June 12, 2018| ISSUE no 238
crack the spine
L. N. Holmes
Jury S. Judge
Up Your Skirt
short fiction by Olivia Gunning
By the time you get home, half the school has seen up your skirt. They’ve seen the emerald green underwear and the soft ridges of cellulite that flock about your thighs. They’ve seen the strands of pubic hair escaping the edges of your gusset and they’ve seen the splatter of spots on the underside of your buttocks.
You’d been in the comfortable state of innocence, hailing one of Casablanca’s red taxis, rejoicing in the warmth of a summery Friday. You were ready to reach home, take off your clothes and shower away the sticky mix of sweat and diesel.
Your taxi stops to pick up a couple of extra passengers and you feel the buzz of your phone. An email sent from firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject line: Up Your Skirt. You see the screen shot, the phrase “Asking for it” typed across it, the figure “985 views” at the base.
It takes a moment for you to recognise your own body, but you see that it is, undeniably, yours.
You open the message as a new passenger squeezes into the taxi. A thick-fleshed, elderly lady, Berber tattoos on her chin, Her stocky shoulders press against yours. You feel her peering at your phone. Did she see? Did she see that shot of your undercarriage? The shot that has delivered an almost fatal sense of nausea and stony paralysis.
You thought you were safe, sashaying through the classroom, up and down the aisles, confident, cool-headed, sure of your authority, certain of the respect you procured.
You were so very, very wrong.
You’d never had imagined that one of them – and will you ever know who? – would flick his (or her?) phone onto camera mode and stick it between your legs. Think back to all the classes you took that afternoon. How many students called you over for help, made you to stop and bend forward, just a little, just enough, to look at their pages.
You didn't feel a thing.
It can't have taken even an hour to spread over numerous social media networks, slide silently into the screen of every kid at school.
The taxi stops for you to climb out. You have to scramble over the old Berber lady, who doesn’t want to move, because the left-hand doors of Casablanca’s taxis are always locked. You pull your skirt close to your legs. Is everyone watching? With trembling hands, you punch in the code that opens your building. As the lift takes you to floor five, you pray nobody will get in.
You open the front door to your flat and crumple onto the sofa beneath tears of something that outshines anger and humiliation and rage. Something that trumps them all. Something that you’ve never felt, even though you believed you’d experiences every shade of anguish.
Your blue skirt, its white lining slightly frayed, rises up mid-thigh as you lie back. You touch that thigh, feeling the mottling skin and the prickles of half-shaved hair.
You hadn’t even considered epilation.
Elsa is away this weekend. You’re alone. You miss her even though living with a late twenty-something makes you uneasy at times. It seemed a good idea taking a tenant to make ends meet and, you may as well admit it now, fill in the gap created by solitude.
But now you wonder. Those evenings spent being out-drunk by kids fifteen years your junior, weren’t you ridiculous? Didn’t you notice that your skin reddened as theirs stayed satiny-clear? Was it so difficult to hear the slurring of your voice dribbling on endlessly on outmoded conversation topics?
You shook it off, didn’t you.
Easier to ignore the pitying murmurs of Elsa’s friends as she explained how you’re single at forty-eight. That divorce rapped at your door only 18 months after the wedding vows. That you grew bored of your marriage that fast.
Elsa doesn’t even know about your three miscarriages that flowed from the place now immortalised by the fingers of a thousand teens, clicking you, hashtagging you, sharing you. That place which is now the source of guffawing and urgent whispering behind the bedroom doors of innumerable high-schoolers.
Elsa is not here. But you, you are everywhere now.
On your way towards the shower room, you stop, remembering your Friday night ritual, whereby you undress in front of the fridge, take a beer into the shower with you and bask as warm water cleans away all the grot that 150 students have belched, coughed and sweated into the classroom.
But you don’t want to do that. You don’t want to take off your clothes there because you’ll have to walk past the hallway mirror – a full length.
You shower in the half-darkness. You touch the thinning hair that is no longer so naturally blond. You take a fierce mitt and scrub viciously at the drooping skin and you turn up the heat because maybe it will scald the shame out of you.
You wonder about leaving. Why don’t you go home, back to England, try and start again? Retreat back into your old life from which your friends have departed, bought big houses in picturesque villages with gardens full of dogs and swings, sheds with projects in them and vegetable patches producing plants nobody grew twenty years ago.
Time has, indeed, passed without you.
Who would employ you now? Who wants an English teacher in England who’s been away for almost two decades? Your CV is centered elsewhere, your experience is irrelevant.
Besides, you’ve always liked your job. You're good at it. A beacon on the team. Your lessons are inventive, you’re enthusiastic about projects. You’ve got spark. Students and parents like you. You’re nice to everyone and respected by the administration. Even the director made complimentary remarks on your last report.
You picture the director in his office. You imagine contacting him about this incident, to complain, to protest. You envisage explaining the event. Would he ask for evidence? Would he, too, be party to the image of your subcutaneous fat rippling about your ill-fitting underwear? Would you be able to sit opposite him in his office with all that leather and dark wood, recounting it all in plain words?
“Sir, they photographed my private parts and showed the world.”
Wouldn’t he silently wonder: Why the hell does she dress like that?
All of a sudden, you recall the style duo you saw on morning TV years ago. Two women who taught other women how to dress, told them how they were doing it wrong. They distinctly stated that “no woman over thirty-years-old should ever, ever, wear a mini-skirt”.
You, pushing 50, thought you were exempt. You considered such views dated, unevolved.
You were wrong.
Climb out of the shower and swaddle yourself in that enormous dressing gown, the full-length one with the hood that you like wearing in winter. You lie on your bed in the fetal position.
It is dusk and the mosques are calling over the city. The seagulls are drifting through the falling layers of sunlight. Car horns are declaring the weekend. You feel solace in the familiarity of these sounds.
You know that with time, routine has brought comfort. That’s what you liked about going to work, about having a regular timetable, the familiarity of the same faces at the same desks.
That’s what you liked before.
While Taking Photographs in Nepal
I stand on a dirt road, shooting at a bus. It is early morning and my sweat-soaked clothes cling to my skin. Workers in saris and western-style clothing board the bus silently, ignoring my camera, their faces wrinkled and haggard from exposure to the sun.
A sudden close-up of plastic startles me. I lower my camera to find a vendor shaking a water bottle at me insistently. I wave him away, angry at the disturbance. He shambles over to another potential customer, unperturbed.
Peering through my camera viewfinder again, I see a woman gently pulling at the fabric of her sari. Her expression remains stoic as I inch forward to better capture the curve of her jaw. Her husband, or brother, or maybe a total stranger stands next to her, his eyes closed. I zoom out a little to include his entire profile. Accidentally zooming out too far, I realize with alarm I’m also being observed. Another man’s stare penetrates, unwavering, back through the lens. The startling whites of his eyes distract me from the woman and the sleeping man. His expression remains inscrutable. I take the shot and lower my camera.
The man has already turned away, his focus elsewhere.
flash fiction by L. N. Holmes
poetry by John Sweet
and hate is a castle
and all pain passes
believe in sorrow and
in broken locks
believe in windows thick with frost or
ones streaked with dust
paint the walls blue
let the roof collapse
my gift to you will always mean
what your life has become
One of Us, Speaking Without Bitterness
‘What‘s going on inside corresponds with what’s going on outside. Without one there is no other...’
‘Daft you are, I’ve always said.’
‘Conspicuously absent, not daft.’
‘How can you be conspicuous and absent, dafty?’
‘It’s a free world. I can be one or the other, or both or neither at all.’
micro fiction by Nigel Ford
I know who stole that little girl.
Seen it with my own eyes, from my own porch. I got a right to sit here any time I want, don’t matter it’s February, cold as a witch’s tit outside. But I ain’t telling nobody nothing. No sirree Bob. Seen that Cops show enough to know the one says something’s the one they haul off, throw away the key.
Can’t sleep the whole night through ever since Joe died, ten years running. Wake up choking for air, like being underwater in a dark, icy lake, struggling to reach the surface. “It’s the grief,” they said. “Give it time, things will get better.” Same advice they told Joe and me after our little Joey, called him Junior, was murdered walking home from school, just nine years old. Back then, couldn’t keep my eyes open, didn’t want to. Laid in bed for days. Finally got up on account a Joe, went through the motions, done the wash, scrubbed the floor, said amen in the right places at Mass. Now Junior and Joe both gone, I lay down alone, suffocate in my bed.
Was that time of night when the no-goods’ve finally fallen asleep and the decent folk ain’t outta their beds yet. Same as every other day, fixed my coffee, got my smokes, go outside so’s I can breathe. Porch is cozy, only fits two chairs. White painted rail runs round it, branches of the holly bushes Joe planted poking through the spokes, same as it ever was. Fingers warm around my cup, a handful of chenille tight against my throat. Settled down smooth and easy, not one drop sloshes over the rim.
Lit a second cigarette with the stub of the first. Took a drag, then outta the blue I seen a stranger got no business here coming round the back of Ida’s house across the street. He got a bundle slung over his shoulder, wearing dark clothes, work boots and a hood, reminds me of that feller them free-living Swedish people got instead of Santa Claus. Krampus, they call him. He ain’t fat and jolly, he’s hunched over and mean, ‘sposed to teach kids a lesson.
Well here comes this Krampus, carrying something. Tangle of blonde hair bobbing down, light from the street lamp catching off it, and I figured was the little girl from the white trash family bought Ida’s house two years ago, after her kids dumped her in the nursing home. Ida’s daughter Francine did a garage sale, let people paw over Ida’s china, bounce on her chairs, took pennies on the dollar just to be rid of it.
Krampus ain’t running, just walking in long fast steps, got a dog, clipped tail and ears, trotting alongside. Dog stops, big old head sniffing the air in my direction. Krampus turns, I seen his face real clear under the street light, pale like the moon, got a short, scrubby beard. Looks straight at me but he don’t see me here in the shadows. Says something to the dog, dog looks away and follows him. Coupla doors down, Krampus opened up the trunk of a beat-up Buick parked on the street, dumped the girl in and drove away. I figure she’s a goner, or gonna be.
Then I got to thinking what should I do about it. Nobody said nothing about my Junior, or maybe they did, but nobody paid attention. Said to myself, “Smells like snow,” like Junior used to, and then I seen him in my mind’s eye, busting through the door after school, face so shiny like he got a brand new puppy waiting for him, digging through the closet for his boots. Ida’s son Paulie come stomping on the porch and inside, helps Junior drag up his sled from the basement, that Flexible Flyer he got for Christmas, both of ‘em kneeling, soaping the blades. Next morning, the sun over the snow stings my eyes watching them trudge up the street together, shovels over their shoulders, gonna clear sidewalks and driveways, chattering about what they’ll buy with the money they make. Hear tire chains jingling on a station wagon sliding down the street. Man at the wheel’s white-knuckled, mouth twists into a curse when the car fishtails at the bend.
Before you know it, snow’s gone, daffodils blooming, and a few weeks later it’s Memorial Day, and then school’s out, Junior’s book bag’s empty and stuffed deep under his bed so it don’t bother him all summer long. Paulie takes Junior to the pool as a “guest,” cause we ain’t members, but Ida’s family is, and after I give him the two dollars to get in, I watch them skedaddle down the street, swim trunks swishing, blue striped towels round their necks, sweaty skin glistening in the sun like dew on a lily, squinting against the light shimmering off the concrete, the heat rising up in waves.
Outta nowhere there’s Junior in his casket on a cart parked outside the altar rail, in the only suit I got for him, the one from last year’s Confirmation. Shirt sleeves too short now, thin little wrists pale as birch twigs poking out, yellow tulips spread over his legs to hide where the pants hems don’t reach. Laying there so still, so silent, like he’s just sleeping in a field of flowers. Joe and me at home alone, all the light fading from the sky when Joe crossed the street to Ida’s, gave Paulie the Flexible Flyer.
Junior got took in broad daylight, but nobody saw nothing, or so they say. Forty-five years gone by, still don’t know who done it or why. They found a boy the next day, dumped along the side of the road coupla miles from here, no clothes on, neck broke. Police said they was ninety-nine percent sure it was Junior. Sent Joe down to see, told him ninety-nine percent ain’t good enough for me, Joe.
Ida said, “Don’t worry, Rose, God’s gonna get ‘em. Give ‘em worse than they done to Junior, wait and see.” She’s probly right, but I hope not. There ain’t no satisfaction in that. Want to see their face, look ‘em in the eye and have ‘em tell me why, why Junior, my little boy.
Day after the funeral took up smoking again. Gave me something to do, got me up and outta bed with Joe back to work. Joe said he don’t mind, so long as I stayed on the porch. Kept my promise, even though I can do what I want now Joe ain’t here no more.
Coffee turned ice cold, waiting on a big commotion coming from Ida’s house, but there ain’t nothing, not even a light burning. They got so many kids crammed in there, they probly don’t notice one’s missing.
If somebody had helped my Junior, I’d a jumped off this porch, run over and grabbed that Krampus myself; would’ve taken Joe’s baseball bat to him. But I don’t know that family, except for they don’t go to church regular, don’t keep Ida’s yard nice. Grass trampled into mud, hedges broke. Inside probly just as bad, crayon drawings on the wall and whatnot, all them kids.
Some people got so much and others so little. Always wanted a houseful, could only have one. Had everything I wanted once Junior came: Ida across the street, good Catholic neighborhood, Our Lady of Sorrows so close you could walk to Mass. Didn’t even mind that Jewish family at the bottom of the street, husband was a dentist. Ain’t too many Christ-killers round here, can only spot ‘em at Christmas, the houses without no lights. That dentist and his family’s going to hell, but they was nice enough.
Been remembering so hard, didn’t notice the sky turned lighter, now’s when that dyke next door gonna come out to warm up her car, so I high-tailed it inside. Them perverts moved in on Good Friday coupla years ago. Being neighborly, went over and introduced myself. Thought they was sisters, same short haircut, scrubbed-plain faces, but when they said “wife,” I turned right around. Poor Joe’s rolling over in his grave, me living next to Sodom and Gomorrah. Told Ida them girls was that kind. She said, “Good thing Francine’s growed up and married, they’d be after her for their orgies and whatnot, they’re all sex-crazy like that.”
Snow’s falling outside, and the street’s humming with voices, people swarming. Looks like the whole damn neighborhood. Police radio crackling, somebody’s sobbing, lady cop stringing that yellow crime tape over Ida’s broken hedges. Girl’s father’s on his porch barefoot, coat over his pajamas, talking to a man in a suit and tie. Father’s got the same look was on Joe’s face when we couldn’t find Junior. Them dykes gawking at Ida’s house, shaking their heads, muttering to that car salesman lives four doors up, got a wife and kids and a mistress, waitress at the diner. Spends Friday nights with her, takes communion with the family every Sunday. Birds of a feather.
What I seen keeps nagging at me like a tag inside a shirt. Decided to go over, clear things up right then and there. Got my coat nearly buttoned when I heard clanging out back, bet that stray dog roaming the neighborhood’s messing with my trash cans again. Kitchen door’s been blowed open by the wind. Lock ain’t been right awhile now, better call somebody tomorrow. Trash can’s rolling on its side, but ain’t nothing spilled. Hauled it upright. Go to grab the lid, seen a footprint, looks like a work boot, smeared in the snow underneath.
Was washing my hands at the sink when over the water splashing I heard muffled, angry shouts close by. In the living room, that Jerry Springer show’s playing. Don’t remember turning the TV on. Get to the front door and look back. Ain’t nothing outta place, but something’s different. The air in here’s got a tang to it, like rotten eggs or dirty socks, realize that garbage can smell’s stuck in my nose.
Get outside, seen the father’s gone, hear the man in the tie telling people to go home and wait, officers coming round to talk to them. Big sigh went up, everybody disappointed he ain’t letting loose any details. Went back inside, put away my coat. Them police gonna laugh at me when I tell ‘em about Krampus. “Rose,” they’ll say, like I’m three years old and stupid, “didja have your glasses this morning? Why were you up so early, outside in the freezing cold?” I been living here going on sixty years, I know who beats their wife, who spends too much, the drinkers, the pill-poppers, but what I know they don’t care about.
Feeling wore out, turn off the TV, go into the bedroom to lie down while I’m waiting. Ain’t nothing hardly changed in here since Joe died, except I brung the baseball bat under my side of the bed now, can’t be too careful. Chair’s still on Joe’s side, his clothes still hanging in the closet, picture of the Sacred Heart on the wall by the light switch, one of Junior and Joe together on my nightstand next to the phone. Junior’s holding up a line with a fish on it, but he ain’t smiling at the camera like Joe is, he’s frowning, worried the fish can’t breathe. “Hurry up, Mom, we’re almost out of time,” he says, real anxious, and soon’s I snap the button he pulls out the hook careful, runs over to the water and slides the fish back in. Don’t smile until he sees that skinny slice of silvery green wriggle away.
Was remembering it so crystal clear, thought I heard his voice again, “Hurry up, Mom, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,” and something grabs hold of me, makes me don’t care who laughs or not, who believes me or don’t, ain’t waiting no more to help that little girl. I grab the phone, punch in nine-one-one, but it don’t connect. It’s dead on the other end, probly the storm’s got the lines down, and now I got no choice but to wait, try again after while.
Must be nigh on dinner time the way the light’s coming in. Rolled toward the nightstand, big numbers on the clock said four oh two. Fall back on the pillow, eyes closed, trying to remember did I take out the chicken from the freezer. Smelling garbage real strong now, and I’m laying there wondering about it and thinking why them police ain’t showed up yet, when that funny feeling grabs holda me again. Something ain’t right.
“Wakey, wakey, Granny,” a man’s voice said.
I turned to where the voice come from, blinked, can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s Krampus, legs crossed Indian-style under him, sitting in Joe’s chair, muddy boots staining the seat. So I closed my eyes and opened ‘em again just to be sure. It’s him all right, hood, scruffy beard, and all, grinning cause I’m surprised. Nothing about it makes sense. Said the first thing popped outta my head, “Where’s the dog?”
Krampus laughs. He got nice teeth, white and even. Throwed his head back, hood fell off, and when he moves I catch a whiff of him, realize it’s him smells so rotten from sweating through his jacket and under his arms. He looks younger than I’d figured. Black curly hair. Skin broken out bad on his forehead and on his cheeks under the beard.
“Rose, I’m touched. No worries, he’s where he should be, doing what he’s ‘sposed to.” Krampus unfolded his legs, set his feet on the floor, twiddled his fingers on the arms of the chair. One leg got a nervous twitch, thigh bouncing up and down, tells me he’s wound up tight.
Wonder how Krampus knows my name, but there’s something else I’m burning to know, and ain’t nobody but him can tell me. “Why?” I said, “Why’d you do it?”
He straightens up, tilts his head at me like he’s confused. “What?”
“You took her. Why? Why hurt a little child?”
Krampus winces, like I’d slapped him. “Hurt her? Oh no, Rose, you don’t understand. I would never hurt Lisa – never! I love her.” He gripped the arms of the chair and leaned forward, face lit up, eyes soft. “First time I saw her, I knew she was the one. She knew it too, from the way she smiled at me. It’s been hard, not seeing each other ‘cause she’s in school all day. So I fixed it so we can be together. Always.” He smiled a far-away smile.
He ain’t looking at me while he’s talking, don’t see I let my arm drop down over the side, hand scrabbling under the bed for Joe’s bat. Smooth wood grazes my fingertips, then rolls away outta reach. Can’t hold back the scream, comes boiling up from deep inside me. “No! You seen her and just helped yourself! That ain’t love!” I jerk myself up, twist toward the nightstand, arm swings for the phone.
Krampus jumps outta the chair and pushes me back down. He sets next to me, sagging the mattress, breathing hard. “Phone doesn’t work, Rose. I took care of that, too.”
Felt my insides curdling, my heart’s thumping fast. He stares at me, his pupils so wide like he got black holes in his face. But I ain’t done yet. “You got no right! Bring her back,” I said.
He smiles again, makes the back of my neck tingle. “I’ve been watching little Lisa’s house for weeks, Rose. By the way, mind if I call you that? Seems only right, you and me alone here in your bedroom.” He pauses, like he’s waiting for me to say yes or no, but my tongue and throat so dried up, can’t say a word.
He sighs, starts up again. “But I digress. Saw you on your porch, every morning. Up extra early today, weren’t ya? Couldn’t sleep? That’s too bad. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice you and me sharing the night. I mean, you, me, and darling Lisa.” He shivered and squeezed his eyes shut. “She’s so pretty, isn’t she? Like an angel. Soft baby skin, smooth and creamy, not a hair on her. She’s waiting for me right now, crying cause she misses me. Told her I’m coming back soon.”
That gurgling sound from my dream starts up in my head; the water from the cold, dark lake sloshes in my ears. Tells me I’m a goner, just like that little girl. Ain’t scared of dying, but always reckoned on being ate up gradual, from the inside, and knocked out on drugs, wouldn’t even notice.
“I know you saw me, Rose. Cigarette was a dead giveaway – pardon the pun. That tiny little light.” He shrugs. “Like I said, it’s a shame, but you leave me no choice.” He looks away, like he’s thinking hard about something, shakes his head. Seems like maybe he changed his mind.
But in the next second Krampus leaps. Straddles my body with his legs. Wraps his hands around my throat. My lungs filling up with the stink of him, drops of hot sweat dripping from his beard onto my cheek. Says it’s my own fault, smoking gonna kill me, hurry up and die old lady, Lisa’s waiting. His fingernails dig in, warm trickles drip down my neck, thumbs like bricks under my chin.
My arms and legs got a mind of their own, thrashing to get me to the surface, but Krampus dragging me down to the bottom. Arms too heavy to lift, eyelids weighted down, can’t fight no more.
I wake up gentle and easy, ain’t gasping for air. So bright, must be morning, but I’m outta bed and standing on my own two feet in a field of yellow tulips, stretches as far as the eye can see, seems like miles and miles ahead of me.
“It’s so pretty,” someone says. It’s that little girl, Lisa, and she smiles and takes my hand. “Look!” she says, and here comes Junior, running to me across the field.
short fiction by Karen DiPrima
Hooked Up, Hooked On
Open eyes before light can light the cracks in the blinds—the blanket lies low in a dip between their bodies. His leg bends around her bedding, squid-like. She’s a plank, she thinks. Like others, he’ll leave soon. She could lie here, under cover, all morning. And he will, he thinks, until she squirms, does something other than lie there all morning. Her upturned lips, fleeting attraction to his one liner, his chum, the sheen of her scaled chemise of turquoise blue: these are all facets reeling him still. His rod, clayed into the crevice of his crotch, wants to lower down slowly, tackle cleanly, so his impression shows beyond this one catch. To bring her home, show her off, mount her, stare. She wants to swim away now—far from her own berth—back into open sea’s waters. Thrown back. Tossed. Trilling about. Paced breaths, never deep in the lungs; they drown in this stillness swirled only by the fan’s propellers.
She could lie here all morning.
And he will.
A sudden twitch of her tailbone gives her away. He cranks, his jig turned toward rippling in her sheets. Eyes on eyes, he casts another line, angling his barb, dragging, flipping her onto the surface, his thumb over her lip, partially in her mouth. She writhes and springs about, twists from his hard holding, pleading, longing, until the light’s shine leaves her eyes and enters the cracks in the blinds—her comforter shifts, and he stands, asking if she wants breakfast.
flash fiction by Meg Granger
Abnormalities in the skin are often
indicative of abnormalities of the brain
as both the brain and skin develop
in the fetus at the same time
Listening to the doctor quip about the similarities
between an ape cranium and my child’s skull
(Bigger isn’t necessarily better)
I remembered the summer I discovered
the difference in skin shades between the front
and the back of my right calf.
It was a subtle gradation but distinct in outline
as though that leg had lain slightly askew
in the danker water of the womb
The Neurologist Explained
poetry by Aholaah Arzah
On the Death of a Baby
Tonight, you fanaticize of pink satin, unfurling, tumbling, looping past blonde curls and full cheeks as you lull in a rocking chair, hands holding a storybook––small pigs, bad wolf, a wind blowing from bronchi, through pharynx, past lips, toppling habitats. But in my house, I drift through a room built for cooking, lit by a dirty dish, air wafting with laundry and soft fabric while a lazy frost spoils my tulips. Once, I saw a man buy tulips with petals smooth as china dolls. But I ignored that tulips and china dolls perish. Now I am an obstetrician––I understand my immortal delusions. Yet tonight, I choose to play with a flimsy shroud, as if a vast lawn, landscaping, old bricks, antique door knobs, a small barking dog, tall windows, a daisy, pharmacy lamps, and leather arm chairs can numb a crushing, cutting pain that cracks souls––your soul, my soul, as your baby girl falls victim to an umbilical cord––a collapsing ribbon of gray and pink that swirls, twists, folds, and kinks. In my house, I am blissful and I am ignorant and I am arrogant, for I do not know that tomorrow I will show you a still organ, still blood, still baby, stillborn. But tonight, that dirty dish slips through my fingers. Then I gather the pieces for I do not want my children to step on shards––sharp points slicing shins, hands, palms, soles. In my kitchen, I pack my son’s dinosaur lunch box–– a sandwich sticky with jam, chips, an almost old banana, baby carrots, salty hummus. But in your room, you pack your bag for our shared tomorrow. In your house, you pick the pink sweater you will wear as you cry and wail and I blow flimsy words from bronchi, through pharynx, past lips, “I’m sorry,” “labor,” “I don’t know,” “autopsy.” But now, in my house, I blow kisses to my four children and your stars burn to black. I rest oblivious that tomorrow, my words, a mere amalgam of sound, sinusoids rippling through air, will burst your blossoming balloon full of trust and joy. Tomorrow, you and I will cry curious with a pain that is yours, that is ours, that I cannot own, but I will try. Now, in your house, your baby girl turns, kicks, stretches. And in my moonlit room, I do not know you are whispering a final goodnight. But you do not know it is all so final.
creative non-fiction by Whitney Lee
Aholaah Arzah received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard. Her poems, essays, short fictions, and visuals have appeared in a variety of publications including; Short, Fast and Deadly, Crab Creek Review, elimae, Paper Tape, The Bellingham Review and ARC. Her essay “Ring Cycle” received Longshot Magazine’s feature award. She lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
Karen is a novelist and short story writer. Her short stories have appeared in the Broad River Review, Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars (an anthology published in September 2017), and Image OutWrite. Her nonfiction work has appeared in The Philadelphia Business Journal, The Philadelphia Lawyer, NJ Lifestyles Magazine, and others.
Nigel Ford is English and works as a writer and visual artist. His stories have appeared in the Penniless Press anthology, Howling Brits, (designed the cover) and a collection entitled One Dog Barking, (designed the cover) published by Worldscribe Press. He has been featured in a number of literary magazines, most recently The New Ulster.
Meg Granger received her MFA at Western New England University. She is a Fiction/Nonfiction editor of Common Ground Review and an Adjunct Professor of English. Her work has appeared in The Merrimack Review and she is currently in a readership with The Masters Review. She also loves photography: you can find her beautiful blue dachshund on Instagram @MatildaGirlBlue.
Olivia’s stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Forge Literary Magazine, STORGY, Penny Shorts, The Fiction Pool, Five on the Fifth and Scarlet Leaf Review. She began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a feather and self-published her first story, Mrs. and Mr. Patchwork, aged six. Later, having studied English Literature in London, Olivia trained and worked in journalism. She moved to Morocco and continued writing as a travel writer, studying linguistics and teaching English. She spends half of her time in a fictitious world. As a journalist, Olivia has written for Fodor’s Travel Guide, The National, Elle Decoration as well as several travel supplements. She lives and works in Casablanca, Morocco.
L. N. Holmes
L. N. Holmes is an Ohio native living in Nebraska. Her flash fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Newfound’s annual best-of print issue No. 4, Vestal Review, Obra, Laurel Magazine, Varnish Journal, and other publications. She’s an alumna of Creighton University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, where she was a half-fellow. Her honors include the Katherine B. Rondthaler Award for Poetry, the Salem College President’s Prize for Creative Writing, a first place award from the North Carolina College Media Association, and others. Learn more about her at lnholmeswriter.wordpress.com
Jury S. Judge
Jury S. Judge is an internationally published artist, writer, photographer, and political cartoonist. She contributes to ‘the Noise’, a literary arts and news magazine. Her ‘Astronomy Comedy’ cartoons are also published in the ‘Lowell Observer.’ Her artwork has been widely featured in literary publications such as ‘Claudius Speaks’, ‘South 85 Journal’, ‘The Tishman Review’ and ‘Dodging The Rain.’ She has been interviewed on the television news program, ‘NAZ Today’ for her work as a political cartoonist. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2014.
Whitney Lee is an obstetrician who received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Huffington Post, Women’s eNews, Numéro Cinq, The Rumpus, and Gravel. She lives in Chicago with her husband and four children. Currently, she is working on a collection of themed essays.
John Sweet, b 1968, still numbered among the living. A believer in writing as catharsis. An optimistic pessimist. Opposed to all organized religion and political parties. Avoids zealots and social media whenever possible. His latest collections include APPROXIMATE WILDERNESS (2016 Flutter Press) and BASTARD FAITH (2017 Scars Publications). All pertinent facts about his life are buried somewhere in his writing.
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