Milk Siblings

Catherine Fearns

Photo Credit: urs/ula dee/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I only left him with her for a few minutes. She and little Eva came over for coffee, and I just needed to nip to the post office. It seemed a shame to bundle him up and out into the cold, and he was so nicely asleep, and it looked like rain. But when I returned, I saw flesh against flesh, my flesh against her flesh. I know it’s a thing—I even looked it up on the internet afterwards—milk-sharing, wet-nursing, women have always done it. So why has this darkness descended, as if it’s my body that’s been violated, as if he’s not mine anymore? I don’t know if I can bear it.

It was that look on her face, so triumphant as she cradled him.

‘He was hungry,’ she smiled. ‘You know he’s teething, don’t you?’

She couldn’t even let me have this for myself. And he looked guilty: as he twisted his head towards me, wondering where his loyalties should lie, he tugged her nipple outwards. Milk seeped down his chin and I almost retched. I tried to smile, and moved to take him, but she motioned me to stay back.

‘Shall we just let him finish? Shame to disturb him.’

Perhaps it was shock, or a fatal Englishness—don’t make a scene, it’s not that bad—that made me yield, and I would curse my weakness later.

We were animals now, predatory females in the wild. I sat on the floor and played with Eva, who looked equally bereft. My breasts burned with the sweet agony of let-down, my heart racing. On the doorstep, she looked into my eyes and said lightly: ‘Now I’m his milk-mother, we’re bonded forever. And Eva’s his milk-sister. They won’t be able to get married you know!’

It can’t be taken back. Some unnamed battle has been won, and a part of him is lost to her forever.


Catherine Fearns is a British writer living in Switzerland. She is a regular contributor to Broken Amp and Pure Grain Audio, and also writes a blog about heavy metal and motherhood. A former breastfeeding counsellor, she has written a number of short stories inspired by her experiences working with breastfeeding women, and this piece of flash is one of them. Her first novel, a crime thriller entitled Reprobation, will be published by Crooked Cat Books in October 2018. Email: metalmama1978[at]


Michael Crane

Photo Credit: Vetiver Aromatics/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

To Cath, the arts administrator at the local council.

My friend Odette started a new business and is about to become a merchant. She isn’t selling cheap clothing donated by family members of the deceased; she isn’t selling manufactured meat and calling it gourmet hamburgers; she isn’t a high-tech madam of prostitution over the internet and she doesn’t own a fish-and-chip shop that is a front for money laundering or child pornography. She has become an importer of perfume, but it is not an everyday perfume which smells like all its competitors; it is not manufactured courtesy of the death of many animals; it is a perfume unlike any other which she had to travel to Geneva to procure and it doesn’t have one identifiable scent but offers any one of a million possibilities that only someone who smells it can recognise. To a businessman it smells like money and to a sailor it smells like an ocean wave during a violent summer storm. To a builder it smells like sawdust and to a chef it smells like a perfectly cooked medium rare filet mignon with sautéed truffles on the side, bathed in gravy so fine and smooth it glistens in the candlelight. To a baker it smells like golden brown bread straight from the oven and to a farmer it smells like fresh cow dung on a spring day. To a painter it smells like turpentine and to a doctor it reeks of iodine. To a mechanic it smells like a combination of sump oil and gasoline and when Odette dabs a little perfume behind her ears, it is another different fragrance all together. it is the only product she believes in and it smells like a perfect faith: like speed, like a drowning man in an ocean waving for a life raft. It smells like the holy water blessed upon a baby’s brow at a christening and when she wears her perfume it smells like her laughter: wild and gregarious, like a mob of drunken seamen standing on a pier singing songs of sirens stranded on rocks.

From Sally, the wife
of her one true love.


Michael Crane is widely published in Australian journals and newspapers and some US Magazines. Some of his favourite North American writers include JD Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood and Richard Brautigan. Email: michaelcrane680[at]

Sturdy Girls

Amanda Breen

Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr (CC-by)

Emily’s arm brushes against mine as the taxi lurches over the rain-slick streets of Amsterdam. Our flight from London landed 40 minutes ago, and even though we’ve only lost an hour, my eyelids are heavy, shuttering against snippets of lavender sky, traffic lights, bicyclists. Emily has been talking to the cab driver since we left the airport; they’ve covered his family history, the city’s top tourist attractions, and what kind of weather we can expect.

He asks her if we’re sisters, and I force my eyes open. I want to hear what she says, and it seems imperative I stare at the polyester headrest in front of me to catch every word. We are not sisters, I want to scream. No, she laughs, not sisters, just friends. I wonder why he’d even suggest something so ludicrous. Emily is twenty years older and exudes painful elegance: long legs, pale skin, sharp edges. I am soft.

The scene at Heathrow only hours before erupts in my head. Emily refusing to buy me a sandwich, pinching the flesh of my upper arm between acrylic nails, telling me she didn’t let any of her girls get dumpy. You should lose ten pounds if you want better customers, she’d snapped. I press my finger against the cold glass and draw a box. One bicyclist races through it, then another.

We stop when the waterlogged windshield glows red. It turns green. At first, there’s not a car in the lane next to us, then there is, and the bicyclist who thought she could run the red light slams into the windshield, which shatters, exploding into a bright spiderweb under the pressure of bone and steel. Horrified, we watch her arc through the air and land on the other side of the street, where passersby crowd around her, shriek in a language thick with consonants, whip out their cellphones to call for help.

The offending driver grips the wheel behind his splintered windshield, motionless. I stare at the woman, a crumpled heap in her coral blouse and dark blue jeans. I imagine her putting the outfit on this morning, sliding her arms through fluttery sleeves, slipping her legs into soft denim. She doesn’t move. No one touches her. Our driver shakes his head and speeds us away from the wreckage.

He clicks his tongue, makes a sucking sound. “These bicyclists have no respect for traffic signs. And this is what they get.” Emily and I stare out the window even though there’s nothing to see anymore. He sighs. “Well, she might be okay. She looked like a sturdy girl.”


Amanda Breen recently graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studied English with concentrations in American literature and creative writing. She likes to write about women and power, and is especially interested in how gendered constructions of power impact individuals and relationships. Her work has appeared in A Barnard Writer’s Life: The Collected Works of Creative Writing Concentrators, and she looks forward to experimenting more with flash fiction and shorter forms. Email: abreen2415[at]

Four Poems

Don Thompson

Photo Credit: loppear/Flickr (CC-by)

Danse de Pommes

Doves like retired ballet dancers,
plump but content to be,
settle side by side on a powerline
close to the window.

Their gnarled feet look too sore
even to shuffle,
but they still balance like pros,
without a thought.

And with their long and elegant,
supple necks crisscrossing,
they take up where it left off
a lifelong pas de deux.



You can almost see with your eyes closed
the thought you think
helplessly, always against your will.
There it is again—

drifting above consciousness,
that flat expanse of stinkweed and stone
you’ve shattered with a sledgehammer,
doing life with hard labor:

A dense, miasmic cloud, lint gray,
you could refer someone to who asks
the exact tint, the precise odor
of regret.



Their leaves shimmer like the scales of salmon
leaping into the current of the wind:
an endangered species

struggling to escape this low meadow
on a foolish impulse familiar to us
and make it upstream—

that is, uphill, above the tree line,
across the bone bare scarp
where nothing with roots can reproduce

or even survive, except
an ancient, solitary Bristlecone,
already extinct in its own lifetime.


Road Work

A bungled sunrise, inconclusive
carmine and mauve, spills across the mud
that makes the road impassable.

I have to turn back, sacrificing
the long walk that heals a heart
and calms a mind.

But the winter sun, though hesitant,
always gets to work on repairs,
and soon, if there’s no more rain,

the dirt road I need to take
will be gray and cracked again,
harder than old asphalt.


Email: d_e_thompson[at]

Two Poems

Abigail George

Photo Credit: Henti Smith/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

To Johannesburg, with love
(for my parents)

I’ve been living underground
like graffiti, the grunge scene,
gravity and volcanic rock for the longest time. I’ve been many things
in my life.
Feminist. Romantic. Poet.
Aunt. Independent woman.
Sister. Daughter. Ex. Girlfriend. I’ve clothed
myself in veil-and-shroud.

Having the presence of a
child around me has changed all of that. I want to be a
good woman. I want to give and love
and most of all be kind. I don’t want to think that suffering is
noble anymore. I want to put away my loneliness
inside a kind of Pandora’s box.
Along with my solitude. The futility that
I’ve carried around like baggage with me for the

(longest time).

I don’t want to say things like,
‘the longest time’ anymore. I
want to be happy and loyal to
the people who love me. I want
to be loyal to the girl inside my mother, my sister, my aunts, my cousins
in the family way. Far away in America and Swaziland. South Africa.
I’m a nation. I’m a soldier. I’m a

warrior. I’m a servant girl.
I’m a nursemaid. Caregiver. Lover.
Fighter. Daily I take the vows of a nation, of
a Christian-soldier, warrior,
lowly servant girl, nursemaid, caregiver, lover, fighter.
I have the personality of the
sun on my side. The characteristics of
and morality of moonlight.
I can wail against the choices that
I’ve made in my short life or
I can embrace the watershed. The men and women,
the translations of them that I’ve
loved in my short life. If it’s been
it’s been that way from start to end.
And once I reach the finish line
I will meditate on the feasts and festivals
that winter has brought me and
I will savour the photographs, the special moments
that summer has brought to me.


The handsome stranger
(for my mother and father)

I can smell the hungering sea
on my fingers. Your dancing
is bittersweet. The royal-loyal
invention of the cracked day overcast. Birdsong finds
itself in my palms. Between
my ears. Inside the charity of
my head. The tops of my brain
cells. The margin and extinction of night comes with
you still. An acute challenge
lies before us in what used to
be our own private ‘dream’ world. Invite the garden, you
used to tell me. The winter-guest.
The dead. The union of the spontaneity of
blood and the waves of flesh

but I no longer invite you to sit at my kitchen table. No longer
do you understand
my worldview. Your touch was concrete once.
Golden. Once your kiss planted
reassurance in my soul. Your
language musk, heat, sun, translation, weather.
Your eyes the window to your soul.

I don’t want to remember you.
I don’t want to remember your breath
(on my skin) but I do. Truth has a smallness. An urgency about its air.

Love is trapped in that smallness.
That urgency. Love is a wedding feast.
The bride a vine. The vows a list.
The groom a beast. There is stress
everywhere. In race, nature, humanity.
Where ancestors feature. Once
you were radiant. You put me into a trance. It took me
years to understand the ways in which

you did not love me. Nonetheless I
dreamed the vision of you into my soul.
I’m trapped. I know it. In order to be
free I must surrender the memory of
you. The more trapped I feel the more
I must bury you in the past. In history.
Like letters trapped in an archive. Old
pieces of furniture and paintings found in
a museum. Treasures lost and found.


Pushcart Prize nominee for her fiction (“Wash Away My Sins”), Abigail George is a South African blogger, poet and writer. She is the recipient of writing grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, the Centre for the Book in Cape Town and ECPACC in East London. She blogs
here. Email: abigailgeorge79[at]

Two Poems

Rachel Burns

Photo Credit: Kent Wang/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Grandad’s Shotgun

Grandad kept a shotgun in the shed;
the farmer paid him to shoot wild rabbits.

He brought them back home, pitiful and dead,
skinned their small bodies from their grey fur coats.

He’d make a rabbit stew, adding onion,
leek, a dash of salt and a fistful of thyme.

Come teatime he’d ladle rabbit flesh
into my bowl. I’d stare at it and refuse to eat, face sullen.

You’ve brought this bairn up too soft, he’d say to my mother,
tossing me a hunk of bread and butter.


Manchester, Piccadilly

Sunday morning and the tram from Bury
is late getting away. Parklife same every year!
Metrolink is a load of crap! You emphasise
the guttural k.

The porters herd us forward—
I talk about my grandfather, the railway artist.
I have his poster “Manchester’s New Station”
on my bedroom wall. You stifle a yawn and say,

I don’t give a fuck about art, I don’t see the use of it
I mean what’s the fucking point of looking at a picture.

The information screen rolls down the time:
long delays

until our rammed carriage
finally pulls away
first to Radcliffe then Whitefield. The crowd engulfs us—
shiny happy faces—eyes dilated, you watch the girls
as they sway in their Hunter wellies and ripped shorts.

An elderly man tries to get off
at Besses o’ th’ Barn (an unmanned station with no guard).
He pushes the red button, voice shrill, panicky
move… move out of the way.
There is no room, he backs his wheelchair
towards the exit, the crowd spill onto the platform
like hyperactive ants, then scuttle back on again.

We continue our journey
the red light flashing,
on off, on off.
Six Glaswegian boys talk loud and lairy
about dogging a girl from Paisley. They pass
their potent brew back and forth. You listen bemused
as they sing their festival songs, lyrics that rhyme and are easy.

The discarded bottles clink across the floor.
We reach Heaton. The crowd
pulses forward
through the opening doors, voices echo in stereo
gradually fading into the underground below.

In the subdued quiet, you ask
about my grandfather, the great artist.
I see your feigned interest in the dark glass
the tram lurches forward—three-quarters empty—
he died before your time, I say.

The world outside hurtles past
Lowry’s haunts,
Oldfield to George Street, the remnants of the mills
the dying industrial scene, St Peter’s Square
and Victoria, the new modern Manchester

We arrive at Manchester Piccadilly
and step out into the open air.
The view of the station disappoints; it hardly compares
to the sweeping romance of the 1962 railway poster
on my bedroom wall. You are not fussed
but I feel cheated. The sky darkens.
Like an arrow-shower it starts to rain.


Rachel Burns is a poet and playwright living in Durham City, England. She is currently an Arvon/Jerwood mentee in playwriting. Poems have been published in UK literary magazines recently The Lake, South, Southlight and Lonesome October and The Herald newspaper. She was shortlisted for the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize 2017. Email: rachel.burnsba[at]