May 14, 2019| ISSUE no 251
crack the spine
Edward Michael Supranowicz
Kay Rae Chomic
short fiction by Sheree Shatsky
By the time I reached twenty-one, I wasn’t dead yet, but alive in reverse.
My grandmother was the first to notice. “Lydia, you look good.”
“I was thinking the same,” my mother said, drying the last of the lunch dishes. “Ever since rehab. It’s as if it took this time.”
My grandmother waved me over to the kitchen table. She gave me a good hard look. “It’s something more,” she said, palming my cheek and searching through me. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“I feel great,” I said, pulling away, feeling her intuition on me.
My mother hung the dishtowel over the sink. “Well, if I didn't know any better, I’d swear you were getting younger.”
Back before I became a kid again, anytime I made an ugly face at my mother, she’d say, Keep it up, one day your face is going to freeze like that. I didn’t believe her, but would run to the mirror anyway, smoothing my face red to eliminate any sign the contortion had been present.
So maybe, I half believed her.
It’s when I stopped checking, her comebacks turned tender. Sure you’re okay? Anything you need to talk about? I’d push by her and out the door into a world of others like me who would age up in and out of jail and rehab. I was an illusion of myself, present only in the physical, suspended between dimensions like a curly wind spinner, flat and thin until spun elongated with the first puff of breeze.
Stealing the pearl necklace with the ruby heart clasp was the deal breaker for my mother. A gift from my late father, it draped the lampshade on her bedside table. I only pawned it, I told her when I couldn’t stand her looking under the bed for the hundredth time. I plan to get it out of hock and honestly, you’re lucky I waited this long, the damn thing sitting out in plain sight, offering itself for the taking, like Dad was giving permission. She went undercover from pawn shop to pawn shop, dragging in the cops where she found it, at an antiques mall over in the next town where I never thought she’d look. She cut me off quick and clean that same day without a word, no quips, no tender mercies, only to slam the door on me with a force I will forever see in slow motion.
I wriggled the knob and pounded my fist against the slide of the dead bolt. “I’m here inside, I can’t get free, help me, help me, Mom, please,” my addict voice begged. I sat crumpled on the front step for a while, my head resting against arms folded across my knees, alternating between screaming, weeping and checking to see if she were peeking at me through the blinds.
The familiar itch needled my ankles into motion. I walked around the house looking for a way in for a way out, to grab a couple of dollars, maybe rifle through my grandmother’s wallet for a couple more, anything I could get my hands on, but every window and door to the house and car were locked up solid. I grabbed the heavy squirrel garden sculpture off the birdbath and considered throwing it through the plate glass window, but figured a squirrel made of Chattahoochee rock was probably worth a few bucks. People preferred owls, it was true, but the rodent would do. I headed out, marking my territory with a swift kick to my mother’s car. I’d been on the street a month when the cops arrested me stoned out of my mind directing traffic along the center line of the highway downtown.
I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for weeks after committing myself to rehab. I’d tell my therapist the ugly had wiped out every part of me, nothing was left to see. All I want, I’d say, is to go back to before, when my biggest worry was my face freezing and I was someone’s baby girl.
We can take you back and keep you there, she said, and went on to explain a new hypnotherapy program boasting a long-term sobriety rate for both addicts and alcoholics. Positive hypnotic suggestions from my youth—favorite books, music and movies, friends and family times—would reverse back with me to the age I wanted to be, anchoring me there with a post-hypnotic implant tucked deep in the recesses of my unconscious.
My transformation would occur in stages. My therapist and I agreed age sixteen as the best first step reversal. Even though I’d put my body through hell, I still looked young for my age and the physical changes on the road back to sixteen would prove subtle. After one year as a younger me, I had two choices— stay put, allowing my mother and grandmother to live the remainder of their lives believing I had inherited great genes from their side of the family or continue on to my next before. Memories of the backwards journey would erase upon reaching the forever age I decided best for me.
I felt myself better after a few sessions. From what I could see, my arms and legs toned and my fingernails pinked, but only when my body no longer felt skeletal, did my curiosity soon outweigh the revulsion of my reflected image. Sliding the sheet off the mirror, my eyes met my own. My clothes no longer hung from me. My waist cinched and my hips flattened in a tomboy way. My hair glistened, the same streaked gold enveloped in my baby book. I leaned in close. My eyes looked rested. The shadows beneath were gone and the whites were no longer the yellow of a ninety-year-old. I had taken to catnaps, waking in surprise as having never moved, my soul as peaceful and still as the undisturbed sheets.
My release to transitional living gave my mother the permission she needed to crack open the family door enough to visit.
‘Have you lost weight?” my grandmother continued, circling her hand around my wrist as if to measure.
“Actually, I’ve put on a couple pounds” I replied, but didn’t mention dropping a shoe size or my period had stopped.
“I worry about you,” she said, giving my mother a glance. “Well, I do, I can’t help it.”
“All we want,” my mother said, picking up her purse ready to leave, “is our baby girl back.”
My therapist hadn’t seem worried when I first brought up the unexpected physical changes. “It’s not unusual for a menstrual cycle to fluctuate during periods of stress.”
“Explain that to all the sixteen-year-old moms,” I said. “Maybe the fact my shoes are literally falling off my feet is also due to stress.” Unbuckling my sandals, I slide them off and back on in front of her, fastening the metal notch one hole past the familiar crease in the leather strap. “I’ve worn a size seven since I was fourteen.”
“The shoes look tired, worn,” she said. “How long have you had them?”
“Seriously? My feet are shrinking and you ask me when I bought the shoes?”
She jotted down a couple of notes and shrugged. “Could be the session work is moving you back a bit faster than anticipated. How old were you when menses initiated?”
“Fourteen, back when my shoes fit.”
“Interesting. Let’s get you in for a complete physical, run blood work and go from there.”
The reversal was happening too fast. Two months into my year of sixteen, test results determined I stood on the verge of puberty, which I could certainly see with a glance in the mirror at my prepubescent ugly moon face. I’d dropped two inches in height and discovered the gnawing pain in the back of my jaw were my wisdom teeth needing extraction or re-extraction, depending how I chose to look at it. The lisp I conquered in sixth grade began creeping in and out of my speech. Horrified, I began obsessively practicing my th drills, bite-smile-blow, tongue behind my front teeth. I was twelve with the mind of a twenty-one-year old and all I wanted was to go forward to go back to my life.
“I’m done,” I told my therapist. “Send me back. Plant something in my subconscious that keeps me clean. Or not. I don’t care, I’ll take my chances. At this rate, I’ll be theven (bite-smile-blow, tongue behind my teeth) seven the next time my family visits.”
“We can take you forward and keep you there,” she said, lowering the light.
My eyes close and I’m in the trees lining my backyard, swaying in the bough of an Australian pine. My mother calls the trees invasive trash exotics, but I love the easy climb into the wispy heights, as much so as my grandmother loves tending after the twelve when my mother isn’t around to scold her. I’m safe here, high in the sky. The tree breathes through the needles in soft whisper, lulling me through mirror time. I’m too tall, taller than the boys, why am I so ugly, I ask my mother, standing in reflection alongside me. She divides my long low ponytail into three strands and begins to braid. Girls mature faster than boys, all evens out in the long run, give it time, no need to rush. My grandmother hands my mother her rosary beads to plait through my hair. Bless and keep you, she says, making the sign of the cross.
I pirouette, my eyes lingering in the mirror as my body rotates. Tendrils of conversation twirl with me. I’m uncertain she’s suitable for ballet, Miss Veronica says with perfect pencil posture. She’s three, my mother replies, she’s a baby, a baby girl. My ballet teacher lowers her voice. She looks at herself in the mirror too much, unable to find the good within. The mirror cracks and fractures, splintering the shallow roots of my tall pine escape. I cling to the scaly wavering trunk and watch saplings birth from the earth in small forest. My mother plays wack-a-mole with the young trees, but my grandmother gets in her way and slows her down, sprinkling each new growth with holy water. Shading her eyes, my mother looks up at me, shaking her fist. There’s two more for every trash tree I yank out of the ground! I count the trees. Thirteen, fifteen, seventeen, nineteen saplings whisper in unison, grow with us, Lydia.
The twenty-first sapling pops through the soil. It’s out of control, my mother screams, pushing my grandmother aside. She reaches for the hand clippers in her back pocket to find a shattered hand mirror, etched crisp with her stunted reflection. The shards loosen and knife into the weeds like sharp teeth. She grabs a sliver and turns on the tree, but it’s me she has by the throat—aware and adult, powerfully rooted in the beauty of my rightful time and place. No more baby girl, I say and wake with achy size seven feet.
I loosen my sandals a notch and wiggle my toes in relief.
The Third Date
The beer splattered onto Gabby’s lap where the cup landed, making a large wet spot on her jeans that looked like nothing so much as a pants-peeing.
“Hey!” Josh jumped up, facing the beer-spiller who’d been jamming his knees into Gabby’s back for the last inning. Now, she was wet and smelled like last call on their third date: burgers at Goody-Goody and a Rays game.
“You spilled beer on my girlfriend!”
All Gabby heard was “girlfriend.” He was a nice guy, and she guessed she liked him, but how did meeting for coffee, going to a movie, and now a baseball game translate to a committed relationship?
“It’s ok,” she grabbed for his hand but missed as he raised it in the air to point a finger at the drunk man, “Just sit down.”
Josh kept shouting at the drunk man while the drunk man’s drunk wife tugged on his sleeve as he yelled back at Josh.
Did she want to be his girlfriend? She’d swiped right and agreed to meet because his picture was cute, and his profile made him out to be a good enough guy. He did use too much product in his hair, she thought, looking up at him as he clenched his fists. It felt crunchy. She found that out at the end of date two when she’d experimentally tried to run her fingers through it while they kissed. And the kissing was honestly nothing more than just okay.
And earlier tonight he ate hunched over his plate with his elbows on the table. Gabby had brought up a political headline and realized that he didn’t know the difference between the House and Senate. When she’d asked about his favorite book while waiting for the check, he’d said, after a long hesitation, “I guess How to Kill a Mockingbird.”
As uniformed officers raced up, the drunk man shoved Josh, and he drew back his arm and released it like a piston into the drunk man’s face. There was a meaty thunk then a silence that held its breath until the drunk man launched forward, and both men flailed and fell on the two rows of people below them.
One officer dug Josh out by the waistband of his jeans and pinioned his arms behind him. Another heaved out the drunk man. Wrists were zip-tied, and they all marched down the stairs.
“Are you coming? Just follow me!” Josh called over his shoulder. He looked scared.
Gabby watched him disappear as the crowd applauded their exit.
Gabby looked back at the wife who seemed embarrassed and not really drunk after all.
“I’m so sorry, honey.”
“It’s okay. Are you staying? Do you want to sit with me?” Gabby asked. The wife grabbed her purse and took the empty seat next to Gabby.
“Sorry about your boyfriend,” the wife studied the scoreboard as the crowd started up a new cheer.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Gabby said, clapping her hands along with the crowd.
flash fiction by Andrea Rinard
poetry by Elijah Allred
folk hero, enkidu
we saw you in the garden eating mushrooms and
fermented cherries from the palm of the severed hand
of St. Francis of Assisi while making a necklace from
his teeth for the new fawn sleeping in your lap
we saw you faded and stumbling through a vortex tripping
hard in the sump of Tartarus passing out and pissing yourself
and crawling back to the bed your mother made you from the
hair of lost dogs and cats and moss
you slept with your arms around your fawn all balled up
beneath the bodhi tree with a chandelier of broken cameras
hanging from its branches which you kept calling ‘brand new
stars’ in your sleep
later we saw you tearing pages from the diaries of all the
missing hikers and stuffing them in the bra of your stolen
gorilla suit asking the dead fawn with the crushed throat in
your bed if ‘beautiful’ and ‘lonely’ meant the same thing
later we found one page balled up on the mattress and you
had underlined the words: "what is the body, but a blurry,
un-locatable thing?" and above we saw the old stars hover
wingless in the silent sky then accelerate and disappear
The air smelled of paint and penny nails, and broad shouldered men hefting lumber.
While Rapunzel slept fitfully, they built cabinets and varnished them, splashed paint on the tower walls in swirling strokes of orange, purple, grey, so that they resembled a twilight about to erupt in storm. When they finished, after they climbed down all three hundred rungs of the ladder, one of them said, How can we take it with us? How can we not leave the miss a way out? Did you see the yearning? Did you hear her whisper, help me, help me?
micro fiction by Linda Lowe
It was a couple in their late thirties with two children.
“We’re looking for a dog,” the man said.
“You’ve come to the right place,” Sam replied. “We just happen to have dogs. Lots of dogs.”
He led them up the first aisle, between the kennels. Some of the dogs came up to the bars and barked.
“See anything you like?” Sam asked, shouting to be heard over the barking.
The couple said nothing. They glanced from one kennel to the next, looking slightly overwhelmed.
Sam led them around the corner and up the second aisle. “What kind of dog are you looking for?” he asked.
“A good one,” the woman said. “You know, friendly.”
“And kind of big,” the man said. “I don’t like the little yappy ones.”
Sam pointed toward kennel number nine. “How about Champ?” he said. “He’s big and friendly.”
The woman looked at the dog in the kennel. “We can certainly consider him,” she said.
“You have a room where you can take the dog and we can play with him, get to know him, right?” the man said.
“Sure, the Meet-and-Greet Room,” Sam replied. “It’s at the other end of the hallway. Or I can let him out in the back yard and you can get to know him out there. Nice evening outside.”
“How about you guys?” the man said, turning to the children. “You want to go outside with this doggie?”
“I like that one,” the boy said, pointing toward kennel number seven.
“I like that one, too,” the woman said. “He’s pretty.”
“Lila?” Sam said.
“She’s a nice dog,” Sam said. “Just arrived yesterday. I could take her to the front room or out to the yard for you.”
“Could we look at them both at the same time, get a chance to compare?” the man asked.
“Maybe not inside,” Sam answered. “Two big dogs and a whole family in the same little room, with the dogs all excited about new people. But we could take them both out to the yard.”
“Let’s do that,” the man said.
“Some dogs can only go out by themselves,” Sam added. “But Champ and Lila both play real well with other dogs.”
“Oh, good,” the woman said.
Sam called Katie in from the front room to hold open the door leading outside. He asked the family to stand in the hallway for a minute, to clear the aisle. Then he unlocked the door to number seven. “Let’s go out, girl,” he said. Lila stepped out of the kennel and trotted down the aisle and out the door.
Then he went to number nine. “Big chance, buddy,” he said softly as he unlocked the door. “Best behavior, okay?”
The big dog shot out the kennel door and skidded as he turned. He galloped to where Katie was holding open the door to the outside, then whirled and ran back to Sam, putting his front paws on Sam’s shoulders and trying to lick his face.
“Steady, big guy,” Sam said, laughing. He grabbed the dog’s front paws and lowered them to the floor. “Let’s go for a run outside.”
The dog barreled down the aisle to the outside door, then stopped and looked back at Sam. After Sam took a few steps toward the door, the dog sped outside. Katie immediately shut the door. “Fingers crossed,” she whispered to Sam before returning to the front room.
Sam led the family outside. Lila had ambled over to the picnic table and was lifting her leg. Champ tore along the fence, running around the edge of the yard in circles. There was only a slight limp by now, Sam observed. Anyone who didn’t already know wouldn’t even notice.
“Lots of energy,” the woman said.
“Those kennels are pretty small for a big dog,” Sam replied. “We probably should let them run off a little steam before you play with them.”
Champ swerved toward Lila and the two dogs took off together, playfully nipping at each other as they ran. Watching, the children giggled uneasily.
“You don’t happen to live in the country?” Sam asked. “Open fields?”
“Suburbs,” the man said. “Hortonville. Big fenced-in yard, though.”
“Next best thing.”
Eventually Sam turned to the basket of doggie toys near the door. He pulled out a Frisbee.
“He retrieves?” the man asked.
“Well, he catches.” Sam handed the Frisbee to the man. “Here, try it.” Then he called out “Champ!” and the big dog turned and hurtled toward them.
“Go get it, big guy!” the man said as he tossed the Frisbee. Champ turned, digging up a clod of earth as he pivoted. He charged after the Frisbee, then leaped and caught it in his mouth in midair.
“Woo-hoo!” the boy shouted. The girl clapped her hands.
“Bring it here, fella!” the man called. “Fetch!”
The dog turned and ran toward them, Frisbee in his mouth. But at the last moment he veered left and sped off, occasionally looking back over his shoulder at them, until he reached the picnic table and leaped onto it.
“He wants to play keep-away,” Sam explained.
Meanwhile the woman had called to Lila, who now approached the family. She sniffed inquisitively at the little girl. The girl leaned away, hands behind her back.
“It’s okay,” Sam said. “Lila’s friendly.”
The girl put her hand out cautiously, then began to scratch Lila behind the ear. The dog closed her eyes in contentment. The boy came over and scratched behind the dog’s other ear.
“Awww,” said the woman.
Sam jogged toward Champ and let him play keep-away for a while. Then they played tug of war, each of them pulling on one end of the Frisbee, Sam using his hands and the dog using his teeth. Soon the big dog was panting hard, making a clicking sound in his throat with each pant. Sam led him back to the family.
“Hello, Champ,” the man said, raising his hand to pet the big dog on the head. The dog flinched and moved away.
“Be careful, Tom!” the woman called out.
“Don’t worry,” Sam said. “He doesn’t bite. Doesn’t even growl.”
“Maybe not,” she said. “But he’s so big and he looks—”
“He’s just a little shy around new people at first,” Sam said. “Especially men. And he gets scared if you put your hand up over his head where he can’t see it. But if you scratch him under the chin like this—”
He began scratching under the big dog’s chin. The dog leaned his weight into Sam’s hand and wagged his tail. Chuffling sounds of pleasure came from his throat, mixed with the panting.
“Why is he like that?” the woman asked.
“Don’t really know,” Sam replied. “He was way more scared when he first got here. But he came to us as a stray, so we don’t know what his life was like before.”
He didn’t tell them how the dog had been when he arrived, the right hind leg and the burn marks. That wouldn’t help.
“He’s come a long way,” Sam added. “He tries hard. Watch.” He put out his free hand. “Shake, buddy.”
The big dog instantly offered his paw. “Good boy,” Sam said, completing the handshake.
But the man and woman hadn’t seen. They were watching their children play with Lila.
Eventually the family grew tired of standing and migrated to the picnic table. Lila followed close behind. Sam gave them a little time to themselves and then wandered over, the big dog trotting at his side. By now the woman was petting Lila while the two children gathered doggie toys off the ground and offered them to the dog.
After a minute or two the man turned to Champ again. He extended his hand slowly and carefully, then began to scratch the big dog under the chin. Champ leaned into the man’s hand and wagged his tail. He offered his paw although the man hadn’t tried to shake. “He’s actually a sweetheart once he gets used to you, isn’t he?” the man said. Sam nodded his head and smiled.
The boy drifted away from Lila and approached the big dog. “This one’s nice, too,” he said.
“Be careful, Jacob,” the woman said, an edge in her voice.
But by now Champ seemed to trust the new people. When the boy began to rub him between the shoulder blades he turned toward the boy and wagged his tail harder.
But then he put his front paws on the boy’s shoulders and leaned in. The boy fell backwards into the dirt. Immediately the big dog was on top of him.
“Jacob!” the woman screamed. The dog looked up at her and backed away, cowering.
“He was just lickin’ my face, Mom,” the boy said, forcing a laugh. But when he scrambled to his feet he rushed back to his mother’s side, near the other dog.
Now the family had formed a kind of semicircle around Lila, their backs turned to Champ. Twice the big dog tried to nose his way into the group. The first time the woman pushed him away. The second time it was the man who did it, and Sam knew.
“C’mon, buddy,” he said to the big dog, leading him away from the family. “Let’s have us some play time.” For a few minutes he left the family alone with Lila, watching from a distance, doing even that much only because visitors weren’t supposed to be alone with a dog without an employee or volunteer worker present. The man and woman talked to each other, occasionally stopping to ask the children a question or two.
Sam petted the big dog, tossed the Frisbee, had the dog shake hands. Finally he reached into the bucket of toys again. “Got a special treat for you, buddy,” he said, pulling out a plastic duck. “Your favorite.”
The big dog took the toy duck into his mouth. Immediately a series of squeaks rang out. The family looked up in surprise, then laughed to see the huge animal rolling on his back, making the plastic duck squeak again and again.
The man approached Sam, gently pulling Lila by the collar. “We really like this one,” he said. “We’d like to adopt her.”
“Terrific!” Sam replied. “Let me take her back to the kennel, get her ready. You go back up that hallway where you were before and take the second left. Katie’s up front. She’s the manager. She can help you with the paperwork and answer any questions you might have. Oh, and she can take your money too.”
They laughed. It was a joke he always used.
“He’s a good dog, too,” the woman said, looking down at Champ and smiling generously now. “Just takes some getting used to.”
“Like everybody else,” Sam replied.
“Plus he’s maybe a little too much dog for us,” she said. “He just needs to find the right people.” Her smile broadened. “But a nice dog like that, I’ll bet he won’t be here much longer.”
“I’m sure he won’t,” Sam replied.
After the family had gone up front, Sam went inside. He scattered kibble into the two dogs’ kennels for bait, then brought them back in, one at a time. Then he began to let the other dogs out into the yard, one or two at a time in a steady rotation, about six or seven minutes each. The dogs got to play and exercise and a chance to urinate and whatever else. Sam cleaned their kennels while they were outside. He wanted to give Champ another turn outside, but there wasn’t enough time, so he settled for tossing the toy duck into the dog’s kennel.
In the middle of the rotation Katie came back and took Lila away on a leash. The next time Sam stepped outside to bring in one of the dogs, he looked toward the side lot. The family was leaving the building, Lila along with them. The children were feeding Lila from a box of doggie treats. Then Lila jumped into the back seat of a car, between the two children. Sam watched as the car pulled away.
It had begun to grow dark outside. Almost closing time. Sam began the final round of chores. He cleaned up the dog poops in the yard, then tied off the bag and took it to the trash. He made sure all the kennels had fresh water and a doggie toy or two. He scrubbed down number thirteen, where a puppy had peed in the kennel. Finally he did a deep cleaning and put a fresh blanket and new food and water dishes into number seven, where Lila had been, and then moved two puppies out of the auxiliary cages in the storage room and into the kennel. Somebody else could change the sign on number seven tomorrow.
He was about to lock the back gate and shut off the lights when Katie came in.
“So Lila’s going home,” he said. It was the phrase the workers always used when a dog or cat had gotten adopted.
“Yeah,” Katie said. “Nice family. And they were just doting on her. She’ll bring them a lot of happiness.”
“And vice versa.”
“Sorry about Champ.”
Sam nodded his head. “What time does Doc come tomorrow?” he asked.
“Around noon. But there’s always the chance that tomorrow morning—”
“I’ll try to take an extra hour for lunch at work, see if I can’t be here.”
Katie looked at him. “You’re never here during the day. You volunteer Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.”
“He should have someone he knows in the room.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Okay, another person he knows.”
Neither of them spoke for a while.
“We kept him almost two weeks,” Katie said. “Longer than we keep most of them. Way longer than we’re required to.”
“The law says we have to accept every stray they bring us, you know that. And God knows they just keep bringing ’em.”
“We’ve got this lab mix coming, soon as she heals enough. What got done to her, it’d make whatever those—what got done to Champ, it’d make that look like a picnic.”
“Plus all the surrenders,” Katie went on. “Did I tell you? Some jerk out in the country had like fourteen Springer Spaniels he kept in a barn, did nothin’ for ’em but toss in food once or twice a day. He died yesterday. The dogs are scared shitless of people. They’re dividing ’em up, we don’t have to take all fourteen. But we’ll end up with at least seven.”
“I get it.”
“There’s just no room, Sam. We’ve already got ’em packed—”
Again neither of them spoke. The kennels were quiet except for a persistent squeaking noise.
“You let him have that squeaky toy in his kennel?” she asked.
“It’s just for one night.”
“He could keep up that racket all night.”
“We won’t be here to hear it.”
“The other dogs will.”
“You think it’ll bother them? Like Metallica from the downstairs apartment?”
“You can’t take him home?” Katie asked.
Sam shook his head. “We’ve already got two at home, plus a cat. Last time I took one home, Marcia said if I did it one more time she’d keep the dog and throw me out. Better not check to see if she meant it.”
“Same for me, more or less. Besides, you take one, what about the others? Or the ones next week or the week after? Can’t save ’em all.”
“That’s just how it is.”
After a pause, Sam said, “I never cared much for English class in school.”
“What’s that got to do—”
“But there was this one poem. I still remember a couple of lines. ‘Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night.’”
“You’re really a downer tonight, you know that?”
“Look, if it’s any consolation, it doesn’t happen to as many as it used to,” Katie said. “And not just here. Nationwide.”
“Right. Only one and a half million last year. I feel much better now.”
“But five, ten years ago, it was—”
“Okay, I’ll give it one last shot,” Katie said. “You know we probably gave him the best two weeks of his life, right?”
“Living in a box?”
“He got to go out and run three, four times a day, minimum. Didn’t have to worry about the heat or the cold or—anything else. Got all the food he needed, a blanket to sleep on, people who cared for him.” She paused. “And tonight he’s even got that goddamn squeaky toy.”
“Try not to think about it, Sam.”
He laughed again.
“Well,” Katie said, and it looked like she was going to say something more. But then she turned and went through the hallway door, back to the front room and the parking lot beyond.
Sam walked out into the darkness and locked the gate, then came back in and locked the door to the outside. Finally, he turned out the lights.
“Go to sleep, guys,” he said.
The kennels were quiet. The dogs had settled in for the night. They had all gotten plenty of exercise and were pleasantly tired. And Lila had gone home. A good night for the shelter.
“See you tomorrow, Champ,” Sam said softly. “Sleep well, buddy.”
He closed the hallway door behind him. Through the door he could hear the sound of squeaking in the darkness.
He's a Good Dog, Too
short fiction by Brian Sutton
Less Like Twins
Summer camp. Kind of. My grandparents lived isolated in a forest in a dormitory-like building with rows of windows, pine cone-brown outside, the walls inside whiskey-hued. By the fifth year, my twin sister and I had become experts on identifying tracks and scats of porcupines, foxes, and deer. We scavenged for morel mushrooms and blackberries. Grandpa taught us the basics of stone masonry. Camp sessions ended when we built the stone wall. Beth Ann lost a finger as grandpa brought his hammer down. She and I became easy to tell apart. Much later, she inherited the place.
flash fiction by Kay Rae Chomic
Sunrise. Vapors gather.
Roots jut from a tangled slope
climb as ivy climbs
cling to cedar trunks
plunge into wet black loam.
Beetles ants and damsel bugs
creep through broken porcelain bowls.
Wind-scattered dust irritates raw sinuses.
Mucous slides from leaf to lower leaf.
A barbed stalk thicket crowds the ground.
Sweet purple clusters glisten in the dawn.
Bones of birds opossum trout
a black ash crater
in a ring of stones.
Parents in flight
feed berries to their child.
The sign reads, "Cerrado."
They rest on rubber mats behind the counter
after the owner has locked the doors.
Wet floors. "Cuidado."
Spaces between boxes of soap.
Midnight under the blanket.
The sky is black and wet.
Birds perch on the cornices.
Sandwich wrappers in the drains.
Boots through runoff. Hail dances
on the hood of a Stingray.
poetry by Jesse Minkert
The Meanest Thing I've Ever Said
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
luke / six // forty-five
+ ONE +
My sister Andie was sixteen and a sophomore in high school when Avril Lavigne released “Sk8er Boi.” — He was a Skater Boy, She said see ya later, boy, he wasn’t good enough for her — Fun. Poppy. Bubble Gum Punk with eyeliner and attitude. Avril wore a near-omnipresent holy trinity of wife-beater, plaid skirt and necktie. She wore the tie loose around her neck, with the point hitting just below her belt line. Most folks, my sister included loved it.
I hated it. I was eighteen and listening to a variety of music, including (but not limited to) Led Zeppelin, Rush, and The Dave Matthews Band.
(I know, I know…)
None of these paired well with fresh-faced Canadian pop-punk. I hated Avril’s sound, hated Avril’s look — hated everything about it.
So my sister starts dressing a little more Punk, a little more like Avril, and then she starts dating this rail-thin lead singer of an emo band. Jack-Skellington-Thin. Stand-Sideways-And-Disappear-Thin. In-A-Dead-Heat-With-A-Femur-For-
Once, as a joke, he tried on my sister’s jeans, and they fit better on him than they did on her.
That’s the image I have of him in my mind — there’s my sister, myself and him in my sister’s room. And there’s him, literally, in my sister’s pants, laughing to himself and shrugging his shoulders in this ‘golly-gee-shucks’ kind of way.
Around this year, my grandparents were in the process of moving, and they were sorting out old clothing. One day, my sister asked my grandfather if she could have a bunch of neckties he didn’t use anymore. Why of course, he says. So, she took the ties and struck upon the notion of making skirts out of them. She bunched the ties into groups of similar color palettes/styles and sewed them together.
It wasn’t the worst idea in the world — in fact it was great — but I associated it with Avril, Sk8er Boi and some pencil-thin emo kid wearing my sister’s jeans.
One morning on the way to school, there she is in the passenger seat — wearing a wife-beater and tie, the tie hung loose around the neck, its point hitting just below the belt line, all of it culminating with one of her very own tie-skirts — and I ask what she thinks she’s doing dressed like that.
“What do you mean?” She says.
And I say, “I don’t know…you’re dressing and acting like some Avril Lavigne-rip-off.”
I read those words now, and they don’t sound like the meanest thing a brother has ever said to a sister; but as any sibling can attest to, it’s all in the ‘how.’
When I told her she was dressing like some Avril Lavigne rip-off, there was no buffer of sarcasm or humor. There was only venom and cruelty. When I called her an Avril Lavigne rip-off, I meant to say she was foolish for dressing like she did, foolish for dating this stick-figure guy, and foolish for making these tie-skirts.
By calling her fake, I told her I didn’t believe in any piece of who she was, what she was doing or why she was doing it.
I was petty and wicked and ruthless.
And it worked.
I never saw her wear another tie in any form or fashion again. Not as a skirt, not around her neck, not as a belt. Nothing.
I always liked magic, but I never learned to pick the seven of clubs out of a deck of cards. I never saw my image in the mirror and mistook it for David Copperfield. Yet here I was, making something good and beautiful disappear before my very eyes.
Abracadabra Alakazam. Now you see it, now you don’t.
+ TWO +
I knew Erica in college. Erica wanted to be a math teacher. Like, on purpose. When I showed up middle of sophomore year, she liked this guy I knew. They kind-of-dated, and talked long into the night in the courtyard of our apartments. However, that kind-of-relationship didn’t end well. At all.
Then, she moved on to liking another friend of ours, who had no interest in dating her. Some time around junior year, I liked her, but in my mind, my loving overtures of affection went unreturned. As a result, even without explicitly telling her I liked her at any point, and without knowing that she, in fact, had kind-of-liked me, my emotional stance downshifted; from affection-at-a-distance to passive-aggressive spite.
Okay. Now would be a good time to remind you — this is a subjective re-telling of events. Furthermore, the fact I called my actions ‘loving overtures of affection’ should clue you into the fact that I perhaps have faulty definitions of one or all of the following words: "loving," "overtures" and "affection."
One night, we’re driving back from a basketball game, where our school lost in near-unfathomable fashion. It’s Erica and Erica’s friend in the back seat, the guy she kind-of-dated as driver, and myself as the passenger. The two girls laugh and whisper something to each other, and they laugh more, and the guy she kind-of-dated and I ask them what they’re talking about, and they won’t tell us, because of course they’re girls and they’re not going to tell us anything, and they’re not going to explain themselves as to why they’re not telling us anything, because of course they want us to figure it out for ourselves, because of course, they’re girls, and of course they’re not going to understand how thick-headed and non-intuitive guys are, because of course, they’re girls, and of course they’re not going to apologize or feel the need to apologize for their attitude toward us thick-headed non-intuitive guys who want to know the secrets they keep whispering to each other.
Because, of course, they’re girls.
After twenty minutes of the whisper-laugh-haha-
because-we’re-girls-tee-hee-haha shit, my emotional stance downshifts again. I dispense with any whiff of passivity and launch into full-on aggressive hatred. I turn around, look her square in the eyes and for reasons still unclear to me, say,
“When you laugh, you sound like a fat girl.”
I’ve played dominoes with the elderly. I’ve given up parking spaces and donated money to non-profits that fund education initiatives around the world. I’ve passed out meals to the homeless and I’ve asked their names and I’ve asked them if I could pray for them.
When I do this, I make sure to look them in the eyes — much in the same way I do when I meet someone who I think is cute and try not to look at their boobs — the same way I looked Erica in the eyes and told her, “When you laugh, you sound like a fat girl.” It doesn’t matter that Erica was thin; about as thin as my sister’s emo-singing boyfriend. It doesn’t matter our basketball team lost and it doesn’t matter I was annoyed with Erica for not telling me what was so funny.
What matters is how I pissed all over her glowing embers of kind-of-liking-and-affection. What matters is how specific I was with my attack. What matters is how I saw a kind and thoughtful person who wanted to be a math teacher on purpose, and I chose to be cruel.
I could’ve kept silent. I wasn’t forced to say anything.
I chose a particular kind of cruelty, and I chose those particular words.
“When you laugh, you sound like a fat girl.”
+ THREE +
There’re plenty of reasons to visit Las Vegas. A convention. An anniversary. A birthday. A road trip. Or maybe you have family in the area.
Or a bachelor party. A bachelor party’s a not-at-all surprising reason to be in Las Vegas, and it’s not at all surprising one of these stories would, at some point, include a sentence beginning with something like “I’m in Las Vegas for a bachelor party…”
Sorry — sorry for the two little mini-paragraphs just now — sorry for this even — this is a cutesy, not-adorable way of me trying to hide shame — not the shame of being an addict, but the shame and fear of feeling like my addiction isn’t special anymore.
Because of course a sex addict would find himself in Vegas on a bachelor party, and of course he’d do something stupid, and of course he can’t act like a normal fucking human being, and of course —
Fuck. Just — fucking — out with it —
+ THREE-AND-A-HALF +
I’m in Las Vegas for a bachelor party, and all of us are in a club. The songs change every ninety seconds without pause or break or silence, and it's as loud as a fucking jet engine in here. And everyone’s drinking. And everyone’s this close to fucking. Or at least they’d like to pretend they’re this close. In truth, no one’s close to anything or anyone. Not here, at least. Emotionally speaking, we might as well be doing this over Skype.
But I want to believe in the magic of this space and time. I want to look in the mirror and mis-take my image. Re-make my image.
Here, in this space and time, I believe, I can be transformed before my very eyes.
Presto, change-o. Abracadabra, alakazam.
Now you don't, now you see it.
I dance with several beautiful women — women I might never meet otherwise — and I want to connect with them in a special way. I want them to see me in a particular way — mysterious and alluring — not only worth the time, but necessary to the time — I must be their must be — and it has to be right now — I want to be the only reason they’re here, dancing — I don’t want them to know me as Dominic, born and raised in Los Gatos, California — I don’t want them to know me as Dominic, son of Barrie and Nancy — and conversely, I don’t want to know them as Michelle from Minnesota or Kiki from Texas or Denise from Virginia — I just want them to know me as the Most Needed and Most Desirable —
Mirror, mirror, tell me I’m made of millions of dollars — tell me I’m made of gold of diamonds of leather of fur of oyster pearls — tell me I’m the fairest and finest — tell me I’m the most valuable currency in all the land — tell me I’m the most beautiful thing in the room — the most beautiful person in the world — because that’s what I want to believe — that’s what I need at this moment — because I’m scared and because I think all the women I dance with are talking shit about me — I think they’re laughing about this fucking loser who keeps dancing with them and tries to hide his boner and smiles like he’s doing them a fucking favor — I know everyone’s talking shit about me and that’s what I’m like — that must be true — I must be a piece of shit — I want someone to make me beautiful — I don’t want to have to tell them anything — I just want to be known by them — I want someone to look me in the eyes so I can see my reflection, and I can see myself transformed in the blink of their eyes.
Mirror, mirror, look me in the eyes so I can see myself in you and be transformed.
+ THREE-AND-THREE-QUARTERS +
One guy splinters off from our group and wanders into the thick of the crowd. I give chase, dodging people and shouting his name, but the more I shout, the deeper he wanders. I keep pushing through the masses, keep pursuing, when suddenly, I turn a corner to see —
— Milkmaids. Or, more precisely, eight beautiful women dressed in hot-pink milkmaid outfits.
Maybe they’re here for a bachelorette party. Maybe they’re here for a Sound of Music or “Twelve Days of Christmas” convention.
Or maybe they all have family in the area.
I remember one milkmaid in particular; about my height, straight black hair. When she looked right at me, I forgot about all the other milkmaids. I forgot about all the other women I danced with and tried to dance with earlier in the night. We danced face-to-face without saying ‘hello’ or feeling the need to smile. The music was still as loud as a fucking jet engine, but for the life of me, when I think of her face, I can’t remember a single sound.
At some point, she turned around and backed up, while I moved close to her. I rested my hand on her hip and guided her as we moved together, as we curved and swung and swayed together. My head almost rested in the slope of her neck. We were this close — this close to anything I wanted, to whatever I wanted the moment to be.
When the music called for us to get low, we got low. When the music told us to move from side to side, we moved from side to side. At one point we were told to put our fucking hands up. So we put our fucking hands up.
I felt loved. I felt adored. I felt like I was necessary. I felt like I was meant to be. I felt like I was in control. I felt like I was prized above all others.
I looked in her eyes and felt magic. I looked in her eyes and felt transformed.
Presto, change-o. Abracadabra, alakazam.
Then without warning, our group was leaving. One of the other guys in our group said some very kind words and bid farewell. I backed out quickly, pressing my hands together and giving a slight bow to my milkmaid, like pop singers after the last song.
Like magicians after they made a pack of white tigers stuffed into a 737 disappear.
‘Thank you,” I was saying, without speaking, “Thank you for allowing me to dance with you and press my flesh to your flesh. Thank you for my hand on your hip and thank you for letting me grind up against your ass. Thank you for transforming me, and thank you for never telling me your name. Thank you for never asking mine. Thank you for seeing me as precious and never asking my favorite color. Thank you for never telling me a single dream or childhood fear of yours. Thank you for letting me believe these things, even if they’re all false. Thank you, dear milkmaid. Thank you for lying with me.”
Here I was, at my most cowardly and intimate, my most wicked and cruel, my most verbose and obscene, and I didn’t have to say a single word.
+ FOUR +
When I dream, I close my eyes and pray to find myself back in the middle of a Las Vegas club in the arms of a milkmaid. In the arms of a million milkmaids. In the arms of a billion milkmaids who’ll never stop dancing and never stop holding me and never ask my name.
I am transformed over and over and over and over and no one ever knows who I am.
I am transformed over and over and over and over and I never know who I am.
I close my eyes, dream and find myself at a fancy restaurant, sitting in a booth with my sister, Erica and the Milkmaid. I want my sister to know about Las Vegas, and I want Erica to know about Avril Lavigne, and I want the Milkmaid to know about Math teachers.
The waiter comes by and introduces himself. “Bonsoir, my name is Patrick.” He smiles and makes small talk about the weather. He asks if this is our first time here. He tells us the specials, which include a Sweet Potato Soup and a plate of Pork Tenderloin with raspberry sauce, served on a bed of mashed potatoes with spiced apples on the side. The Milkmaid asks if they use peanut oil, because she has a food allergy. Erica has a question about the salads. “I’m eating light; trying to cut back,” she tells the waiter.
“But why? You’re so beautiful, and so thin!” He tells her.
Erica nods in my direction. “Tell that to him.”
Patrick turns in my direction, his once affable demeanor nowhere to be found. “Well? What of it? What do you have to say for yourself?”
I pause. I hear the rain falling outside the restaurant. I look at my sister, who is beautiful. “I’m sorry.” I look at Erica, who is beautiful. “I’m sorry.” I look at the Milkmaid, who is beautiful. “I’m sorry.”
I look at Patrick, who is a waiter. “…I’ll have the tenderloin.”
creative non-fiction by Dominic Laing
Kay Rae Chomic
Kay Rae Chomic’s debut novel, A Tight Grip: a novel about golf, love affairs, and women of a certain age, was a finalist in Foreword’s Book of the Year Awards (She Writes Press, 2014). As a shortlisted winner of the 2017 HysteriaWriting Competition from the UK, her flash fiction entry, Train Ride, was published in the anthology, Hysteria 6. She’s also been published in The First Line, synapse, and won an international short story contest. Kay lives in Seattle.
Sheree Shatsky writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few wild words. She was selected by the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program as a Spring 2018 mentee for flash fiction. Recent work has appeared in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and KYSO Flash with work forthcoming in Sleet Magazine, Fictive Dream and the KYSO Flash Anthology Accidents of Life, among others. Read more of Ms. Shatsky’s work along with her adventures with Wild Words at www.shereeshatsky.com . Find her on Twitter @talktomememe.
Brian Sutton’s work has appeared in The Journal, Apalachee Review, Writing on the Edge, Talking Writing, Seventeen, and other periodicals, in addition to a piece sold to Playboy. Three of his plays have been produced, including the musical Searching for Romeo, which had a successful run on 42nd Street in New York, won the Stage Rights / NYMF Publishing Award, and was published by Steele Spring Stage Rights. As a student at The University of Michigan he won three Hopwood Awards for Creative Writing, two for collections of short stories and one for a collection of one-act plays. He volunteers at an animal shelter.
Linda Lowe received her M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine. A chapbook of her poems was published by Sarasota Theatre Press. Online, her work has appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Gone Lawn, Right Hand Pointing, Dogzplot, and others.
Elijah Allred is a 27 year-old amateur occultist working as a contractor for a billion-dollar website removing objectionable content and going to school for his certification to become a middle-grade english teacher. He graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Film in 2015 and lives in Austin with a cat, five chickens and a tarantula.
Jesse Minkert lives in Seattle. In 2008, Wood Works Press published his collection of flash fiction, Shortness of Breath & Other Symptoms. His work appears in over seventy journals including Confrontation, Floating Bridge Review, Poetry Northwest, and Harpur Palate. In 2017, Finishing Line Press released Minkert’s poetry chapbook, Rookland.
Edward Michael Supranowicz
Edward Michael Supranowicz has a grad background in painting and printmaking. He is also a published poet. He grew up on a small farm in Appalachia.
Andrea Rinard is a native Floridian and career English teacher who recently decided that if she wants to be a writer, she has to actually write. She is currently a graduate certificate student in the University of South Florida’s creative writing program, an extravagance she treated herself to and enjoys so much that she freaks out the other graduate students.
Dominic Laing lives in Portland, Oregon and believes Storytelling is the dual grace of knowing and becoming known. His work is published in Ruminate, Embers Igniting, Madcap Review and Ellipsis Zine. Dominic is in love, in love, and doesn’t care who knows it.
Short Fiction Editors
Laura Huey Chamberlain
Creative Non-Fiction Editor
Kerri Farrell Foley
Flash Fiction Editor
Preston Taylor Stone
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