Backseat Driver

Fiction
Mark Joseph Kevlock


Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I worked at the car wash. She worked at the Acme supermarket next door. It was 1975. We were probably in love.

I saw a kid hanging around more and more in the background. I thought maybe he was our son, from the future, come back to ensure his own birth by monitoring us closely. I read a lot of science fiction in those days.

I followed the kid when he wasn’t looking. After he left the car wash he went straight to the supermarket and lingered in the produce aisle, where Cathy worked.

“Do you have any long-lost brothers or sisters?” I asked her, walking home up the hill together.

“No. Do you?”

I told Cathy no. She asked why I asked.

“That kid. Haven’t you seen him?”

“Which one?” Cathy said.

“The one with the ragged jeans and the black windbreaker. Bangs in his eyes. Tennis shoes.”

“Un-uh,” Cathy said.

“How could you not see him? He was standing in your aisle for twenty minutes, staring right at you.”

“I didn’t see him,” Cathy said.

The next day at the car wash I chased him into the back seat of a Volkswagen Beetle. He’d been leaning against the cinder blocks, nonchalant, when I circled around and snuck up behind him. At the last second, he spotted me and scrambled through the open door of the car I’d been washing, a VW Bug. The windows were still all soapy, so I lost sight of him for just a second until I got there. Guess what? He was gone. Vanished like a magic act. Neither door had opened on the opposite side. I was positive I saw him climb in. So where did he go?

A time-traveling ghost was looking better and better, as explanations go.

I ate lunch out on the curb with Cathy.

“Why don’t you ask someone else at the car wash if they see him?” Cathy suggested.

“And if they don’t?”

“Then you’re bonkers,” Cathy said.

I didn’t give her a bite of my cupcake.

The kid wore the same clothes every time. But a lot of kids do. Pretty flimsy evidence of a supernatural origin—that was all I had so far.

I did ask a couple of customers, next time he appeared. They didn’t see him. Maybe he’s a psycho-projection of my unconscious mind, I reasoned. I tried to recognize the kid, but I didn’t. I just didn’t know him from anywhere at all. I followed him again to the supermarket. The automatic door opened for him like it did for anybody else. He must’ve been real. Right?

Cathy was getting close to marriage, and I was the only guy around.

“What if we have a kid and this is him?” I said.

“I don’t want our son hanging out at car washes and supermarkets,” Cathy said.

“We’ll raise him better than that,” I said.

“Maybe you should invite him to the wedding,” Cathy said.

She laughed but I didn’t.

Maybe I had a little brother who died, then my parents had me hypnotized to remove the trauma. You’d think I’d recognize his face, though.

I tried shouting at him. He didn’t answer. He didn’t ever look directly at me, either. Just sort of in my direction.

I waited for a revelation. None came. I got married to Cathy, on a car washer’s salary. One day the kid wasn’t there anymore.

“Maybe he’s in my womb, hiding,” Cathy joked.

It took us nine months to find out.

“He’s just a baby,” Cathy said, at first glance. “I can’t tell what he’s going to look like.”

Neither could I.

“Maybe the money got tight and we put him up for adoption. Then he haunted us out of revenge.”

“Haunted you,” Cathy corrected. “I’ve never seen him.”

“I should’ve taken a picture with your Kodak camera,” I said. “Instant developing.”

The kid wasn’t so instant. It took him ten years to get to the right age. I even bought him tennis shoes and a black windbreaker.

“Well?” Cathy said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It might be him. It might not. Let’s grow those bangs into his eyes.”

“Are you, by chance, working on a time machine in the basement?” Cathy said.

“I guess I forgot that one little detail.”

Winter turned to spring. The car wash was reopened. It was 1985. Cathy and I were probably still in love.

One day a Volkswagen Beetle pulled in. There was a kid asleep on the back seat. He had on a black windbreaker.

I stood there looking at myself in the window reflection. The kid moved a little bit like he was dreaming. Maybe he was. Maybe his dream started back in 1975.

Maybe I only existed because he was dreaming about me. Maybe my whole life was just a story that began at that moment.

I loved Cathy. And my real kid. I didn’t want to lose them.

He kicked a little, like a dog having a bad dream. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to know that I didn’t exist. Maybe I was ruining his imaginary love life. Maybe I represented him in the dream.

All I had to do was wake him up. That would prove, or disprove, all of my theories.

I might cease to exist. Or maybe he would.

I stood there with the sponge in my hand. Then I tossed it back in the bucket.

I couldn’t take the chance.

I just didn’t want my story to end.

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Thus far in 2018 Mark Joseph Kevlock’s fiction has appeared in over two dozen magazines, including 365 Tomorrows, Into The Void, The First Line, Ellipsis Zine, Literally Stories, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Friday Flash Fiction. He has also written for DC Comics. Email: DippedinForever[at]aol.com

Subsidence

Fiction
Hayley N Jones


Photo Credit: NCM3/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

When it began, I would see her reflected in windows. Sometimes she was reading mail; other times she was striding across the room. I saw her dusting the sideboard on several occasions. Always mundane tasks. Chores. I asked the doctor whether hallucinating was a symptom of my condition, but he said it was doubtful. He thought it might be psychological rather than neurological, since she was often doing the housework I can no longer do. He referred me to a counsellor and suggested I keep a record of the sightings.

They thought my condition was stress related, but nobody knew for sure. The symptoms started around the time a large crack appeared in the exterior side wall of our house. Subsidence, said the structural engineer. He said it could be repaired without spending an astronomical amount, but couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again in future, especially in another part of the house. The ground was literally shifting beneath me.

Julie thought my condition was a reaction to William’s coldness, a subconscious bid for attention. I pointed out that it wasn’t very effective. If anything, my illness made him angrier and more distant. He resented having to prepare his own meals and iron his shirts. He made snide comments whenever he saw me lying on the couch, too exhausted to move.

I used to pride myself on not being weak. I demanded perfection from everyone, in my job as a television producer and in general—including from myself. William used to joke about his go-getter wife whose programmes got top ratings and awards. I scrabbled to cling to work as I got ill, but the bare minimum soon became too much. I went from running the show to oblivion. In the television industry, there is always someone to take your place.

Perhaps the same is true of all things in life: everyone is replaceable. As people fade away, others shine. William may have found my replacement as soon as I became ill. He worked longer hours as I got frail and needy. I had no energy to check on him, to make enquiries at his office or examine his schedule. Anyway, I didn’t want to be that type of woman.

We led separate lives. William could still do the things he enjoyed: playing golf, drinking whisky, vintage car shows. I could only watch television, the medium I used to control. I watched others claiming successes which should have been mine. The names on programme credits belonged to people who possessed a scant percentage of my talent and dedication.

But paying attention to the screen took too much energy. I had no appetite for critiquing programmes and I didn’t care who was staring down the lens of my camera. The names were becoming unfamiliar—producers too young to remember me, even by reputation.

Julie came around for coffee a few times a week, often bringing treats from the bakery. She also brought stories of the outside world—a mutual friend having an affair with a man twenty years her junior, a bad car accident on the main road into town, an argument with her sister which ended with her phone calls being ignored for a month. Our gossiping was banal and wonderful. I almost felt normal. It reminded me of meeting Julie for lunch when I had half an hour to spare and could be released from the pressures of the studio.

‘The builders will be here next week,’ I said. ‘Mayhem and upheaval, no doubt.’

‘Hope it’s sorted quickly. You know, once the actual work starts.’

‘William wanted to get second opinions, to check everything would be fixed properly. I doubt he’s been stalling on purpose.’

‘Wish I had your faith. It’s the kind of thing he does, manipulating you by prolonging the stress.’

‘It’s stressful for him, too.’

Julie pursed her lips. She had thought the worst of William since they met at a charity function and he mistook her for a waitress. While I had no illusions about my husband, I didn’t believe he would put off repairs to the house. It was more of an inconvenience to him than me.

I was afraid to tell Julie about the woman I kept seeing. I’m not sure why: nothing she could say would be worse than my own thoughts. Perhaps I was going mad. I never asked my doctor whether you can get hallucinations which appear only as reflections: neither answer would reassure me. Instead, I watched her. I saw her plucking her eyebrows and deadheading the roses. I could feel her presence even when I wasn’t watching her; cool wisps of vapour pervading my home.

I began to resent her silence. I shouted, willing her to communicate—or to glance in my direction. I wanted her to acknowledge me. I yelled until I fell back onto the couch, exhausted.

 

None of us could believe how my health nosedived. The doctor was mystified, Julie was concerned and William was incandescent. Living with an invalid tests everyone’s patience and William had never been the most compassionate man. He kept insisting there must be something I could do—a different type of medication I should take, physiotherapy, breathing exercises. His suggestions became more outlandish, less William-like: Bikram yoga, colour therapy, stroking horses.

Even if any of those non-options could work, how would I access them? I struggled to leave my bed, let alone the house. Our household budget was being eaten up by building repairs and the takeaways William bought because he couldn’t be bothered to cook. When I questioned the practicalities, William flew into rages.

We had a bad argument when he accused me of spending too much time with Julie. She had dropped off several chilled and frozen home-cooked meals, so that William didn’t have to do anything more challenging than put the dishes into the oven. I told her she was very kind; William thought it was an invasion and an insult.

‘What business does she have coming around all the time? If you didn’t waste hours talking to her, you’d have the energy to do the things that matter.’

‘Friendship and companionship matter to me.’

‘Why is she always here?’

‘She helps me.’

‘If you need a carer, we can employ one. Once we’ve paid for these bloody subsidence repairs.’

‘I need Julie—I’m damned lonely.’

‘One of us has to work and pay the bills.’

‘I don’t expect you to mollycoddle me.’

‘But she does. I forbid it—I’m fed up with coming home and finding her in my house. I want her gone. Stop inviting her and tell her she isn’t welcome.’

‘You can’t cut me off from her. It’s not fair.’

‘Having to put up with her isn’t fair on me. Bloody interfering woman.’

‘None of this is fair! This illness isn’t fair and Julie helps me to cope, which is more than you do most of the time.’

He flushed crimson. ‘Who the fuck helps you wash? Who puts food on a plate for you?’

‘I mean emotional support. You never listen to me.’

‘Why should I when I’m bloody tired from working and picking up your slack?’

‘I can’t help it. I didn’t want this to happen to me.’

‘Neither did I.’

‘At least you can escape. You can go out and get away from my illness—I can’t.’

‘It’s still a burden to me.’

‘You mean I’m a burden to you.’

‘Yes. You are.’ He stomped out of the room.

My phone went missing that night. I kept it near me at all times, but it wasn’t on the bedside cabinet when I awoke. I checked the floor around and under the bed. My body screamed with pain. I peered behind the bedside cabinet, sliding my fingers into the gap. I checked every space I could think of, hoping that my instincts were wrong, but my search was fruitless. My phone was gone.

William denied taking it, but he didn’t offer to buy a new one. I tried calling it from the landline, but it went straight to voicemail. Since I was meticulous about keeping it charged, someone must have switched it off.

As I lay awake next to William that night, I saw the woman in the wardrobe mirror. She was trying on dresses, one after another, examining herself with a critical eye. Elegant, expensive dresses tailored to her slender hips and shoulders. She smoothed her hands over the silks and jerseys, checking how they draped over her breasts and midriff. She poked a non-existent love handle and frowned. Her underwear was simple, bridal: white French knickers and a lace bra. Her movements were smooth, balletic. Mine had become clumsy and lumbering. Our eyes never met, but I felt as if she were putting on a show for me.

 

Julie came around when she could, but it was difficult because she had to be gone before William got home and his work hours were unpredictable. I think he might have varied them on purpose, hoping to catch me dancing around the kitchen. He was convinced I was somehow fooling him.

I missed Julie with an intensity I found disconcerting. She offered to get me a pay-as-you-go phone, so that we could call and text each other again, but I was afraid William would find it and accuse me of cheating. I called from the landline when I was able to get to the phone, but moving around was increasingly difficult. I was also worried that William would see Julie’s number on the bill. Or that he would say the bill was too high.

Julie begged me to leave, but how could I? I was too drained to make plans or pack and I didn’t want to be a burden to her—she had her own problems. I think I had decided to stay in my ever-shifting home and wait for death.

William grew more stressed and aggressive. He never hit me; his cruelty had more subtlety.

‘This house is filthy.’ He dragged his finger through the dust on the sideboard.

‘What can I do about it? I can barely dress myself.’

‘It’s disgusting.’

‘So get a cleaner.’

‘What with? The money for the structural engineers and builders?’

‘They’re causing most of the dust. It’ll be better when they’re finished.’

‘And until then?’

‘Get a cleaner. Or do it yourself.’

He glared at me.

‘I’d do it if I could. I did for seventeen years while working full time, didn’t I?’

He sighed and went to the kitchen. I heard him bashing the kettle and his mug on the worktop. He didn’t offer me a coffee.

 

I couldn’t stand long enough to shower anymore, so William had to help me in and out of the bath. He looked away as he manoeuvred me, as though my illness made my body repulsive. It still looked the same—perhaps a little skinnier, with less muscle. I wondered how he would react when I deteriorated enough to need assistance using the toilet.

The warm water eased my aching joints and muscles a little. After several minutes, I regained enough flexibility in my fingers to wash my hair. I disliked rinsing it in the bath water, but it was easier than asking William to help me use the shower hose. As I lathered the shampoo, I glimpsed her in the bathroom mirror. She was wet from the shower, with droplets of water glittering on her pale skin. She dried herself with a thick towel, stroking her limbs and dabbing between her legs. Another performance.

She stepped outside the range of the mirror and didn’t come back; I watched as the bath water cooled and my pain intensified. There was something threatening about her that I couldn’t pinpoint. It wasn’t just her sense of proprietorship, the way she moved about my home as if she had always belonged. Perhaps it was her vitality.

I began to see her chatting on the phone, her conversation punctuated with laughter. She must have more friends than me. Julie still tried to come around when William was at work—I gave her a spare key years ago, though I knew William wouldn’t like her having access to our home. I didn’t get to see her often, but it was enough to keep me going.

Julie told me I should have divorced him years ago. ‘Get your compensation and get out.’

‘It’s not that easy.’

‘It’s not difficult—I’ve done it twice.’

‘But I love William, that’s the difference.’

‘I loved my husbands, in my own way.’

‘It’s too late now anyway.’

On my worst days, I had to rely on William to give me my medication. He handed me the pills with such carelessness that I wondered if he had checked the dosage. How could I tell? I was so tired I passed out regardless of what he gave me.

*

Everything came to a head, as it always does, on an otherwise ordinary day. A Friday. I had spent the day in bed—in fact, I had spent most of the week in bed, listening to the builders. I was too weak to read or watch television, so there was nothing to distract me from my aching body. I begged William to help me to the bath, just so that I could have half an hour’s semi-relief.

He lifted me into the bath as usual, his gaze averted. After he left, I savoured the warmth enveloping my stiff and tired body. I relaxed for the first time in days. The woman wasn’t in the mirror, making me feel like I had no right to be in my own home. I stretched out my legs and spine, relishing the relative ease of movement. Then I slipped. My body weight shifted and my shoulders sank down the side of the bath.

I couldn’t grip the edge: my hands kept sliding off. I tried to push myself up, but I had no strength. My feet scrabbled against the porcelain and then my body plunged forward, dragging my head underwater.

I thrashed about, trying to gain purchase or alert William, but my energy drained within moments. I lay in the water, my lungs burning and my head close to exploding, until everything went blank.

 

I see her every day now, cooking in my kitchen and choosing new sheets for my bed. I think she knows I’m here—sometimes I catch her eye and she turns pale. Her name is Susannah, but William calls her Sweetheart. He seems softer, more patient. He brings her roses and cups of tea. They have romantic dinners in front of the living room fire. She smiles and giggles, but I know part of her is always uneasy.

She senses me, no matter how much she changes the décor and feigns nonchalance. She knows I’m here, even as she blots out every vestige of my life. She threw away my photos and my television awards, but she can’t get rid of me. She pretends not to care—she tells her friends she doesn’t mind living in my house because it’s gorgeous and the location can’t be bettered. They might believe her; they don’t hear her pleading with William, saying that the latest subsidence problems shouldn’t have a drastic effect on the price.

She continues her pseudo-exorcisms as she uncovers more of my things, as though binning a birthday card or a trinket could unleash us from each other. She bristles as I walk past her, my body no longer aching and cumbersome. She senses me, just below the surface of her life.

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Hayley N Jones has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter. She has previously been published in Confingo and the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2017. She lives in East Devon, England (UK), where she volunteers for a local youth mental health organisation, blogs about mental health and is currently studying part time for a Psychology BSc. Email: hayleynjones[at]hotmail.co.uk Twitter: HayleyNJones

Dim Sum

Flash
Alicia Zhang


Photo Credit: Meng He/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The shrimp dumplings called to her.

For days, she had dreamt about those little packets of joy, teaspoons of savory shrimp wrapped in translucent skins. Although the closest dim sum restaurant was an hour away, John had agreed to drive, parrying her excitement with amused patience as they sped down the freeway.

So, here they were, surrounded by rickety carts piled high with rice, sesame, and tradition. She breathed in deeply, relishing the umami air. As a child, she had spent countless Sunday brunches at restaurants like these, fighting with her brother over the last dumpling and spilling tea on ratty white linens.

But it wasn’t quite the same as before. John’s mop of blonde hair shone in the sea of black, just as his English broke through the murmurs of Mandarin and Cantonese. No matter—she brushed off the sideways glances and plucked her chopsticks from their paper blanket, motioning for John to do the same.

A cart rolled up to their table and John’s eyes widened as he took in the miscellany of bamboo steamers and stainless steel pots. She began explaining the intricacies of each dish, drawing an exasperated sigh from the waiter.

“You order,” John said with a smile.

She hesitated, then asked for the classics: spring rolls, pork buns, and of course, shrimp dumplings. Briefly, she considered ordering the turnip cake, but decided that the strong flavors of dried shrimp and fatty sausage might confuse him. Maybe later.

As the cart began to pull away, John pointed at a plate. “What’s that?” he asked.

She looked suspiciously at the fried brown sticks glimmering in a sticky sauce. “Want to try it?”

A few exchanges in Chinese later, the plate rested on their table. John picked up a stick and nibbled at it, his eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement.

“It’s chicken feet,” she said. A pause. “Do you like it?”

A kaleidoscope of scenes flashed through her mind: her ex-boyfriend mocking her for eating pasta with chopsticks; her elementary school friends wrinkling their noses at her lunch of short ribs and bok choy; her own hands throwing away the tofu that was out of place in her dorm room refrigerator. While her mother had always emphasized the importance of food in Chinese culture, all she knew was that the entrees she savored at home had to be hidden in public.

She watched him closely.

John swallowed. “Not bad,” he said, reaching for another.

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Alicia Zhang is a college student studying Applied Mathematics. She sometimes questions whether or not she chose the right major, but consoles herself by writing fiction and political journalism in her free time. Email: zhang.alicia.a[at]gmail.com

Lake Champlain, Essex, New York

Flash
Amie E. Reilly


Photo Credit: Nicholas Erwin/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Paul’s parents love his sister more than him. She has waterfall hair and cerebral palsy, but Paul hears it called “Cee-Pee,” which makes sense to him because her shirt is always soaked from her drooling.

His mother brushes his sister’s hair three times a day. When he runs away, he goes to the dock to watch the ferry slide over the lake monster living inside the murk.

I could be a fisherman and live inside a lighthouse. I will be a scientist and live inside a cave. I will go home, pack my things, and say goodbye forever.

On the table, the scissors look like a bird, all eyes and beak and instinct. His sister’s asleep in her chair. Their parents whisper at the television.

Why do lakes have waves? Every fisherman in a kayak is a monster until the binoculars are focused.

He cuts off her hair and runs.

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Amie E. Reilly teaches in the English departments at Norwalk Community College and Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and ten-year-old son. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in The New Engagement, Entropy, The Ekphrastic Review, and Pigeonholes. Email: amie.reilly[at]gmail.com

Self Possession

Flash
Mike Dillon


Photo Credit: Vlad Podvorny/Flickr (CC-by)

I saw the rare bird of self-possession once. I saw it from where I stood in a banquet room bristling with billboard nametags and dentured smiles. Never mind my reason for being in that room: my reason was thin. What matters is I looked over the shoulder of the one talking at me to see her standing alone in a corner.

I watched her quietly watching that atonal crowd with the amused Mona Lisa smile of someone remembering a beloved childhood landscape. I suppose, at first, I took stock of her in the way careless people, at police headquarters, would describe someone gone missing: Tall. Early thirties. Green eyes, probably. Soft, green eyes. Dark hair, pony-tailed. Kind of pretty.

But then my real self would kick in, for her and for me: a book reader, I’d say. Or, a nineteenth-century romantic heroine. At which point I would be dismissed, no doubt, and told to take my irrelevancy elsewhere, but not before I declared she was the calm salient in a white-capped sea of inanity where everyone smiled in order not to drown. By this time a strong hand would have clamped my elbow directing me out the door but not before I would shout: one last thing!

Here’s how to pick her out in any crowd. I only need one minute to tell a little story about myself in the suburbs a year or so ago. Never mind my reason for being there: it was thin. What matters is I slipped into a scrap of woods where surveyor’s pink ribbons fluttered from the branches. I followed an overgrown path until it ended. I saw a place of sunlit moss beyond the brambles. I pushed my way in. I kneeled to three white trillium and muddy deer tracks. I felt a cool updraft from the earth and saw a black hole nearly covered by vines and rotted wood—an abandoned well exhaling earth’s cool breath.

As a robin caroled its sweet liquid carol overhead I found a white pebble and dropped it into the dark. And heard a splash sweet as the spot where ball meets bat for a stand-up triple—except I imagined a lovely trout down there as trout once thrived in the holy wells of Ireland.

That’s what I would tell the police, if she were missing, if they wanted to find her in a crowd. So much depends that they get my meaning: Think of the condemned woods, I’d say, and the well, the trout, and you will know her. All else is mere description.

I, for one, won’t forget her. She who never looked over to me or knows that I exist. Which is also to her credit.

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Mike Dillon lives in Indianola, Washington, a small town on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. He is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. Several of his haiku were included in Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, from W.W. Norton (2013). Departures, a book of poetry and prose about the forced removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor will be published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019. Email: miked7003[at]gmail.com

Matchbox

Flash
Olga Dermott-Bond


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

Before I light the match I take out the air freshener. It’s shaped like a pine tree and smells of damp toilet paper. Dull ridges dig into my palms as I watch from the rocks. The water’s edge is lit up, and sand’s shadows lick and flicker. I perch, shifting in my clammy jeans, so the damp doesn’t spread too quickly. Revenge is made of petrol fumes. Heat in front. Chill behind.

You were older. Navy jumper. Chain smoker. I heard jazz music, played on a muffled mistuned piano when you handed me your crooked smile. I was swayed by you. You were my imagined space between a new country and a cliff edge.

I push the empty can between my feet, a rhythmic hollow thud. I look up—the night sky is rancid milk. Scorched. Acrid. Stuck. I believed them, you see. The nicest words that anyone had ever said to me. Spoken to me inside that orange Ford Escort. On this beach. Windows fogged up with clichés.

I realised too late that your words were acrylic, stitched clumsily into your mouth, like the name labels inside my school socks that my mum had sewn in so carefully. Since then, you have seeped into everything I could have been. Stained the car seats, turned love into an itchy, sweaty memory of guilt and self-loathing, the opposite of fresh air.

My cardboard heart.

Huge plumes of black smoke are curling in waves from your car, being pushed down by the cold, then fighting back.

They look like my anger now.

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Olga is originally from Northern Ireland and lives in England. A former Warwick Poet Laureate, she has had poetry and flash fiction published in a range of magazines including Rattle Magazine, Magma, Paper Swans Press, Reflex Fiction, Dodging the Rain, Fictive Dream and The Fiction Pool. In 2017, she was commended in the Winchester Poetry Prize and was recently commended in the British Army’s Writing Armistice Competition. Email: olgadermott[at]btinternet.com

Four Poems

Poetry
Diane Webster


Photo Credit: Johannes Freund/Flickr (CC-by)

Knife Etchings

The knife etches
grooves into glass
like cuts of initials
into aspen tree
bark scarred
forever in love
by AB + PS
now logged
and split leaving
shards of splintered
memories behind
like shavings,
like sawdust.

 

Shivers/Slivers

When the sculptor’s hammer
rings against the metal chisel
carving stone beneath its blade,
reverberation tingles her fingers
like tiny orgasmic ripples
signaling the start of art

exploding like shivers/slivers
of dislodged stone firing
into her plastic face guard
like fireworks dislodging night darkness
to fingers desiring a touch of the masterpiece.

 

Drives to Work in Snow

Snow in the parking lot
squeaks as tires tread
across whiteness searching
for white parallel lines
marking space for parking—
first one parked sets the grid
in motion for late starters.

Never knew so many people
walked until coming-and-going trails
moonwalk across the snow
where discovered by its purple color
kicked loose beneath a waffle boot track
like a possible treasure discovered
washed up on a storm-washed shore
a pacifier lies in sparkling snow.

Morning’s silence shivers through air
until a snow shovel scrapes against
raw sidewalk somewhere in the next block.

 

Digital Family

If photos aren’t taken,
a family doesn’t exist.

No past scolding,
“You should have…”

No standing captured
the way one was then
and not allowed to move
for fear of blurring
the picture for generations.

In the present now
to cast shadows,
to hold two fingers behind
smiling people’s heads,
to stick out a tongue
or to deliberately
close one’s eyes.

Now you can be erased
so you never existed
in the family’s album.

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Diane Webster enjoys the challenge of picturing images into words to fit her poems. If she can envision her poem, she can write what she sees and her readers can visualize her ideas. That’s the excitement of writing. Her work has appeared in The Hurricane Review, Eunoia Review, Illya’s Honey, and other literary magazines. Email: diaweb[at]hotmail.com

Two Poems

Poetry
Donna Pucciani


Photo Credit: Greger Ravik/Flickr (CC-by)

Landscape, Sorrento

Ages ago, Sorrento
made a pact with the sea:

I give you lemons,
you give me the bay.

Limoncello and cobblestones
coexist with fish and salt.

Citrus soaps and souvenirs
gird the waves yellow

while Vesuvius sleeps
like a beached whale

on an aqua sky,
one eye half-open,

and inside,
lava boiling in its bowels.

For now, a cliffside view of shoreline
and a lemon sorbet.

 

Less is More

We speak of our aging bodies:
which part has decomposed
most recently. Nursing a bad knee,
hooked up to hearing aids, eyeglasses,
artificial joints, canes and walkers,
wearing marshmallow shoes
and dated woolen caps, we are
comical indeed, drawing derision
from the young.

Bookstores have become museums,
the symphony a sea of gray heads.
Goodbye to radios, the cinema, newspapers,
landlines, and typewriters that clacked
clustered syllables.

So we progress towards death
as our parents and their parents did
before them, falling asleep in favorite chairs,
dawdling instead of walking,
driving cars as old and battered as we,
listening to the obsolete music
of our youth.

The years gather us in like a flock
of geese, at once foolish and determined
to walk in our own webbed waddle
against the traffic and back into
the seasons in which we’ve loved life
far too much for our own good.

pencil

Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has published poetry worldwide in such journals as Shi Chao Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Istanbul Literary Review, Gradiva, and Acumen. A seven-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, her most recent book of poems is Edges. Email: dpucciani[at]yahoo.com

Miscarriage

Poetry
Jared Pearce


Photo Credit: Erik Terdal/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

There are no reasons for ill-timing—
how the boy slammed the window
only to notice the bat between the pane
and screen, folding itself into the deepest
corner from the sun, how I came

slowly with a towel to launch him
free from the window but he wrangled
the netting to and fro, with his right
hook he plumbed for any slight passage,

and we waited for him to stop kicking
because we didn’t want to chase him
through the house until he calmed,
my wife having to barricade her bedroom
against the squeak of his hunger,

and finally hashed-out, he rested low
where I clutched his hot body,
my palms the rough uterus of a last
darkness, and when I wanted him

to streak anew the blistered sky,
he flopped between the poppies
and nicotiana, just the spot
where one steps from the walk
to the lawn, where our shortcut

stands to save us all a lot of life,
and there he lies, heart smoldering,
having thrashed its silk-lined cage.
We meant things only good—

only a brief pass of discomfort, then joy;
we meant to carry-out our love
so it would soar from our arms,
so it would graze a lush planet.

pencil

Some of Jared Pearce’s poems have recently been or will soon be shared in Shot Glass, DIAGRAM, Straylight, Streetcake, and The Ear. His debut collection, The Annotated Murder of One, is due from Aubade Press in September. Email: pearcecjared[at]gmail.com

Three Poems

Poetry
K. M. Lighthouse


Photo Credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library/Flickr (CC-by)

Dust to Dust

My mother closes the net
and brandishes bunched mesh.
Autumnal orange on muted
brown draws my fingers in
while she cautions: Don’t
touch the butterfly dust
or she’ll forget to fly. 
I pull my hand back and ask,
Am I covered in butterfly dust?
She laughs, saying,
Yes, so don’t let strangers
touch you.
I know we are
the butterfly’s strangers.

I inspect my skin
for powdery butterfly scales
and wonder if that’s where my color
comes from.
Perhaps, rubbing deeper than that,
I would become translucent,
skin cracked and torn
like crinkled insect exoskeletons
on windowsills.

When the school year returns,
long-sleeved shirts in my closet
multiply—hanging like empty cocoons—
and I keep my distance,
the avoidance
of touch my dress code.
Older girls show off
shaved legs, bare of gold-
brown fuzz, and I imagine,
if the dust is anywhere,
it’s in our hair.
I ask them, who touched you?
I ask them if they remember to fly.

And arranged in orderly rows
of desks, girls match
butterflies pinned under glass—
stiff in pretty appeasement—
the neat lines of names read the same:
Monarch, Peacock, Lady, Swallowtail;
Monique, Patricia, Lacy, Sharon.

Everyone begins to look like strangers—
my brother sprouts thick, black hairs
the color of necrosis; my mother
grays like dirty snow.
At dinner, I keep my hands
in my lap; I run from Auntie’s kisses
and Grandpa’s bristly hugs,
but even that’s of no use.
As dust settles
on the shelves of untouched limbs,
I am still forgetting to fly,
or perhaps I never flew at all.

 

When I Am Wife, I Am Also Daughter

She asks me to repeat myself every time
she doesn’t understand. She says,
I feel old. She says, I feel
alien around you. She asks if my body
will change with my hormone treatments.

Her client bribes her to wipe the tops of my shelves,
look at the cloth, make a face.
When she demonstrates, I almost think
she is serious.

She doesn’t remember when the three of us
get high the weekend she’s here, but she says,
You have gotten so beautiful. You 
know that, don’t you? When I say, I can’t
see what I am, she asks me
to repeat myself.

When you get a headache, I take
cues from your mom. I realize how much I trust
you to be a body
when she is absent.

Your mom suggests we perform Reiki,
but neither of us know how. She gives directions
for both of us to pull from your body, but
suddenly I am leading it—she pushes
and I pull from your feet.

She doesn’t understand why I buy
the painting of brain waves as a forest
but says she likes to see me fall
in love.

I do not forget that, when the women come
to save me, she’s the one who spends
the most time in our apartment.

My period started like clockwork, I tell her,
and she just smiles before turning
to catch her plane.

 

An Hour from Canada

Ten days before I tie my tubes,
I read poems about you aloud and omit nothing;
your meteorite eyes are wet as you say
I forgot how much I love you,
but I assume you’re talking to the baby.

I thought you always liked women more
you say at the stove—baby over shoulder
like you’ve always been a mom,
though birth did not change you.

Corn on the cob turns
to mush in boiling water while we wait
for your brother. You’re celibate,
you mention twice, and love
being single.
You live on nine acres of solar panels
and straw gardens where we banter
with the baby while our eyes are open.
Tell me what you’ve read—I want 
a mind like yours, 
so I’ll send a book from every genre.

Your stepdad offers your brother as a human
heater twice, once after I say I’m married.
There’s a large bottle of cheap table wine,
but I drink your glass
while you pump milk and it squirts
like a sprinkler.
I only use wine when I cook—
white wine—only when I cook.

In the morning, your bare feet and mine
look similar—tiny purple remnants
of nail polish months old—and I am
an armchair for the baby.
We listen to podcasts about bees
on the way to the farmer’s market
where we pretend to be lovers
and say we don’t know yet when vendors ask
if the baby is a boy.

I see spiral shell earrings but don’t have cash,
so I use credit for blackberry beet wine and chive plants
whose flowers taste of onions.
You look like you’ve lost weight
you say in the car, and I have,
but when the breeze is enough for a sweatshirt,
I put on one that reminds me of you,
and in the mirror, I almost look
pregnant.

pencil

K. M. Lighthouse graduated from the University of Utah and worked as the senior poetry director of enormous rooms for two years but has since made the Pacific Northwest a home. The poet is the author of two chapbooks, The Observer Effect and you are an ambiguous pronoun. Lighthouse’s other works appeared in From Sac, Blue Lake Review, Mapping Salt Lake City, and Sonic Boom. K. M. Lighthouse is an assistant organizer with Portland’s Eastside Poetry Workshop and a member of High Priestesses of Poetry. Email: kassandra.lighthouse[at]gmail.com