TOPPLED by Julie Zuckerman

The crowds coursing the streets below Marjorie’s apartment cheer and chant, and she hurries downstairs. Withered wives and working girls, wheelchair-bound and beach-bronzed beauties, one of the most spectacular sights she’s seen in her 68 years. They beckon to Marjorie, but she hesitates, grounded in place. Her uneasiness hovers around her like a swarm of midges. The most beaten down have ascended on the capital, together with bejeweled matrons of Madison Avenue, minivan-driving moms, and those in thread-bare, torn coats. With each stride, they discard the delicate attributes absorbed since birth, casting aside mantles of caregiver, nurturer, defender, peacemaker, forgiver, family gluer.

The words Wait! I’m coming stick in her throat. She forces one giant gulp of air into her lungs and steps forward into the surge. With each stride, she is fortified, the cloud of midges thinning. Her guilt and worry float skyward, popping like bubbles.  

Like Miriam the prophetess with timbrels in hand, the women flock towards freedom. Their songs scuff away eternities of subjugation and restraint. It’s a spontaneous outpouring of sisterhood that transcends politics and unites them on a chromosomal level; no planning or secret social networks were necessary.

The men, smug in their constructs of superiority, do not see them coming.

This is not the Women’s March of 2017, which was cathartic, yes. But barely a blip in the battle.

A reverberation ripples through the crowd, a breathless, hushed moment, followed by an eruption of thunderous, whooping cheers. Marjorie stands on her tiptoes to see the DC skyline forever changed: the ultimate phallus, the iconic Washington Monument, topples. The mechanics of how this is happening, the intricacies of the organization, or whether a vote was taken are questions she can ask later. It’s a prodigious moment; every neuron in Marjorie is wide awake, electric, prickly with possibilities she’d never imagined.

They swarm the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonians. Once, she revered these institutions, the massive memorials and erections of glory, the cherry blossoms, the reflecting pools. The first text she receives is from her sister: the same thing is happening simultaneously in every state capital and major city around the world. From her daughter, in every place of business and in the armed forces. And from her daughters-in-law, in every home.

Near the war memorials – Vietnam, Korea, and the vainglorious World War II construction – Marjorie experiences a bodily sensation of being rent in two, the Red Sea splitting inside her, painful and cleansing at once.

In the shadow of Lincoln, she weeps with a fierceness that hasn’t flared since her mother’s funeral three decades ago. Today’s torrent is different, a mixture of euphoria and awe, a twinge of exhilarating terror, amazement that life can still surprise in a good way. Someone offers her a tissue, a hug, and takes her by the hand to keep walking.

She is one of the lucky ones – never raped or molested, or subject to overt brutality or degradation due to gender, race or sexual preference. But a lifetime of slights, catcalls, indignation, covert biases, crude jokes, and commands meant to chip away at self-worth and keep men in positions of power are enough to fuel her rage into a colossal conflagration.

Only males under the age of 5 will be spared. Marjorie’s mind flits to her ex – she’s long past hating him, but: hah! – and then to her two grown sons, which is more complicated. With each passing year, she’s understood her sons are average, more takers than givers, molded in their father’s image. Her eldest hounds her to get more exercise. He chucks her zero-fat yogurts, determined to be the arbiter of her health. His younger brother cares more for his cars and gadgets than his children. On occasion, they are kind, but their attempts bring her little comfort. She feels more kinship with her daughters-in-law. With every woman walking beside her. She doesn’t blame her boys for any real evil in the world, but she will not miss them too much.

Once a year, Marjorie will spill out drops of wine with her pinky to remind herself that oppressors and their bystanders also deserve compassion. But now, she closes her eyes and gives thanks she will never be controlled again. The freedom to be fully herself is exquisite; she’d not known the extent of her hunger until today. She tilts her head to the sky and spreads her arms like an eagle, ready to soar.

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THE WHOLE FLOW by Angie McCullagh

I try to become liquid like she told me. I pour myself into heavy-bottomed glasses and over nubby sofas and down rucked, tan chests. I puddle onto the floor and sometimes throw myself into the wind only to splash back on bug-splattered windshields.

To survive, she said, you have to learn to go with it. But my mother’s advice is bad. I learn this when my boy is first diagnosed and I think we can do it, I am flexible, Watch me drain my whole body into his syringes and make him better. I will do anything, anything at all.

The first night in the hospital I settle, like a pond, around his little frame and burble his favorite songs. I don’t sleep, not even for a second. In the morning his dad visits and says to me, you look like shit.

He sits with our boy while I shower in the bathroom with no soap and hold the safety bar to keep from slipping down the drain.


We are back at home where his dad doesn’t live. Wind shakes the walls, roaring that I should’ve prevented my boy’s illness and I dissolve in my own salty tears. It is darkest December, but globules of insulin gleam from needle tips, reflected in multi-colored holiday lights.

I’m hurting him. He yells and cries. I’m so sorry, I say before every poke, my heart pounding like a shaggy, water-logged thing.

After a few months, he stops crying, only bites his bottom lip hard and looks away.


She comes to visit with her tequila in a peroxide bottle and miles of beaded leather wrapped around her wrists. It’s too bad he got sick but you will adjust. Life is fluid.

She is her own undertow and I splash wildly, finding that fight is a solid object to hold onto.

When she watches the boy so I can take a run, then lets his blood sugar drop so low the juice box in his hand shakes as he tries to lift it to his mouth, I tell her to leave.


My new anger is hard and heavy, an anchor that has always been there without my knowing. I feel no ire toward my boy (why would I?) but fury at everything else – his disease, my mother, the man who promised his life to me until things became difficult and sodden and he breast stroked away with hardly a glance backward.

It is now just the boy and me and boxes of a chemical his own body can’t supply and also the beta fish in a bowl I bought to cheer him up. We sit in a small rowboat, bobbing. If you were to pull back from the tiny craft, a sunset pink behind us and a whole gray ocean slippery with fish and other sealife below, we would look like two brightly colored scraps barely tethered by my outrage, which is better, at least, than liquefying and drowning.

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NILSSON SCHMILSSON by Anthony Sabourin

I was outside on my street watching an apartment building on fire. I was watching it with the people who lived in that building, the people who’d left it. At three floors, it wasn’t a big apartment building, but it was a big fire. It was crackling, and flames were shooting out of windows and smoke was filling the night sky.

I looked at everybody. It was nighttime when the fire started, and so you could see these snapshots of how people were living inside their homes. A couple wore rumpled office clothes paired with sweatpants, caught between two routines. There was a guy in a misbuttoned janitor outfit. There was a family with four little kids, crying in mismatched pyjamas. The parents looked lifeless and hollowed out, leaning against each other like dead trees. There was even a guy who looked like Harry Nilsson on the cover of Nilsson Schmilsson, standing lost and gently wasted in a bathrobe. Instead of a hash pipe he was holding this big lamp.

That was the other thing too; people had brought all this stuff with them. But it’s hard to figure out what’s important when you are trying to not die in a fire. Like honey grab that toaster, we need to get out of this fucking building on fire. And then you’re in this rushed procession, everyone wanting to move fast but there’s so many of them that they can only move slow, this urgent slowness, bodies pushed out of hallways like toothpaste, and you’re holding a toaster. Or you grab a box of shit you never unpacked from when you moved in. Or your daughter’s favourite stuffed toy but it’s the wrong one, and now she’s crying on the street and her memories are covered in flames. Outside we were huddled together, we could all feel the warmth.

Finally we heard sirens. A fire truck honked at us because we were all standing in the street and firefighters started to get off and we moved to the crabgrass of the lawns of the row of houses across the street from the building. There was one house where the shutters were drawn though, and it looked like nobody was home. That house was my house. These people were on the street because the building they lived in was on fire. I was here because I wanted to breathe in a new kind of smoke. I was inhaling their lives. The family pictures, the drawers of junk mail, the jars of small change, the piles of unfolded clean laundry, the unworn jewelry passed down from mom, the overdue bills and lost TV remotes, the blankets, the books, the old vcrs, the stuff, all of it smoke rings floating skyward. These people didn’t know that instead of living they’d been gathering kindling.

Another firetruck and a couple of ambulances came, and I got to watch people at work. Some firefighters were spraying the building with water while other firefighters were going into the building. I didn’t know what was happening but it looked coordinated. It made me think about how when you are a firefighter nobody knows when you are doing a bad job. Like there are people who are bad at their jobs everywhere, so there must have been people who were bad at fighting fire. Firefighters with dull axes and weak muscles, firefighters who got lost on the way to a fire, firefighters who dropped old ladies onto the floor like they were heavy groceries - all heroes. As long as you were showing up to the fire, you were doing pretty good.  As long as you do did some baseline firefighting shit, low expectations were their own reward.

I had to pay attention now because a quiet came over the crowd. A lull accompanied by craning necks. I looked with them and I saw it; I saw a life being saved.

The front doors of the apartment were being opened, and there was a firefighter cradling a man in his underpants. The man was almost hairless, heavy - his body a series of soft, round shapes folding in on each other. His skin was reddened, splotchy. It looked like the firefighter was carrying a newborn baby, the man was that helpless, and for all of his size he was being carried with such ease and tenderness.

The man was crying, and he was talking to the firefighter. “Please let me die,” he said. “Please let me die.” His sadness was baby-like too. It was pure and unsullied. “Please,” he said. “I want to go back in there, please. Please.” And the man did not protest further as the firefighter carried him to the paramedics, who strapped him down into a gurney. We all watched this.

I had never seen a life saved before!

We stayed to see what would happen next, but in the end the fire just died. The firefighters were turning away people who wanted to go back, and the crowd dispersed, formless - in the end just more smoke, only I no longer wanted to inhale. Watching that man’s life being saved was akin to saving it myself. I felt a fullness. I walked and walked, directionless, heroic in my wandering.

The streets were broken up by dogshit on neighbours’ lawns, by gum dotting the sidewalk, by shards of broken glass, unclaimed garbage, the smell of marijuana from backyards and balconies. There were signs for missing pets - Charlie and Waldo and Blackie, which was the name of a black cat, which was questionable. The sounds of porch conversations and laughter, of hazy bass reverberating through houses, the sounds of nothing, of my footsteps, of crickets. I felt infused with a sense of community.

There was a lawn of knee-high weeds, overgrown from neglect. I saw a letter on the door of this house, and I walked up to the door and read “JANET ITS YOUR NEIGHBOURS PLEASE CUT YOUR GRASS,” and Janet, you wonder, you holy ghost, I hope you never change. Please let me die? And miss Janet cut the lawn?

It was funny how often you could see into the houses. Most windows were closed off, but there were so many left uncurtained, unshuttered, wide open. The green snatches of plants, or of bookshelves, or of unadulterated, unchanged 1970s decor. Of giant flatscreen televisions, shooting out images of big faces mouthing words at each other, of news anchors commenting on the moving pictures in the box adjacent to them, of tiny men playing baseball, of netflix menus.  There was also the shock of people - an old man moving in his kitchen, a man and woman putting food into their open mouths, of a woman adjusting a stereo, adjusting a bra. All obstructed, cut off, edited to fit the aspect ratio of windows; the 16:9 of living spaces beamed outwards. Pause - that couple asleep on their couch, crashed and leaning against each other under the glow of a screen paused on the option to “Continue watching.” I stood and thought to myself about how even dog shit left on someone’s lawn was life. Even broken beer bottles on the street came from living. From drinking that beer and making the earth your garbage. I checked my phone, saw angry messages, looked up and saw that the sleeping heads were now awake and looking at me.

Cut to curtains closed ineptly, a man opening the door, coming fast and saying “What the fuck’s your problem?”

I tried to talk about how full of life everything was. How even Janet was trying her best, or not, but it didn’t matter as long as she was still here. I couldn’t think of how to start, so I asked if he heard about the fire. “Fuck you!” he told me. He looked like he was going to punch me so I ran down the street.

I was sweaty and out of breath when I got to a park entrance. I was lost, but I had my phone so I wasn’t really lost. An unused playground gave way to an unused soccer field, and a path cut through the field, leading to a small forested area that was dwarfed by three apartment complexes. The trees swayed, emasculated, and I walked towards them.

It felt nice to not know where I was.

The forest was lit erratically by my phone flashlight. There was a man-made structure, a long sloping tree branch used as the spine for kind of tee-pee made of found branches. I looked inside and there was nothing. I swatted at mosquitoes and thought about living in here. Thought about being a caveman. Watching fire and living in the dirt. Scrawling madness onto walls. There was a crackling of branches and a flash of red, a soft thumping noise, a cardinal twitching on the ground.

The wing was bent obtuse, wrong, and there was more red than just plumage.

The bird was making noises and I was the only one around to hear its song. I didn’t know if it was dying or what. The bird was flapping on the ground but it couldn’t get up. It stopped and was still. I bent down to look at it. “I can save you,” I said.

I held it in my hands and for a moment it did not stir. It was so light. The red in my hands was almost weightless - almost nothing.

I started to get up and what was in my hands bucked and thrashed. The bird started to pick at me and bite, and I dropped it on the ground. It lay there hurt and screaming. I could see now that there was a lot of blood. If the bird was dying I didn’t know if this was a list of grievances or a confession or a final wish. I tried to pick it up again and it bit at me. It hopped on the ground and fell for a final time.

Its squawking died out, finally, and I was able to hold it in my hands once more.

If the bird was dying I didn’t know what to do.

In the dirt of the wooden structure, I dug a tiny hole.

After that I walked home. The shutters were still closed. I slid my key into the lock and opened the door. I turned on the hallway light and my wife appeared by the stairs. She was wearing an old sweatshirt, baggy and stained. She smelled like sleep and milk. Her upper lip was tight and the lines around her mouth formed a sad shape, and she wanted so badly to shout, but she knew she could not. She had to whisper. She had to whisper that I was a lazy husband and a bad father, and where was I, what right did I have to be such a disappointment. This was anger without catharsis. You can slam the curtains shut, but it’s just fluttering air. Her eyes looked so hurt. So tired. So sad. I couldn’t focus on her words anymore, the harsh sibilants that couldn’t rise to the level of a shout. And even though she was careful, there was a crying from upstairs and I was saved. My wife looked at me a final time and floated back up the stairs.

I grabbed a beer from the fridge and drank it in front of the television as sports highlights played in a loop at low volume. The television flickered and when I woke up no light crept through the shutters. I put the bottle on the kitchen counter and I crept up the stairs like a fugitive. Upstairs I opened our daughter’s bedroom door and looked down at our sleeping baby. I picked her up and rocked her in my arms.

I am saving you, I thought.

Please let me die.

I am saving you.

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PISS by Chad Miller

Every time I piss myself, I get the job. Every time. It’s a fact. The first time I pissed myself was in the restroom at the office park with the ring of palm trees, before an interview. Let’s just agree my stream was spirited and leave the cause. Piss ricocheted. I cleaned what I could at the sink.

I got that job back-coding home remodeler websites with a soaked crotch.

I wore gray slacks.

The stain became a black hole the recruiter must have hoped to gaze my dick through. That hope, or is it the smell, that hypnotizes every hiring officer?

Hell, I don’t know.

Every time.

Opie, welcome aboard.

Opie, when can you start?

That coding job.

The arcade job.

Managing here.

It’s like the one time when I was a kid.

A friend and I were chasing his younger sister’s friends. Our car lights interrupted them wrapping their house in toilet paper. I grabbed his floorboard bat. A neighbor with a shotgun in his yard called cops on us.

I caught up to my prankster but did nothing. He was an island boy, homesick probably. We walked backed side-by-side to the house and flashing circus. I used the bat as a cane. We didn’t speak.

Anyway, the police officer yelled at my friend every time I back-talked. The boy was silent, respectful, but I quipped at the cop. His fetish get-up, the baton. I tease more often than I piss—I’m funny with it—but it was setting the officer off.

The boy got the brunt of the cop’s ire and I dodged it all because he dressed like a punk and I look like a television star. Blond hair. Crystal eyes. So lean any muscle I have looks like a bulge I worked after. I wear polos and khakis. My friend dressed like a punk. Bandanna over black spikes. Waffle thermals under a skull tee and cut jean shorts. Flannel tied at his waist, a suburban kilt. Boots that could pin your throat.

I sass a cop without repercussion. I piss myself and get away with it. Even get a job for it. I’m homegrown, homemade. The stank of an all-American boy. I’m scratch-and-sniff TV.


That’s my nickname.


It’s not one bit a part of my real name.

Opie’s a character from TV.

A small-town sheriff’s kid on fifties TV.

A ginger kid in black and white.

The time I pissed myself at the shitty concert with the sprawling band of wind instruments and chimes, when I got the prepper copy job right at the bar from a stranger, that guy called me Opie without even knowing it was my nickname, that’s how fitting the name is. How fitted.

Everybody loves an Opie.

Every body.

It’s mob mentality.

I one time took a receptionist job away from a clean black girl even though I pissed the CEO—right onto his wingtips while we shook hands—so I know my privilege is messy.

The girl stepped in my pool. Her flats whined to the elevator.

We made awful comments.

This job? This job I pissed myself for almost a day and still got it, with a signing bonus. Didn’t clean myself up. I wasn’t even awake enough to. What’s the point anyway?

People think I’m together even though they know about the pot and the cocaine and stealing alcohol from a couple of jobs, the DUI, the time in jail for possession, for dealing, for hit and run. I hit my father when he wouldn’t hit me. I owe everyone who’s given me anything. I’m very open and honest and write everything down on my applications.

Everyone smells redemption when I walk into a room. They’re intoxicated by the arc they see me on.

Like they’re watching TV.

The fifties sheriff show had other characters. All white, but a fair cast. There was the aunt the widowed sheriff and Opie lived with. Plump. Like she was swinging a cauldron under her housedress. And there was Opie’s teacher, the sheriff’s love interest. And the mailman. There was the barber and monkey-dumb mechanic. And there was a drunk who slept off the worst of it in jail, Otis.

No one calls me Otis though.

I’m not an Otis.

I can’t be. I can’t.

Otis is dumpy.

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WE ETERNAL BEINGS by Jody Sperling

Mary died earlier this week: went into the hospital for routine foot ulcer debridement—common with diabetics—developed a staph infection, went under for a lung treatment and never woke from the anesthesia. We knew Mary from back in the day. I’d moved to Omaha to live with my grandparents, found Jesus (it’s not what you think) so I sent my buddy to live with them (proselytizers got to be proselytizing). My grandparents prayed before every meal.

Mary was a banker who worked with my buddy in Omaha. Obesity led to her diabetes, which triggered her demise.

Demise. What a word. It sounds too clinical for its purpose. Demise is the word doctors use to justify premature deaths: stillborns, sudden heart attacks, “complications with x,” drug overdoses. Arise rhymes with demise, as in “Arise, Lazarus come out of the grave,” which is what Jesus said to his buddy, dead in the grave four days.


By the time my buddy moved to Omaha to live with my grandparents I was a recovered alcoholic, well on my way to conservative Christianity. Recovered is a loose term, given my troubles in years following, but this isn’t that story.

I’d taken work on a rat and mouse rig in the Uintah Mountains. When my buddy called I requested vacation, because he told me he’d gotten his second DUI. I came down hard on him. “You’re on an arrow’s path to hell,” I said. “You need to repent” (a fancy word for “move to Omaha”). My harsh tone surprised him. The old me had been soft: understanding and compassionate. We talked for a while and I said, “Pack your shit. You’re moving to Omaha.”


The demise of my water pump occurred just outside Big Springs, halfway between Denver and nowhere*. A local repair shop charged me eight hundred: five for towing and three for service. That set me back a ways, but I still can’t remember where all the rest of the money went, because I worked for years in the oil fields. Hemorrhaging cash is almost as common a disease in America as diabetes.

*Rabbit trail? Nowhere might have a secret meaning: “no-where” or “now-here.” Odd insights seem profound when you’re writing alone in a hotel room far from home.

The mechanic had my Blazer hoisted six five feet in the air. There were several five-gallon buckets nearby, all full of Unleaded 85. The smell of gas most closely resembles the flavor of MSG. The mechanic said, “It always happens this way, right after you’ve filled up.”


My grandparents agreed to house my buddy because (a) I talked about him often: what a dear, dear friend, what a good, good guy, what a rough, rough hand he’d been dealt, and probably (b) I angled the whole he’s-close-to-accepting-Jesus-as-his-personal-Lord-and-Savior card, but mostly because (c) I told them how he’d saved my life once (good story for another day).


My buddy got a job at US Bank, he called it “Us Bank,” as in “we,” and that is where he met Mary. Mary in the Bible was the sister of Lazarus. This is not significant outside of the active whirring of my brain to see the connection: a false corollary like so many others.

I had complex feelings toward Mary. On the one hand, I found her funny. She was one of those women whose egos had no bounds. She really believed the world owed her. If there was ever anything wrong at work it was someone else’s fault. If anything good happened, she had made it happen. I am drawn to people with outsized egos. But also, too, Mary had a slight odor, mildewed, washed but not dried, perhaps lusty: Does lust have an odor? If I remember correctly, she brushed her teeth with hydrogen peroxide because she’d heard on some TV doctor show that toothpaste caused brain damage.

My wife’s father recently stopped drinking sodapop because it causes brain damage. Apparently a megastudy found that those who drink twelve ounces of carbonated, sweet beverages a day experience a shrinking of the hippocampus. Don’t bother me to look this up, but I seem to recall that the hippocampus is where emotion lives.


Mary and my buddy and I met one day sometime after midnight at VI off L Street. We drank coffee heavy with cream and ate French Silk Pie. I think highly of France, love silk and adore pie. The three together are, today, the only trinity I care about. Between every bite of pie we drank a cup of coffee, and since we couldn’t eat another bite until our coffee was full, we’d leave our jackets on our chairs to signal we’d return and go outside into the windy cold of Nebraskan November to smoke cigarettes and shiver.

My buddy only ever smoked socially. He could go weeks, even months, without a cigarette and not suffer. Then, in one night he’d smoke a pack—a whole pack—with no consequences. Mary and I were both card-carrying Mentholites.


I briefly worked myself into a two-pack-a-day habit during my stint in the oil fields. I worked with Chris the driller on a two-man, rat and mouse crew. Chris was big in the naturally-born-to-kill kind of way. He was thick everywhere. Thick legs, thick arms, thick neck, thick nose, thick tongue, he was thick, thick. Chris smoked three packs of cigarettes daily. When he wasn’t smoking he hung suspended from a tree by tenterhooks pierced through his shoulder meat. Suspensions create a religious high, they say. Look it up. People do it.

Because Chris smoked so much, I smoked a whole lot more. Odd as it may sound, if I smoked, I couldn’t smell Chris’s smoke, and I’d just get so damn tired of smelling Marb Reds all day long. Smoking was a break from smelling smoke so I smoked and smoked and smoked. That’s how it goes.


I didn’t actually answer when my buddy called me about Mary dying. I was checking into a hotel: I’m on the road this week in Albuquerque for work. When I dropped my bags on the hotel bed and as I was taking a dump, which is a sacred routine that helps cleanse me from the day’s troubles and reorients me to the important matters that lie ahead between end-of-work and time-for-bed, I saw he’d called. I called back and we talked work. Where I go, he goes, so we’re coworkers again which is how we met over a decade ago at a restaurant where he served and I hosted.

I’m the big cheese now, and he’s the little cheese—title-wise—but it’s not that way between us. I rely on his good reputation since he was a referral of mine. The more he succeeds the better I look: if I’ve learned one thing about Christianity, it’s all about appearances.


My buddy just got back from Spain, where he spent a week with his wife. They got free lodging over there through a friend of his. I’ve never traveled abroad. Not really. I spent a day in Juarez many years ago on a church mission trip. My grandparents wanted me to experience Christian Charity and since they footed the rent, what could I say? (That’s not charitable. I wanted to go but for all the wrong reasons. Remind me to tell you that one some other day.)

The kicker is, my buddy’s wife didn’t have a good time in Spain, he tells me, because she didn’t get to call the shots. He says she doesn’t do well when other people are leading and planning. Apparently his wife has a strong personality, he said. “Like you,” he said.

I don’t want to be compared to his wife. She is not on my list of favorite people. I wonder if she’ll need surgery someday. We all need surgery from time to time.

I’ve risen twice from Propofol (since they say the third time’s a charm, I won’t be going under again). The first time I was a baby in need of some kind of urethral correction. I guess I was born with six or eight holes perforating the length of my shaft. The other surgery was to repair my left ear, which heard so well it bled constantly. As a four-year-old I could hear the whispers of the dead, and it kept me awake at night. They said, “Call us out of the grave. We eternal beings. Arise, arise.”



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INHERITANCE by Cavin Bryce Gonzalez

When she came hopping out of the bathroom holding an instrument that I mistook as a thermometer I was appalled that someone could be so happy about running a fever. She threw her arms around me and squeezed, squeezed like she hated me. But she didn’t hate me. She loved me. And that’s when I saw the two little lines, bright pink, glaring at me.

It’s been four months since then. We’re having a boy. Every day her womb grows, life gestates. All of our friends are so excited. “You’re glowing!” they say. Or “About time!”

Every night I watch him while she sleeps. I imagine a little me in there, stuck to a feeding tube and unaware of the great big world waiting to pounce. My wife will smile while unconscious, sometimes her hands will go instinctively to her womb and move in small, precise circles. That baby is made of exactly 50% of my chromosomes and 50% of hers. Mine are 100% fucked. When our son grows, will his resentment for life grow like an awkward peach fuzz? Will he become angry easily, contemplate killing himself before he’s even old enough to drive?

While my wife chatters about whether our child will play sports or be an artist all I can imagine is our son hiding in the bathroom, running a razor blade across his forearm and sobbing. I imagine our child taking too many pills, driving drunk into a barricade and bleeding out on the pavement; scared and alone and relieved that it’s all soon to be over. Schizophrenia, melanoma, bipolar disorder, acid reflux, overly empathetic tendencies, and a thin skin. Our child will be born broken and it’s my fault. He will try to fill his life with menial time killers; scrapbooking, soccer, friends, drugs. Whatever he may want. At the end of the day nothing will his void. Not fame, not fortune, not love. He will inherit all of my sins. He will struggle his whole life to understand why he feels this way but he won’t figure it out. Not ever.

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MICROWAVE OVEN by Estrella del Valle (translated by Toshiya Kamei)

Don't say my name, don't say my name, when you know I have died, don't say my name.

-Roque Dalton

I don't know how it happened. I only remember walking in the woods with my strawberry basket. I wanted to pick a lot of strawberries on the way because my grandmother likes homemade cakes. She used to make them before she bought her house and had to spend many hours outside. She made them with egg white foams. The secret is to beat yolks and butter well, first yolks, then butter, and whip it for a long time, pour in the mixture of flour and milk. Finally make half of the egg whites fluff up. It's easy, no? She cuts the sponge cake horizontally in thirds with a thread and on the first layer she puts walnut custard, made with real walnut, strawberry jam, made from natural strawberries, not the kind you find in a supermarket. Then she puts the last layer, which she bakes in the oven. She starts decorating it with meringue. She makes a lot of figures, roses, leaves, and faces. She can even put the birthday person's name with one hand. She's an artist. I kept walking, looking for strawberries for her cake, but I didn't find any. That's why when I saw you coming in. I thought you were a doll, dressed up like that, so elegant. You even look like Ken, Barbie's boyfriend. Then I thought you came for my grandma's cake. But I know that man sent you here. Well, tell him no. I'm tired of playing house. Like I said, I'm sick of playing husband and wife. I lost interest in cooking a long time ago, after the day when I was so hungry I went to look for strawberries for the cake and couldn't find the woods anywhere. Nobody knew where the woods were. I was tired of asking directions, so I left and walked along Broadway, from West College to Seventh Street. I kept walking with my basket until it became dark, and I didn't know how to get back home. When I realized I was lost, I thought about going back the same way, but I hadn't left breadcrumbs because with this husband we never had enough bread to put into our mouths. When we got married, my dad told him, "Take good care of my little princess." That's what my dad told him, but he didn't even listen. I walked to Seventh and arrived at St. Vincent Jewelry Center. I wanted my princess tiara to go back to my house, to my dad. I went to the tiara display counter with my empty basket. The saleswoman and other women stared at my tattered clothes and bleeding toenails. I was bleeding all over the blue carpet, my blood, which wasn't blue like the carpet, kept oozing. I don't know how it happened, the lights went out, then screams came. I don't remember anyone coming to my rescue with his sword and white horse. Only you have showed up here, with your doll-like face, your well-ironed suit, and your CD on your back that repeats the same promise you'll never keep because he doesn't want to see me. I want you to know this once and for all. I don't need him anymore because the doctor, who likes me, told me if I continue to be a good girl, as I have been, he'll buy me Barbie's microwave oven, with its flour and all the dishes for the cake.

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B.C. by Patrick Reid

I am running as a conservative in the primaries. My name is a big one, recognizable throughout most of the world. Last month I was on a cruise with my wife and her family. There were two formal nights. My belly. My belly heaved and burst over my belt, and on sauce night, I dropped a splash onto my button down, right on the part of my belly that, when I sit down, has the same presence as a balance ball.

In college, a friend and I used the balance ball to do sit ups, 35 each, 3 times, on Fridays, back when my core was titanium.

Crumbs sneak in and around my button down, so when I stood up on those cruise dinners, I left a warm, heart-shaped, crumb-outlined impressions in the leather. I couldn't wait to get off that boat. My wife encouraged me to talk to the natives on St. Maarten, people selling coconuts on the side of the road with a lost look in their eye. The jungle was right behind the main road along the beach where, in the bright woods—it was a windy and overcast day, and the silver tropic air trembled—I saw a few natives kneeling, shirtless, in a clearing, in what looked like a prayer or some voodoo ritual. Off the ferry from the pier to the island, one who had dreadlocks down to his waist shouted at me from faraway. I turned and saw him staring at me through a crowd, pointing, a wild person with a rabid look.

I am still sensitive about taking off my shirt. In St. Maarten, I swam, even dunked my head under. I am 54, young for a politician. I was out of breath quickly.

“It's like a zoo, but all the animals got loose,” I muttered in the general direction of my wife, who floated 5 feet away.

“What's that honey?” she said pleasantly.

“It's like that Jurassic Park movie.”

My voice is often called rich, a deep, gravelly melodic baritone.

People come from all over the world to hear me speak. My expression conveys just the right amount of dry humor, but mostly a sense of severe gravity. I usually have a straight face which appears to many as a scowl but comes from lionheartedness rather than coldheartedness.

I share my rhetoric gravitas and sense of humor with my brother, a (now retired) Miami Dade police officer, who helped us get a massive discount on this cruise, and who texts me daily, finding some of the funniest race- and police-related videos on the internet. I do not know where he finds the stuff. I would go on to text him that night about my day.

Last week I visited my son at Boston College, at his dorm. He said he was completely moved in but needed a desk chair, and our neighbor had been about to throw a perfectly usable one in the dump. My son is 19 and a political science major. He is taller than his father and in better physical condition, though not in as good condition as I was at his age, a little doughy, soft at the haunches, with round, flabby love handles despite a well-toned upper body and core. At Boston College, he minors in Libertarianism, and the two of us discuss what to do about the state of Liberalism in this country. There are people at his school, he tells me, he just wants to pummel. “FAGGOTS!” He sometimes shouts, mid-sentence, even mid-word, a kind of Tourette he has developed since college, which brings his face to shuddering, reddening, then cooling, like a coal, eyes shooting off past me, just over my shoulder, then gradually holding in that phantom direction, as if some enraging and fearful vision squeezes him like a whole-body cramp, then slowly releases its grip.

Bringing the chair to his room, I walked in on him having sex. He was having sex with a girl in the doggystyle position, facing away, so I could only see his ass, her ass, and the back of their heads. I noticed his hair had been cut in an immaculate fade since the last time I saw him. I made an awkward “o” with my mouth and closed the door as quietly as possible. That night he was crying in my lap, apologizing, saying I never should have seen that. Finally I told him all young men experience this. My old man, in my Yale days, walked into my room while I had 3 girls naked at once. I felt ashamed until he told me that his old man walked in on him, his old man on him, and on and on. Of course, this was a lie to console him, and it worked.

I am a very smart man. Always have been. In middle school in the 70s, my best friend was a retarded kid who I would beat up as often as possible. He would try to fight back, but I was too big and strong. I would push him to the grass, put his arms around his back! The fights would often be over wiffle ball games. If I won, he would throw the bat at me! So I would get the bat and chase him throughout the yard! His yard went into the woods, and I would chase him in there, beat him up until he was moaning in the dirt!

I would laugh because he mixed up b’s and d’s. I was always at the house when his parents were fighting. There were several theories that accounted for his retarded state. One, he fell out of a shopping cart three feet onto tile floor as an infant. Two, when he was three, his head was half eaten and clawed into by a Rottweiler. One time he locked me in the shed in his backyard. It was so dark. I was so angry!

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David met me at the McDonalds and we bought McChickens before walking next door to buy 40s / Went to his apartment and drank, and then his roommate’s girlfriend came by and she told us how she slept with a dude in his 50s because it’d be something to write about / Ended up drunk late in the evening after the 40s because David kept a case of Hamm’s in the fridge, and then we called Walker, and I met Walker, and I realized Walker was weird, and we ran through the streets to my apartment and partied with the college boys I lived with / A few weeks later David said I should move into the empty sunroom where there isn’t air conditioning or furniture or a bed because I wouldn’t have to pay rent, and so I did this, and I never paid rent, and when we finally moved out months later his other roommate realized this and gave me the silent treatment and insisted I contributed little in my time at their apartment / He was sort of right / I spent a lot of alone time in their sunroom laying out on the hardwood floor, never buying a bed, usually eating those 3 for $2 chocolate chip cookies from the Holiday gas station, thinking about how I fell in love once, or what John Casey might be up to, or the old apartment on Cobun, or how I was happy to be away even though I seriously missed it all / David, Walker and I went out one night to the Otter and got real drunk and depression hit real bad, and I went outside and ripped a gutter off the apartment building on 7th street / We drove through the McDonalds drive through and I bought seven McChickens and ate them in the parking lot, and they laughed and on the way back some radio station played Nevermind, front to back / We had the windows down with the volume up in stopped traffic, and David couldn’t quit laughing / This was about as good as the time on the Fourth of July Walker and I went fishing, and then we came back to the apartment and partied with the roommates and their girlfriends and their friends, and at some point I went into the sunroom, pushed open the doors and blasted AC/DC’s “Riff Raff”, and everyone left, and I laid out on the floor / Towards the end I was eating breakfast and Cori sent me a text to say Alex Gavula died in New York City / I called his phone and an NYPD officer answered, and I broke into tears right then because it was a plain metaphor that simply said you can’t go back / I thought about the last time I spoke with him, when I asked for help covering the rent / the check never came because he wasn’t reliable / Felt bad I ever reached out for this and that I’d been angry about the let down / I think I know despite his troubles he was a good guy waiting for a chance to do good / now i feel bad it may have been another moment of mistake for him / An instance he had to say to himself, “not another one” / It would have been nice of me to say, “hey, I got it figured out. No worries.” /

The above is an excerpt from Alec's novel, ALL / PRETTY / SORE. You can check it out here.

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LIKE A FIRE DRILL by Gary Duncan


They found him in the stairwell, two days later. Wedged behind the door, his hand still clutching his chest. We had to evacuate the building and wait in the car park like it was a fire drill. All in our designated places, like we’d practiced. Editorial near the gates, then IT, then Sales, then Warehouse and Support. Some of the salespeople sloped off early, said they were going to the pub to sink a few for him. It’s what he would have wanted. He didn’t even drink. One of the women from IT, the one he liked but was too nervous to talk to, asked if I was going to join them. “Me neither,” she said, crying. “Poor guy, I didn’t even know him.”


I mean how terrible is that, someone dying, actually dying, and no one even noticing. The poor man, I just feel so awful for him, for his friends and family. I can’t stop thinking about him, lying there in the dark on his own, behind that fire door. I didn’t even know him, not really, but I wish I’d said something to him, just hello, you know. Made the effort to say just one thing to him. One of the guys from Editorial, he was crying and I was crying, and we just stood there crying together, not knowing what else to do. They said we could have a few days off, to grieve, but I don’t want to stay at home on my own, not now. But I don’t want to go back to work either.


They said the fat bastard had been there for a couple of days, but you ask me, it was probably more like a week. One of the security guards, one of the lads who found him, said it had to be a week, the state of him. You know what he said? He said the guy’d shat himself. Said the place stunk to high heaven. Flies and everything. We didn’t know that at the time of course. We didn’t know much at the start because they dragged us outside straight away, into the bloody car park, in the rain. Not really rain, more like a heavy drizzle, that thick drizzle that clings to your clothes, you know, so me and a few of the other sales guys we thought fuck that for a game of soldiers, let’s nip over the Red Lion for a pint. Make the most of it, make an afternoon of it. I didn’t know the guy from Adam, to be honest, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded.


I didn’t think anything of it. You don’t, do you? Just a niggle in the chest, more towards the shoulder really. A twinge. I thought I’d maybe pulled something when I was loading those boxes onto the trolley. Printer paper, boxes and boxes of the stuff. Thought I’d be clever and do it three at a time, even though we’re not supposed to do that, what with health and safety and everything. But it was just a twinge, nothing to worry about. I’d forgotten all about it, then it happened again when I was going up the stairs. This was different. Scary. Like someone had reached into my chest and ripped it apart with their bare hands. Christ, the pain. I was near the fire door, at the top of the stairs, and I thought I’d be fine if I just sat down there for a while. So that’s what I did.

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