SMACK by Chella Courington

Meet me @ Aquarium, he texted. By jellyfish, 7. She would perhaps, most likely, but not before researching jellyfish, for she knew his habits, the way he liked to make it impossible for her to say no wherever they were. 

Adults spawned daily if given enough food, and for most, spawning was triggered by dim light so the entire population bred every day at dawn or dusk, floating through water, dropping eggs and sperm, tentacles (though she preferred tendrils) never touching. While most men she’d known like to roll against her in the morning, he was a night creature. Fortunately, for him, she was not bound by time.

In a few species, the sperm swam into the female’s mouth to fertilize the eggs. She knew he knew she liked him between her teeth and indulged her in a way most men would not. At sixteen her lips took over in the backseat of a baby blue Trans Am, and they quivered for days.

She could never open her mouth without thinking of possibility.


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FRIDGE by Xueyi Zhou

Say you just move into a new apartment. A freshly finished apartment with a lingering smell of paint. The apartment is not big but it’s your own, and that’s something. You work hard for it, wall by wall, for a tiny cell in a honeycomb. However, a bare box with only a man inside seems more like a lock-up than a lodging, which means now you need appliances. Your choices are limited by the small space and your thin wallet. But you decide to treat yourself, to get something nice. To make it cozier, more like home. You are torn between an air-conditioner and a fridge. An air-conditioner is important, especially when you are settling in a hot city. It’s unbearable most days, with the biting heat and the biting mosquitoes. However, a fridge sounds like money better spent. You grew up with a constant hunger and it pains you to see food go bad and get thrown into the bin. Also, you can take advantage of the AC late in the office after your boss leaves, since he never pays for overtime and hasn’t spotted anything wrong with the utility bill. The transaction is fair so long as you don’t press your lucky temperature too low. 

You know what? Make it the fridge. 

Now you’ve decided to buy a fridge as your first home appliance. That’s a big step. You need to choose carefully which fridge to bring home. Cheap fridges suck out more electricity and break down frequently. Besides, you don’t like the look of them. They are too tacky, with poorly-lined flower patterns pretending to be luxurious. The Japanese one looks inviting. Much more attractive, actually. Almost too perfect, too out-of-reach. You roam around the mall collecting sidelong looks and silent contempt from the saleswomen, still empty-handed. Then you see a bright white fridge at the corner tagged “on sale.” The price is marked way down due to a small scratch at the front door. You inspect its label to find that it was made in Germany. The suspicious low price now makes sense. You know how the Germans are. They take things very seriously. The fridge works well and you have a secret fondness for German products, for their reliability, even though you have never been to Germany, nor have you ever met a German. You take out your credit card and swipe away your next month’s salary and bring the fridge home. Back-breaking inconvenience for an extra saving of delivery fee makes it a sweeter deal.

You carefully place the fridge in the kitchen, the center piece of the puzzle. Your sweat forms a little mirror on the floor and you smell worse than the paint, but you don’t care. The fridge looks beautiful, even with the scratch. In fact, the scratch is what brings life to it, like a painting by Fontana, breaking the line between dream and reality. A cut from which life pours in and flushes out possibilities. The fridge fills the apartment and life fills you. You feel like you are not alone, a new feeling after your mother died. The fridge is freezing inside, but its surface is warm. You touch the scratch gently as if touching a wrinkle on someone’s face. The scratch is the only reason you can afford a nice German fridge. 

Next you visit the supermarket. You spend rather generously, taking all quality food to the cashier without hesitation. A packet of Japanese noodles, a jar of Australian jam, and, of course, a bottle of Parisian water. They are not cheap but it’s OK, take a breath and loosen up a bit. You are holding the basket handle too tight as if those things could escape. You feel like you and your fridge deserve them. You two deserve something good once in a while. Don’t run away. You are allowed to have them. The girl at the cashier asks you whether you would like to have a free magnet. “Sign up for our membership and the magnet is yours. You can save 2% with every purchase.” You mumble to yourself what a rich-people’s scam, and you will not set foot in this pretentious supermarket again, but the magnet grips you at first glance. You recognize that it is the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus, what’s the point of buying a fridge without dressing it up with a magnet? You surrender your credit card and swipe again, carefully pocket the magnet and out you go on the road, with a bag of heavier debts.

You enter your apartment and open the fridge. It has the new fridge smell, somewhat similar to what you remember smelling in the hospital. A smell of nothing-ness, dominant by its absence, a smell you will never forget. You put all the countries into the fridge: Japan, Australia, France. All the countries you and your mother have never been to. Now they are all inside your new fridge. Oh, don’t forget, there’s one more: USA. You stick the magnet onto the front door, not to cover the scratch but to decorate it, and to be decorated. But wait, no, something is off. Right! You turn your wallet inside out and insert a tiny photo between the fridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a very tiny photo, taken a long time ago. The cheap ink keeps fading but you can still see the woman’s face, though faint, much prettier than the face you saw at the funeral. Suddenly you notice the fridge is as rectangular as a coffin. No matter where you are from—Japan, Australia, France, USA—eventually you end up inside a rectangular ice box. You are at lost for a moment until the warmth emitted by the fridge pulls you back. Everything has been improving, you think. You even have a nice German-made fridge now, with all the fancy countries in it. You stroke the scratch again and say thank you, and get ready to leave for work again. Before you go you take a reluctant final look, at the bright new fridge with a scratch, a Golden Gate Bridge and your mother and a world inside it. You look closer into the silhouette in the photo. The cheap ink is fading and the black is no longer black. It fades into a Chinese red, a color that reminds you of blood and good omens.


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My college friend asked me out for drinks and named a bar equidistant to our offices and apartments. The last time I went there a dentist had hit on me with his Argentinian friend who claimed he worked for the CIA. The time before that I’d fainted on the sidewalk during a first date, it was the best date of my life. Arriving at the bar, I felt as though I was returning to the dumping ground of a dead body, coming back to touch his hair and maybe sit on his rotting face.

In a dream I felt I knew he was the one because he presented to me a pair of beautiful pink shoes and then proceeded to eat them—peeling them apart like sliced lox, wetting his face.

Men are always asking me if I’ve just made a sound.

I know a relationship is over when I am lent books.

He had raped his ex-fiancé and that wasn’t even a deal breaker on the first date, or the fourteenth.

I watched the men fighting on the screen and then the faces of the spectators beside me, all betraying a humorous indifference. And my date, I couldn’t look at him. Goosebumps came in waves and I shuddered, realizing that tonight he would beat the shit out of me in bed.

I said, I don’t know how to feel, I am a cold corpse. She said, Try acupuncture.

Somebody using Foley’s photo on a dating app—or it looks just like him, or I can’t tell—so I reverse Google-image-search the photo and swipe right and pray for a miracle.

Two men who know each other have said the same strange thing to me in bed, but I will not repeat it here. 

By the time I got out of the shower he had prepared himself breakfast and was bent over his laptop. He felt safe in there, like a small, dirty, white dog, loved too much by someone, constantly at risk of rupturing and spilling his guts everywhere. Himself, neither filthy nor unhealthy, but his mind, his character, threatening uncanny flaccid explosion. 

I’m annoyed when men I date or sleep with tell me that I have a cruel undertone or that I seem annoyed with everything they say or do. But I am truly disturbed to hear from a man that I am seeing now that I am kind, too kind and understanding, confirming my own worst fears and beliefs. 

There is a kind of truth: I can tell a man that domestic violence spikes on the day of the Super Bowl and they nod and say, Oh. It does not matter if this is factually true because it is another kind of truth, one that is substantiated by the man’s reluctance to be moved. 

He had escaped his head—it was an optimistic meditation on rebirth. I’m not so concerned with his head, but when it does enter my mind it is peeking out from between my legs dripping in more ways than one. 

You know what is triter than a dream? Saying that dreams are uninteresting. I swear to god if you don’t take your hand off of your dick I am going to cut it off. 

It isn’t about war—it’s about exhuming a dead man’s dick. 

If you knock on anything long enough, it will become a door. I was specifically not expecting you. 

I like not having a steady boyfriend because it means I have to carry less in my purse.

Manufacturing faith, manufacturing emotions. The best time to break someone is during the Christmas season. 

He didn’t even come that night; I think he was high on cocaine. I didn’t mention to him that I’d had unprotected sex with three strange men earlier that month. 

This was it. I’d been in the city long enough to be sitting in this bar with some guy, who loved this bar, the same bar where I met my ex years ago. The same restaurants, same haunts, all these guys liked the same drinks. And before my ex, I’d played pool in the back room with another ex, all three of these guys would grope me in the dark corners and pay for everything with cash.  

I clutched my overly full stomach and let it come out in my skirt. I could appear believably three months pregnant. 

At first I’d squinted to avoid the gory photos, but once the heat passed through my face I looked more closely at the series of tightly cropped video stills. While still alive, the face he assumed was disgusted—what other expression was there to have?

And the blade was so small. Not at all what I’d imagined. I thought a ‘beheading’ required a guillotine, a machete. That knife could have made it through TSA. He didn’t look like himself with his head shaved and his body in the wrong place. 

In high school I published poems about the death of my brother. My favorite brother, my parents’ favorite. He called my mother from Iraq and she would cry for hours after their brief lovely talks. He never asked to speak with me and I was never mentioned. I’m so glad that my mother never took an interest in anything I did. If she had, the shitty poems would have tested our relationship.

I heard my brother’s voice as I remember it from the 9-1-1 calls on a news report that I’d watched online after a short ad for Sea World.  

His shaved head looked filthy and the stuff came off on the palms of my hands. I asked, Do you want me to sit you up in the car? Do you want me to get someone? No words came to him. So I propped him up against his own rear wheel and went on. 

A dead man’s doppelganger becomes undone by the hole in his pocket disappearing.

Looking at cell phone shame videos online of "Pervs Jerking-Off on the Subway." 

I told him I’d had a miscarriage. I didn’t say it was his, but I didn’t say it wasn’t. His horror more so reflected his fear of me than his pity. That I would have been pregnant, that I would have carried a child long enough to call what had happened a miscarriage, that’s what stole his color. He would never think to cross me again, to even talk about this with another single person. I’d stolen something from him and without consequence. In truth I’d never been pregnant in my life. And this moment amounted to a belief that it was impossible to become pregnant. 

Before I could catch my breath he turned out the bedside lamp. He grasped me and began speaking with a tone that I’d never experienced before. His voice was round and his heavy arms held me to make the sounds travel all the way through me. He said, When I was in college my sister died. She moved south with her boyfriend because he was in the Army and he strangled her. That night I slept more deeply than I had in recent memory. 

He took out a drawstring bag. You don't want to know what's in here, he said. I wasn’t frightened. I wasn’t anything. I couldn't think or rather was resigned not to think. Then I looked, I focused on him, his arms. The way he held the bag away from his body, up at his eye level, was like he was greeting a baby. 

I went downtown, down to my favorite neighborhood for shopping. I told myself that I had errands but really I was looking to indulge in a dress that I imagined I’d wear to the funeral of the man I was sleeping with. When I got out of the subway I checked my phone for the time and saw that he had texted me a vague message potentially threatening suicide. I doubt my pulse quickened because this had happened before.

There is nothing defining men from one another until one is severed from himself. I want you to carve out of me all the good stuff. 

Then he sent me a picture of his erect penis looking dry and unappetizing in the flash. On it he had written my name with a black gel ballpoint, which was funny because my name means pool of sorrow. And I could imagine mere moments later that he’d produce from his own pen a splashy pool of sorrow, disappearing ink. 

I printed out hundreds of copies of that photo on pre-addressed, stamped postcards and put one in every copy of his new book that I could find in lower Manhattan. 

Do you remember when we were friends, I’m not sure we ever were. 

The drink has an entire sprig of rosemary in it. Laughing, I say, I have no sense of humor about this. Laughing, my college friend recounts her break up. 

“Do not fuck with a world sensation.”


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I disappear in large groups. 

-John Elizabeth Stintzi, circa 2014

I know it’s starting when my legs begin to prickle like they’ve fallen asleep. They fade away and no one notices. My arms go next, numb from my fingers up to my shoulders. The beer I’ve been drinking falls to the floor and I wince. The bottle bounces once and rolls across the kitchen linoleum. Without legs, I can’t bend down and without hands, I can’t pick it up, but at least this time it doesn’t shatter. 

Once, at a Halloween party in grad school, my cocktail glass broke when it fell and one of the poets sliced open her heel on a shard. She started screaming, someone noticed the blood, and someone else shut off the music. By the time a fellow essayist thought to turn up the lights all of me had vanished except for my shame. I later heard that the poet needed five stitches but she never learned my name.

My butt is always the easiest to go; I barely have a butt, though you wouldn’t know that from the way it shimmies into oblivion. Next, my clothes and skin go together into the vast unknown and I become glistening, raw guts and ticking heart; my central nervous system crackles against the air. No one recoils. Someone shuffles nearly through me on their way to the fridge and they don’t murmur sorry or look back. No one asks if I’m okay or if I need another beer.

Once, at a reading in my early twenties, someone did ask. If I needed another beer, I mean. A butch with rolled sleeves and a crushed pack of cigarettes sticking out of her breast pocket. She was holding premeditated beers and she squinted down the length of the space between her lips and my part-disappeared self and said, “I can hold it up for you.” Imagine what it’s like to ride on the back of a motorcycle without any arms or legs, with just a cheap belt keeping you from knowing what thanks prayer the crows recite before they eat. Imagine learning that the name of god is written in a language you can decipher through taste.

The remnants of my torso vanish all at once with a soft splosh, which no one else hears over their chatter and the clunk of beers on wood and the inoffensive acoustic playlist. A laugh peals through the exposed-brick apartment as my tongue wriggles and my eyes roll but then the laughter cuts off suddenly along with every other sound. My ears have gone. I open my mouth, help, but my tongue has already exited the building. My teeth click clack, dancing my skull into absence.

It has always been this way but it isn’t always this way. Sometimes I make it through an entire event and I’m in the pictures the next morning, my smile a tight clamp as though I’ve trapped my presence in my mouth and if I smile any bigger the hereness of me will escape through the gap between my front teeth. 

No one at the party turns. They are too busy not noticing me. My wet eyeballs swing through the air, looking for someone, anyone to see them seeing everyone. Too late. The left one goes first, just closes in on itself. I am down to a disembodied wink and the passing thought that I should stop throwing parties. Then, nothing. Darkness.

I’ve never minded being invisible. But I don’t know how much longer I can stand to be nothing. 

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THE EXPLODING TREE by Kevin Richard White

She’s feeding you remains of her meal. Like you’re some animal child. 

There’s a tattoo of an exploding tree on her back and right shoulder blade: black ink like paint splatter on her smooth skin, roots pulled up, snapped branches, drifting leaves that become new birds. Hair covers it, but not often.

One day, you woke up, and it was there. You were angry about it at first, but then you realized you had a lot in common with that tree: You both couldn’t move and had nowhere to go fast.

You open your mouth. You want more of the dry chicken she has cooked, but she has thrown it away. You beg to suck on at least a bone, but she whispers, “No.” She takes you out of your chair and lays you down on your belly. You’re a fish again, one of your favorite playtime activities.

After she got the tattoo, you watched from the bed as she cleaned it, kept it moisturized, watched the pitch blackness brighten her skin. You wish you had hands to help her, or at least trace it, make a shape of it to keep. But you watch. And shake. How can something so artistic be out of your grasp. She continues to smooth her skin and you want to scream.

You’re a man of broken parts. She’s your mechanic. Somewhere, along the line, the manual will be written to make you a new human being again. It could take days or years, but she has promised you, in soft voices, that you’ll have hands again. That you’ll have it all back. But you think and never tell her that you’re past the warranty date.

On your belly, you imagine you’re a guppy, cascading through dark warm water. She rubs your back and shoulders, trying to get knots out. Perhaps she is trying to give you a tree tattoo of your own, you think. You try to say this, but fish don’t talk, and so you just continue to think you’re swimming until she’s done.

She could have left a long time ago, you told her once. There’s no need to take care of me like this. But she smiled. And in response, she whispered, “Well then, who would take care of me?”

After you’re done being a fish, she goes to get you ready for bed. Pajamas on, teeth brushed, and sets up the laptop for you to use. She puts the mouth operated mouse in and you’re good to watch movies for as long as you want. She goes to get ready herself for her job. You watch her undress. The tree is there, shining. She puts on her black dress and bracelets and brushes her hair. She leaves the tree visible this time, usually covering it up. That’s when you can’t take it anymore. You spit out the mouse.

“Don’t let anyone touch that tonight,” you say.

She spins around, still brushing. “Touch what?”

“Your tattoo.”

She smiles. “You’re a silly boy.”

“I’m serious. It’s yours. Don’t let anyone touch it.”

“It’s yours, too, baby.”

She comes over and kisses you. The smell leaves you breathless. Your mechanic. The one who feeds you. The one with perfect hands that are replacing yours.

She puts the mouse back in so you can operate the computer again. Before she leaves for the night, she kisses you one more time and wants you to sleep well. She’ll be back later, she says. The door shuts. You’re still hungry but have to wait.

After some time, you fall asleep, thinking you’re still a guppy. Back through rivers and past sharks, you’re going towards some kind of light. When you get there, it’s a small island, white sand, shells and crabs. But there’s one tree. A large black one that reaches to the ceiling of the sky. Suddenly, you’re an animal, climbing up. You get to the top. Leaves drift and become birds. You want to do it as well. The tree gets blacker against the blue sky, and you reach a claw out, breathing hard, wishing it becomes a wing. They all continue to softly drift up and over the water, and as you pray to fly, you hear an explosion from under you, bomb-like. Something lifts. You fly, but not well.

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Every night I hear the screams of myself far away. I beg for help but I will not help. In a ditch by the tracks, full of golf balls and bones of careless creatures. White quartz set in circles. I lie down and I am falling. Can’t find the earth. The noises of town rattle like deathbed confessions. Trains hurtle past. The stars encroach. We once had lights that prolonged days. I scrounge for bones with meat clinging on. I once had a table. Pictures of people stuffed into cracked walls, maps that do not help me. No children anymore. Hawks fly full-on head first into trees. Cats and dogs are buried, dug up. Men scream and tear at their own bodies. Become puddles in the streets. My dreams pound my head in continuum of the day. Day pours out of night. A single gunshot every hour. I know what berries will kill me. I’ve buried strangers but I do not kiss them anymore. I howl on my back. Coyotes smell my piss and hope I don’t get up. I found my mother with a meteorite lodged in her heart. My father runs north following the deer. I pick up a golf ball and throw it into the sky. Rabbits cry in their dens. The man who counts crawls into my ditch. The golf ball becomes a star. I poisoned a woman at my table. I beat a dog. I cut the leg off a boy and threw it in the river two days later. Please believe me. The star falls, then the rest.

Through the fields and hills, far away, I follow the deer. I carry a rifle and one bullet. They know my purpose. I eat the grasses and berries they eat. I drink from the streams they drink. I shout at wolves. I carve faces. I follow the descent of owls, the little screams, circling vultures. Lights of unnatural color move among the stars. I write to my wife and son. Letters placed in the hollows of trees and under rocks. A gray man followed me for three days. He scared the deer. A fawn nuzzles my head. I hold it and weep. I cut its side to remember. I eat mushrooms glowing at night. I sleep while I walk. The head of a buck seared to a meteorite. I pray. I burn my clothes. Snow sticks to my skin. Wolves seduce the fawn. The gray man returns. He speaks through the steaming stones, words of my voice, a mirror of ice, one man drowning. The deer wait for me. I beg them forward. I point my gun and the gray man charges.

I long to be the woman of the candlelit painting, floating in a river. All my blankets are gone. I scrape mold from cheese. I wear curtains, sit in corners. A boy climbed to my roof and has not come down. My neighbor tells me she intends to go to the moon without her husband. I never trusted her. Never open the door. I wave a revolver at a mouse. It was my husband’s. Coyotes sit on my porch every night, scratching the door, shaking the handle. I tell them about my day. I chew on salted wood. My father plays me his harp. He sits in the tree outside the kitchen window every morning. I knew it to be him right away by his smile. Such a smile you don’t see anymore. I cannot bear the noises. I tie rags around my ears. I hum till my throat is sore. The coyotes leave when the census man comes. I show my gun through the window. My father shows me the place I must sit when it is time. I watch my neighbor kneel on the tracks. The census man slips papers under the door. I burn them. I know of a place where the floors aren’t cold, where I might see my family again. I whisper into black holes, to mice no longer gathering my hair. Scurry now, friends. I confess. I sing in the fire of paintings, the clouds of heaven. The shrieking sky opens.

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THE END by Zac Smith

The seasonal jobs came back to town aboard a gleaming, diesel caravan. We all stepped up to carry water and dirt and to do all the other things that would be asked. Brought our resumes, our lunch boxes, our good gloves. Someone was going to see us, buy our labor for a week or month—see something useful in the junk, like Giacomo did as a dropout teen, buying a rusted-out chainsaw to bond with mom and get it running again. And just like that ideation, we’d take off for somewhere else full of better promises. This we knew, believed, felt, etc.

Giacomo had his old hat, the lucky one he first fucked in. He used it to wave down men and women in their shiny white trucks. I spat in the dirt. Same difference, same result. Whatever happens is inevitable. Giacomo never believed in fate. We got picked up, taken to tryouts. Giacomo wanted to swear so bad when he saw all the if-onlys and why-nots pass us to hit the exit ramp last minute. We were heading further out than everyone else. What sun would beat us down then, way out there, we wondered.

They grouped us out, saw favorites quick. Barked like big dogs except we all knew what kinds of barks meant what and how and when and how much. He pushed the crates and I held the hoses. We both considered it best. I heard him try to angle in around the edges, get some networking in, as people liked to say, get some human decency out there in the good spring heat. Sweat in his eyes made him squint like a little bird, one of those no-feather ones, just skin and slime. I tried counting to ignore my present self and state—rocks, steps, crates, yards of hose and stacks of coil, counting everything and anything just to pass through the tautly pulled time we floated in. We heard buzzing off in the distance, something making sawdust, or something like it. 

Giacomo huffed and chattered behind his crates. Hush up, waste your breath on better things, I thought. Push your crates to make the bosses feel the things your words can’t make them feel. They are in their own way illiterate like us, like mom, like everyone else who would care about any of this, but the language of cost and control is better to know than the language of push and carry. I imagined horses cutting down trees because of something Giacomo said years ago.

His hat lay twisted on his head, beguiling, wringing laughs when he passed the foremen and their kids. He didn’t see them chortle over the tall crates, though, or maybe just over his old stubborn spirit. He breathed in our stinking huffs of exertion and sighed out hope. I liked Giacomo and didn’t want to see him spoilt anew. We were small moons in orbit of something pretty which harbors life. We were not the show. I wanted to push him back, somehow put legs on the crates, watch him dance and distract himself to keep them lined up, dunk us into the irrigation trough, rise up laughing like a couple years ago when we thought it best to rinse off the sawdust.

We talked scrapes and cuts before sleeping in the grove under the stars out there by the end of the highway. We talked about distraction, old technology. I was bored and thus unclear, hoping to chisel out some new thing by vagueness, bring our thoughts into a new space, maybe knock him back down off his prideful course, back down to me, where I was. Giacomo was never as down as I even though he slept in the deepest hole on the worksite. Something about initiative, action, teamwork, sacrifice, leadership. I ate my bad food in silence while he buzzed on about these foreign words he found somewhere, something about coffee. I thought then and continue to think that work is work, is the same thing as last year, next year, the very beginning times, the very end times. I considered the stars pretty enough where we lay out in the gravel, but he had thoughts of strange rooms out in the grassy hills with windows as big as our tar-paper ceiling where one could somehow see even more stars, though I didn’t ask for detail.

We worked as hard as needed, but Giacomo caught heat stroke before catching any attention. His mom said to keep your head down and she said it literally, although Giacomo somehow thought he could improve the way deep channels wind through the earth. I don’t think they make a saw big enough for that. 

I saw him lay in the shade while the owner’s son wandered through the stacks and stores trying to devise new things to array and bundle up and sell. It was bad timing, caught recovering in the dirt, hat over face. The boss boy ripped it off and tossed him out. Where to? We held our breaths and worries so no one would think us human. We pretended to be delicate machines in the industrious frontier instead, things just brought in to wring together pretty bundles or rip apart nature. Giacomo got canned, hat in hand, just like he was when we climbed aboard that promiseful truck. Canned is a euphemism for the gorier details of our rumpled-up contracts, as you might imagine.

I dug the ditch he lay in then, and I laid the soil thereafter. It was only natural that I not feel the need to test his boots, swap our hats, turn his pockets—I knew how they fit and what they held. This showed promise to someone, they mistook my sadness for integrity or some other obscure thing they considered good. They gave me a bundle of his things, including a book that seemed impossible to read. I flipped through it and saw things we had together, neatly lined up in little lines.

The company asked me if I had anyone or anything to keep me back in town instead of going elsewhere for more work and more money. I told them no, tamping the dirt with the company’s spade. I told them to take me away.


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His name was Leonard. He was riding a bike. His arms held out to the sides of him, his mind never trapped by his own self, never buckling under the weight of what he should be, or shouldn’t be, understanding the truth of himself, always, in this world, hard as that was, and of course, in this moment too, riding a bike through the lonely continuum of time. He smiled at his knowing, where others couldn’t—or fucking wouldn’t, and he was right, and knew he was right, and always would be.

He rode on, his arms still there, to the sides of him, and he said, come, cover me. Gliding and dipping and soaring, and we do, going on and on, down a lonely, long road, and free now, or at least so he thought. Free and wanting.

Free and needing.

And who among us would not say, such a person as this.

He turned and smiled, reaching his hands up to the breaking blue sky, and he said, yes yes yes, I am here now.

On either side of the road started to appear large outcroppings of shield rock streaked with black and pink and where alder bushes, raspberry bushes, and trees grew from crevices.

He saw ancient trees grown too tall and heavy for their rocky moorings, having fallen onto their sides, great circular walls of exposed roots and dirt pointing to the sky.

He rode past dark and vacant lakes, and he rode past narrow long stretches of washed-out lowlands, sun-bleached trees still standing, dead and broken.

He was tired, and walking the bike now, the sun not yet down, the moon there, and he looked up to it, and he said, love under a big moon.

Why wouldn’t there be?

Of course there would be.

Probably was and just forgotten.

Probably was.

He stopped and looked around, and he thought, what else might be out there?

Endless possibilities of strange and wonderful things.

On a night such as this.

He looked back up to that everyone’s one big moon. Ain’t that right, moon?

Ain’t it now, said the moon back to him.

Why I’m here.

Always will be.

True enough, and always will be.

And he was happy, walking, a coyote following him high up on the granite ridgeline, stopping, looking too, at that everyone’s one big moon.

On a night such as this.

He came upon a house set back from the road. He dropped the bike and walked up the long gravel driveway.

The house was white stucco, cracked and chipped and stained with dirt. Tall weeds running up the walls.

To the right of the house, a clapboard garage the same color as the house.

He looked for a dog, or any sign of a dog. There wasn’t one. Not that he could tell.

He walked to the garage and stopped and looked back at the house. He reached for the garage door handle and pulled, the door lifting up from the ground toward him, a stack of aluminum folding chairs tipping over. He paused, holding the door handle, two weighted cylinders filled with rocks, one on either side of the door, swaying from thin strands of twisted wire.

A second-story light came on and he let go of the handle to see if the door would stay. It did, and he moved toward the back of the house.

The back light came on, mosquitoes swarming the brightness. An old man wearing pajamas and a frayed striped bathrobe appeared. His grey hair disheveled. His watery, hooded eyes, squinting. A single-barrel shotgun in his hand. Who’s there?

He pushed open the screen door to the hum of the evening heat and the sound of the mosquitoes bouncing off the glass of the small light. Well?

He stepped onto the porch boards, the screen door slapping shut behind him. I won’t ask again.

He walked forward and Leonard stepped out from behind the house, wrapping his left arm around the man’s neck. Shh, he said.

The old man eye’s widening. He didn’t struggle.

Leonard pressed the cold tip of a clip-blade knife to the man's throat. It’s me.

The old man. Who?

The one ya been waitin for, and he ran the knife through the thin, slack skin of the old man's neck.

He looked at the blood, pooling on the broken patio stones. He looked at the closed screen door and the light behind the door.

An old woman called from the house. Horace?

He looked to the second-story window.

Is everything all right?

He stepped over the man bleeding out beneath him and he entered the house.

The old woman appeared at the window, the soft bedroom light behind her highlighting the frailness of her thin frame beneath her long white nightgown. Horace?

Leonard appeared in the window, approaching the woman from behind, the old woman turning, and screaming.

He woke and sat up in the old couple’s bed and looked at the woman beneath the window on the floor, her nightgown soaked in blood, a long stream of it having run from her. He turned on the bed and placed his boots on the well waxed hardwood floor and he lowered his head and closed his eyes and ruffled his hair. He looked up at an antique vanity desk across from the bed.

He sat on the chair and opened a jewelry box and ran his fingers through it, an old broach, a charm bracelet, several pairs of earrings, a pearl necklace and matching pearl earrings. He fisted it all and put it in his coat pocket. He looked back at the old woman and stood and walked to her.

He squatted and took her left hand into his, sizing up her diamond ring and wedding band. He tried to pull them off. They wouldn’t come. He pulled harder. He took his knife out and opened the blade. He folded back the other fingers of her hand and pressed her hand to the floor and pushed the blade through the crunch of bone. He slide the rings off the backside of her freed finger and dropped the finger to the floor. He cleaned the blade on her nightgown and folded the knife closed. He tilted his head, looking at the old woman’s opened eyes, and he wondered, what was in there still?


Doubt it.

Would it make a difference?

Probably not.

I bet they’re thankin ya?

Bet they are too.

If they could.

Why wouldn’t they?

She seemed like someone’s nice old grandma.

He stood and pocketed the rings, and he walked down the stairs.

Like they’d lived here a long time.

I guess. 

And they might of been happy.

I didn’t put em in my path, someone else done that. And if there’s a reason for that, there’s a reason for me.

No doubt. Everything else is just made up, ain’t it?

True enough, just made up. Heaven or hell. Except I ain’t, and I never will be.

He lifted the kettle from the stove and poured out the water and refilled it. He placed it back on the stove and looked in the fridge. He closed it and walked out the back door.

He stepped back over the dead old man and the patio stone blood and walked toward the garage. He lifted the garage door and looked at the cluttered mess. There wasn’t even a car. Nothing much there at all.

He walked back to the house and up the stairs and walked inside.

He lifted the whistling kettle from the stove and searched through the cupboards until he found a jar of instant coffee. He made a strong mug of black coffee and carried it to the table. He sat and crossed his legs and took a sip. He lit a cigarette, and he smoked, and he drank his coffee.

On a night such as this.

Love under a big moon 

That’s what he thought.


Torrents of Our Time: Twenty-Two Stories by Christian Fennell

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MISSING by Brian Brunson

Recollection A:He has a distinct memory of being told the story about Uncle Ringo’s missing index finger. More like he remembers that at one point it was a distinct memory. But that was years ago, when he was five or six, and nothing from way back then is distinct. Still, he is sure that his mother, standing in the kitchen, making fried chicken for dinner, told him and his brother that their Uncle Ringo lost his finger when he was sixteen in a meat grinder in the deli he worked at after schoolRecollection B:Somewhere, sometime, he is sure that Uncle Ringo told him that a catfish had bitten off his index finger. Which sounds like something an uncle would tell a gullible nephew, but in that case the uncle would probably have said it was a shark or piranha that had eaten it, not just a catfish. His uncle was serious, he is sure of it, even if he can’t remember when he was told this, can’t picture the moment or any details beyond that his finger was eaten by a fish. Probably in a river or creek just outside
the small Missouri town that the family was from. A small town he had never been to. Never even been to Missouri. Probably never will be. Can't even remember the name of the town. Still, he liked Uncle Ringo, the youngest of the three kids, the only boy. The only uncle he had. His father only having an older sister. The missing finger fascinated him. The absence of a finger and the remaining scar was the strangest thing ever, like it had been hastily erased by god. When he first saw his Uncle's hand
he was terrified of it. It was grotesque. That’s how he learned that word, grotesque, at such a young age. It meant monstrous, almost unholy. Uncle Ringo seemed to be a part of the family during his childhood, but he shied away from him and his scary missing finger. The mangled handhe laughed. To a five-year-old, it was hilarious. He thought it was a gag, some sort of magic trick, and the missing finger would suddenly materialize. But it stayed missing the rare times, a holiday here and there, he saw Uncle Ringo, and he would stare fascinated at the missing finger
that eventually he grew to think of as normal for Uncle Ringo, like it was normal for Grandma Vi to take all the pills she took. And then it was super cool to have an Uncle who had such a gruesome, unique hand. A whole missing finger; brutally ripped off. He told his classmates about it and the girls thought it gross, but the boys didn't think it was awesome like he thought because they didn't believe it at all and he got angry because he couldn't prove it, so he
dreamt about getting his own finger or hand deformed and mangled in some freak accident like the can opener going awry or getting it stuck in his bike chain, and then all the kids would think it was cool and gnarly and gross but of course that never happened. And became jealous of his uncle and his awesometried to find a picture of his Uncle Ringo’s hand but they had none, so better yet he’d bring him to school to tell the story about the fish that ate it, but that didn’t seem plausible so he was doomed to be teased about it at school. And it tore him up so much that he started to really resent his uncle and his stupid
missing finger with the gnarly nub of a knuckle at the end, or would it be the beginning, which wiggled just a little bit, creepy and cool all at once and it really gave Uncle Ringo an envious distinction, so he was relieved that at some point, if he remembers correctly, Uncle Ringo
drifted away from the family. He didn’t move far away, they just wouldn’t see him for a while, then they would, but not for long, then he realized he hadn’t seen Uncle Ringo for years. He was forgotten,was banished from the family for reasons never disclosed, only that he was rarely mentioned, and even then only awkwardly and silently so as if he were listening, but he wasn’t because Uncle Ringo was gone,
which he now knows is often what happens to extended families, even immediate families. The ties loosen throughout the years and things that were once important become just nostalgic details like Uncle Ringo's missing finger that intrigued him so much and to this day is clear as day in his memory. 

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MY DOUBLE by Michael Loveday

I made a cardboard cutout of me. Clodagh, I called her, and my family took to her well. That first evening at the dinner table, they didn’t register any difference, as they slurped and gnawed, licked their lips, and gorged on their lavish daily meats. At last, I was spared the disgusting sounds of them eating. I spent more time alone in my bedroom, reading tales of the headless Dullahan grinning on his night-black horse, and slowly starving myself, praying that I would one day become invisible. 

My parents grew to like that Clodagh endured, without disruption, their long-and-short-of-it stories of misfortune. My brother Aidan liked that Clodagh never ate any of the food set down in front of her, so Aidan could sneak spare chips for himself without any complaint. A cloak of relief settled itself over the house. 

Soon it was clear that my family actively preferred the cardboard me. I let them drag Clodagh to the park and the shops when there was an outing. My Aunt’s Cath’s birthday, Easter Sunday Mass, a bank holiday at Skerries—Clodagh took my place on all these occasions. 

I wouldn’t have suffered except Clodagh seemed increasingly perfected, her smile ever more winsome, her clothes pristine, her hair now tidily combed, a smart-arse gleam appearing in her eye instead of the dopey expression my parents always chided me for. I was never this brilliant, never this lovable.

I wanted to no longer be part of my family, but I wanted to be missed at the same time. This was not how it was meant to be.  

Baffled, I began to deface her, the picture-postcard version of me. Something compelled me to snick at her skin with a Swiss Army knife. I ripped the edges of her fingers where they pointed absurdly at whatever was in view. I graffitied vile abuse across her forearms. I yearned to rip her goddamn dazzling head off. 

Slowly Clodagh was disfigured until finally my family could see the inevitable path that they set all their children walking down. Both of us, cutout and I, faced a ravaged future. We were no more than scrap ready to be thrown on the fire. Ash amongst ash, we could keep each other company through the long Dublin winter.

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