Pauly Peacock (excerpt) by Alice Kinerk

This is the story of an orphaned peacock in Washington State. He did not know about his parents and their tragic encounter with a coyote, their dreams for him, the traditional peafowl lullabies, the bedtime stories of great peacock adventurers. And he did not know anything about the world outside the little hobby farm where he lived. But still, Pauly had a lightness in his bones, a happiness in his heart. Although he couldn’t have put a feather on how he knew, Pauly knew that he was destined for great things. 

Chapter 1: Something Other Birds Can’t Do

Pauly Peacock was born on a hobby farm on the dim and drizzly Key Peninsula in Washington State, but practically from the day his egg cracked, it was clear his future would be bright, bright, bright.

There were so many things Pauly could do!

“I can fly!” Pauly said one day to Patticake, the old dog who had lived on the farm since long before Pauly’s time. “Watch!” Then Pauly leaped out the door of his treehouse coop, spread his wings, swooped three, four, five feet, and came to a gentle landing in front of Patticake.

“I can catch bugs!” he said, licking up a large black ant crawling past Patticake’s paw.

Patticake yawned. “Show me something other birds can’t do.”

Because Pauly was only two, he hadn’t yet grown the colorful train of feathers peacocks are known for. Because Pauly was the only peacock on the farm, he didn’t even know he would grow a train. Because Pauly was a cheerful peachick, young and naive, he took Patticake’s comment as a challenge, a step toward his dazzling destiny. Show me something other birds can’t do.

“Okay, I will!” Pauly said.

And soon he would! Pauly’s dazzling destiny began later that very afternoon. Patticake had meandered over to the fence by the road and decided once again to bark at the top of her lungs. Pauly was on the other side of the farm, in the compost pile. Pauly liked the compost pile. It was a great place to dig for bugs. It took his mind off the barking. He would drag his toes through the pile and gorge on anything that moved. Imagine an all-you-can-eat restaurant with all the foods you like best.

That day there was a scrap of cardboard, a piece of a box, lying on top of the compost. Pauly was too busy eating to pay attention to it at first. But his eyes kept catching on the box, on the nine red squiggles that were printed on it. Pauly thought they looked like worms. But they weren’t moving. They were merely drawings of worms. Or were they?

The longer Pauly thought about the strange red worms, the more he began to suspect they held meaning beyond his grasp. Otherwise, why print just nine? Why not fill the entire cardboard panel with lovely drawings of delicious red wiggly worms? And why make each worm so twisty and unique? If Pauly was to draw a worm, he would use a stick to make one straight line in the dirt. Or maybe one slightly wiggly line. That was it.

But the details on these worms were fantastic! Some of them were made up of two or three parts and didn’t look much like worms at all. After working that mystery around in his birdy brain for a while, it occurred to Pauly perhaps the particular shape of each worm had meaning. Perhaps the nine of them, lined up in their weird, contorted positions, had meaning when taken altogether.

There was an arrow on the cardboard as well. A big, black, serious-looking arrow. To the right of the arrow were the nine “worms” that Pauly saw.

Like this:

Pauly thought it must mean something, but he had no idea what.

He walked around it the other side of the panel and stared at it from that direction.

Then he walked around to the side he’d started on and stared at it from the first direction again.

Pauly picked up the cardboard panel in his beak. The arrow was pointed down. The wiggly worms were now to the left of it.

Like this:

“Hey Patticake.” Pauly spoke clearly but carefully, the sign clamped in his beak. “This mean anything to you?”

Patticake was too busy barking to hear. She barked constantly. When she wasn’t barking, she was lying in the sun, half-asleep and farting. Pauly had absolutely no idea why Patticake lived on the farm. She’d dug up a good portion of the carrots months before they were ready. She’d chewed up the rake handle. She’d eaten a glove. One time, poor Patticake had made the mistake of pooping on the electric fence. Pauly had heard her yelp and glanced up in time to see her dash off, hurt and baffled, the wire still reverberating behind her. That was funny.

But the barking. Patticake was simply one of those dogs who liked to hear herself bark. A lot. Patticake rarely had anything to say, and boy could she take a long time not saying it. The moment a twig cracked in the woods, or the distant odor of rabbit wafted by, or sometimes for absolutely no reason at all, Patticake would be on her feet. “Did you smell that Pauly? Did you smell that in the woods? Somebody’s out there! Somebody furry! Raise your beak and sniff! Did you smell that? Did you? Did you? Did you?” Yap-yap-yapping quicker than a housefly can skedaddle.

“Patti!” Pauly tried again. No luck. Then Pauly realized something. It must be four pm. Six days a week, at pretty much exactly four pm, the mailman came rumbling up in his little box-shaped car, dropped a couple of rectangular pieces of paper into a metal box on the other side of the hobby farm, snapped the box shut, and drove away again.

That was all.

However, to hear Patticake tell it, the guy pretty much had a regular appointment to rob the place. Pauly would be half-awake, preening his feathers. To him the sound of the mailman’s engine was indistinguishable from that of any of the other cars on the road, but Patticake’s head would be tilted, her ears perked, ready to let loose with barking. “You hear that, Pauly? You hear what I hear? Do you? Do you hear that? A car! The car! The mailman is here! He’s back! He’s back again! Pauly! Pauly! Pauly! Mailman! Pauly! Pauly! Pauly! Mailman! Pauly! Pauly! Pauly! Mailman! Pauly! Pauly! Pauly! Mailman! Do you hear?” Patticake’s rapid-fire bark could blow the thoughts out of Pauly’s head just as heavy raindrops blow out an anthill.

Pauly strode across the length of the farm–it wasn’t far–and stood next to her with the cardboard panel.

This time, Patticake noticed. She turned away from the fence to look at Pauly and laughed. When Patticake laughed her doggy lips pulled back menacingly from her long, yellow teeth, but then she exhaled again in happy little puffs. Ha! Ha! Ha!

“What’s so funny?”

“You’ve got it upside down.”

“How do you know?”

“They’ve got a box like that inside, and the arrow always points toward the sky.” Patticake’s tail wagged. “You know, up.”

Pauly walked away and set the cardboard back in the compost pile, so the arrow pointed away from him.

Pauly thought and thought. The worms somehow told the humans that the arrow should point up. The word up was a very short word, without many sounds to it… he decided that the last row of worms made the word up. UP.

Pauly found it very difficult to sleep that night. Every time his thoughts began to feather off into dreams, excitement came racing through like garter snakes on a sunny day.

This! Peacock! Could! Read!

It did not matter that he could only read one word, and only a two-letter word at that. He could read! Animals had always been able to talk to one another, that was a dawn-of-time thing, but an animal who could read actual human words…unheard of! Pauly, at least, had never heard of such a thing.

Pauly had always been a proud peacock, that was the nature of his species. But that night, Pauly had proud thoughts rolling around in his birdy brain, picking up prouder and prouder thoughts, until he felt filled to bursting with some of the proudest thoughts any peacock has ever thought.

Thoughts like this: Today, by learning to read, I made one small step. But, at the same time, I achieved a giant leap for animalkind.

* * * * *
Alice Kinerk is a writer living in the woods on the Key Peninsula. She is the proud owner of the world’s greatest dog, a lab named Rudy. She and Rudy walk the trails behind their house every day. Every day, on the same tree, a red squirrel climbs down to squeak at and torment Rudy. This interaction between wild and domesticated animals was the inspiration for her new middle grade novel, Pauly Peacock, about the adventures of a feral peacock in the Key Peninsula woods.

Alice holds an MFA in English from the UW and writes occasionally for the Key Peninsula News. She teaches elementary school in Gig Harbor. The internet is littered with her abandoned blogs, half-baked social media comments, as well a smidgen of humor writing that actually got published. Alice’s first novel, The Octopus Under the Bridge, middle grade fiction set in post-peak oil Tacoma and Key Peninsula, is available on Amazon. You can read the first chapter and find links to her other work at alicekinerk.com.

The Rat House by Mian Bond Carvin

Gypsy moths crept through my window as I dreamed. The only draw being the pixie night light at the foot of my bed, given to me by some woman I no longer know. I recall chubby arms lifting me up and holding me with tenderness. There was a sweet, powdery smell to her soft, crêpe-like skin. She may have been a babysitter or, perhaps, someone more to my young life. There were others like her, back when mom worked at the A&P, ringing up and bagging groceries for the local mill families. I hated when she left me. I would often run down the road after her, the Ford Falcon wagon kicking up dust into my teary, dejected face. Eventually, I would turn back to those matronly strangers and their houses of frilly tie-back curtains and doily-draped sideboards.

Later on, Mom hired a girl to watch me at home. Emma Dorothy was just a teenager when she came to the rat house on McLemore. After she arrived, I never ran after Mom again. I lived for weekdays, for Emma Dorothy to lumber through the door, scoop me up, and blow raspberries into my sweaty pink neck. As soon as Mom left the house, Emma Dorothy, whom I had dubbed Edie, would dial the radio to a station coming in from Memphis, WDIA. That’s where I came to love soul music. Most of my mornings with Edie were spent in the water-stained, clapboard kitchen – she, draped over the deep rusted iron sink, her butt swinging in time to The Miracles, The Shirelles, and Ben E. King, and me, at the red dinette in my wooden highchair. That was before I graduated to city phone books for a boost at the big table at Grandma’s house. Around ten a.m., Edie would sit down and have a cup of coffee with a sweet roll. I was always troubling her for a drink. “Coffee’ll turn ya black,” Edie would argue. “Gimme some, Edie,” I would say in my best ain’t-I-sweet? voice. Giving in, Edie would pour a thimble-full for me. Oh, I was so big!

Dottie, our pregnant black and tan rat terrier, was always there in the kitchen with us, curled up next to the wood stove on those cold winter days. Early one morning, she began scratching at the faded linoleum floor. Edie said it meant she’d gone to welpin’. Right after she made this declaration, Edie set about gathering things: a box, an old torn sheet, a bucket. “Bring these, Sis,” she commanded. At that, she scooped Dottie up and made a beeline for the shed. Once there, Edie grabbed the box and sheet and gently placed Dottie in the driest corner possible. The floor of the shed was mud, damp with a certain earthy odour. I have smelled that same dank aroma several times since then and am always brought right back to that shed on that day with Dottie panting, babies coming, and Edie wanting every one.

There can be only one reason to call a home the rat house. Yes, there were many and bigger than those puppies. Every day we would hear the snapping of the traps. One sunny afternoon, Mom sat down at the piano and began playing. She’d never had a lesson in her life, yet she played for the church every Sunday morning; the Beckville Baptist Church. I sat down on the floor with the puppies, who, by this time had begun to wobble on their own. Just a Closer Walk with Thee was playing when I heard the dreaded snap. My mom’s emerald eyes met mine, both of us fearing the same doom: The puppies! Mom ran over and counted them. All there! She then went to dispose of the rat whose life had just been smashed out of it. No more piano that day.

On one other afternoon, as I listened to the familiar hymns, the ceiling caved in right above the piano, barely missing Mom. That was the same day I fell on the floor furnace and burned my arm. Edie swept me up, just as she had done with Dottie, and ran the five blocks to the hospital. We didn’t have insurance, so Mom made a deal with the doctor to clean his office every Saturday afternoon for a month. That meant more time with Edie. I was thrilled.

It was rough going for a while. Eventually, we moved out of the rat house and in with Mom’s folks a couple towns over. The day I said good-bye to Edie was the first time I felt my heart break.

*   *   *   *   *

Mian Bond Carvin lives, with her partner, on a farm just outside Olympia, Washington. She began life in the small town of Brownsville, Tennessee where her family have resided since the 1700s. That is where this true story, with embellishments, occurred. Mian’s early life was filled with Black women who nurtured her life and taught her, by their love and generosity, that no matter what her family said, Black Lives Matter. This proved to be a valuable lesson to a young girl who, at three, already knew she was different. Mian’s pronouns are she/her ands she identifies, with glee, as Queer.

Two Skinny Poems by Tyrean Martinson

Shift

After eight attempts, the poem begins to
Shift
Weight.
Words
Considered
Shift
Places,
Refract,
Distort.
Shift
To the poem begins after eight attempts.

 

Apertures of Thought

Refraction bends light and thought as
it
passes
through
angles
it
reveals
color
spectrum
it
bends refraction and light as thought.

* * * * * * * *
Learn more about the “skinny poetry” form in The Skinny Poetry Journal
* * * * * * * *

Tyrean Martinson is a word hunter. She forages for words both sweet and tart in the South Sound, usually in the outskirts of Gig Harbor. Normally, she writes in the weird worlds of fantasy and science fiction, but she likes trying new poetry forms for fun and frustration. An old-school blogger, she can be found here: https://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/

The Banquet of the Holy Spirit by Seattle Poet (anonymous)

The stars have sputtered into dust –
Frail points of light,
In droves devoured
By a swirling mass of black.
Orion’s arrows flit no more,
And the darkness strips the bear of his hide –
The hand of God has swept the skies of all their light,
And by his hand, the Sun and constellations die.

Yet the blood moon shines in all its garish red –
Though no sun remains to be eclipsed.
The night has disemboweled the light of day,
And its ravenous visage be drenched crimson
In the viscera of its slaughter –
Gaze you now upon the gore-stained face of God,
Peering down with a penetrating stare,
Upon frozen earth and flaming seas,
From a blackened, stellar veil
Of damned, digested souls.

As one veil descends, another be torn.
The powers that be make themselves known –
We are but fodder for the famished ancient One –
The god of Heaven and his many-headed angels
Come down to mortal planes to reap their crop,
Gorge themselves on manly flesh,
And suck out the mind and spirit,
As mollusks from a shell.

Mere repast in the maw of a hungry God,
Both saints and sinners be.
The brand of the heavenly beast
May never be removed,
For he who crafted the stars
May swiftly sweep them away,
To make way for his salivating feast.

All is in vain,
For we are swine, fowl, and cattle all.

 

Seattle Poet enjoys writing poems with horror, fantasy, or science fiction themes and spiritual/religious/occult-based imagery, or — in this case– Lovecraftian imagery and inspirations drawn from the anime/manga ‘Berserk’. Seattle Poet enjoys old-school epic/fantasy poems such as Coldridge’s “Mariner,” as well as rock/heavy metal lyrics. Seattle Poet’s lyrical inspirations include Geezer Butler, Leif Edling, Quorthon, Mark Shelton, and many others.

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Polar Route by Kael Moffat

 
Beneath silvered scraps of cloud, the sprinkled towns
of north Quebec and Newfoundland huddle like embers
of a banked fire whose clicks and pops are swallowed
by distance and the whine of brawny engines.
 
I press my fingers against the inner pane
and feel the ghost of sub-zero air just inches
away and wonder about prayers rising into the night,
evaporating from shards of glass and eviction
notices or springing like flowers from permafrost.
I close my eyes as if I could hear them all.
 
 
Vladimír, who sits to my right, told me as we cruised
above the Arctic that he speaks Czech, Hungarian, English,
German, and French and that he is a magician heading home
to Prague after a residency in Vegas. He showed me a picture
of his estranged wife and daughter and told me how missing
them and their bitter words made him feel like Saint Sebastian
chained to the tree with arrows piercing his chest, thighs, and arms.
 
Now, as he sleeps and mutters, probably in Czech, I wonder
whether I am hearing a confession, an apology,
or a profession of enduring and excruciating love
and, though I know it may mean nothing, I whisper
my own prayer that he will be forgiven or stumble
across grace or peace in whatever tongue he may.
 
 

Kael Moffat lives in Olympia with his family and is a librarian at Saint Martin’s University. He loves to hike, play drums, take photographs, and is a relative newbie at kayaking. Previous work has appeared in Isthmus, The American Journal of Poetry, Dark Matter, West Texas Literature Review, Literature and Belief, The Wayfarer, and other journals.

Leda and The Swan Hat by Kat Ogden

“Oh, bother.” A sharp, cold wind knocked into Leda as she stepped outside the library. Her mood, which had been quite reasonable, shriveled to two cranky lines between her brows. The promising spring day had disintegrated into a leftover piece of February. Wind gusted up and down Sixth Avenue, blowing garbage down the street like tumbleweed.

“Ouch,” Jane yelped. She’d come out right behind Leda, and the door hit her. “Why’d you stop like that?”

“Look at this,” Leda gestured dramatically, waving her hand. “What a mess. I’ll have to go home and change.”

Jane stared dutifully in the direction of Leda’s flapping hand.

“I don’t see anything but a fake Jamaican selling incense.”

“The day, the weather, it is awful. I have to go home.”

“Go home? Because of a cloud over? That’s ridiculous.”

“I have to change. I’m inappropriately dressed and underdressed to boot.”

“We’ll jump on the subway.” Jane scrabbled out of the way of an imposing older man with an aquiline nose. As he exited, he brushed against Leda aggressively. He was so close she could smell his cologne.

Excuse me,” Leda said pointedly. His answer was simply to turn and stare at her again, a slight leering smile tugging at the corner of his mouth before he turned and walked towards Union Square.

“You’re an ass!” Jane called after him. As if on cue, the sky darkened noticeably.

“It is so going to rain,” Leda said.

“Oh, come on,” Jane pleaded. “We have a whole day planned. What about the gallery, the music in the park?”

“I’ll meet you down there. I can’t go dressed like this.”

Jane’s face fell. “If you have to,” she said reluctantly. “Just don’t let it take you an hour to pick a new outfit. You’ll miss the band playing.”

“I won’t,” Leda assured her.

Jane rolled her eyes. “Sure you don’t want to come along now? I have a hoodie in my backpack.”

Leda gave her a withering look. “A hoodie? It will ruin the outfit entirely.”

“I tried,” Jane shrugged, tossing her skateboard down, “See ya there.”

Maybe it was a bit silly not borrowing Jane’s hoodie, if only for the walk, but Leda was fashionable. She’d put so much thought into exactly how the outfit looked that she couldn’t face the disruption of the hoodie. She crossed the Avenue, heading toward Union Square. The wind was really sharp now, whipping Leda’s hair around her face. A few fat raindrops fell. She hoped it would hold just a few more minutes.

Halfway across Union Square the rain began to break. Leda stopped to pull a scarf from the bottom of her bag to cover her library books.

From the gray sky of Manhattan, a white cloud plummeted. As it approached, the shape of a swan could be discerned. He flew with neck outstretched; his beak pointed like an accusing finger. Leda stared with astonishment and then the swan smashed into her with brutal force.

Leda screamed as she fell, landing on her back. She frantically pushed down at her skirt, attempting to defend herself, but the swan responded with a savage ferocity. Its heavy beak pounded her thin legs, leaving numb welts. Feathers sliced against her soft skin. He dealt a blow to her shin that landed with the force of a baseball bat.

It hurt so badly that Leda stopped struggling. The swan watched with no small satisfaction as Leda gasped and tears welled in her eyes. A sob escaped her. The swan – triumphantly, and with a slow show of absolute power and confidence – lowered his head and put it under her skirt.

The world seemed all in wild motion around her. Her skirt rippled with the movements of the swan; the trees were torn through by the ripping wind. In the distance, pedestrians hurried along the wet sidewalks, their heads down. Life moved on. It would not stop for this; it would not stop for her. None of this, she realized, was going to stop.

With her free hand, Leda scrabbled in her bag. Her fingers brushed against the heavy library copy of Agnes Gray that she’d checked out for her book group. With precision born of fury, Leda clutched the book and bludgeoned the swan.

His head dropped to the pavement, unconscious. Leda wasted no time. She shoved the body into her book bag. He almost did not quite fit, but Leda’s bag was purchased with the intent of some very serious library trips and had a drawstring top in addition to two buckle closures. Her hands were shaking as she coiled his neck, shoved it inside, and pulled the drawstring tight.

Momentarily safe, Leda curled up on the sidewalk beside her bag. Every piece of her ached; her legs were scratched, bruised, and bleeding. A huge knot was forming under one eye and her mouth tasted of blood. She sat there for a very long time, crying a little and shaking. Her cell phone rang; she watched it buzzing on the pavement.

Slowly she got up and began to collect the broken, scattered contents of her library bag and her soggy books. Her dress was ruined, split almost up to the crotch, hanging in ragged strips. When she passed her hand under her runny nose, she discovered it was actually bleeding. She tore off a piece of her skirt and pressed it to her nose.

At her apartment she paid the cabbie, who peered curiously at her battered face but didn’t offer help. She unlocked the door, and was resting just inside, when she saw her bag stir gently, and then begin to thrash furiously, a cacophony of honks issuing forth. Rage flushed through Leda like a hot drink. With the full force of her one-hundred-and-twenty-pound body, she slugged the bag against the heavy New York door. The bag wiggled once more and lay still.

“I hope I killed you,” Leda said viciously.

She staggered into the tiny kitchen and emptied out one of the heavy, plywood kitchen drawers. With aching, tired fingers, she undid her bag and dumped the swan into the drawer. Unconscious and limp, he seemed smaller than when he’d attacked, but she still had to push down on him to get it closed. Slowly she took out her library books, stacking them neatly on the table as was her habit. They were ruined, even the copy of Agnes Grey had blood and feathers stuck to it.

In the bathroom Leda summoned the courage to face herself in the mirror. She looked like a different person entirely. A terrible red welt was beneath her right eye. Her mouth was swollen.

She squeezed peroxide into the cuts on her face, the many small scratches all across her nose. They bubbled and hissed. Tomorrow she’d get some scar treatment from the drug store and hope it worked.

She took the hottest shower she could bear, scrubbing herself all over. She was changing into her dressing gown when she heard the buzzer go off. She jumped and shrieked. It buzzed again.

“It’s Jane! Let me up.”

Leda pushed the button and heard the buzz and the click that meant the downstairs door was opened. She had no idea what time it was.

“Oh my God, what happened?” Jane gasped. “Let me look at you. You were attacked. Oh my God. Are you okay?” Jane crowded into the tiny entrance, dropping her skateboard and backpack.

“I’m thinking it through,” Leda said a bit faintly. “I fought him off.”

“We should call the police. And get you to a hospital,” Jane said, taking in Leda’s skinny, bruised legs sticking out from the dressing gown and her pale, battered face.

“No, no,” Leda said calmly, settling on the futon couch. “I’m fine. I don’t need to go anywhere. I just need to rest a bit.”

“Where did it happen?”

“Union Square.”

“Right there in the open? No one helped?”

Leda thought about this for a moment. It was odd that no one had helped, but she’d hardly had time to reflect on it. She shook her head.

“This guy, what did he look like? Was it that guy from the library?”

Leda couldn’t help it – she started to laugh. Jane looked shocked, her face creased in worry. Leda laughed harder. The whole thing was so ridiculous.

“Leda?” Jane said softly.

“I have him. I have him right here in the drawer. No, Jane, don’t look at me like that, really truly, I do. Do you want to see him?”

Without waiting for a reply, Leda went to the kitchen drawer. It wouldn’t do to open it and set him flying around the apartment. Who knows what he’d do in an enclosed space? She couldn’t let him loose. That wouldn’t do,

“Hang on a minute, Jane.” Leda limped to her coatrack and, from one of her best hats, extracted two long, vintage hatpins. She cautiously opened the drawer a crack. The swan struggled to uncoil, but Leda was ready this time. The hatpins sparkled dangerously in her small, thin hands.

Jane screamed just before they went in.

*          *          *          *          *

“However did you think of it?” Fawn leaned in to look more closely at Leda’s hat.

Fawn had spotted them at lunch, and Jane had felt bad and had invited her to eat with them. As much as Leda loved the Village, this was the hazard. There was always some graduate student or teacher acquaintance from Jane’s work that could divebomb what had been a perfectly good gossipy, boozy lunch.

Leda shrugged, “I think of clothing all the time, so it seemed fitting. I so wanted a hat.” She tugged a bit and straightened him on her head, “Granted, he’s smaller now but it is still a bit heavy. He goes so nicely with so many things and the materials are so…”

“…lux,” Jane said.

Leda nodded, “Yes, exactly.”

Fawn was less thrilled. “Well, I think it is cruel.”

She would, Leda thought. You could always count on Fawn to climb on any bandwagon rumbling by. From the look of her outfit today, which consisted of some sort of sweater possibly made from a yak, she was very likely a vegan this week.

“Cruel how?” Leda demanded.

“Leda wanted a hat,” Jane explained.

“He’s a living thing,” Fawn retorted, “and you’re treating him like a fashion accessory. It’s worse than cruel, its, its…” she trailed off,

“Practical?” Leda replied, “Just? Not to quibble, Fawn, but I am not treating him like a fashion accessory. He is a fashion accessory.”

“You didn’t see what that bird did to her,” Jane said.

“Irregardless of what he did…”

“Regardless,” Leda corrected.

“…he does not deserve to be worn. Soon everyone will want swan hats.”

“If they do, it is only because I made it fashionable,” Leda replied. “And I wonder what you think the alternative should be? Should I turn him loose so he can attack other women? I have an obligation. To the city. To other women.”

“To wear him?”

“Well, it is not as if I get free rent,” Leda pointed out. “Space, as you know, is a premium. So, at the very least, he must pay for his space in my domicile, and this is the way that works best for me. And he has amends to make for running my dress.”

“I can’t believe you’re party to this, Jane,” Fawn said. “I’d expect it of her, but she’s a narcissist and we all know it. I expected better of you. Aren’t swans endangered?”

“I don’t know, but that one is, as far as I’m concerned,” Jane cracked dryly, and tapping one of the hat pin’s decorative ends. “He’s only a hat because it turns out he’s a little hard to kill, aren’t ya, buddy? Got a pin straight through you and still not dead.”

“That’s horrible! You have no empathy,” Fawn huffed.

“Better lacking in empathy than lacking in common sense,” Leda retorted.

They finished the rest of their lunch in silence and went their separate ways.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *            *          *

Truthfully, at first, Leda had harbored hesitations, but she had grown to enjoy wearing the swan. It was so soft and white, so plush that she almost forgave the funny orange feet and the furious struggle it threw forth every time she drew it out to wear it. Sometimes it would hiss like an annoyed teakettle and she would snap her fingers and pop it alongside its long neck to make it stop. She’d gotten so used to thinking of him as a hat that it was sometimes funny to think of how she’d come by him. Her conversation with Fawn had upset her greatly.

“Am I being indecent?” she asked Jane. “Shouldn’t I let him go?”

“Not in the slightest,” Jane said darkly. “I think you’re showing mercy.”

“Am I? To make him into a hat?”

“Okay,” Jane said, “You made him into a hat. But what did he make you into, in his mind, when he attacked?”

Leda did not know how to answer that question. Sometimes she almost pitied him, trapped by the dual hatpins, and dared herself to be large enough to set him free, to trust him that he’d learned his lesson and would cease attacking young women. Then she’d look into his furious black eyes and remember the greedy triumph that had roasted there when he’d made her cry. How satisfied, how deliberate.

“I would let you go,” she explained to him, “but I’d have to be certain you wouldn’t try that again.”

The swan hissed contemptuously. Leda shivered.

*          *          *          *          *

A month later, Leda was enjoying her Sunday treat of French pressed coffee and a pastry at the local bakery. Leda wore the swan hat matched to a chocolate brown coatdress that complimented both the swan’s creamy plumage and the copper lights in Leda’s hair.

Leda had just settled in at a table for one when, to her chagrin, Fawn sat down opposite her. Fawn wore a shapeless, sack-like dress that would be perfect attire if one had to harvest turnips. Leda could not figure out why people like Fawn lived in Manhattan. Wasn’t there a commune somewhere in Maine that needed her on a committee collective board or something? She was so close that Leda could tell she used ineffective natural deodorant.

“We’ve always been very different, Leda, since we became friends.” Fawn said, in slopping tones that sounded as sincere as the vendors who sold real gold watches for ten dollars.

Leda had absolutely nothing to say to that, as she could not disagree that they were different, but she didn’t want to agree that they’d ever been friends.

“Perhaps I should have explained my viewpoint rather than attacking you personally.”

“Perhaps,” Leda said, “but I doubt it would have changed my mind much.”

Fawn was silent for a moment. Leda pressed the coffee and poured herself a creamy cup. She loved her coffee; it was such a pity that Fawn was there.

“Perhaps it was accidental.”

Leda felt the swan all but nod its imprisoned head from its adorning spot. She removed the hat and put it on the table between them.

“This creature? Look at him. There’s nothing dumb or unintelligent there. It was quite deliberate.”

The swan’s black, beady eyes glanced off Leda’s unrelenting face to Fawn’s warm and tortured one.

“Everyone makes mistakes.”

Leda thought about this. “You know,” she said, taking a tiny sip of her coffee, “you’re correct. Everyone does make mistakes. There are consequences for mistakes.”

Fawn opened her mouth, but Leda waved her hand for silence.

“If I make an error, and calculate the wrong time for the subway, I have made a mistake, yes? Does this prevent me from missing the subway? No.”

Fawn was already shaking her head in disagreement. “It is not kind to the poor bird. He should be taught better, not punished. You have to think of it from his perspective. He’s learned his lesson.”

“So, have I,” said Leda. With a firm grip, she replaced the swan on her head, patting it perfunctorily.

The swan honked, a dramatic on its part, for it was immortal and no harm came to its flesh. The dramatic had its desired audience. Fawn leapt to her feet, capsizing the table and sending hot coffee down the front of Leda’s dress. She ripped the swan from Leda’s head, hatpins and all, and fled the street and into a subway opening, the deceitful creature cradled in her triumphant arms.

Leda started to go after Fawn in no small temper, but the waiter, thinking she was fleeing a tab, arrested her flight. He demanded fifteen dollars: the price of her breakfast and Fawn’s, as well as another twenty to replace the broken crockery.

All in all, it was an awful Sunday.

*          *          *          *          *

“Here.” Jane pulled the two jeweled hatpins from her bag.

“Thank you,” Leda said tightly. “And the bill?”

“I don’t think she can afford it just now,” Jane admitted. “She had to miss work for a week while her face healed.”

“Hmph,” Leda said, which was part sympathy, part scorn. She pressed a band-aid back into place over one of the fresh cuts on her hand. “Was she badly hurt?”

“She says its fine, but she’s not really. If you ask her, she thinks she’s a martyr.”

They sat together for another long minute. Leda had a pile of laundry beside her on the couch. She took a shirt and began to fold it. After a while, Jane picked up a hanger.

“So much for your smashing hat,” Jane said, in a flat attempt to raise some humor, as she carefully smoothed out one of Leda’s many cotton dresses. “What did you do with the body?”

“Swan pie,” Leda said, “with a pastry crust. It was delicious.”

“Seems in you he’s met his match,” Jane said.

“No, not his match,” Leda smiled. “More like his nemesis. So much for the good name of gods and swans everywhere.”

Kat Ogden (she/them) is a storyteller who writes, directs, produces, and acts. Kat has worked on numerous television series and films, such as Z Nation and Safety Not Guaranteed, and also was awarded a Tacoma Artists Initiative (TAIP) grant to write, produce, and star in the original short, Infested. Currently residing in the Pacific Northwest, Kat is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and loves the community and camaraderie of the Seattle Film Community. Another lifetime ago, Kat was on one of the first reality shows. Kat was once in a roller derby league and is an avid quad skater, known to haunt the various cities she visits at night with signature pink and teal roller skates. Kat likes ballet and modern dance, can read a book in a single bound, is a left-handed blackberry picker, and holds the unofficial record for highest bungee jump off a building. www.sabotageanddialogue.com

New Family by Paul Barach

Charlie’s parents couldn’t see DeeDee and neither could Charlie, but he was Charlie’s best friend because DeeDee loved to play.

Charlie loved his trains the best. His dad would play trains with him. When Charlie got bored running them along their wooden tracks, he and his dad would run them all over the floor and around the crib of Charlie’s baby sister, Holly. When Charlie got tired of that, he’d ask his dad to run them high across the walls, way above where Charlie could reach.

But Charlie’s dad wouldn’t make them run across the ceiling like DeeDee, or fly through the air while Charlie jumped up to catch them. His dad didn’t even know how, but DeeDee did. DeeDee made playing with the trains so much more fun than anyone.

DeeDee had been playing a new game for weeks after his parents went to sleep. Charlie was already laughing when it started. The train flew through the air, rolling across the ceiling so high up and then down the walls wavy like a snake. Charlie jumped on the bed giggling so much it felt like he’d never catch his breath. Then the train floated down, spinning like a snowflake until it was right in front of his hands.

Charlie loved this game. He clapped his hands together as fast as he could, but the train jumped out at the last moment like a fly and all he caught was his palms.

The train rose again, a little farther away. Charlie leaped off the bed, landing softly on the footies of his PJs and snatched at the air again. The train bobbed just to the left, then down as he clapped his hands again. He danced across the carpet, but the train kept jumping up as he snatched at the air.

DeeDee never kept the game going this long and Charlie was getting mad.

“Give it, DeeDee!”

Charlie stubbed his toe on the chair of his drawing desk. Crayons rolled off the edge and fell onto the carpet and Charlie would have to pick them up because DeeDee was being stupid and his toe hurt so bad.

“DeeDee! I don’t wanna play anymore,” he whispered.

The train floated at the window. It had stopped spinning but DeeDee wouldn’t bring it over.

Charlie limped toward the train. Tears welled in his eyes, but he wouldn’t cry and wake the baby. He liked that Holly slept in the same room. He loved his little sister the best. He knew it already. More than Mom and Dad and he loved them very much too.

The train was still too far up to reach and DeeDee wouldn’t drop it. Charlie pushed the chair over to the window and climbed onto it, grasping for the train on his tiptoes until he finally snatched it out of the air. Relief flushed through him as he curled his fingers around the wooden weight, cradling it to his chest. It was his favorite one, the bright red locomotive with the green chimney that Dad gave him for Christmas. Without it, the other trains wouldn’t know where to go.

He was glad DeeDee opened the window. The breeze felt good, cooling his skin that was damp from chasing the toy and chilling the tears that had spread down his cheeks to his chin. The fall colors were fading from the oak trees outside his window, the first crystals of frost had spread across the dirt.

Ice water gripped onto his back across his shoulders, hands as big as his dad’s. It drove the breath out of him, so cold that it froze through his chest and he shivered. He gasped. The world tumbled forward. He floated above the flower bed below his window, saw the leaves of the oak tree rustling in the breeze. Then the dirt rushed up to meet him, the frost glittering in the moonlight.

He was back inside the house. Inside his room. Holly was shrieking. He looked out the window and saw a little boy wearing his pjs crumpled onto the ground. He yelled for DeeDee, who was gone. He yelled for Mom and Dad and Holly. He yelled for Grandma.

Charlie yelled until the last snows melted. The noise would leave his teeth and be swallowed by the air at the end of his fingers, or where he remembered his fingers had been. No one ever heard him. He heard everything. He heard the yellow paint on the walls crack and the lightbulb that hung in the basement hum. He heard everything all at once, especially the long groans the house made.

The new people who lived there said that the house was settling. It took Charlie six winters before he learned they were words and seven more before the words made sense. The words scared him a lot and made him cry.

Stupid DeeDee never came back. He hated Stupid DeeDee.

Charlie thought he still had a face, but he couldn’t remember what it looked like. The mirrors only reflected back the walls. Charlie could see everything else inside the house. He would stare at the food the new people who lived there brought in. He could see the gleaming frosted edges of the donuts, the tiny caves and crumbs that made up each cookie. But he couldn’t smell them.

When he’d learned to pick the cookies up, he couldn’t feel them, but they lifted off the table and into his mouth. He was so happy. But he couldn’t taste them. He threw them on the floor and cried and screamed until the flowers came back up again. He learned to grasp other things later. He could move them wherever he wanted.

It wasn’t something he could explain, but that was the thing; Charlie couldn’t explain anything.

He couldn’t leave the house, but if he looked very hard out the window, sometimes he could see his sister. She would be walking around the park with her son, showing him the ducks in the pond. She looked happy most days. She looked like Charlie’s mom now.

Then one day, Charlie couldn’t see his little sister anymore.

Charlie missed her more than anyone. More than his mom and dad. He wanted to leave the house and see her. The doors and windows wouldn’t let him out, no matter how much he pushed and kicked and screamed.

The men who moved in together talked to Charlie after they saw the small handprint smashed into the cake they’d brought. Alex and Stan weren’t afraid of Charlie. They’d tried to get him to talk back, bringing a board game into the house. It had a bunch of letters on it and numbers, and a little car with a window like a magnifying glass. But Charlie didn’t know what letters went where. He remembered his name started with a big C like Cat, but it had been so long he’d forgotten what the other letters were supposed to be.

When Patricia and Clark moved in after Alex and Stan, they didn’t talk to Charlie. Patricia talked to Jesus all the time, but he wasn’t in the house. Patricia always asked Jesus for the same thing and it made Charlie tired to listen so he stayed away. She talked to Caroline on the phone about the same thing. Clark left and Caroline came over a lot. Patricia left, and Caroline stayed for good.

Caroline wasn’t afraid of Charlie. She pretended Charlie wasn’t there. If she saw something move, she’d pretend she didn’t see it.
Charlie learned new words as each person came through. VCR. Computer. CD. Internet. Laptop. Smart Phone. Wifi. He liked the music all the people played. He always got excited when someone new moved in but ignored them after a while. None of them made him happy.

Hannah and Peter moved in after Caroline moved out. Hannah had curly black hair, like Charlie’s mom used to have. When Peter smiled, Charlie could see the wide gap in his teeth that made him look like a Jack O’ Lantern. Peter was always playing games on his computer, wearing big headphones.

Charlie wanted them to be happy. When Hannah yelled at Peter for not keeping the bathroom clean, Charlie would clean it while they weren’t looking. He did the same with the dishes. Peter didn’t notice when he was playing on his computer. Charlie watched them as they laid in bed together. He could see what their bodies were doing. The house had told him it was to make a baby. Caroline never made a baby with the men who laid in her bed. Alex and Stan never made a baby. Patricia and Clark didn’t either and sometimes Patricia cried about it and it made Charlie sad.

Charlie knew when Hannah had a baby inside her tummy. When she told Peter they danced in the living room. Charlie danced too.

Hannah wasn’t like Alex and Stan or Caroline. Hannah was scared of Charlie. She saw him moving the chairs once to sweep and ran away. Charlie didn’t want to scare Hannah. He wanted her to be happy. He would be extra quiet around her after that so she wouldn’t be scared.

Charlie liked watching the laundry tumble in the dryer the best out of everything in the house. The clothes looked like they were dancing and jumping and flying around. He liked the loud ding at the end, but he didn’t like how they all fell down and laid still after it. The door at the top of the stairs opened and Hannah turned on the basement light. It flickered, which was never Charlie’s fault although everyone who’d lived there had blamed him for that. It was the wiring. Charlie could see that, because Charlie could see everything. If he looked hard enough, he could see inside people. He could see the flickering of thoughts. If he really tried extra hard, he could see a little into the future.

He knew the baby would be a girl. He knew she would be born in the spring like Holly was.

He knew there were fifteen steps leading down to the basement. He knew Peter hadn’t fixed the fourth step leading up from the basement like he promised and Charlie wasn’t old enough to fix it.

Hannah piled the laundry into the basket, then placed her head against it like a warm pillow. She inhaled deeply. Charlie did too, even though he couldn’t smell anything. Hannah started up the stairs. The basket rested on her swollen belly.

The fourth step snapped from its edge. The laundry fell down all over as Hannah went backwards grabbing at the air. Charlie pressed his hands against her back. Hannah gasped as the ice-cold water sloshed through her chest, into her belly. She shrieked, cradling her arm under her tummy.

Charlie pushed harder, pushed until she fell forward and caught herself on the stairs. Hannah scrambled up to the kitchen crying. Her knee bled. She didn’t stop crying all day, even when Peter asked what was wrong. She just cried and shook her head and held her belly.

She was crying so loud that Charlie hugged her. She recoiled at the icy embrace, shivering and shrieking even louder, curled up on the floor around her big tummy.

Charlie hid for the rest of the day, the hands he couldn’t see mashed over the ears he couldn’t feel.

They yelled a lot that week. Peter couldn’t just move them out just because Hannah was being crazy. Hannah was going to live with her dad. Peter slept downstairs for a bunch of nights. Hannah didn’t sleep. Charlie cried.

Hannah finally said that she would stay in the house. Peter hugged her. Charlie promised not to touch her again.

They left the house one day after all the frost was gone from the ground. When they came back, they were holding a baby. Charlie danced around the living room, careful not to knock anything over.

Charlie would float over Hannah, watching the baby sleep on her chest. The rise and fall of her breath was a lullaby he hadn’t heard sung in so long.

They named her Sarah. Hannah and Peter would lay Sarah on her back. They would hide their faces and uncover them. It was a stupid game. Sarah loved it. Charlie couldn’t play.

Peter and Hannah gave Sarah a lot of new toys. Charlie had never seen them before. They had lights all over that made all kinds of colors and some made noises like the animals outside. There were toys on wheels and plastic rings to chew on.

Sarah loved her bright red ball the most. Charlie saw the gleam in her deep brown eyes when she first saw it. Her chubby, empty mouth gaped open and giggled. Charlie giggled too, the noise swallowed by the air. They would play with the ball every day, Charlie making it jump up and down as Sarah lay on her stomach in her playpen, feet kicking with delight.

When she could sit up, she would roll the ball to Charlie and he would roll it back. Sarah laughed all day and by bedtime she was so tuckered out from playing with Charlie that she didn’t wake up all night.

‘She’s such a happy baby,” Hannah would sigh as she went to sleep.

“Such an easy baby,” Peter would say. “We lucked out.”

When Sarah could stand, she would toddle after the ball, chasing it across the hallway where Charlie rolled it. It was still her favorite game and they played it all the time. All Charlie had to do was make sure the gate to her room was open and keep her away from the stairs so Hannah and Peter didn’t see her out.

“I can’t believe she’s walking already,” Hannah would smile.

“What an amazing kid,” Peter agreed.

The oak leaves were turning red outside, even though it was still hot. Peter had all the windows open. Hannah had just gone downstairs to get the laundry and Peter was deep into the game on the computer, the headphones blaring.

Charlie unlatched the gate and rolled the ball all the way down the hallway. Sarah giggled as she chased after it. She could walk so far now. The ball stopped, then fell down the stairs.

Sarah watched it bouncing away from her, then turned to Charlie, then back down the stairs. She started crying as it rolled onto the floor. Charlie had to do it fast.

Long ago, the house had told him how he could go outside again. It didn’t make him sad anymore. Charlie would be better than Stupid DeeDee. He knew what Stupid DeeDee didn’t. Charlie had been too old. A baby would never figure it out.

Charlie raced forward.

 

Paul Barach’s work has been published previously in Creative ColloquyLitroThe Trek, and in the forthcoming collection Inaka: Portraits of Life in Rural JapanFighting Monks and Burning Mountains: Misadventures on a Buddhist Pilgrimage is Barach’s first book. He currently lives in Tacoma, Washington with his wife, Michelle.

“Any of 100 Days, 2014” by James Stuart

Every morning has become the same.

You oversleep by thirty-six minutes. It is a lazy habit – one that has been reinforced by oddly-timed snooze cycles and a general lack of consequences. With each trill of your phone, nine more minutes slip away. Already, the early summer sun is warming your bedroom and your legs are sticky with sweat under the sheets. The hour grows later and any hope you have of making it to work early fades. You lie blanketed in half-sleep, willing your body awake without any true conviction.

Eventually, there is a spark, and then another. Your mind sputters to life. The anxiety of the night bleeds from you and is replaced by the distinct worries of the day. Alone, this is not enough to rouse you from the bed, so it is left to your bladder to finish the job. You march dutifully toward the bathroom. In the hallway, your bare feet slap against the cool wood flooring.

Your hair is oily and erratic in the mirror above the toilet. You strip naked and brush your teeth in the shower to save time, spitting, and squatting down onto the balls of your feet underneath the calcified spray. You balance there and let the water drip from the long ends of your hair as you continue to wake. Your skin turns pink and tingles with the heat. Again, you stand and begin to wash your body slowly. Your fingers wander over every imperfection, listing them as you go.

You rub at the rough pads at your elbows, then up across the chicken skin of your shoulders. Your legs are thick and short. The edges of your fingernails are chewed and uneven and hang skin bloodies each cuticle. The list goes on.

Like always, your touch lingers longest around your swollen belly and the broad expanse of your chest. The coarse, dark hair there is laid flat against your skin, mounding imperfectly over scars and moles. In the spaces where your arms press against your body, water gathers briefly then falls, splashing against the curved walls of the tub. You prod carefully at the soft fat around your waist and wonder what it would be like to feel strength there instead. Your own strength, yes, but maybe someone else’s, too. At this, you laugh.

You eat carelessly on your way out the door, your hair still wet and your pulse quickening at the sight of the clock on the stove. The drive from your home on the edge of downtown to the office where you spend your days isn’t far, but the slow stream of commuters seems to grow longer each day. Together, you bend through narrow corridors and one-way streets like a worm that is sliced in half at every red light, only to be made whole again three blocks later. With every stop, your eyes wander from car to car, hoping to catch a glimpse into the lives of others. What a wonder, these cars – thousands of pounds of steel and glass, each containing multitudes.

Your eyes tend to linger on certain cars more than others. Sometimes it’s a sedan, gray and shimmering in the morning light. Other days, it’s a luxury SUV with dark tinted windows, or a German hatchback driven by a woman belting along to Whitney Houston. Your thoughts match the pace of traffic, ebbing and flowing, going nowhere in a hurry. Some days, you notice a pickup with large, knobby tires or a sporty Jeep with the doors removed and a muscled, hairy leg hanging languidly from the driver’s seat. In those moments, your mind moves slightly faster. Then, the light changes and with a laugh, you set off again.

Like the mornings, the days, too, feel the same.

To the irritation of no one, you arrive to work late and throw yourself into a routine that has earned you both praise and opportunity. Day in and day out, you do just enough to seem busy, without the mental strain and heartburn of actual achievement. You take care to do the small things that make a person well-liked: you make a new pot of coffee without being asked; you stop in the lobby and speak with the receptionist about her weekend, leaving her blushing while the phone rings unanswered; you buy Girl Scout cookies when asked and donate regularly to retirement gifts; you never ask anyone for anything more than what you are willing to give of yourself. Your coworkers sometimes balk at the lack of photos on your desk. You tell them, I’ve been meaning to get around to that, and they laugh.

The older women in your department are the most insistent. Bored with their own sense of security, they clamor to resolve your own. Each of them comes replete with a seemingly endless supply of daughters, nieces, and neighbors. One after another, you listen as they list the relative merits and accomplishments of their chosen contenders – a teacher from Berkley, a young widow without children, a real estate agent who paints sunflowers on burlap when the market is slow.

Sometimes, you take them up on their offer and spend a few weeks, maybe even a month with a new woman. More often, you nod politely as they ask after your type and availability. Eventually, you gently change the subject, citing any number of complications or the existence of work that simply cannot wait any longer. A few offer suspicious glances in return. Most seem appreciative of your time. Today, a middle-aged woman from accounting is annoyed with your reaction. Lacking any shame, she pantomimes a limp wrist and raises her eyebrows to form both a question and an accusation. Together, you share a laugh.

There have always been girlfriends – a string of them in fact, with only the briefest periods of loneliness in between. Each has been wonderful in her own way, and only a handful have been worthy of your contempt. They all looked lovely on your arm and devilish in your bed. Twice, you have been in love. Once, it was returned.

Every evening is different.

You finish your work and attempt to leave the office with your head down, avoiding any lingering pleasantries with a discouraging charm. On nights when there are invitations, you must work harder to slip away. Tonight, you fail.

You find yourself at one of a dozen different bars within walking distance. Together with your coworkers, you pull at your beer with long, slow mouthfuls and feel your body loosening along with them. Your voices get louder, your language a deeper blue. With each drink, you all feel a greater insulation from the world. Your tongues unfurl. The women tend to leave early, and tonight is no exception. Your number is halved, but still the drinks come steadily. The married men spin the golden bands on their fingers – some in boredom, some with regret. The rest of you are young and single; your eyes roam without guilt.

The hour grows later, and you pick at the label of your beer as you sit contentedly in the company of the remaining few. Your blood slows, your body warm within the embrace of the alcohol. Across the room, a man in shorts and flip flops sits alone at the bar and watches baseball highlights on mute. His legs are tan with the season and his hair is cut close. His hands tear at a paper coaster, the tendons flexing and relaxing rhythmically as the pile of debris in front of him grows.

You notice the color of his eyes. He is unbothered by the noise of the room, and you wonder if he drives a Jeep.

In time, this memory will feel vivid and terribly important. You will dwell upon it and live within it until you have seen yourself from every angle. There will be moments, too, when it feels false – merely a result of too much beer and a restless mind. Worse still are the times it seems a betrayal. She will find her way to you soon, and happiness will not be far behind, but you must brace yourself. It will take a year or more to tell her about this moment and even then, you will not tell her about the pit in your stomach when you think of the lurking duality within yourself, when you think about a hand like yours, not like hers, touching the soft flesh around your navel. Not yet.

Instead, you will throw yourself entirely into her, your lives growing together until any absence – no matter how brief – feels cruel and lashing. She will look to you for wisdom and patience – even when you have none – and she will loan you her strength in return. She will listen and smile as you shed layer after layer. She may guess, she may not. In either case, the day will come when your fear and your melancholy secrets will feel like nothing more than broken cobwebs, waving as if with breath. And she will love them, too. But not yet.

The last third of your beer goes warm in your hand.

One of the men at your table makes a joke.

There is a tired punchline and a peal of laughter.

The man in the shorts stands to leave, motioning for his check and you don’t feel like laughing anymore.

James Stuart is an American fiction writer with an emphasis on short, impactful writing. He received a Bachelor of the Arts in English from Colorado State University. Stuart’s work has been published in Creative Colloquy, The Almagre Review, and Short Fiction Break, among others. I am currently in the process of launching “Twenty Bellows” – a literary journal-cum-zine featuring emerging authors of short fiction and imaginative prose. He also maintains his own fiction website, The Forge (www.storiesfromtheforge.com).

“Death and Daffodils” by Tyrean Martinson

Before:
I had never seen death up close.

During:
Your chest stopped moving. Your fingertips turned blue, followed by your hands, your wrists…I tugged on my mom’s hand, but she was praying.

Just after:
Weeping, shouting. A flurry of nurses. Phone calls. Harsh words. A funeral procession.
Yellow flowers.

Months later:
Dust motes over the sage green couch at my grandmother’s house. A black, pink, blue, and white afghan throw. Dandelions in a water glass vase.
No. I don’t want to read a book. I don’t want to watch TV.
My grandmother leaves me be.
I stare through the dusty window at the dusky ripe plums, get distracted by the grinding whir of the mantle clock my grandpa loved: a sad clown in a dark suit whose arm moves up at down with a bottle in its hand. My grandpa didn’t drink, but loved that clock. It’s the only thing he owned left in the house. Even his favorite maroon sweatshirt was thrown out like trash.
I miss him.
But I begin to understand that he wasn’t nice to my grandmother or my aunts or my mom, or anyone other than my older cousins and I. We were children, and he was gentle with us.
I have the photo album he gave me. One picture of him standing by his garden.

Decades later:
Even knowing the pain he caused, even seeing mental illness shatter loved ones, even experiencing the legacy of family abuse, I miss his smile, his laugh, his hope that he had changed, finally, near the end. The last three months, he had hope in forgiveness, in heaven, in mercy he knew he didn’t deserve.

Last night:
I remembered again his favorite color was yellow. He loved daffodils. He admired male ballerinas more than football players; he would stop any program and change the channel to watch either a ballet or a football game. He enjoyed the beauty of movement. He loved horses and his garden.
I can accept that he was a broken man, as I remember the good in him.

Today:
I found that old picture of him, wearing his maroon sweatshirt, standing by his wheelbarrow, looking down at his garden.

Outside:
Daffodils unfold.

Tyrean Martinson (she/her) changes her bio nearly every time she submits a story. Why can’t she decide on the best one? Because decisions are hard. Life is too full of possibilities and wonder. Tyrean writes science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, terrible poetry, song lyrics, devotions, and any idea that feels shiny with wonder. Her newest novella, Liftoff, was something she wrote to entertain herself during early quarantine, a “popcorn movie” style YA novella she hopes will be fun for readers, too.

“MILK//” by Laila Tova

Momo use’ta say,
coffee nee’ a li’l’ milk;
anyt’ing too Black no good
and ‘er second son-in-law
proved ‘er right by beatin’ ‘is chil’ren
for bein’
pure.

‘e and ‘is friends
raped
my father, one’ah th’ seven—
my father, eleven years ol’,
filled ‘im to the brim wit’ acrimony until
‘is richness spilt over,
displaced. then ‘n’ after,
somthin’ in ‘im curdle’
coffee got a li’l’ vinegar
sour cream made ‘im bitter’r

‘n’ watchin’ ‘im at dinner
I alway’ caught a grimace
when ‘e ate it,
swallowin’ ‘ard
to keep
‘is dark sweetness
a plain-sight secret
nex’ to th’ unused
mammy bottle of molasses
sittin’ on
our whitewashed fam’ly table.

Daddy use’ t’ say,
drink your milk
‘n’ I obey’d.

 

Authors Note: I am a Black biracial person. I don’t remember my father ever addressing his appearance directly; the church in which he was a Reverend was adamant about Christ being the only identifier he would ever need. But at dinner time, I paid attention. “Momo” is what we in my father’s family call his maternal grandmother.