On the Train to Chicago by Alec Clayton

     I was eighteen and thought I was a man. What eighteen-year-old doesn’t? I had joined the Navy Reserve and was headed to Chicago for boot camp at Great Lakes Training Center on a train from New Orleans. Just a country boy from Podunk, Mississippi, I had never been on a train. I’d never even been out of Mississippi except for a couple of fishing trips with my old man, one to Louisiana and one to Florida.
     I ordered pancakes for breakfast, not knowing if breakfast was included with the ticket—provided by good old Uncle Sam—or if I’d have to pay. I didn’t want to ask for fear of seeming gauche. A surly waiter plopped down a plate with two pancakes on it—no butter, no syrup. I didn’t want to ask for butter and syrup for the same reason I hadn’t asked if breakfast was included in the ticket price. Maybe people who rode trains ate their pancakes dry. Maybe only country folk from Podunk poured syrup over them, so I choked them down as best I could.
     To say I was not exactly worldly would be an understatement. I was a bumpkin—but not as much of a bumpkin as Randy, the sailor from Pelahatchie I met at the station. I don’t think he’d ever been away from his daddy’s peanut farm. He was tall and gangly with dry hair and buck teeth. I thought he looked like Li’l Abner. He sounded like he was shouting through a megaphone whenever he spoke.Continue reading →

VanCity Blues by Lory French

     I swatted his hand away when he pointed at the woman’s purple bra. I didn’t mean to hurt him but I forgot, in my haste, that I had a pen in my hand.
     “Fuck!” Dave screamed loudly. “That stabbed me right between my fingers! What the fuck, Olivia?”
     Several shocked Canadian heads swiveled toward us, expressions varying from confusion to disapproval. Among them was the curly blonde lady with the purple bra peeking over her sweater’s neckline. She colored, definitely noticing us now, and tugged her shoulders to fully cover her cleavage.
     “I’m sorry,” I hissed, “but you were pointing!”
     “That really hurt, Olivia.”
     “I said I was sorry. But you were being really rude. Here. They don’t even know what to do with that. And now they KNOW we’re Americans. We were blending before.”Continue reading →

More Than Flowers by Jamie Gogocha

It’s that moment when I’m able to step outside without my winter coat. That moment when I look at the flower bed I’m about to tend. I’ll look at the dirt, rich with nutrients from things I missed during my autumn cleanup. I’ll look at the green sprouts of leaves and the minute buds on the hydrangeas my grandma ordered for me from QVC. I’ll smile when I recall that only a handful of weeks before, the hydrangea’s skeleton was in a vertical arm-wrestling match with seven inches of late-winter snow.

It’s that moment when I shudder as I use my gardening gloves to wipe the spiderwebs away from the yard-waste bin before I wheel it out to the middle of the yard. The blue container is chest-high and promises me a workout as well as a clean yard by inches. We got the little black wheelbarrow as a housewarming gift in 2011, and each year it helps me in the aspiration, never realized, to have one of those pristine yards I see in the movies. I fill that wheelbarrow over and over to dump into the yard-waste bin. Little by little, my yard will be tidy. But for only a moment.
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Four Truths of a Withering Heart by Daniel Wolfort

Prologue

     Once upon a time, there was a boy with small hands and a withering heart.
     A withering heart is different than a broken one. A broken heart acts in accordance with Newtonian physics—action and reaction; tragedy and heartbreak. A withering heart, meanwhile, crumbles away, degradation and disappointment wearing it down to dust. It acts in accordance with the law of entropy.
     All things follow entropy. The heart is a singularity of time divided by experience divided by memory, all derivative of the heart’s singular, drumlike beating. And with each beat, a little more of the singularity is released, giving the finite amount of energy it contains away to the blood and bone and marrow around it. The heart ripples out through time and space and loses itself as it goes. I wish, says the heart. I wish.
     Wishing is a form of entropy, too.
     But this is not just a story of wishing. This is not just a story of empirical evidence or singularities or small hands or even of entropy—although all things are just stories of entropy at the end of the day. This is a story of a boy, and the heart he did not wish to have. And in the beginning was the Word and the Word was a singularity that spoke amid darkness, “Let there be light,” so we can conclude through the transitive property that words are singularities are stories are light. And this is the magic of the Word and the words: light is precious in a world so dark.
     The boy with the small hands and the heart he did not wish to have lived in a gray house with a bedroom with a window to the roof. The boy sometimes stood on the roof. He sometimes looked out across the ocean of suburban houses. The boy’s years raced toward entropy, and his space on the roof became the Cartesian coordinates (0,0,0) on the three-dimensional graph of his world. The boy’s heart raced toward entropy, and as it withered, it beat like a singularity. Let there be light. Let there be light.
     Come close, my friends, and I shall give the four truths of a withering heart. Come close, and I shall give light amid darkness.

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Daughter Songs by Joanne Clarkson

I remember an evening thirty years
ago, three of us standing on a footbridge
when my daughter was one.  She
in a stroller.  My mother, eight months past
cancer.  Me leaning over the railing watching
tracks of abandoned trains almost
touch, disappear into a seldom-used

journey. This March, I push my granddaughter
in her little red car down the road to a pasture.Continue reading →

Bubbler Man by Jonah Barrett

     The Benson Bubblers are all gone. They have disappeared from every street corner. From Burnside to Madison to Stark to Washington to Alder to Yamhill to Morrison to Hoyt to Salmon to Madison and again to Washington. Everywhere. Zip. Badda boom. Our iconic water fountains have vanished, or so it feels.
     The fact of the matter is our Benson Bubblers are not where they should be, but we know exactly where they are. They’ve all been accounted for in Pioneer Square in the form of a giant, hydraulic man that sits in the center plaza.
     We’d call him Bob, but that’s a bit old these days.
     So we call him Simon.

Simon the Bubbler Man by Samantha Breaux
Simon the Bubbler Man by Samantha Breaux

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Forty-Five by Ulee Edwards

Thwump, thwump, thwump, thwump

The record player’s arm jumps at the end of the spiraled midnight groove. Bass thumps flicker from the needle, reverberating through the studio apartment. The repetitious beat sets a monotonous soundtrack to the lethargic morning. An occupied mattress sits on a hardwood floor. A light breeze and warm eastern sunlight radiate from the single-paned window. Contrasting warm and cool sensations cause Aaron’s naked body to burst into goosebumps. Aside from the sheet strung across Aaron’s midsection, a sleeping lover in a cocoon of hoarded blankets is the only source of warmth. The bombardment of senses causes eyelids to flutter as ears catch up to a groggy brain.

THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP, THWUMP

The six feet to the record player seem impossible from deep within the silken-sheeted comfort of the bed. The automatic arm, still refusing to budge, taunts Aaron. Persistent low-pitched heartbeats eventually stir enough motivation. Aaron’s knees creak as they swing to the side of the mattress. Insecurity strikes as the realization of nakedness sinks in. What the candlelit room hid last night is maximized by the white light of day. Carelessness has worn away over the years, replaced with an old-aged reason. Nonetheless, a shrug and discarded caution set a course for the turntable.

THWUMP, THWUMP…

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Sharing by John Kulm

She said, “You never wash the dishes.”
He said, “That’s not true at all. I’m sure I have.”
She said, “I have to take care of you like I’m your mother.”
She said, “I am not your mother.”
He took that as a personal attack.
He took it as an attack on his manhood
and a little disparaging about his mother.
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