PABLO’S HAIR by Sandra Arnold

When we got to the farm Bill explained that the dead boy’s parents had asked him to keep the pregnant mare and her two year old colt till they found a buyer, but none of the guys who came to look at her could even catch her.

“Don’t worry, Beth,” he reassured, “I’ve asked Pablo to do a bit of schooling so she’ll be calm enough for you to ride.”

We turned the corner into the barn and saw the colt tied to the fence. His mother, a beautiful bay, was tied to a pole while Pablo, sweat soaking into his red bandanna, laid into her with a whip. The mare was foaming at the mouth and you could see the whites of her eyes as she galloped round and round in terror.

I stopped dead in my tracks. “You call this schooling?”

Dad flashed me the look he reserves for when I open my mouth before I get my brain into gear.

Bill explained that he was starting a riding school, so it was important that the horses were quiet and well-trained.

“Yeah, right,” I shot back, “like that’s going to happen if you let Pablo loose on them. Tell him to untie her.”

Dad told him it was okay, so Bill said something in Portuguese to Pablo. The minute Pablo untied the mare she tore out the barn like there was a lion on her back. I grabbed a lead rope and followed her with everybody running behind me. When the mare got to a safe distance she started grazing. I approached her real slow, talking to her all the time. After a few minutes she let me stroke her shoulder. After another minute I slipped the rope around her neck and walked her back to the barn. By now half a dozen of Bill’s agronomy students had wandered over. They were all looking at me as if, like, “What planet do you come from?”

 Dad said if I wanted the mare she was mine. I asked Bill what her name was.

“Cristiane,” he said. “Her colt doesn’t have a name yet.”

A thumb-sized humming bird buzzed in front of my face before diving into a flower.

“What’s the name for humming bird in Portuguese?” I asked.

“Beija-Flor,” Sal said. “It means kiss-flower.”

I stroked the colt’s mane. “Hi Beija-Flor,” I whispered in his ear.

After we bought Cristiane and Beija-Flor I went to the farm every weekend. When Bill saw the way I rode he asked me to go to a horse auction to help him pick out some decent horses for the riding school.

We got three beauties, a gray, a chestnut and a roan. Bill said I could name them. The roan was very close to foaling and she reminded me of my first pony, Gloria, so that one was easy.  Then I offered to come every day to train them all. Bill whistled between his teeth and said he had to be careful not to offend Pablo, who was still smarting over the Cristiane episode. For once I did get my brain into gear before voicing my opinion about Pablo.

I saved this for Sal, a few days later, after we’d watched Gloria’s new foal stagger up off the straw on his matchstick legs and take his first drink.

“We’ll leave them to get acquainted,” said Bill, ushering us out of the paddock and closing the gate. “I’ll have Pablo check them over this afternoon.”  Seeing my expression he grinned and said, “But you can choose his name.”

“Glorious,” I said. “Son of Gloria.”

“Perfect,” said Bill.

Sal and me headed over to the farmhouse to have a game of volleyball.  “Pablo check them over?” I began, incredulously.

My sentence was interrupted by an explosion of swearing from inside the farmhouse and Pablo’s goat flew out the front door on the end of someone’s foot. Pablo’s head poked over the top of the pigsty. When he understood the reason for the racket he came lumbering out, scratching his neck. The goat saw him and bounded over as if it was about to fling itself on his chest in pure joy. Even at that distance the pong was enough to singe a layer or two off your tonsils.  Pablo grabbed it by the horns and dragged it towards us.

Me and Sal started gagging. It did no good though. “What stink?” he always said when we whinged about the goat. He tied it to a tree.

“Why can’t you take him into the pigsty with you?” Sal complained.

“Because I’m chopping up a stillborn calf for the pigs,” he answered, sliding his eyes across at me.

When Sal translated this I gagged again, this time for real. His face split into a grin like a sliced melon and he went swaggering back to the pigsty, hoiking and spitting.

“He hates me,” I sniveled.

“Nah. He’s scared of you,” Sal said. “The other day he was trying to catch the new Appaloosa and it kept running away from him and one of the guys said,  ‘Let Beth do it’.”


“But then Pablo said it wasn’t a job for girls, especially skinny snooty up-themselves white girls from a country nobody’s even heard of.” She hooted with laughter at the expression on my face.

I watched the top of his bandanna bob up and down behind the wall in the sty. That bandanna was probably red because it was saturated with blood. Nobody’d ever seen Pablo without it. I bet he even slept in it.

Once, Sal dared me to ask him why he never took it off and he said it was because he had this real thick curly hair and it was difficult to keep it clean with his work on the farm, but Sal and me had our suspicions. Soon after that we saw him dive in the lake and swim underwater all the way to the other side. When he climbed out he was completely starkers, but his bandanna was still grafted in place. He stood still for a minute, just gazing over the water, looking like one of those huge termite mounds that were all over the farm.

The fumes from the goat made us abandon any idea of playing volleyball and in two minutes we were out of gassing range and heading back to the barn.

Beija-Flor came up to me and stuck his nose in my neck. I decided to ask dad if we could ship him and Cristy back to New Zealand when Dad had finished his contract here. I sure didn’t want them to end up as street horses pulling carts of rubbish and being flayed with sticks to run faster and faster when they were exhausted and thirsty and the sun was blazing down on their poor mangy coats. Cristy plodded over to me and breathed in my face. For the millionth time I made a wish that I could be with her when her foal was born. Then I blew my breath back into her nostrils.

She was bleeding from three new cuts and was covered with ticks again. “Gross, eh?” I said to Sally, picking one off and bursting it between my fingernails. Over the squawking of the guinea fowl, that started fighting for the ticks we chucked at them, I heard Bill’s voice and saw him and two of his students, João and Roberto, trudging across the paddock to the barn.

The guys said something to Sal and she translated, “João wants Roberto to race you. He says he’s going to bet all his money on you.”

Sal thought Roberto was cute, but I didn’t like his voice. He sounded like Donald Duck.

He said, in pretty good English, “I’ve got some cream for you, Beth. You spread it on the cuts and when those vampire bats drink the blood it gets on their feet. Their friends lick it off and it poisons them all.”

I made a face.  “I hope it’s a quick death.”

Bill said, “The other horses are looking pretty good Beth, since Pablo’s been treating them with that cream. It’s only your two the bats are after now.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I don’t want Pablo anywhere near my horses. I’ll put the cream on myself. I’ll get dad to drop me off every day. I could break in the new Appaloosa for you at the same time,” I added hopefully.

Bill sucked in air through his teeth, “Sure, if you can get Pablo to agree to making you an honorary guy.”

Roberto and João cracked up.

I glanced at Sal, who rolled her eyeballs.

Bill took his glasses off and rubbed them on his shirt. “Honey, we’ve just been looking at that new foal. One of the other horses must’ve kicked him. His leg’s broken.”

“Glorious?” I said in disbelief.

He nodded.

My mouth went dry. “But he’s just been born. Are you going to shoot him?”

“I don’t have a gun, Beth. Pablo’ll have to whack him on the head with an axe.”

My face went as green as the tick I was holding.

Bill said, “It’ll be quick. Pablo’ll  know what to do.”

“Speaking of the devil,” Sal muttered.

I looked up to see Pablo sauntering towards us with his parrot, Rosa, squawking in his ear.

Bill told him about the foal. Pablo listened, staring at the ground, scratching his head. If   I walked out he’d see my green face. No way would I give him that pleasure. Bill said he’d know the exact spot to hit the foal, but what if he missed?  Beija-Flor stuck his nose in my ear. I was grateful for the excuse to bury my face in his mane.

There was a long silence. Then Pablo coughed and said, “We could donate him to the veterinary school. Give him a chance.”

I lifted my head from Beija’s neck and looked at Bill, biting my lip. Bill rubbed his chin.

“I’ll ring them,” he said at last, half-running in the direction of the house.  Pablo lumbered after him with Rosa perched on his head like a tattered wedding hat.

Nobody uttered a word. Then Roberto cleared his throat and said, “He found Rosa when she’d just hatched. Her mother was dead near the nest. Dogs probably. Pablo took her home and raised her.”

I watched Pablo disappear into his shack.

“So what about that race?” said Roberto.

He didn’t really sound like Donald Duck.

“I’ll let you ride Skewbald,” I said. “I’ll take Madonna.”

“You nuts?” said Sal. “If she went any slower she’d be dead.”

After the race we cantered back to the barn, laughing and yelling. Bill looked up from the saddle he was cleaning. I waved at him. He’d know from my grin that I’d won again. But his face was the colour of putty.  I vaulted off the horse in one movement. “The vet school said no, didn’t they?”

“I’m sorry honey. So Pablo had to ...”

Sal burst into tears. The guys got very busy unsaddling. I ran out the barn with my hand over my mouth and bent over in the long grass near the henhouse and puked.

I lay there for a minute, letting the sun warm my cold skin, trying not to think of Pablo feeding bits of the foal to his disgusting pigs. Oh wouldn’t he just love that!  I squeezed my eyes tight and hit the earth with the side of my hand pretending it was Pablo I was chopping up into little pieces. Then I bawled my eyes out.

When I was all cried out I hauled myself up and wiped the snot off my face.  My body smelt sour, like cheese left out in the sun. The air burned and stung and crackled. Two swallow-tails flew low over the baked red earth and skimmed the surface of the lake. Yeah, I’d go for a swim and try to feel clean again. As I trailed past the hen-house I heard a high-pitched wheezing coming from inside. I back-tracked and peered through a gap in the planks. Pablo was sitting on a box that was covered with chicken shit, wiping his nose with his bandanna and breathing like he was having an asthma attack. But it wasn’t the sight of the tears glistening in the black leathery cracks of his cheeks that stopped my breath. It was his head. As bald and shiny as a light bulb.

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THE FILTHY OLD MAN by Connor Goodwin

The filthy old man crunched his hand and tossed an empty can over his shoulder, eyes on the road. It landed on a pile of other cans and started a noisy avalanche of aluminum. Some of the crushed cans were tied up in yellow plastic bags from Super Saver, but most were loose and littered the floor. When he had time, he’d take them to the can guy.

The can guy operated out of a parking lot. It was just him and a bunch of flies. The compactor looked like a tall semi-trailer. At the base was a conveyor belt that carried the cans on high. We called it the Stairway to Heaven. Heaven smelled like stale beer, like the old man’s winter coat before he got filthy. When he had time.

The filthy old man lived in a van. And the van, like the man, was filthy. No one would be surprised if, one day, the garbage men mistook the van for a dumpster and lifted it and shook its contents loose. Out would pour a never-ending waterfall of trash: cans, wrappers, newspaper, plastic bags, yellow paperbacks, scraps of paper, half-empty Gatorade bottles, hairballs, plastics of all kinds, spoons, coffee lids, magazines, yogurt cups, sun-bleached clothes, dirty socks, soccer shoes, baseballs and gloves, dirt, loads of boogers, Barnes and Noble receipts. Only one thing belonged and that was the ice scraper. The ice scraper, of course, was broken and frankly, ought to’ve been thrown away.

The filthy old man climbed atop his dirty gold van. He smelled Heaven. Then he nosedived down like a torpedo, curled into a tight cannonball, flipped round three times and stuck the landing. He thrust his arms skyward in triumph and out his raggedy sleeves flew dirty handkerchiefs and stained playing cards. Ice scraper in hand, he planted it like a flag and did a little jig once around. His swinging legs kicked trash in every direction. He then withdrew the ice scraper like Excalibur and batted and golfed away loads of cans in such a fury that he kicked up a cloud of dust.

When the air finally cleared, everyone could see the cherry he sculpted. The cherry was actually a pulpit. And from his mountaintop, the filthy old man surveyed the land. He leaned back and hawked up a loogie and slingshot it into an empty can of beans. Ping!

This signaled the sermon had begun. A nation of crusty men, with nowhere to go but around, gathered to hear his sermon. The filthy old man’s face was nothing more than a red scab - a scab he picked and picked and never let heal, like an irritable volcano. And boy he glowed. He was spitting fire from the pulpit.

The filthy old man’s sermon began: He who is filthy, let him filthy be still. And the crusties below shouted Amen! Then he recapped last week’s games and the crusties nodded knowingly. Some high-fived and some fell to their knees and wept. Then he lamented the price of gas and the dirty wars in the Middle East that hurt or helped Middle West ethanol. The crusties nodded along, Amen! He ended with a prayer and that prayer was a dirty knock-knock joke.

Then he shoved his pulpit off the peak and leaped aboard and rode down the trash mountain to join his crusty congregation below. A cloud of flies trailed in his wake. More converts.

He’d been to Heaven and back. Why not kick the can down the road.

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GARBAGE GIRL by Jules Archer

It's trash day. I know it by the cramps in my belly. Not the calendar on the fridge. Or the City of Evanston's website. Or my mother's finger, poked in the face of my father as a reminder to take out the trash because last night's rotisserie is starting to smell.

Once a month, ever since I turned twelve, my cycle's synced to the sound of the garbage truck. Not the full moon or the new moon or the tides. I cramp and menstruate on trash day. My stomach is like Adele, rolling in the deep. But I can't make a peep to anyone because I'm just a garbage girl in a recycling world.

From my bedroom window, I see the solid waste services truck outside. The awkward clang of its arm against plastic can. Aching cramps pulse in my hips, my lower back. The trash can is hauled high, and then dumped. Right on schedule, I bleed.


My mother takes me to a doctor. I tell him about the pain in my belly. She interrupts him to explain the problem with my reproductive organs to me. My mother says, The technical term for it is abdomen. Use medical terminology, Lucy. Use your brain. She takes my hand, presses it lower, near my hipbone, the curve of my pelvis. She slaps my flesh. Hard. She does it again. She sounds it out, says, This is your ab-dough-man. It's where your cramps live. It's where you try to be a woman. Make yourself one if you can.

The doctor watches from a corner. He prescribes only a muted smile. It's the same one my father wore when he left, because no shit, buddy, my mother's awful.


My cycle has changed. Sometimes the cramps arrive on trash day. Sometimes they come at the strangest of times. Like when my mother says to keep it the fuck down or get out of her face. Or the time I overhear a slice of President Trump's speech on TV. Or the day Molly McGrew laughs and announces to the class that my father really ran off with a barmaid. I take a swing at her head. The blood starts to gush out of me. Teachers gather. She's fine, I tell them. She's not the one bleeding.


I Google, what is the definition of trash?


  1. anything worthless, useless, or discarded; rubbish.
  2. foolish or pointless ideas, talk, or writing; nonsense.
  3. a worthless or disreputable person.


Milo, a boy from English class, kisses me, says he loves me. He touches me in nice places and shows me the messy tattoos on his hairless body. The shamrock for luck. The heart for his dead sister. The bed is soft, the room warm, and we take off our clothes. I lean in and bite at his lip very gently. And then I begin to bleed all over the bed. I am early, not due for another week, so perhaps this is a sign. Milo draws back, his face made miserable by nature. You ruined the mood, he says, and I tug on his hair and say, you're right, but it's better than getting ruined by you.


I come to think of my period as a little friend who tells me a monthly secret. When the boy with long hair promises forever, or a piece of litter blows across the ground, or when a college friend promises to pay me back, or when I visit my mother one weekend and she tells me to remember the time she almost ran me over, just think about that, Lucy, think about that, and all I can do is picture shoving her down the staircase, shoving a tampon down her loudmouth gullet, I take a breath. I close my eyes. I use my body. I let it work for me. Let it get me out alive.


Pads and tampons won't cut it any longer. Instead, I sit on the couch, bleeding alone, a rag between my legs, and ruin my pajamas. I send my professor an email. I ask to retake the chemistry test next week. If I leave the house, I'll drown the world. I watch my marmalade-colored kitten paw at the front door. Hear the rumble of the garbage truck. Usually, I'd make my way out to the sidewalk to wave at Ned, my residential curbside collector, and he'd say, Lovely Lucy, how's your new kitten, does she still cry at night, and I'd say, No, not today. Not anymore.


Over coffee, my father apologizes for leaving. Though it is my time of the month, I do not bleed (it holds off until later, when a customer at the pharmacy claims he never received his Xanax prescription), and I accept his apology. This worries me because I wonder if I rely too much on my body. If I try too hard to gauge the garbage of the world with my gut. But I know this is what the world wants me to do. Trick myself out of trusting myself. So they can be the last piece of trash to touch you.


The tattoo artist frowns at the drawing I hand him. He's handsome with a scruffy beard and bed head-like hair, and wears a bowling shirt embroidered with the name Scott. He says, Is this. . .? A tampon, I finish. I point near my hipbone. But it's a friendly tampon. With little arms and legs and a smile and everything.

The tattoo artist laughs. It's a laugh I want to crawl into. Earlier this week I saw him standing beneath the awning of the tattoo parlor. I liked the delicate way he flipped his butterfly knife back and forth, and now I want to see the way he wields a tattoo pen.

I ask, Can you do it?

He stares at me in awe. His eyes, a beautiful, chocolaty brown, crinkle. He grins, says, I can do anything. Where do you want it?

I hear my mother's voice in my head. Abdomen. Interrupting. Like I knew she would.

Right here, I say. I pull up my shirt. Jerk down the waistband of my jeans. I give my skin a light slap. Right on my belly.

The tattoo artist leans down. He studiously examines my stomach, up-close and with fervor. Runs petal-soft fingers over my hipbone. This looks good, he says, and his breath is so warm against my skin, he could steam open my ovaries.


On our wedding night, my husband dances me across the threshold of our honeymoon suite. His palm brands the small of my back. His hand curls around mine like smoke from a fire. Scott says, Remember that time I gave you a tampon tattoo and when I was finished, you cried? It was two years ago, but of course I remember. I kiss his lips, slip my hands into his pockets. You made me happy, I say. With you I knew I could always wear white.


I Google, What to do when trash collection service is interrupted?


Before bed, my daughter eats slices of Satsuma orange and drinks warm milk dashed with cinnamon. She strips off her pajamas, runs around the table naked. I crouch beside her. A tendril of juice runs down her pale Buddha belly. I wipe it away. All that innocence, all that wild. I suck the sweetness from my finger.

Do you love my tummy, mama, she says, rising on tiptoes to loop light arms around my neck.

To the moon and back, I say, telling her a line that is not mine as I watch Scott roll the garbage can to the curb for tomorrow's collection. A red sun backlights him, the falling rain, and I feel the way the blood collects hot down below, the way it readies itself for another day of trash.

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FORAGERS by Jaime Fountaine

My mom brought this new guy, Jeff, home, and they want to have dinner together at the table, like I’ve met him before. He’s cooking, which I think is supposed to impress her. She never cooks, so joke’s on him I guess.

Right now the joke is on me, because my mom is doing the thing she always does when she meets a guy where she pretends to be a totally different person, and expects me to do the same.

She says men don’t want you to like them too much right away. They want to work for it. She never says what it is. I know it isn’t sex. She doesn’t make anyone work for that.

Jeff came over with a bunch of grocery bags and made himself comfortable. Too comfortable, really. He took his shoes off without asking and dumped his pockets out by the door, just making himself at home like this isn’t the first time he’s ever gotten here when it’s still light out.

It’s not new. My mom says she loves a man who takes charge, but what she means is that she loves a man who thinks he owns everything in front of him, like he’s the fucking Lion King.

When I was younger, she’d drill me on politeness. All these rules that don’t even apply to me, like how long you have to write thank you notes for wedding gifts. She said that people only think you’re trash if you act like it.

I’m pretty sure that Jeff’s never sent a thank you note in his life.

My mom had perched herself on the counter to watch, ashing her cigarette in the sink while Jeff shuffled and chopped. She always tries to make herself smaller with a man around, as if folding her body in on itself is a disguise. She’s like an actress, playing the woman she wants men to think she is, instead of the one she feels like. It never works for long.

My mother’s no good at containing her feelings. She tells me I’m going to get cancer from bottling mine up, but I don’t see the point in putting everything out there for people to see if there’s nothing they can do about it. She doesn’t see it that way. She wants people to know that she’s hurting, and that she thinks it’s their fault.

Jeff brought those egg noodles that old people get, the ones that come in bags and taste either uncooked or wet, depending on who makes them. I watched them fall out of the dirty plastic grocery bag and shatter on the floor. It didn’t faze my mother, who smiled as she picked them up and put them back, alongside a pile of loose, dirty mushrooms.

“Why did you take those out of the package?” I asked. My mom glared at me. She hates the way I talk to her boyfriends. It ruins the illusion.

“Oh, they weren’t in one. I found a big patch of them on a job today, so I helped myself.”

It’s not like I don’t know where vegetables come from. But if the only thing I know about a guy is that my mom likes him, I don't trust him not to poison me.

“How do you know if they’re the edible kind of mushrooms and not the poison ones?” My mother’s voice was sweet when she asked, as if she was impressed, although I could tell from her eyes that she didn’t trust him either.

“I read a book about it once.”

Jeff doesn’t look like a guy who reads. Jeff doesn’t even look like a guy who thinks. It’s enough for my mother, though, that she smiled and let it go immediately. She never eats much with a new man around, anyway. She could shrug this off no problem.

I don’t really eat breakfast. My mom just drinks diet coke all day until dinner, so there isn’t much around. I’ll get lunch at school and make due with what we have afterward. It’s not usually a big deal. In the summer, half the time, I just camp out in front of the window unit with a sleeve of saltines.

“I know you eat like a bird, but you’re going to love this.” Every guy my mom brings around tries to act like they didn’t just meet at the bar, like they’ve known each other forever. She just swallows it up.

“She looks like she can eat. Hopefully I’m making enough.” They laughed like I wasn’t in the room. It’d serve both of them right if the mushrooms were poison.

I tried to remember what we had in the cabinets, if there was anything I could sneak later. I was hungry, but I didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me eat.

Jeff was narrating the whole thing like he was on a cooking show. I’ve seen cooking shows. There is a calmness to them, watching an old lady or some French guy casually building order out of food and knives and pans. Recipes take shape, things are created. It wasn’t like that.

“You know, people tell you to wash mushrooms with water, but that just makes ‘em soggy. What you got to do is take a paper towel and — shit, Kerri, this knife is terrible. I almost cut my fucking finger off.”

“Oh, honey, are you okay?” My mom slid off the counter to his side, murmuring an apology, like it was her fault he wasn’t paying attention.

“What we’re going to do is get you a better knife. Protect those hands of yours.” He wrapped himself around her like he was comforting a child.

I’ve spent my whole life so far waiting for the day when I stop getting treated like a kid. I don’t understand why she always defaults to helplessness. It’s not like any of these assholes are supporting us. She’s always the one paying.

I wanted to leave the kitchen, but it was clear that the performance was supposed to be for my benefit. My mom always wanted me to see how each man was different than the last one. “He’s not like Daniel was,” she’ whispered, when he turned his back to us. “Jeff cooks.”

I can’t remember if Daniel was the one who broke a plate when he was mad about something or if he’s the one whose wife answered the phone when I called looking for my mom. They all seem the same to me. They’re all bigger than her, a little red in the face from drinking or working outside or both, arrogant for no apparent reason.

They all look at me like I’m a disappointment. I don’t know what she’s telling them.

I started picking at the frayed edge of my shorts, so I didn’t have to look up and see the face I knew my mother was making. I think someone must have told her it was cute once, but it isn’t. The way she opens her eyes as wide as possible and tilts her head to one side reminds me of a big dumb animal, like a cow or something. It’s her pleading face, and she makes it every time, as if I have control over any of this. You can’t make somebody love you. I’ve figured that out already. I don’t know why she can’t see it.

Jeff tried to drain the noodles with a flourish, but all he really did was dump a bunch of water on the ground and didn’t even pretend he was going to clean it up. He just stepped over the puddle and plopped the wet mass in the pan on top of the poison mushrooms.

“Hey kid, why don’t you make yourself useful and set the table?”

I could feel the heat rising in my face. I grit my teeth to keep my mouth shut. I turned to my mother, to get some kind of backup, but she didn’t give a shit. She was just watching Jeff pour a McCormick seasoning packet into the pasta like he was some kind of genius.

If she wants to be spoken to like an idiot, that’s her problem. I don’t know why I’m expected to just sit here and take it.

I knew she’d be mad if I were too dramatic about the whole thing, but there’s really no quiet way to set a table. I could feel his eyes on my back as I plunked the plates down. I knew he was going to sit himself at the head of the table no matter how I set it, so I put myself opposite him. At least then I’d be able to stare him down.

“Babe. Babe, you’re going to love this.” The wet, slapping sound of the food hitting the plate made my stomach clench. He motioned for us to sit down, and started digging into the milky gray slop.

My mother shifted the egg noodles around, and took a bite. “Oh, Jeff, this is great,” she said, but I saw her wincing.

“Go ahead, kid. Eat up.” He glowered at me, like you better not ruin this for me, like my mom was going to suddenly come to her senses if I didn’t eat this fucking pasta. My mom just made her stupid cow face again.

What I wanted to do was scream at both of them that they’re adults and they don’t need my input. Scream at Jeff to get out of my house and take his disgusting dinner with him. To scream at my mother. I wanted to get up and leave and never come back.

But I couldn’t. So I lifted a forkful to my mouth and swallowed it without chewing. It went down slimy and gritty, and I wanted to gag, but instead I looked Jeff right in his eye without blinking, and had another bite.

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OPEN TO AN OCEAN by Tommy Dean

He circles the fountain like an animal pushed out of his habitat. The heat smothers his body. It’s the tenth day above ninety, and still they—the powerful men he imagines sitting in a tall building chewing on ice and swiveling in office chairs whose leather seats cool these men’s backs as they laugh at the little boys like him—won’t open up the water tower reserves. He flaps his hands at the sun, but it trains its unforgiving eye on his narrow shoulders. He’s heard about invisible rays, but today they punch and slap, making his skin as tight as the tops of conga drums.

His mother calls to him from their lofty apartment until her voice breaks. It’s even hotter in the room he shares with his Uncle and older brother. They pass a cigarette back and forth, argue about politics that they are too poor to change, their words pouting in the rising smoke.

“Go play,” they say. “Be a kid, Damian.”

He wants to ask them why he can’t be a kid in his room, one who colors or reads books, who gets to lay in the bed for once and not the pile of blankets on the floor. Why must he have to run and jump, and be the plaything of gnats and wasps?

But they bully him with their bodies, their sloping shoulders, and cantaloupe necks, their voices chasing him out the door and into the street, where though he mingles with trash and dust, there is space to twirl, to hoot, and cry behind the grocer’s dumpster’s because he can’t reach the lids.

The alleys offer shadows, the closest he can come to sunblock, but there are noises of machines and of ghouls, legends of harm that take him back to the fountain. He scuffs his feet along the brick, wishing they were wedges of cheese or sliced watermelon. He bends his head over his knees and sniffs. He waits for the birds, but they no longer linger or scuttle across the stone path, no longer squawk for a piece of bread. They hide somewhere not so far away, but still, they remain unreachable. Like the river of his mother's eyes where the happiness has receded away from the banks, making everything dull with cracked dirt.

And still, she calls for him, because even without water, even with the searing heat, her instinct is to love him, and so he begins to dance. Soft humming from the well of his lungs gives him rhythm, round and round the spigot buried beneath the brick. Faster his body lurches, arms raised toward the sky in a toddler's desperation, until the people gather around him, air springing from their lips. The ground shakes beneath his feet, soles of his shoes clopping, echoing, calling for his mother to join him. Two, three days, he keeps watch for his mother, the people babbling her name, though he’s never spoken it out loud. They are connected like a string between tin cans, vibrations from his dance catching on the wind, sound so pungent, his mother almost falls from her window as she leans toward him ready to receive the pieces of him he’s willing to sacrifice for these first drops of rain, her tears running rustily down her cheek. The people shouting, “Now, boy, you’ve done it,” and “Don’t stop!” and “They won’t ignore us now.”

But they do, these men in their towers, lazing in their pools, watching with frozen grins until the boy collapses. Only then do they relent, a swipe of a hand, and their machines come alive sending a streaking signal toward the ground, quick as lightning, but soundless, as the pipes gurgle and then gush, the fountain erupting. The mother wades through the crowd, women parting, children hiccuping as they are held back until this mother touches her child near his neck, water seething around his nose and mouth. His eyes open to an ocean.

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ANIMALS by Lily Hackett

I only ordered so I could have the wine got for the cat’s man. But in the takeaway box, they had black shells and polished eyes. They had big claws. I searched for ‘Clawed prawns’. Crayfish. I left a message. I saw one twitch, thrash in the sauce. Its shining eyes were on me. It crawled out from the tub. The seven legs went click across the tub’s rim and click click, softly, on the wooden table. It moved clumsily, trailing chopped shallot. The second followed. Each was as long as my hand. They had toad bellies and dog whiskers. They were flat and black as lice.

They might begin to skitter. If they dropped off the table, I would have to stamp them underfoot. And I hated the sound of small things cracking, spines of game birds, or the muffled shatter of a snail shell. They crayfish were moving faster, going click click, softly, on the wooden table. I was slow opening drawers so nothing slammed. I rustled out a pyrex salad bowl. I turned the bowl quick onto the table like a dome. I trapped both, but snipped a leg with the glass rim. It felt worse to hurt them than it would to hurt something nice. Seeing one bug crippled, guilt only made me want them dead. I thought I could fume them dead. I lit four cigarettes and edged them one by one under the dome. When the plush smoke cleared they seemed bigger but had clustered their legs under.

I could see white body through their joints’ splits. Their shells wheezed and popped. I couldn’t know if it hurt, if growing was something that they did, or that happened to them. Their eyes were too polished to see inside. They shook the shells loose. Through the glass and their bodies I saw the tiny violet systems. I liked their sudden fleshness, could trick my eye that they were hairless pink kittens. I wasn’t soft. I stoned a grouse once and made myself wring it finished. I watched the dome. They ate their shells. I pushed the leg back into the dome and one ate that. I watched their spindled mouths. Their bodies had grown so they pressed flush up against the glass. Flesh hardened, fused, and the one new shell made one new bug. It had a quantity of legs, four eyes, and one stout, glossy tail. It was as orange as new peel all over. I had looked so long and closely that it couldn’t disgust me. It was like a terrible thought, that through repetition of thinking stops its horror and becomes the mind’s friend. Plus, I had no choice. I couldn’t ring vets anymore. It was big though. I lit two more cigarettes, and edged them under the dome to keep it still. I went and ran a bathful. I came back into the kitchen. I lifted the dome. The shell against the glass went click click. I wrapped the bug in a clean tea-towel and held it tight to my body. I didn’t love it - I didn’t want it to snip me. A one leg trailed on my arm. I meant to place it gently but I threw it off me. It scraped the tub’s avocado coat. It was very tangerine against dull green. The scrape sound called to the twin enamel of my mouth. I didn’t want to have to fume the whole room. I got the bottle from the kitchen, pulled the thick cork, smelling straw and alcohol. I poured it on and into the bug in the tub. I sat on the avocado toilet and had a swig. I laughed, I was sick in the avocado sink, I rinsed it away. I went to bed. I came down and put a chair against the bathroom door. I went to bed.

The cat’s man had this pregnant cat. It’s body was like a sack. At the time I was still walking out, buying stock cubes, buying medicine. The cat dragged her slack along the ground. I wondered if she might fray her belly on the pavement, if she might split, over by the betting places, and spill her kids. The man really loved it, called it Miss, Lady. I also wondered if when the cat split, just one small boy would spill, with a tail and tiny incisors. They’d have to lock the cat’s man up for crimes of sickness. It followed me back. It settled, fat and loose in the front of the machine. I was half-cut from stopping off. ‘Littel woman’ I said. I opened a tin of curried chicken. She settled her head away from it. ‘Spoiled bitc’ I said. The cat wouldn’t eat. It wouldn’t leave either. She was a serene thing, queenly feeling. I imagined the cat’s man placing sushi-grade on his flat tongue for nibbling. I kicked her belly. She split like a sack. Seven kittens spilled onto tile. The cat couldn’t live, bled and died. I was practical. Bricked rabbits in lanes with tics in their eyes. I filled the mop bucket. I drowned them with quickness and skill. It was all found out somehow. They hissed in shops. I couldn’t buy the things I needed or call anyone about the crayfish.

In the morning I took the chair from the door. The crayfish was grown dog-big. I used what I had to make it quiet. Christmas ales with big percents. Hot Mahon gin with a windmill on the bottle. Advocaat, split in the bathwater. ‘I won’t let you drink aloen’ I said. I think it roamed at night. I heard click click when I woke having headaches. It was always back in the tub by morning. ‘Yur sly’ I said.

I clicked a video. A chef spoke strictly. ‘Lobsters feel no pain’. She took a glistening knife and struck through the head. She boiled salt water. ‘It’ll feel at home’ she said. She smirked. She took a different knife and cracked the shell in half. She picked out white chunks and dipped them in melted butter. ‘Respect it’ she said. Clicked. A lobster in boiling water made a whistling sound. ‘This is not a scream. This is air leaving the shell’. A woman in a foreign country chopped the chubby legs off a crab while it was living. She burned onions. A living crab in another pan. This one had its legs and was grabbing ginger to its mouth, eating what seasoned it. I ordered a knife. Japanese. Clicked. Videos: my knife cutting tomatoes so thinly they looked like glass. My knife cleanly halving a single sheet of paper. I ordered butter, wrapped in wax paper, from Normandy.

The crayfish was on the turn, looked rotten with black spots. The water was black, particularly grisly: stout and blue curacao. It tried to roam again. I pushed it back into the water and buttered the sides of the tub, a trick done once or so on ladybugs. The knife came rolled in tan canvas, tied with leather string. I practised it on day cushions. I couldn’t use fruit or the like – didn’t keep much fresh in – but didn’t before really either. I brought it to the bathroom. After days I saw white flesh in the splits. The shell whistled like an old home. The body shivered off the shell. I dropped the knife through water through into the head. It was brainless, without pain. Black punch slopped. I drained the bath. I thought I might mount the heavy shell, like a fisherman, if I could easily learn how.

I went and melted six pats of that good butter in a pan, swirling it so the curds couldn’t catch. But when I returned to the bathroom, the body looked grey, like its tracts were filled with ash. I gripped again and sliced meat from it. It was sour, sick-tasting. I felt briefly grieved for six or so planned meals. I set the knife back on the avocado sink. I put a towel across the body and heaved it up. It was big-dog big. I carried it through the kitchen and through double door onto the garden. Outside was brown. Everything was dying according to its time. I dumped the bundle and took to the spade, Irish, made with oiled red wood. It wasn’t much under: the information had dictated deeper. But nothing had disturbed it except myself. Inside, a dozen other bundles. I rolled the crayfish in. ‘Iam a practical woman’ I said to the spiders on the leaves. ‘Repsect it’ I said to the flies gummed up in the webs.

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