow a raspberry on it and he looks at me like I am the whole entire world. 

The cartoon coyote wants to eat the cartoon bird. The cartoon bird makes a funny noise and runs away. The cartoon coyote chases the cartoon bird. The cartoon bird is either fast and cunning or lucky and dumb. It doesn’t seem to matter. The cartoon coyote falls off a cliff runs into a rock wall painted like a tunnel is blown up by TNT is crushed by an anvil is run over by a train. The cartoon bird makes a funny noise. The coyote is so tired and so hungry and so desperate and there is no other food for miles and miles. He tries to kill himself but always comes back. Look at the silly birdie run.

He grows out of the biting but will always be angry as a person, I think. You roll your eyes and say I wonder where he gets that from, as if the way I slam doors has nothing to do with you. I am pregnant again and wake every morning before four because hormones I guess but also it’s the only time in three years I’ve had time to myself with no one touching me. I watch the cooking channel for two hours even though actual food makes me sick, even though, impossibly, I am always, always starving. My favorites are the things I will never make, like spatchcock chicken and homemade jerk sauce and fish tacos and triple baked cheesecake. Our son comes waddling through around six, all thick and fluffy with sleep. He leans on me, breathing against my belly, and his soaked nappy leaves twin Rorschach patches on our pajamas. He says toons and smacks me with an open fist until I change the channel and I never do learn how to make fennel gratin. 

The cartoon skunk is in love with the cartoon cat to the point of attempted rape. The skunk’s heart is a battering ram beating out of its chest. The cartoon cat is beautiful in her terror. She slithers out of his grip like an eel. The cartoon skunk is a hopeless romantic. Mon cheri. She cannot love him back because she is a cat. But he will not take no for an answer. That’s the joke, folks.

You say not everything has to be about feminism and do I realize how frustrating it is to be told that everything is your fault because of the simple fact you’re a man and how confusing it’s going to be for our son to grow up in a world where the patriarchy is the enemy and I don’t even know how to respond to that without laughing in your face so that’s what I do and it’s one of those arguments that we don’t talk about later but bank for hypothetical divorce purposes. I tell my sister I hope the new baby isn’t a girl because surely it’s easier to change things by raising good boys than having to explain to your daughters how things are and she says did our mother ever tell us how things were or did we just find out, and is that worse or better.

The cartoon cat steps on a rake. The cartoon cat is cut into pieces by a lawnmower. The cartoon cat is scalded with boiling water. The cartoon cat is rolled up inside a hammock like a scroll. The cartoon cat is beaten with a broom. The cartoon cat is pushed through the propeller of a plane. There is no blood. The premise resets. The toddler watches without glee or shock or fear. The baby just likes the colors. The frantic music. The screaming. They both cry when I turn off the television. I cry when it’s on, without sound, behind their soft heads. I remember every episode from when I was just as small but I never remember laughing and when I ask if you ever found any of this funny or terrifying you just say Jesus do you think maybe you’re reading too much into this I mean it never did us any harm did it

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KETCHUP by Rebecca Gransden

Ketchup went missing. I made some posters and taped them around the neighbourhood.



Black and white cat. 7 yrs old. White socks. White spot on head (see pic). Last seen yesterday (Sept 27th) in the Glenwood area.

Reward for information. Call us on ***** **** **** even if it’s bad news. Please return Ketchup if you have him, no questions asked. Ketchup is really missed.

Every telegraph pole, lamppost, or empty surface around the nearest blocks had a poster attached. If Ketchup didn’t return, I planned to extend the search area to streets farther away.

After a sleepless night I got out of bed to find Regina already up, eyes red. I hadn’t seen her eyes like that since her dad punched her brother at our reception. She looked at me, headphones on, guitars blistering, some track I couldn’t make out. I grabbed a handful of dry cereal and then my bike and rode, coming back every few hours to break her heart with no sign of Ketchup. She worked from home and wanted to be there in case he came back, but she greeted me each time with the same red eyes that said Ketchup hadn’t returned.

On the third day of Ketchup’s absence I had to go in to work. Sticky air met me as I left the bar, having spent my time cleaning. There had been no real rain for weeks, and the baked concrete of the day turned stale in the evenings. I collected my bike from the locked courtyard behind the bar and took off in the direction of home.

Hunger pangs irritated me, but despite the discomfort I swerved around a corner, deciding to take the long way back with the intention of checking that the posters with Ketchup’s details were still in place.

A telegraph pole resided at the end of the approaching avenue. The streetlight farther along had lit up earlier than the others and it created a strange light when mixed with the lemony dusk. I clutched at my bike’s brakes and they squeaked with dry dust. The dark wood of the telegraph pole really made the white poster attached to it stand out. I glanced at the poster, ready to ride away. Something wrong with the picture. I bumped the bike’s front wheel up onto the pavement and walked the bike closer to the pole.

There, where Ketchup’s picture should’ve been, another image had been placed—black and white, a printed reproduction of an old photograph, glued into position to cover Ketchup. A figure stood mid-picture, dressed as a cat, the costume sagging around the body, tail ragged and floppy, the head rounded and cushioned, large eyes, ears slightly flattened, a checkered bowtie around the neck. Hard to tell what colour the costume would have been, but something about the shade of grey made me guess at light brown. The figure in the cat suit stood on a suburban street, a street indistinguishable from any around the neighbourhood. Waving a raised paw, the cat person posed in front of a garden that appeared to be from another era, as did the small 1950s house.

I reached out my hand, slowly, pointing, and then placed my finger on the poster, tentatively running my fingertip along the outside edge of the image. Whoever had put the new photograph there had been careful when attaching it, the glue or paste firmly adhering its edges to the poster underneath and at the same time using just enough of the substance to not soak through or spill out onto the surrounding poster.

I ripped the poster down. It came off mostly intact and I put it in my backpack. Wondering if I should tell Regina about it or not, I shuffled my bike back onto the road and continued along the avenue.

Distracted by my thoughts I almost sailed past the next location of a poster, this time a lamppost. This lamppost hadn’t lit up yet, like the malfunctioning one I’d left behind. Before I got close to it I could tell that Ketchup’s picture had been tampered with again, the same image placed over it, a black and white shot of a figure in a cat costume, holding still for an unknown photographer.

I travelled the neighbourhood, ripping down every poster, Ketchup’s picture smothered by this new image. When I got home my backpack was bulging. I walked into the kitchen, part of me hoping Regina was out somewhere, as I knew I had to tell her, but didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to say. Regina looked up at me from her place at the kitchen table, partially torn posters scattered over the tabletop. What posters I’d failed to locate she’d apparently already dealt with.

Regina spent some hours the next day reprinting Ketchup’s poster. I called in sick and re-postered the neighbourhood. It didn’t even occur to me to be concerned that we hadn’t received a single call about Ketchup.

Exhausted, I closed the back door on the dark midnight behind me and staggered into the spare room we’d made into a den. Curling up on our small sofa, bile shifted my guts, steadily rising until I couldn’t stand it. I got up and went to get my bike.

Outside, night insects flitted between gardens. A hush came down driveways. I rode around the streets, protectively gazing over the posters I’d taped up in daylight hours, all as I’d left them.

My head pounded. I’d been awake too long. A sudden swell of uninvited emotion hit my chest as the light from a lamppost struck Ketchup’s picture from a peculiar angle, causing the image to halo in my vision. I shook my head, halted my bike in the middle of the street. No good being out here. Go home.

I took off, rounding a corner, aiming for the shortest route back.

About halfway down the street a figure stood next to a lamppost, arms up and reaching for a poster. I clutched at my brakes, screeching the bike’s tires, and stopped. The figure rotated its head in my direction, a head adorned with a cat’s face. Dressed in full costume, the figure clutched at a bundle of papers under its arm and turned to run.

For a moment I froze, but as the figure rushed towards a section of street in shadow, where it would be possible to slip out of sight, I felt myself press the bike peddles into action and before I realized what I was doing I was chasing it.

The person was fast, wearing trainers, not cat costume feet. It reached the darker stretch of road and upped its speed, rushing ahead under high black trees, branches overhanging from unkempt gardens.

I felt a bump, then something wedged beneath me awkwardly and sent my back wheel skidding out from under me. The ground hit me quick, my shoulder taking the worst of the fall.

I lifted my head to see the figure turn, the person having heard the accident. The cat costume was identical to the one pictured in the photograph, but sorrier, worn, the lightish brown colour I’d imagined, the same checkered bowtie skew-whiff around its neck. The figure raised a paw, mimicking the pose in the image, and scrambled to flee and was gone.


I recovered myself and hobbled back home, a bruised shoulder and sprained ankle the result of the night’s efforts.

The following evening I sat with Regina, both of us trying to watch TV but taking very little of the streaming film in. Around eleven pm, when tiredness had enabled us both to doze on the sofa, our heads roused at the sound of a car coming to a loud stop on the road outside. We paused as a few moments of quietness passed, then listened to indistinct noises echoing from out front. A car door slammed and almost immediately the car sped away.

Regina looked at me, then stood up, moving to the den’s window and peeking out from behind the closed curtain.

A harsh sound resonated from the kitchen behind us, a noise we’d heard so many times previously. The cat flap.

A dark blob rushed past the den door. It came back along the hallway, slower this time, a cat shape, weaving around, as though regaining its bearings. Ketchup walked into the den, a lopsided checkered bowtie attached to his neck.

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My dogs strain at the yoked leash I was so clever to buy. I dream of a free hand for my phone or a coffee cup, to wave at neighbors, flip off speeding teens. A stinky bush next to me suggests skunk. I scan for the varmint, but instead find a stain on the asphalt, not unlike the hundred other oil puddles in my driveway. I peer closer. It’s dark red.

I look over my shoulder for a neighbor I could call witness to this sticky offense. My dogs jerk me forward, but the yanking doesn’t distract me from what’s in my periphery: There’s a head perched on the cab of my pickup. It sits tilted left, tongue out, one oozy eye open, the other squeezed close in a gross, flirtatious wink. 


Last October, I was met with a month of specters of jazz musicians. They were off-key, off-beat. They stayed up all night, and so did I because of it. Buddy Rich on my porch. Jelly Roll Morton in my tub. Lady Day across from me at breakfast.

The year before, nothing but bugs: bugs in my bed, bugs in my shoes, bugs in my Rice Chex. But nothing has topped a decade ago when I woke every night with a series of prairie children in bonnets or suspenders squeezing my hand, cold fingers slipping from my clammy ones as they whispered, “Protect your family.”

I guess this year it’s severed heads.

Something about that one on my truck right now seems familiar. Is it the nose? I run down a list of celebrities, imagining each face distorted into a pus-filled mess on top of my truck. No matches. But, still—it’s downright familiar. 

Someone calls my name, and my attention turns from the nasty noggin to the origin of the voice. Shit. I’d recognize that cackle anywhere. It’s my landlady, Skinny Lynnie, her shrill nasal tone an accusation in itself. 

I keep walking. That’s how much I hate Skinny Lynnie; avoiding her is more urgent than investigating the dead head on my pickup.

The dogs huff. I break into a jog for two blocks. We enter the park, heading to our usual weather-worn bench by the scummy pond. My heart slows. I unclip the dogs’ leashes, and they race to the water.

Daisy swims out as far as she usually does and then does a few dolphin dives while Fat Sam paddles in circles closer to shore. Daisy the Deep-Diver is down there a good long while. Too long. I’m about to get up and go in after her when she breaks the surface. Her teeth clutch a large, sopping sphere. 

Both dogs paddle back to shore. Fat Sam paces the waterline, shaking off fish-stinking droplets into a shaft of sunlight, catching an inverted rainbow.

Daisy brings it to me, dropping the gift at my feet with a thunk

Though now waterlogged and blue, I’d recognize it anywhere: the same gruesome orb from on top of my truck. Pond water leaks from a puncture below the gift’s eye socket, and I lurch. Daisy barks at me, then at the head. 

Through the swelling, I take note of the nose and finally place the familiar face: Ross Fucking Perot, Presidential Candidate, 1992.

Fat Sam wanders over and slurps at the dead man’s swollen ear. Ross Perot’s eye snaps open. “Will you stop that?” His wrinkly stare darts to me. “Hey. You. Tell your dog to quit it.”

I call Daisy to my side. Ross Perot’s head sighs in relief, and mechanically starts reciting his script: “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to tell you about my plan for an electronic direct democracy, you see—”

I edge away slowly, whistling for the dogs to follow.

Hey there,” Ross Perot calls as I walk away. “Let me finish. Let me finish.”

Back at the apartment, I pull out my keys. The dogs whimper at the door. I hear my name and startle. It’s Skinny Lynnie, standing there in her matted bathrobe. She rants about a broken pipe and tenant responsibility. As she turns to leave, she jerks her thumb over her shoulder, and says, “There’s a man in there for you. Says he’s your brother.”

I open the door, and the dogs scurry inside. There on my couch sits Bill Clinton. But not svelte, global ambassador Bill Clinton. This is red-faced, puffy, 1992-Arkansas-Governor Bill Clinton. 

“If there’s a theme for the day,” I say, tossing my keys on the dining room table, “then you’re in the wrong place. You’re not dead yet.”

“But I am.” says a voice from under the table. 

A fully zombified George H.W. Bush crawls into view. Bill helps him to his feet and brushes dust off the shoulders of his decayed suit. 

Then, from behind me: “Ma’am, you didn’t let me finish.” Oh, that wet whine. I roll my eyes, turn, and see Ross Perot’s head held aloft by Skinny Lynnie, who’s wearing a pointy black hat and a witch’s sabbath smile. Smoke billows from her mouth. I breathe in the ghost of electoral politics past. 

Bill sidles over, doing his thumbs-up-for-emphasis thing, says in Lynnie’s voice, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”

Finally, someone making a play for my cicada shell soul. 

I’d pictured more build-up. I wanted to be offered butter or a pretty dress, to hedge, pigeon-toe, lash flutter. I wanted to trip through a leafless forest, the sky pinned up by thumbtack stars. A silver moon. The smell of rust on a rattling breeze. A hot belly full of rollercoaster fear.

But what do I get? Politicians.

Bill Clinton flashes a Good & Plenty smile. Daisy pisses on the rug. Skinny Lynnie’s bathrobe gapes. I guess this’ll do. 

“Yes, yes. A thousand times yes.” 

They hold me to it. George and Ross’s heads roll over to me. Bill rubs his belly, and it’s time. They take me, and I hold the heads in my arms. Bill and Lynnie sing to me. Chant to me. Like I’m the only one. 

Holding the heads is heavy work, but to sing and be sung to is more than enough. Tepid water spills onto the floor. Daisy growls. I call her name, but my mouth is full of words I don’t know—

To live deliciously is to take what isn’t yours.



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DING! by Will Finlayson

The kid must have defected. He’s still lying there in the dirt—red-faced and full-uniformed, one arm in the pig’s water trough, that red insignia hot on his sleeve—and what should they do with him? They point fishing spears and pitchforks and kitchen knives at him. Tie him up in the barn that’s what’s to do, Nema says. Kill him right here and now is what it is to do, says Jenko. It’s that we should turn him in to a judge, Harlem says. Isn’t that the wartime law? So they tell Harlem that he should take the kid to the city, but It’s a long way, Harlem says and they laugh at him and agree that they should just kill the kid themselves.

So they take the kid north of the fields and give him a shovel and tell him to dig. And the kid cries as he digs and digs and they all kind of sit around and watch for a while. And when they realize it’s going to take most of the day they settle in, start a fire and cook sausages. And the sausages are so good they go back to town and Lima slaughters that crippled lamb because she’s been waiting for a reason and they come back with a big pot and steaks and potatoes and boil a boil-everything soup and invite everyone. Gorchak brings bread from his bakery and Jardo has fresh cheese. They even give some to the kid before they make him go back to the hole to keep digging and digging.

Then DING! and the crowd of them look up from over their soup bowls toward the knee-deep hole. DING! DING! They walk over and look down where the kid is digging and look at that. Keep digging, they say. Dig around it, and the kid does. And as the kid scoops dirt away from the metal they can see that it’s a long black cylinder, a fossil, Bera says. No, no, and at the top end of the cylinder a hole, a chimney, Marki says. It can’t be. And as the dirt comes away it gets more and more obvious to the kid the shape of it, the weight of it in the ground, he knows it, the memory of the sound of it, that it’s a cannon, the kid says.

A cannon! oh wow, oh no, what do—how did and where? and who should and how could it? But the kid just keeps digging because this is something, he thinks, and by sunset he gets down to the rotted wood base and then he has the whole long barrel out and a few rusty cannonballs and by the light of lanterns and with every eye peering over his shoulders he steps out of the hole and wipes his forehead. I’ve never seen does it still could it actually? and they look to the kid and the kid hops back down and fiddles with the vent where the fuse would go and smiles a little smile and nods his head sure.

And so they do what the kid says to do, which is to go and bring washcloths and buckets for cleaning the cannonballs. If anyone can find a long pole they could use to clean the bore. Bring a long sample of yarn, a finger of wax, matches, rags and oil, all the gunpowder you’ve got thank you. And as the equipment comes in the kid points out the positions: you stand here and work the thumbstall be careful. You worm the barrel you work the wet sponge, the dry sponge. You’re the Powder Monkey, the Rammer, the Primer, and they fight over who gets what job. 

Listen, the kid says crouched down inside a ring of white eyes, the whole crowd of the town standing close around or far away with their hands over a child’s ears or squatting low to the ground or holding a bowl of second or third soup and spilling most of it on their fingers. This is the friction primer, and when I pull it, and everyone nods their heads like of course, sure, and they turn to look out into the dark forest where the metal ball will boom forward just like they imagine how they want it to and blast through a tree, or maybe two trees, and they think of the crater in the earth, the way they’ll step down into it, how deep and how wide. And Ready! the kid says who’s wrapping the pull-string so tight around his fist he could bleed.

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TASTINGS by Colin Lubner


So once upon a time this chick gets a job with her boyfriend at a liquor store and two months in he quits after some regular has a seizure and crashes forehead first into a refrigerated shelf of Sierra Nevada. 

In the incident’s aftermath she calls the drunk a drunk. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, deems the victim a sort of tragicomic invalid. And while they hadn’t contemplated separation prior to this fight, not once, this divide is by itself enough. He’s a romantic. She doesn’t know who she is.They are different people, he tells her. She agrees.

This is some year in the early aughts and craft beer is not yet a Thing.

She stays at the store. He moves to Nevada (unrelated). She unlearns and relearns terms like nose and head and funk. He texts her ten times a year or so. Mostly late at night. The next morning she always asks how he is but he rarely if ever responds.

When everything happens it does so all at once. Craft beer is massive and she has a nose for marketable notes. She is a manager. She is married to a man who taps kegs. 

It is some year in the late teens and she’s in her early thirties when she gets on a Greyhound and goes. 

It is winter. She loves the smell of winter. It is a smell she has lost the ability to describe.


So once upon a time this kid taps kegs at a brewery named Tastings while during the day he gets his degree in Advertising and Strategic Marketing. 

On the night his boss smashes a glass into the nose of some nondescript drunk their most popular drink is a 7.5% Baltic porter. Twice already it’s kicked. The beer’s name is Omega Wolf and on its label anthropomorphic wolves toast glasses across a card-strewn slab of ice-crusted moraine. For reasons the kid has yet to fully understand this is his favorite design.

His boss is a thirty-something woman of whom he has always been unreasonably afraid. That the glass she smashed is half-full of Dank Quixote (a New England IPA, 7.1%) fundamentally alters the irrationality of this fear. Who smashes a half-full glass? Who smashes a glass at all?

He mops up glittering chunks and the sweet-bitter smell of citrus and hops. He’s grateful that the glass only broke upon hitting the floor, that she was denied any implications of abnormality, of inhuman strength, of all-too-womanly instability. He breathes through his nose. He swallows saliva that tastes of chemicals and fermented grains. She tells him she’ll pay him double if he pulls a solo close. She presses a rag to the man’s hemorrhaging nose with dismaying grace.

Yes, he says. How could he not?

Everyone is already gone, but the dregs of their drinks remain. Shuffling along the bar, glugging flat half-glasses of IPAs and DIPAs and Belgians, he catalogs their tastes: lipstick, cigarettes. Forty flavors of bitterness. A chapstick sweetness he associates for some forgotten reason with loss. 

He does this in full view of the over-the-bar security camera. He does this with a certain determined despair.

He is stumbling by the time he stumbles, exhausted, into his dorm. By now his tongue’s become an evil leech latched to the roof of his mouth. He brushes his teeth until his wrist is sore.


So once upon a time this knight goes to Vegas before their hockey-playing Knights are a Thing. For a stretch of years he is variably unhappy. At last he decides to forsake whatever by leaving his home he’d meant to seek. He heads back east. 

Near Albuquerque he holes up in a motel and busses into town with the intent of finishing someone else’s half-finished pint. He is so, so fucking broke. He has never been this broke. He is a broken fucking man. 

In a brewery named Tastings he finds an abundance. He pays four dollars for a session on special. As he’s reaching for his third Bonus Beer his former girlfriend breaks his nose. He remembers, dimly, an unnamed man stumbling and shattering frosted glass. He gapes. 

In the car she listens to music he remembers her hating. Hip-hop, folk pop. Reanimated jazz. He wishes the radio were off. In their lack of silence all potentiality has been zapped. He looks out the window but the sky past the streetlights is a jaundiced black and he can see no stars.

She asks him where he wants her to go and he says he doesn’t know. 

By the time they find the motel she is on the phone with someone else. There is a ring on her finger. Earlier there was not. Light from a nearby lamp does not catch on its facets. It is a small, dull thing, easily forgotten. He exits the vehicle.

She finds him stuck outside the door, struggling to unlace his shoes. His nose has again begun to bleed. His throat tastes of copper and oats and other notes he can no longer afford. He has forgotten whether this woman was ever someone to him. He has forgotten if she is now untying or tying his shoes. He decides to say something. He is at a loss for what to say. He clears his throat.

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Loose teeth in the hot tub. Sun on bug splatter eruptions. Bodies pile in dreamy aftermath.

A bearded chubby man is in the summer house, performative human berserker, rewatching footage of a winter streaker. Somewhere inside the main house schoolgirls dance around a fish tank.

Hairy boom licker in a sunlit bedroom, sweating to his parents’ bootleg. Too shy to risk playing his untitled demo, because it’s flammable. Twin motor lips frozen wrongly. Heavy. Smasher. Forever.

Monster spinster reclines on a duck egg blue deckchair and sucks on a bombsicle. Sweetener for evil. The largest prescription sunglasses you’ve ever seen.  She’s the only one who vomited, and she led the cheering. Everyone loves her from a distance, she’s the queen.

Cults hang out at the end of the garden, burning plastic masks on a portable barbecue grill. Their pity party becomes a panic picnic. Water pistols filled with cough syrup spray green over string vests.

The runner is punished for his monohole, poked ribs with rolled up magazines, his face the cover star. He was famous until he felt. He sits on a broken rocking horse beside a fence, looking defeated in a Hawaiian shirt. A coughing fit sees a sticky tooth sprint from his grinning mouth.

A few try-hard students take the ultimate trip to sunburn and feel the drip jam. Gangs are carrying boxes. Bottomless helium damage. Extra bubbles cast shadows over the bare skin of a sleeping minx. The host moves across carpet like he’s got worms and writes acne angst in stardust. Algae on the taps. His milky heart bursts apart and all his yesterdays end up yours.

We spraypaint the road on our way out. The sun sets and a dark glow descends. The girls compare all the times their boyfriends have tried to smother them. Kim wins.

The late evening air stinks of petrol and smoke, like someone is burning the last flowers on the planet. It’s difficult not to sing when walking the road and waiting for a ride.

There’s always someone who claims they can remember before they were born. Imagine the pulse and the seed, unreleased.

Roadside under the moody gloom of darkening equinox skies.

Warm, eating melted Starburst in the beautiful night. Standing over a decaying python.

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NO TAKE BACKS by Nikki Volpicelli

The phone calls and it makes me anxious. I mean the phone rings, a person calls. It’s been so long, I forget what to do. 

“Britt, you there?” 

I hang up. Princess. Who else? She’s the only one who still remembers the landline to my dad’s house. Her dad’s house. Ours. Was. Past-tense. She calls back immediately, and this time I know better than to answer just because it rings. 

I haven’t talked to my sister in 10 years and I don’t plan on starting now. It’s not sibling rivalry, not just two girls fighting over a boy. Sure, back in high school, he was popular, but he used it to his advantage. He was a blonde-haired Wile E. Coyote, preying on innocent girls with late-night texts like your fun ;)︎. He had good breath because he was always chewing Winterfresh gum. That shouldn’t have been important, but most County boys’ mouths were either full of stringy tobacco or rotting teeth, or both. He had a smile that spread into dimples and up to his teal eyes. But he was Wile E. Coyote—an idiotic predator. That part she’ll never admit because she married him. I saw the picture she posted from outside the courthouse. Just the two of them and that piece of paper got 104 likes. Then they had the twins—Annabelle and Johanna—blonde, like him.

Today I barely recognize him in the photos she posts—the hard hat, belly, beard, lunch box. So much has changed, down to the stretched-out Fighting Irish tattoo on his left rib, but one thing hasn’t. I still fucking hate him. 




The gum was to cover up the smell of the whiskey he kept in the bed of his cherry-red beater truck. The truck had only one bumper sticker: Bush / Cheney ‘04. It was 2005, and he was the only guy in high school old enough to vote. I saw it that morning as he pulled out of the driveway, right after he kissed me on the cheek. I stood there alone, still dizzy, looking down at my phone. One text, 12:41 am, unread: You awake ;)︎?

My brain felt full of liquor and void of everything else. Questions caught in my throat, anger rose like heat. I let it all out right there in the gravel, bright orange bile mixed with snot. I didn’t even have the energy to cover it with dust. 

Sometimes I wonder if it was just a game and eventually, he got tired and picked some girl to marry. Then I remember, she’s not just some girl. My sister pursued him, despite or because of what I told her: It was a party, we were drinking a lot. I went upstairs to go to bed, alone, and I know I locked the door. 

I made her pinky swear not to tell our dad; he had single-father venom, he could kill. Then I told her everything—the farmhouse attic, its walls that bent to a peak, the wicker chair in the corner, the morning light slicing the sheets. That shitty tattoo, his chest, less tight than it looked with clothes on. It was something out of a prairie home horror film. 

Fifteen years have passed and I can still picture her sitting there, eyes wide, taking it all in. I thought she’d say let’s go get the guy, slash his tires, something sisterly.

Instead, she asked, “But if you locked the door, how’d he get in?”




When we were young, Princess would take my favorite toys and if I wouldn’t part with one, she’d call it stupid. Nobody wants that thing, anyway. She’d leave me in the living room with my doll and the dog, sunning his belly in front of the sliding glass doors. That’s where I’d play, petting his warm fur with American Girl Molly’s plastic hand, pretending I couldn’t hear her giggling in our bedroom. “We’re having so much fun in here!” she’d say through the shut door, but I knew she was sitting in there alone, seething. I guess I never really trusted her, either. 




The house is in dad’s name, so I don’t own it, but I’ve lived in it, peacefully, quietly, alone, for the last decade since he died and she left. Back when he got sick, Princess spent every night at Sportsters bar from happy hour to close while I sat with him for what seemed like all of 2010, Christmas to Christmas, changing his sheets and underwear, spraying Febreeze all over his death bedroom. I’d sleep on the couch so I could hear every cough and labored breath. 

It was quiet that night, until 4 a.m., when the sliding doors opened and shut. I heard her sneaking around, whispering. I knew she wasn’t alone, I could smell the gum. Night after night, the sting of peppermint would wake me like a bad dream until she finally bullied him into moving in together. I watched from the window as he lifted her boxes into the bed of his truck—that same truck, with dents all over. When they left, I locked the door and checked it five times. 




Ring, Ring, Ring. She’s not calling for me, she’s calling for the house. She’s wanted it for herself ever since they moved into that cramped apartment in town. Now she’s got the husband, the twins, the money—and what do I have, other than a dead man’s barely-verbal blessing? It’s my fault, I should’ve gotten rid of the landline. Dead people don’t need landlines. 

House hunting is what she called it on Facebook, after announcing his promotion. As soon as I saw it I knew there was only one house she was hunting for: mine. 

Well, I’m not going anywhere. Just to my bedroom, where it's quiet. I turn the doorknob right to left to right to left to right, the only way to know for sure. I’m safe in my teenage tomb with Abercrombie bags taped to the walls, my nightlight, and a handle of vodka under the bed. Tonight I’ll drink it gone, first to wash down 4 milligrams of Alprazolam, then to keep me company as I scroll through Instagram and wait for sleep. I see baby blankets with numbers on them. I see two white wine glasses and an orange sunset. I see all the happy couples I haven’t spoken to since high school. I see an ad for a true crime game: Discover the evidence, collect the clues, solve the crime. What a stupid game. In real life, you can lay it all out on the table and still, no one will believe you. I take one more pill and go to sleep. 

In my dream, we’re five, six years old, and Princess opens the door, tells me to come in and play. She says the game is hair trade—a real sister act. Ours is the same mousy-brown, but she wants mine anyway. She says the only way to do it is to tear right from the root, one giant tug, just like ripping off a bandage. Once I do this, there’s no going back. 

On top of my head are a bazillion strands of hair, each plugging some quiet open mouth on my scalp, begging me to say no. It’s my choice, but it never felt that way. I pull on my ponytail until my head is howling angry, until I can’t think, I can only see her in front of me, pulling hers—a skeptic’s eyes under those thick lashes, making sure I’m pulling as hard as she is. I see that bratty smile crawl up her cheeks and I pull until I can’t see anymore. 

There’s a knock at the door, somewhere between one room and the other, a world away, and then, a scream: her scream. She’s screaming; it’s working. I ignore it. I’m too busy playing the game, a game I’ve finally won.


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