The Last of What’s Left

From The Biology of Drowning  

The usual sequence of events in a drowning is as follows: Upon submersion, the victim holds his breath until forced to inhale. He gulps water. The water induces spasms of the larynx, which closes the trachea to protect the lungs. Little water enters the lungs. With the trachea blocked by laryngospasms, no fresh air enters the lungs and the supply of oxygen begins to fail. Lack of Oxygen, anoxia, affects the brain within 30 seconds the laryngospasms begin to weaken with imminent brain failure. The victim then inhales again, this time aspirating water into the lungs before a fresh spasm closes the trachea again but for a shorter duration. With each successive inhalation, more water is aspirated; anoxia increases, and laryngospasm duration decreases until they are finally abolished and the lungs are filled with water.

In salt-water submersion the brine in the lungs acts through osmotic pressure to remove large amounts of water from the blood. In three minutes, experimental animals lose 40% of the normal water volume in their blood. This over concentration of blood can cause heart failure. Seawater chemicals pass quickly into the blood stream through the lungs disrupting normal fluid balances.

Death from submersion occurs quickly, often in two minutes or less, depending on the physical status of the victim and other factors. In many instances, victims removed from the water alive later die from the delayed effects of submersion.

***

It was as if they drowned again and again and again and they couldn’t speak to each other because words were strangled and the snapshots happened individually and I’m unsure they knew each other or if they did not but they spoke their stories.

Tom and Nadia saw their lives float around inside their minds and both two people saw different scenarios in three minutes as death from submersion occurred. Tom was the last person Nadia saw alive, Nadia the last person Tom saw.

***

I had those damn pink socks with cherries, you know, the ones that puff out and are made from cotton balls, dangling off the sides that sit on an ankle. I loved those socks and they fell off somewhere in the water. I saw a toucan fly up above, his black and yellow and orange body swaying side to side. What did it look like for him looking down on me; the trees and the valleys and the canopies of leaves? I wished at him, “Come scoop me before I step into the basement.”

I heard the yells from others and saw my mother, young and in a white dress with a black sash and her wide face and small eyes and glittery skin coming out of big clear balloon. She was twenty-nine when she died and alive now waving. I never wanted a child to know what it feels like to lose a mom when young. I thought of my daughter. All I wanted were my socks back and I would be fine. The rest of the world would slip away and it would be okay.

I clutched the tree branch and stared at my toes without a pedicure, the green and white water tiles, and I missed having the socks my daughter made. A tall man floated by me, on his back, and I thought he was dead like the others starting to cork up and I tried to paddle a little bit past him. Then he tilted his head up and grinned. There was a river around us. He touched my hand gripping the bark, and he said, “Hi there. Tom’s the name.” And that was when the current took us both.

***

I don’t know what they’ve told you about drowning, but it isn’t what you expect. It’s beautiful under there, and losing yourself makes you a rocket, candles and kerosine lamps, the sky. You’re a machine driving a stampede headed south to bottom, and back to clouds of dust. You keep turning and the bubble takes full responsibility for your being. In two minutes, “you’re bubbling” until there is a clearing and all of a sudden time’s wild and you’re a flying machine. To die is everything, because it means you made it so far. And everything I saw in those moments I remember were of Tom. I don’t think I knew him before, memories now bump and grind against stones until they shatter.

The only thing missing when I died were my pink socks with the cherries on the sides. I couldn’t find them even after leaving. I started crying; I was in a weird state. The water was running and he said, “My hair is wet.” I thought the wet hair might be from my tears. I started to sing that Neutral Milk Hotel song, “There’s some lives you live and some you leave behind; it gets hard to explain.” Tom stopped moving and started to sink, then pushed himself up again and I felt his feet moving and that’s how I felt his pauses and beginnings, and I stood up, stepped on something like a shag carpet, and walked to the wall, turned my palms against it until I found a switch, and pressed. I returned to him in light, past bright blue walls and the bathrobes tossed over a falling bar. The bathroom was small, a cupboard, black and white checkered floor, the tub, a sink, bidet (it surprised me). Not much inside the room. All those shades shined on the tub and Tom never looked so blue, young, and spongey. Someone painted the bidet green and I imagined who painted it, what she did for a living; who she was, if she used it after sex or had sex at all, where she was now, if she knew we were here. I didn’t think she would mind us in her tub. I whispered to Tom, “We are safe here.” The water dripped from the faucet and then it stopped running. I kept rambling, kept the hollow from spreading, “There’s a third perspective, hanging from the ceiling, looking at all of us and that perspective in the background is the real one and all of this is only a manifestation. That background is unadulterated and not mutilated and it sees all sides, something you or I can never do. I’m aware of it though. I know everything else, every other outlook, is treated with some sort of life equivalent of pesticides.”

Tom’s head rolled down to his scarred chest. I told him, “On the ship there was a kid named Weiss and she dressed like a boy. I taught her in the third grade and her mother invited me for dinner. It was the first time someone did that. And I don’t know…I was on her back porch and I thought about my life so far as a series of snapshots. I can’t explain more but it hit me hard. Anyway, I just sat there and sobbed for like four hours and that little girl didn’t do well with crying, but she let me keep going on her rocking chair. Her mother brought me tea and it was good because I snapped out of it and filed away another snapshot for the next time the tears came. I felt like each snapshot was an alias of another life I’d lived in a world that isn’t okay, that’s selfish and ready to gobble you up. The balance of navigating innocence and experience binds flesh to conscience.”

***

She was one gripped match extinguished and placed back in the box.  It’s an unfortunate fact that she was my good friend who was in love with me, who I had sex with a handful of times, who has the best fashion sense I had ever seen, who was essentially my gay fashion consultant who wasn’t gay. Even now, or before the boat sank, she pulled off wearing tuxedos. I could only pull off wearing a tuxedo half the time myself.

There’s an old building made of bricks, and ivy on the far tower, and a garage where I lived with five other people, and it connected to a house, which was triple the size of my real childhood house, but it led to an underground tunnel to a casino, which was a bronze amorphous building with glass mosaics. Down the street was my dad’s house, which wound down into a sewer, which leads to Florida and Florida was a seedy motel with lots of bedrooms and no doors. I woke up inside one of the empty and hot bedrooms there and I looked at it like a town I lived in for years. I knew the stratified, wrapped disposable flatware, the bubbled wallpaper, the library discards upside down and spread wide open and backward tossed in a wood crate.

On the patio Nadia was asleep and I nudged her foot with my foot and she finally woke up too and said, “Tom, I love you,” and “I’m scared to talk to you.”

“Why?” Nadia draped herself over the couch and springs pushed through the velvet in the way a cup without a coaster makes a stain. I wanted an entire new world to come out of what I said to change where we were then, “Do you only feel in the summer on rainy days?” But it came out as a five dollar party conversation starter and Nadia moved as spacious as air in retrograde to a big bouquet of wilted flowers on the floor.

“Tom, why are these here?” This room suddenly had the charm a pink paradise motel offers and stood the most romantic place in the world and I wanted to jump her bad. It didn’t help I went to rehab seven times and her skin was the exact color of a perfect bourbon, a pure alcoholic’s pornography.  I know it might not seem like that would provoke me, but if you go to alanon, you’ll get it.

I tried to grab her, but she floated away and I felt totally crazy and the palm trees fell back and forth in the wind and a gang of cacti cackled at the base and I really did feel like there were holes in my brain. I smelled medicinal floral, oranges, and lemon when she left and the motel was empty, completely empty, and I draped myself over the couch now, alone, totally alone, and I became a man laughing and laughed.

***

The boat sank and some stranger and I sat on the inflatable rubber raft, which ridged from the water in long yellow spaghetti noodle shapes.

“Nadia…I’m..my name…” Nadia’s tongue slid from the terrace of her lower jaw in a spoiled cream color, and she shivered. The boat fought wind parallel to shore far enough away I felt scared for us but really for her.

“I’m Tom. Your legs…?” Her body was primed Russian linen crumpling and she was dying and I said nothing more about that. “I’m here. Stay here.” Water lapped up and on us. With tipped fingers pressed into red brick I touched Nadia’s cold wet cheeks.

“It isn’t alive…hot hell…as thick a guilty conscience…a modern honeymoon…I’m coming.” Eyes widened, eyes narrowed; stalling; I caught parts of her mutter. I watched her; the figure of a girl who would have left a seat up in the public restroom. Maybe because of her afflictions—spindled hair, infected arms, wart covered knees. We held hands on the yellow floor.  I didn’t feel any less afraid.

A circle of mist and god and fog kissed her into a sheet of white paper and I didn’t stop holding her fingers until her hands broke loose and the nails flicked around like there were too many yellow jackets and she closed a door to our world.

We were both on the bridge over Kariba dam at age thirteen speculating about future days. We snuck past the bronzed snake with an open mouth and stone bottom that stands twenty meters from the metal fence, past the brush, and with those huge pliers, opened up an entrance. The walk across brought us closer to water, the wailing of floods pouring out from one side to the other, and the kisses we did that night. The next day of holiday our parents grounded us and, I saw you two years later at age fifteen drinking poppy sodas, shaken up with trembling hands, the closest you got to opium. We started to yell, ready to talk and defend.

And then it was after the miscarriage and you wrote a poem and I didn’t know what to do except stuff my fist in my mouth to cry. You wrote, Another bloodless moon and genes anchored to you alone, and left the yellow Post-It on my pillow. How would you have responded if you knew how hard I cried? I bet you would have told me the next line of poetry, imagined by me, but probably true. Our bodies disappoint us.

I saw you. Beautiful dinner plate eyes, blue and yellow discs, revving and ticking ready to swallow the sky. I saw you. And, I forgave you.

***

They floated atop a life vest.

“I want to breathe again, Tom. Tom, I want to breathe again. Loops on loops, we’re more neutral than anything.”

“Jesus Christ, Nadia.”

“It’s like life is such a fish. You hit bigger fish and gobble smaller fish and hit coral and plastic for eternity until you die from the sea-coaster.”

“Nadia…”

“There’s an expanding river. We’ll sit on it and it’ll be bliss. There are black holes I want to show you in the center of cities, places and spaces perfect for us. Anything and everything happens inside there. It’s special, like you and me.”

Ashamed, Thomas didn’t know protocol for Nadia’s breakdown following the sinking. Foldable, movable, and lightweight, Nadia could be a lawn chair. “Tom, put me down.”

“I can’t Nadia. We need to get to shore.” The XXXL life vest protects them.

“I just wonder about it all the time—life and nature and growing and dying and growing and plants. There is nothing I think about more than how much I would like to be a garden. I just want to bloom flowers and grow grass, maybe let someone eat my bark. Drink rainwater through roots. Blossom.”

With river around them, completely vulnerable, Tom imagines being a water plant at night with wind ripping his roots from sandy bottoms. The morning of the next day Thomas and Nadia meet the planet’s heart, inaccessible unless drowned.

————————

Rose Pacult is the author of Knowing Zasd by His Walk VOL I-III (Dokument Press) and the poetry collections Bending (Juste Ici) and Lifter + Lighter (Hasau Mountain). She currently lives in Chicago and is artist in residence at No Nation Gallery.

Kingdom

In her favorite preserve animals watched people, not the other way
around. She knew because she was an animal, or rather pretended to be. She went off-trail, through wildflowers and pollen. A special privilege. Usually the day started this way: she counted the humans wending their way along the trail. One, two, three by mid-morning. A glut at noon. Carried lunches, solemn talks unbottled and then bottled again. During lunchtime there were six or seven humans, she reckoned. They walked in packs. Later, though, the park cleared out. The trees whisked at the upper atmosphere and the air smelled of candles.

Once she saw two rare humans walking at dusk. Their mouths moved, clouds of air escaped their lips. They reminded her of the merry snorting of pack animals. Just as they rounded the corner, a magical buck, six feet tall, peered out of the foliage at them. A doe came, too, to solemnly watch. She was a perfect match for the buck. The people did not notice them and talked on. The eyes of the buck grew dark and large. The doe’s expression was fey, mystical, and knowing.

They were quite a sight, the two animals reigning silently over their kingdom.

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Heather Sager writes fiction in all sizes, but always returns to flash. She also writes poetry. Recent works appear in Fourth & Sycamore, Bear Review, NEAT, Jet Fuel Review, and Minetta Review. She lives in Illinois.

We Are Only Young Forever

What I know about style is I’d rather be naked

What I know about politics is timing

How much is there to do if you go nowhere

Find me a catalogue of accidental shirtless men on Google

Which hey wear whatever you want walking around

How much longer our species would survive without shame

If your granddad’s got nudes I want to look

Then or now does anything matter

Did you see how hot Joe Biden used to be

I mean show me some new fiscal policy

No one has done what they’re doing before

No science experiment exists in a vacuum

Thank you for warming the planet baby boomers

What is life without an insurmountable challenge

I would like to be speaker of the house

Too many people maybe have seen my nudes

I only ever send butts though

Perhaps that isn’t enough to save me

To save enough of us to save us

How old is too old to be president

I could wait until after the internet’s collapse

I could run on a pro-saltwater platform

Have you seen the ocean it’s everywhere

It’s worth more than it lets on

It envelops everything equally

Crushes everything equally

Is probably into socialism but is scared

Has probably crashed a nudist yacht party

Probably looked without pretending it didn’t

Said YEAH I’M THE OLDEST ONE HERE

Said WHATEVER HEY WHATEVER

These will be my campaign slogans

I will wear the emperor’s clothes

I will spend most of my time in New Hampshire

The mountains catch the light just right

The firs know how deep to dig

Everything fights for hydration

One day we’ll wake up thirsty

We won’t know how we got here

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Doug Paul Case lives in Bloomington, where he recently earned an MFA at Indiana University. His work has appeared in Salt Hill, Court Green, Washington Square, and Redivider. He tweets @DougBTW.

The Porpoise

A man gets a job working for the circus. The whole thing happens
very fast: he’s sitting in his house, he’s unhappy with his life, then he picks up the paper and sees an ad.

THE CIRCUS IS COMING! the ad says in big letters. DON’T YOU WANT TO WORK FOR THE CIRCUS?

Hmm, says the man.

He puts down the paper.

Then he walks out the door and starts the car.

 

The man drives downtown to where they’re setting the tent up. He gets out of the car and looks around.

Hey, he says, to a guy sitting behind a table. Is this where you get the circus jobs?

Yeah, says the guy– he looks like the ringmaster. But the thing is, we only have one left.

Oh? says the man. And which one is that?

Swimming with the porpoises, the guy says.

 

Porpoises? says the man. I didn’t even know you had those. I thought the circus was just tigers and stuff.

Nope, says the guy, we got porpoises too. So what do you say– you want the job?

 

Okay, says the man.

Great, says the guy. Sign this form. And initial it here.

The man takes the pen and makes the required marks.

Welcome aboard! says the guy. You start tomorrow.

 

Tomorrow? says the man. That doesn’t leave me much time.

What do you need time for? the guy says.

Well, says the man.

He thinks for a minute.

Be here 7 a.m. sharp, says the guy.

 

The man drives on home. He’s feeling a little grumpy.

What’s all the rush? he says. I mean, what if I had something important to do tomorrow?

He drinks a beer, watches TV, and goes to bed.

 

Almost immediately, the man has a dream. In his dream, he’s in the water with a porpoise.

With a shock, the man sits bolt upright in bed.

But I don’t know how to swim! he says.

 

Somehow this fact had eluded him before.

But I’m sure the circus’ll train me, he says.

But maybe they won’t, he says a minute later. What if they just assumed?

 

The man throws the sheet back.

I’m gonna drown! he says. I mean, it’s right there in the job title– I have to swim!

He gets up and paces back and forth about the room.

I need swimming lessons! he says.

 

The man finds the phone book and picks up the phone. He calls the local YMCA. He gets a recording all about swimming lessons. They start the week after next.

But I could be dead by then! the man says in a panic. I have to learn how to swim tonight!

Think, think! he says, and thinks very hard.

Suddenly he thinks of Sally Rhinehardt.

 

The man hasn’t thought of Sally Rhinehardt in years. She was the man’s high school girlfriend. He broke up with her a few days after graduation.

Jeez, that was dumb of me, he thinks.

Hmm, says the man.

He looks at the phone.

Sally Rhinehardt was the State Swimming Champion. She had come this close to making it to the Olympics. It had been like dating a fish-woman.

 

The man picks the phone up and dials Sally’s number– twenty years, and he still knows it by heart.

Hello? says a voice.

Sally? says the man.

Luke? Sally says. Luke Deveraux?

 

The man gets in his car and drives to Sally’s house. When he gets there, it’s after one a.m. But Sally’s got the backyard pool all lit up and heated.

Thanks so much for doing this, he says.

 

No problem, Sally says. Come on down into the water.

It’s good to see you again, she adds.

You too, says the man, feeling awkward in his trunks.

All right, Sally says, you start like this.

 

The man stays in the pool with Sally for hours. You’re a very fast learner! she says.

The man does the breast stroke up and down the pool.

Then he stops and kisses Sally.

She kisses back.

 

Oh Luke, Sally says. I’m so glad you called.

I’m so glad you answered, he says.

They hold each other close.

Then they climb out of the pool, and towel off, and run in to bed.

 

At about 7 a.m., the man suddenly laughs.

I’m supposed to be at the circus, he says.

Oh, Sally says. Are you still going to go?

What? the man says. Hell no!

 

But just at that moment, there’s a knock on the door. More like a pounding– a banging!

The two of them leap up and jump out of bed.

Who could that be? they say.

 

CIRCUS! blares a voice through a megaphone from outside. Come on out, we know you’re in there, Luke Deveraux!

The man leans over and peers out through the blinds.

I don’t want to go! he says. I changed my mind!

 

But the guy with the bullhorn holds up a piece of paper.

You signed a contract! he says. You can’t get out of it! It’s legal– iron clad!

And the police are here to enforce it! he adds.

 

Sure enough, behind the guy– and the clowns– there are policemen. They’re all holding billy-clubs in their hands.

Shit! says the man.

He looks at Sally in fear.

Hurry, come with me! she says.

 

Sally leads the man out through the kitchen door, down the spiral stairs, into the secret garage.

Get in, Sally says, motioning to the dune buggy.

The garage door opens, and the giant engine roars.

 

They squeal off over the hills. Behind, the sirens whine. The clowns are shaking their fists from their tiny car.

You can’t get away! yells the guy with the megaphone. You can’t avoid the circus and the law!

 

The man is still terrified– but Sally’s jaw is set.

The hell with those jokers, she says.

She spins the wheel hard. The buggy leaps forward and crashes through the doors of a shopping mall.

 

They speed past the shops; they leap the central fountain, crash out through the back wall of a Spencer’s Gifts. And then they speed away, across the parking lot–

But the cops and the circus are right behind.

 

They come up over a rise and Sally slams on the brakes.

They leap out– they’re at the edge of a cliff.

The man looks at Sally. She reaches for his hand.

Come on, count of three! she says.

 

The two leap from the cliff as their pursuers arrive.

They splash down into the water and bob back up.

The clowns and the cops stand glaring from the cliff.

You can’t get away! the ringmaster yells.

 

But get away they can– and get away they do! They swim away from the shore in perfect form. The figures on the cliff-top grow smaller and smaller, until they can’t even see them anymore.

 

I’m sorry I broke up with you after high school! the man says. I don’t know what I could possibly have been thinking!

It’s all right! Sally says. I had a lot to learn! For some reason, I was really wrapped up in swimming!

 

And the two of them laugh and they swim out together, while behind them, the land fades away.

And finally they come to Sally’s secret boat.

It’s named The Porpoise.

And on The Porpoise, they sail away.

————————–

Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, and a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus. His second collection, Tales of Falling and Flying, is coming from Penguin in 2017.

C-B-S

My Uncle Walter dies and we have chicken, beef, and sausage,
family style, at his funeral dinner at the American Legion Hall. I am eleven and my older brothers, sixteen and fifteen, engage in a contest. They each devour an entire fried chicken, a platter of sliced beef with gravy, and enough fresh Polish to wrap around their wastes as a belt. The seven of us are at a table, one off from the front, where our mother and father sit with my mother’s mother and her brother and two sisters. My mother doesn’t eat, just consoles our grandmother, who is inconsolable, her baby Waller in the ground from pancreatic cancer. The serving woman who has to keep bringing plates to my brothers whispers something to my father, who looks our way: He knows. He stands and walks to our table, sits between my brothers. Who’s winning? he wants to know, and our sister, Barbara, declares it a dead heat. Dad signals for the serving woman to come to our table, tells her to bring two more plates of roast beef and when the woman rolls her eyes, my father tells her to bring more fried chicken, too, to make sure everything is in pairs: two breasts, two thighs, two legs, two wings. My brothers gorge themselves until the older one, Eddie, throws up into his hand, chunks of casing and chicken skin coating his palm. When everyone has gone, when my Uncle Jim has taken my grandmother home, my mother sits at our table and eats a breast and the rest of the kielbasa, smothering it in beet horseradish. She raises a glass of Seven Up and says, To Uncle Walter! and those of us who have drinks toast with her. To Uncle Walter!

Three years later and my oldest sister, Debbie, marries Anthony the Cop, an Italian from St. Sebastian’s, the parish across town. My mother and his mother argue for weeks about the wedding menu, almost ending the marriage, or worse, causing Debbie and Anthony the Cop to elope. Anthony’s mother does not want chicken, beef, and sausage, but a chicken dish, plus three kinds of pasta. My mother says to my father, at least a hundred times, Pasta! At a wedding! Who’s ever heard of such a thing? In the end we all win, the Polack half and the Dago half, as we have chicken, beef, and sausage and chicken cacciatore and spaghetti and mostaccioli. Mom gave in on the sauerkraut, which doesn’t seem right, but Anthony the Cop’s mom gave up a third pasta, so it’s fair. Eddie, just back from basic, cleans the table with me and Paul, Eddie’s new muscular frame capable of consuming chicken, beef, and sausage at inhuman rates and levels. Paul says it’s unfair, then throws up into the balloon centerpiece. I blame myself, lured early into helpings of mostaccioli, pasta lining my gut like a tight sweater. Our father participates, too, holding his own for the first round—I secretly pull for him, knowing I can’t win—but Dad drops out, declares he has to dance with Debbie, the first dance, and needs to stay agile. Our mother will deny this until the day she dies, but I think my father was already sick at that time, his body unable to process anything, let alone C-B-S, not like he used to. He looks good on the dance floor, though, dipping and spinning Debbie like he’s folding a sheet. When he hands her over to Anthony the Cop, now Anthony-our-brother-in-law, he is smiling, wider than he ever had before, wider than he ever would again.

Dad begins to decline in December. Barbara and Genny plan weddings, expediting to summer so dad will be around, though no one says this aloud. Barbara marries Bruce, a linebacker on the Bears, their wedding at the Field Museum, a Sunday night, the museum closed to the public. Our mother has nothing to do with the planning, least of all the menu, and when dinner starts, a whole lobster and slab prime rib are placed in front of us. Eddie is overseas and Paul and I want to eat-off, but to our dismay, the dinners are by plate, not family style. Paul and I finish before the back tables get their salads, play with the lobster carcasses, staring at the dinosaur skeleton looming above. It looks ravished. Five weeks later, Genny marries Neal, the opposite of Bruce, a bearded hippy who’s fifty, both of them vegetarians. The ceremony and reception are in the back yard of the Quonset hut where they’ll live. Eddie is home and needs to escort Genny to the altar, Dad gaunt. Our mother cries the whole time, and so do the rest of us, some for Genny, some for Dad. There’s no need to go into what they serve after, what we don’t even try to eat.

At our father’s funeral that fall, our mother declares no contests, but Paul and Eddie and I think it would be blasphemous, that our father would have wanted us to compete. Eddie is still a hulking mass but he’s cocky, and Paul and I more than hold our own before our mother comes to our table and puts an end to our shenanigans, says the Legion Hall cook does not have enough beef for all the tables because of us. She begins to cry, asking us why we can’t just behave, be normal, then takes a deep breath orders us to finish the contest, to have our fill. We oblige. For Dad.

When Eddie is killed in Afghanistan ten months later, we do not have an after-dinner: There is no body to bury, no reason to go to a cemetery. There is a ceremony in the church, attended by nearly everyone we have ever met, the entire town rallying behind our mother, the kindergarten teacher at the elementary school, everyone in the town having had their noses wiped by her at some point. After, we drive in a procession past the high school, where Eddie starred in track and basketball, then the procession follows us to our house. Paul and I ride with Mom in her Skylark, our sisters and their husbands in Bruce’s Escalade. Nearly a hundred cars honk as they pass, disseminating at the end of the block. My mother stands between Paul and I and waves and mouths Thank you! to every one of them. It starts to rain but my mother does budge. Marie, the baby, produces an umbrella and I hold it over my mother’s head as we wave. Paul holds the triangular American flag, which the Marine Corps honor guard folded and handed to our mother. When the last car with the orange FUNERAL sign in its window passes, my mother goes inside. We sit in the family room, taking up every seat except the love seat by the window. I point to it and say that this is where Dad and Eddie would have sat, where they should be sitting. The TV is on but I cannot tell you what the program is. We have not eaten yet, any of us, and someone, maybe Anthony the Cop, says he wishes there was a dinner. We order a pizza, along with a beef sandwich with no peppers for Mom, who can’t stomach tomatoes any more. When she can’t eat the second half, Paul and I pretend to fight over it, lunging like we’re going to wrestle. Neither of us eats it. Debbie wraps it in wax paper, tells our mother it’s on the top shelf of the fridge, that she can finish it tomorrow, when all of us are gone, at her own pace.

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Michael Czyzniejewski’s most recent collection of stories is I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2015). He is Editor-in-Chief of Moon City Review and serves as Managing and Literary Editor for Moon City Press.

2 Poems

I STAYED UP FOR TWENTY-FOUR HOURS RESEARCHING WEATHER

The sky threatened to break. I called its bluff. It broke and all the birds
took the opportunity to leave. I had no idea that birds could breathe in the
hollow expanding emptiness space & nobody else did either.

A small boy flies from California to Hawaii in the landing gear of the
plane. Everyone says he is lucky to be alive. I disagree. I think through
the right balance of temperature and sleep, anything is possible.

In the future I will carry a bouquet of flowers. I will visit a grave of a per-
son I don’t recognize. Other people visiting the cemetery will think
I’m leaving the flowers on the grave, understandably. It will begin to rain.

 

NEON // MOUNTAIN

A mountain which has formed behind another mountain
watches a man covered in neon. Or else, the man is himself,
neon. The mountain watches him climb the other mountain,
his tiny body a dive bar for mosquitoes. Doesn’t this keep
you awake? the mountain asks the other mountain. No, the
other mountain says, before causing a rockslide.

 

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Dalton Day is a trembling literal dog-person, Pushcart nominee, & MFA candidate in The New Writers Project at UT Austin. He is the author of the poetry collection Actual Cloud (Saló Press, 2015) & the chapbooks FAKE KNIFE (FreezeRay Press, 2015) & To Breathe I’m Too Thin (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2016). His poems have been featured in PANK, Columbia Poetry Review, Hobart, & Alien Mouth, & he can be found at myshoesuntied.tumblr.com & twitter.com/lilghosthands.

2 Pieces from I Remember You Well In The Charlottesville Motel

My brother was in the Army for three weeks, then he started mumbling all
his words & calling his commander Sergeant Fuckwad & they gave him his discharge papers. The doctors said he needed a lot of pills to keep his head together, but he wasn’t into medicine. One night, he showed up at our motel room. Louise answered the door, thinking it was the chinese food we’d ordered, but it wasn’t. My brother was 6’7’’ & skinny as a Pringles can. He needed a place to stay & I said we live in a goddamn motel. We don’t have room. That night, he sliced the tires to thirteen cars, took a sawed-off shotgun from inside one of them, & killed a pair of sheep from one of the neighbor’s backyards.  

***

We knocked on the door of Louise’s dad’s home & kept knocking until we concluded no one was home. We walked into the backyard. My swingset, Louise said, pointing to a broken swingset. Our baby can use it, I said. We knocked on the patio door. The grass was unkempt. We looked through the window. The house was dark inside. A car pulled into the front driveway & we heard the door slam shut. We walked back through the yard, past empty beer bottles & a mound of ants. Louise gasped. Her stood in front of his car, staring at her. I noticed the paint peeling off the side of the house. No one moved.

 

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Justin Carter co-edits Banango Street. His poems & fictions appear in Booth, cream city review, The Journal, Passages North, & Sonora Review. He’s a member of the seventh best trivia team in the Dallas area.

Construction Work

One neighbor, Rex, came out of his house to address another neighbor, Sam,
who was standing out on the sidewalk.

From the sidewalk, Sam was watching the ongoing reconstruction of his house, which was adjacent to Rex’s.

This reconstruction of Sam’s house seemed to be total in nature, and had been going on now for almost a full year.

***

Thus, Rex approached Sam on the sidewalk. “How long do you think before you’re done with your construction?” he asked.

But Rex startled Sam. “Whoa!” Sam said.

Rex had managed to startle Sam due to having snuck up behind him.

Rex said, “Sorry, I have a tendency to sneak up on people.”

***

The two neighbors, Rex and Sam, switched places with each other, in terms of their positioning on the sidewalk, just to give it some variety.

“You were asking about the progress of construction?” Sam said.

“Yes.”

“It’s going to be several more months.”

“Which stinks,” Rex said, “because my wife and I just had a baby and the construction is keeping us awake at night.”

“You have a baby?” Sam said. “Honestly, I didn’t even realize you were married.”

“Do you want me to prove it to you?” Rex asked, getting angry.

“You don’t have to prove it to me,” Sam said.

“Hold on one second,” Rex said.

He ran back inside his house, from which Sam soon heard the sound of something crashing and then lots of shouting.

A few minutes later, Rex came jogging back outside, his face red like a pool of blood. “I couldn’t find my wife or my kid. I wonder where they are.”

***

Then another neighbor, Alex, ambled up to where they were standing.

Alex took a position right in the middle of the two men.

“What are you guys talking about?” Alex asked.

“Rex is complaining about how long my construction is taking,” Sam said, nodding towards his house.

Alex said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that too, actually.”

“Me?” Sam asked.

“No, Rex,” Alex said. “I wanted to team up with Rex in order to bring you down.”

“Me?” Sam said.

“Yes,” Alex said. “Because you’re making us all look bad with this construction.”

“I want to have the biggest house on the block,” Sam declared, proudly.

Rex got excited, then, but it wasn’t about the idea of him and Alex teaming up to take Alex down.

Rather, he thought he had glimpsed his wife in one of the windows of their house. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and then he dashed into his house.

***

Meanwhile, Sam and Alex stood considering the on-going rehabilitation of Sam’s house.

“What made you want to have the biggest house on the block?” Alex asked.

“I thought it would give me a sense of power,” Sam said. “I thought people would fear me, and from this fear I would be able to have things from them that they wouldn’t normally give.”

“Like what?” Alex asked.

“Like maybe sexual things,” Sam said, blushing a little. “Or other favors—sexual favors.”

“Who do you want to have sex with?” Alex asked.

“I’d rather keep that to myself,” Sam said, smiling at Alex.

***

Soon, Rex came out of his house accompanied by his wife. “Well, I found my wife but neither of us could find our kid.”

“How old is your kid?” Sam said.

“It’s a baby,” Rex said.

“Rex, I didn’t even know you were married,” Alex said.

Rex’s wife said, “Hi, I’m Theresa,” and she shook hands with everyone.

“So you guys don’t know where your baby is?” Sam said.

“We know where it might be, we just don’t know where it is,” Rex said, smiling.

“Rex is a real smart ass,” Theresa said.

“Well,” Alex said, “I’m sure it will pop up somewhere.”

“Honesty,” Theresa said, “I’m not optimistic.”

“Why not?” Alex asked.

“I’m just not that type of person,” Theresa said.

***

The four of them then stood watching the reconstruction of Sam’s house.

One of the walls that the construction workers were putting up fell down suddenly and broke into a bunch of pieces—a cloud of plaster dust went up into the air.

“Damn,” Sam said.

“Does that happen a lot?” Alex asked.

“All the time,” Sam said. “They’re not very good construction workers.”

“My brother is a construction worker,” Rex said. “But he’s pretty bad too.”

“My sister is a construction worker, actually,” Alex said. “Or, was—she’s dead now—a wall fell on her.”

“It’s dangerous work,” Rex said.

***

Then, another wall fell down, and then another.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Sam said. “That’s why this is taking so long—it’s always two steps forward and then no more steps forward, just hundreds of steps back.”

“Have you thought about hiring new construction workers?” Alex asked.

“Yes,” Sam said, “but these guys have excellent personalities.”

“Prove it,” Rex said.

Sam called one of the construction workers over.

This construction worker came jogging over—he was white with plaster dust.

Sam said, “Would you mind telling them a joke?”

“Me?” the construction worker said.

Sam nodded.

The construction worker thought for a minute and then said, “Honestly, I don’t know any jokes, I only know riddles.”

“Say a riddle then,” Sam said.

“What is white and endless?” the construction worker asked.

They all tried to think of an answer, but couldn’t.

“I forget the answer,” the construction worker said, and then he started to laugh.

***

Just then, a baby could be heard crying from the direction of Rex and Theresa’s house so Rex and Theresa went running into their house.

After they left, Sam said to the construction worker, “You can go back to work now.”

Alex, looking hurt, said to Sam, “I didn’t know Rex was married.”

“You didn’t?” Sam said. “Neither did I.”

“I wish I was married,” Alex said, sadly.

“I thought you were,” Sam said. “I was positive you were married.”

“Everybody makes that mistake,” Alex said. “I guess I look ‘married.’”

“I can’t keep track of who on this block is married and who isn’t,” Sam said.

“Here,” Alex said—he took a sheet of folded paper from his pocket and passed it to Sam. “This lists everyone on the block and whether they’re married or not.”

Sam took a look at the sheet. “Oh, here, this is a mistake—I am married.”

“Okay,” Alex said. He took out a little notebook and made a note in it.

***

Rex and Theresa returned to where Sam and Alex were standing, but without any baby.

“No baby?” Sam said.

“False alarm,” Rex said.

“What was making that crying noise then?” Sam asked.

“The TV,” Theresa said. “We think, though did we ever confirm that?”

Rex shook his head.

“Well, I’m sure it will show up,” Alex said.

“You keep saying that,” Theresa said.

“Honestly, I don’t know what else to say,” Alex said.

***

The addition being built onto Sam’s house collapsed completely, trapping several of the workers, who were now shouting for help from inside the fallen structure.

“This happens sometimes,” Sam said.

“Aren’t you going to save them?” Rex asked.

“They need to learn to build better walls,” Sam said, angrily.

Another wall on the house fell down.

“Timber,” Alex said.

Rex and Theresa laughed, but Sam didn’t—Sam’s house was falling apart right before their eyes.

No one knew what to do exactly, but Alex put his hand on Sam’s shoulder.

Sam grabbed Alex’s hand.

***

Then, crying was heard again coming from Rex and Theresa’s house.

“I swear to God,” Rex said.

“Well?” Theresa said, looking at Rex.

So Rex went hustling back into their house.

Theresa smiled at Sam and Alex. “Sometimes he thinks we shouldn’t have had a kid.”

“Rex?” Alex asked.

“Yeah,” Theresa said.

The sound of something crashing came from inside of Rex and Theresa’s house again.

“I hope that’s not the baby breaking,” Sam said.

“I hope so too,” Theresa said, laughing nervously.

***

Then, Rex came running out of the house and he had a baby in his arms.

When he got to where they were standing on the sidewalk, he lifted the baby to Theresa. “Is this—?”

Theresa shook her head.

Rex put the baby down on the sidewalk.

 

————————
Beau Golwitzer’s work has appeared in BOAAT, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. He lives in Amsterdam.

Julian

Before his fourth summer is hot enough for swimming, Julian starts disappearing.

When his mother first calls his father saying she can see through part of Julian’s forearm, he doesn’t understand.

“What do you mean? Did he cut himself? He broke his arm and bone is poking through his skin?”

After she explains that Julian is uninjured, merely slightly invisible, he grows angry, suspecting a ploy to allow his ex-wife an extra day with the boy. When he arrives to pick the child up, however, he sees that Julian’s physical form is, indeed, gradually fading.

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” he demands.

“I don’t know,” she replies tersely.

“Do you have any ideas?”

He has none.

Julian behaves normally, even when his torso grows so not-there that he can barely wear his favorite t-shirt. The screen-printed robots sag and slide around over the place where his shoulders had been, but he stands on kitchen chairs and snatches snickerdoodles from the cookie jar all the same. He demands visits to the playground right up until he is a fading voice, a vague form within the tented fabric of his clothing, and a shadow.

“I feel like I’m losing you,” his mother whispers over breakfast one steaming August day. A tear slips past her nose and lands in Julian’s half-eaten bowl of cocoa puffs as she smooths the ghost of his hair. Julian giggles and runs into the living room to play with blocks. The next day, it takes her fifteen minutes to find him inside her cramped apartment. She weeps outright, but by the end of the week, locating him by sound, not sight, feels almost normal.

His father never quite grows used to it. On his days with Julian, he tries any trick he can think of to visualize his son, to cement his physicality. For a time, he uses a backpack with an attached leash, but after Julian’s back goes missing, he can’t keep it on the boy. Next, he tries throwing paint across him to make the translucent easier to see and the opaque more clearly defined. Before long, most of the paint simply passes right through him. After a failed system of lights and bells rigged to a nine-volt battery singes the vague suggestion of Julian’s right leg, he refuses to visit his father again. Nobody can grab hold of him or, for that matter, reliably get him into a car, so the threatened calls to various lawyers are never made. His father simply lets him go.

Weeks pass when Julian’s mother cannot see her son, but she knows he’s there. The rise and fall of his blanket at bedtime, the rapid diminishment of a small bowl of popcorn during the blue flicker of Finding Nemo, and the warmth of a delicate but sweaty hand pushing into hers at the grocery store bespeak his presence. The sound of plastic hooves galloping across the kitchen tile or a smiling rubber duck bobbing placidly in a bathtub of water she did not fill tells her not to give up on her son. She forgets about preschool, takes a sabbatical from work, and often runs through the park apparently alone but laughing, laughing.

 

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Betty Scott lives by O’Hare International airport with one bird and two people. Her writing has recently appeared in Slipstream and is forthcoming in The Wax Paper.

Month of Widows

That month so many men died, there were widows on our block, and one of
them collected nice alcoholic beverages. When I sat on her sofa, she excused herself and came back barefoot wearing a silk kimono and a velvet headband. She was boyishly pretty, like nobody else.

Her husband had been one of fifteen contractors crushed when a pilaster of brick and plaster imploded. She said the hospitality group sent her a condolence letter with no personal signature. A tear leaked out of one eye when she said it. That eye shone.

“Too bad my husband never saw all those exotic tiles,” she said.

“Well, my husband has seen them all as you know,” I said. “He can’t stop bringing them home.”

“Still,” she said.

We kissed for a while without mentioning it. The day moved in and out, holding one another up. Later that night, I told her that my husband felt like a familiar movie. Too much of one thing, and not enough of everything else — and I had to just sit there and watch.

She told me my skin reminded her of abalone. It changed color, she said. She seemed happy to have company, her face was all pink and shiny, and the feeling inside my spirit revived from all the goodness, and the sharing of yellowish burning syrup that she admitted was homemade absinthe. The young widows made the absinthe and shared it, she said.

Her liquor-coated lips burned my sadness off, and later on, early in the morning when the sun was new, I walked home with nothing and everything.

 

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Meg Pokrass is the author of Damn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011) Bird Envy, a novella-in-flash, Here, Where We Live (Rose Metal Press, 2014) and Cellulose Pajamas – Prose Poems (Blue Light Book Award, 2015). Her fourth full collection, The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down, is forthcoming from Etruscan Press in 2016. Meg’s flash fiction has been widely and internationally anthologized, most recently in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International. Meg is a co-founder of the San Francisco reading series “The Flash Fiction Collective.”