Beautiful, Ordinary

Baker’s Pick
Kimberly Lee


Photo Credit: Angelune des Lauriers/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Maddie wandered through the house, pausing intermittently to give high scrutiny to some benign object, as she would in a museum. Well, it was a museum… now. The Madeleine and Albus Museum of a Beautiful Ordinary Life. MAMBOL. She smirked briefly at her own inventiveness, then felt the muscles of her upturned lips slacken, gradually pulling her mouth back down to its normal, flatline position. No one would implore her not to touch anything here, like the cabinets he’d just done up with shellac, darkly stained, as she wished. Or caution her not to walk anywhere over there, like on the hardwood floors he’d just refinished. He’d picked her up by the waist that day, locking her in an awkward, elevated hug, her head above his, maneuvering them both over a patch of the wet, gleaming floors as she shook with silent laughter.

She’d always been waiting, anticipating the big, exciting thing. She had no real sense of what that thing would be or what it would entail, couldn’t visualize or imagine it. It was abstract, amorphous, but would bring with it a feeling of weightlessness, a sustained buoyancy that would place them on a higher frequency, a more colorful, flavored existence. The tasks, the routine, the day-to-day, she did these cheerfully. They were a prelude. Scraping the soft, grey lint off the dryer’s lift-out screen after washing sweatshirts, left damp with perspiration from their Sunday morning hikes. Running warm soapy water over the teapot that sat on the stovetop, left coated with grease splatter from the afternoons he played hooky and surprised her with pan-fried pork chops and sautéed greens. Settling in on a rainy Friday night with two movie selections—agreed upon only after a stimulating debate that could’ve won the approval of Roger & Ebert—and a deep dish pepperoni pizza.

She grabbed at the mismatched stack of blankets, kept in the den, on hand for warmth, cuddling. She took one by its corner, felt the weight of it as its bulk opened and cascaded to the floor. She put it up to her nose and inhaled once, then again, trying to pull his scent out of the fabric. She wrapped the blanket around her as he had on many nights. Those times, that feeling, that was the big, exciting thing. She hadn’t realized it as it had happened, as the minutes and moments of beautiful had ticked by. And then they had stopped. All she could do now was wait, pray, hope, somewhere down the line, for another chance at ordinary.

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Kimberly Lee is a former criminal defense attorney who happily left the practice of law to focus on motherhood, community work, and creative pursuits. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Thread, Calliope, and The Prompt. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children, and is currently at work on her first novel. Email: kimberlyylee[at]icloud.com

Luminary

Flash
Becca Yenser


Photo Credit: greenheron47/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I found out this morning my old friend had killed herself. The last time I’d seen her was when my boyfriend and I asked her to get us some coke, and then we took most of it and turned her down for a threesome. “You guys are so mean,” she said from behind our locked door, as we let our pupils spread black until I had tiny blue rings and T.J. had brown. We laughed and fucked and moved from the bed to the bathroom floor. She left the house to go to a bar down the street.

It’s the new year. I listen to Bruce Springsteen on repeat. There is nothing to do here, in Albuquerque. I drive through streets that are coming down hard from a sorbet sunset. The Hispanic Center has a piñata exhibit. I pay eight bucks and photograph the poop emoji. The poop emoji is the number one selling piñata with little girls, the placard reads. I am the only person in the museum but I talk to the ticket lady twice, asking her questions, because I love the way she says piñata.

When I leave, it’s almost dark and everyone has set out luminaries. I drive up the hill, away from the sunset, up a street named Coal. There is something weird with my heart lately. My chest burns. The human heart beats 42,048,000 times in a year, which seems like too much. I remember how shitty that cocaine was. It tasted like baby powder running down the back of my throat. Girard, Yale, Bryn Mawr, turn. She probably shot herself, but I’m not sure, and no one will say.

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Becca Yenser is the author of Too High and Too Blue in New Mexico (poetry, forthcoming, Dancing Girl Press). Her writing appears in: Pom Pom Lit, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, The Nervous Breakdown, CHEAP POP, Paper Darts, Metazen, 1001 Editors, Fanzine, Eclectica Magazine, decomP, HOOT, Entropy, and Filter Literary Journal. She is a first-year MFA candidate in Fiction at Wichita State University, where she is an editor for Mikrokosmos Journal. Email: becindow[at]gmail.com

The Raisin Rebellion of 1993

Flash
John Carr Walker


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

When my father was a child he choked on a raisin and had to be rushed to the emergency room.

When I was a child he made rules about eating raisins: I must be seated, holding still, with he or my mother watching from across the table, ready to save me. The rules applied to my parents as well. My father walked around the house eating handfuls of peanuts but never handfuls of raisins. My mother always put one last cookie in her mouth, chewing while she closed the tin, but didn’t multitask with raisins in her mouth. They seemed to believe a raisin would act maliciously if given the chance. A criminal class of food.

I suppose my father should know. He grew raisins for a living. He sat on the Sun-Maid board of trustees. My mother bought raisins from the company store in five-pound boxes; stacks of them filled the freezer in our garage. A bumper sticker on our station wagon read Raisins are Nature’s Candy—it might as well have read serial killers give angels their wings. We lived on a hundred-acre vineyard, surrounded by the murderers.

The first time my parents left me home alone overnight, I didn’t throw a kegger or invite a girl over to the house. I slept peacefully and alone, and in the morning, walked down our long driveway eating raisins, each one a dose of pure adrenaline.

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John Carr Walker’s critically acclaimed story collection, Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside 2014), was a Small Press Distribution Best of the Press pick and a featured title on Late Night Library’s Debut podcast. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle, Prime Number, Eclectica, Nailed, Gravel, Hippocampus, Five2One, and Split Lip. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, was a Fishtrap Fellow in 2012, and is the founder and editor of Trachodon. A native of the San Joaquin Valley and former high school English teacher, he now lives and writes full-time in Saint Helens, Oregon. Email: jcarrwalker[at]hotmail.com

The Cross-Stitched Cryptogram

Flash
Jamie L. Sawyers


Photo Credit: Cross-stitch Ninja/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The needle and thread were like a mallet and a chisel in her hands. Each stitch carved out her long-awaited accomplishment. It was a success she wished she could proclaim to the world. Recording what she had done would be as detailed as the crime. She had single-handedly managed to right a wrong done to her family. Maybe she did not do it the right way, but she was running out of time, and she had made a vow. At 82 years old, she could not spare a single second, so she pilfered the very rare coin, and no one had suspected her.

In fact, she was so unlikely a culprit that she was barely even questioned by the ambitious young detectives investigating the theft. No, they just saw her as an elderly, semi-retired seamstress to the stars, who was hired by a wealthy coin collector to sew a dress for his dog. The coin had been protected by a very high-tech computerized security system that someone like her would normally have no clue about.

“Do you know how to use a computer, Miss Jackson?” one of the officers had asked.

“Not really,” she had laughingly answered. “My great nieces and nephews keep trying to teach me, but I never really get it!” she fibbed.

The officers did not need to know that she could do just about anything on a computer, or that she had been hunting the coin for about sixty years. They also did not need to know that the coin in question originally belonged to her grandfather, and that it had been swindled away from him by the great-great-grandfather of the man who had reported it stolen. The loss of the coin was a great embarrassment to her family, and it was a devastation that her beloved grandfather never got over.

Now that the coin was in her possession, she had to figure out a way to let her family know its whereabouts without telling them. She was smart enough to know not to write everything in a diary under these circumstances. It always gets read by the wrong person at the wrong time, and the writer ends up in jail and the stolen item is returned to the owner. She was not going to risk her family losing that coin again. Therefore, she came up with a clever solution.

She combined two of her favorite hobbies to conceal and one day to reveal the whereabouts of the special coin. She loved working cryptogram puzzles and cross-stitching, so she created a cryptogram that, if solved, would tell where she hid the coin. Then, she used silver metallic embroidery floss to cross-stitch the cryptogram onto black 14-count aida cloth, framed it, and hung it on her wall. She marveled at her handiwork and knew that her grandfather would finally be able to rest in peace.

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Jamie L. Sawyers is a poet, writer, and author from Tennessee. Several of her poems have been published in Nerve Cowboy magazine. She is the author of four volumes of poetry and three word puzzle books. Email: jamiesaw618[at]yahoo.com

Maps

Flash
Rolf Samuels


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

I’d suggested an estate sale in Colona. It was a Sunday in early October, cloudy, not yet cold. M collected vintage blue bottles, a particular tint you couldn’t always tell from the photos on an eBay posting. M liked to drive, which was fine with me, but she was between cars, so today I steered and she navigated. We drove and drove, further and further east from the neighborhood where I’d mapped the sale. Houses thinned. Fields of stubbled corn grew.

“This can’t be right.” I pulled over, parked the car, and reached for the map unfolded on her lap. M couldn’t fold maps, but she needed them. She never got fully comfortable finding her way around the Quad Cities. She hadn’t grown up there, and her powerful memory wasn’t very spatial. I folded the map so the exposed panel showed Colona. “We’re here.” I pointed. “We need to go here.” I pointed. I handed her the map and u-turned the car.

I don’t remember being angry. I remember my voice as calm. That is what I remember.

M stayed mute, turned her face from me. She studied the flickering power poles. The car’s wheels whined. M rolled down her window. She held the flapping map at arm’s length and released it. “No. No, we don’t.” Behind us, the map fluttered, a mangled kite.

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Rolf Samuels is an English professor at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “Maps” is part of a larger work, Prospects, in which a Quad Cities copy editor excavates the debris of a fallen romance. Email: risamuels[at]gmail.com

Carriage

Flash
Erica Plouffe Lazure


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

Last week, on our way home from the library, we saw the woman who pushes a fake baby in a real carriage. Someone claimed she was crazy, that she’d killed her real kid in a car accident, which is why she walked everywhere with that carriage. Someone else joked she was too poor to own a car, but did not dispute the dead baby theory. And today, as I walked across the street after school, nose buried in the library copy of the fourth Narnia book, the lady with the fake baby ran right into me. The light had turned red, signaling for us to walk, and I thought I was safe except there I was in the middle of the intersection, with a skinned knee from her wheel and my book flung inside the carriage.

“Lucy!” the lady shouted, bending over the carriage to check on the fake baby.

“Can I have my book back?” I asked, my face hot.

The lights were about to turn and the cars revved with anticipation.

The lady looked at me for the first time, saw me clutching my skinned knee. “What are you doing here?” she said. “Stay away from my baby!”

“I don’t want your baby,” I said. “I just need my book back. It belongs to the library.”

She took the book, admiring the cover—The Silver Chair—then put it back in the carriage. “I like libraries,” she said.

The lights turned green and horns started sounding, and she continued to stand there as though we weren’t about to cause an accident.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Cora,” I lied. Cora was the name of a real baby I knew and sometimes babysat for.

“Cora, have you met Lucy?” she asked. She picked up the plastic doll—I could now affirm it had working eyelids, no hair, a serene expression between sleep and wakefulness, all wrapped in a dirty pink cloth. The woman glanced from the fake baby to me as the blare of horns grew, and I smiled through her toward Lucy.

“Nice to meet you, Lucy,” I said. Lucy’s eyelids shifted open when tilted upright. “And what pretty eyes you have.”

And even though I knew that the fake baby was plastic and her owner was crazy, as the horns grew louder around us, desirous of getting on with their daily commute home, I am certain that as I touched Lucy’s tiny plastic hand, I heard a small laugh, a baby’s laugh, coming from the doll, or perhaps from a presence alive inside the carriage, into which I reached and found my book, and escaped into the rest of my afternoon, into my novel, enchanted by the imagined worlds that I simply could not accept in real life.

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Erica Plouffe Lazure’s flash fiction collection, Heard Around Town, won the 2014 Arcadia Fiction Chapbook Prize and was published in July 2015. Another chapbook, Dry Dock, by Red Bird Press, was also published in 2015. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (UK), Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at ericaplouffelazure.com. Email: ecplouffe[at]yahoo.com

Oenaville, Texas

Baker’s Pick
Erica Hoffmeister


Photo Credit: Woman of Scorn/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

She was eleven, but the way he was staring at her mouth he could’ve guessed her at least sixteen. I was sixteen, but the way my narrow shoulders met her chest made her look even taller, broader. Her body a map laid across a table and pressed from corner to corner, asking your fingertips to run across water ridge lines with a smooth spinning compass pointing south.

I took the cherry sucker from her mouth and popped it into my own. Hey! She screeched with the tone of a girl who just got her period for the first time. Her knees were still unaccustomed to the weight of dying blood.

He carried his gaze through gas-stained coveralls, looked back to the pump, sweat on his wrists. The sucker protruded my cheek like an abscess, rotting my back teeth until I threw it at our feet.

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Born and raised in Southern California, Erica Hoffmeister earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program in 2015. She has had work published or forthcoming in So To Speak, Split Lip Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, Shark Reef, and Literary Mama, among others. Her poems have: been nominated for Best of the Net in 2107, received runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize in 2016, and she’s also received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction in 2014. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and daughter, Scout Séverine, where she writes, teaches college English, and perpetually misses home—wherever that feels like at the time. Email: zhoffmeister[at]gmail.com

The Santa Realisation

Flash
Michael Sams


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

I remember I was nine. I was in the back seat, behind Mum, who was driving sedately. My older brother was beside me. It was an early Saturday morning in November, already uncomfortable with the dry Australian heat. The air-con blasted pitifully, unable to eradicate the lived-in stink of the family sedan. We were on our way to the markets for some bromeliads for Mum and, I hoped, a slushie for me. My cotton floral dress was sticking to the polyester seat. Mum was humming along to a song by her favourite piano rock artist. She stopped at a red light.

“Sweetheart, look in the park, there’s Santa!” Mum exclaimed.

We looked. He was a sorry excuse for Santa. Even from a distance I could see his shoes were scuffed and the suit was tattered and faded. His belt wasn’t shiny, in fact, it wasn’t even a belt; I think it was a scarf. The beard-strap was clearly visible and his cap was missing the pompom.

“He looks terrible,” I said.

“Oh, that’s not the real Santa,” Mum corrected herself. “He’s just helping Santa out, like the elves do.”

She returned to her humming, so she didn’t hear my older brother whisper there was no real Santa.

My eyes widened. My jaw dropped. I stared amazedly at my brother, eleven, who was sagely nodding. My heart was racing. My brother put his hand on my shoulder, consoling. I blinked. No real Santa. My brother removed his hand.

I turned and saw my Dad, twisted in the front passenger seat, looking directly at me. He had heard my brother. He had seen that moment. I could see he wanted to console me, so I gave the smallest nod and slightest smile to let him know I was okay. His chest heaved with a silent, heavy sigh. The traffic light changed. Dad turned to face front. I wanted to console him, but I couldn’t.

Mum sang softly along, “…but I know that the ice is getting thin…” as she moved the car toward bromeliads and Dad-purchased slushies.

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Michael Sams started writing short stories as a boy. He won a couple of competitions and attended a writing camp where he was mentored by published authors. In the last couple of years, he has been writing short plays. He has had several performed in various cities around the world. In the last couple of months he has returned to short story writing and is enjoying it immensely. Email: mike.sams003[at]gmail.com

Cloise

Flash
Lynn Mundell


Photo Credit: Miss Wetzel’s Art Class/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

In their favorite game, they’re joined together, like famous twins Chang and Eng.

“Safety in numbers,” says Eloise, older by forty minutes. “Two heads are better than one.”

“Hahaha,” says Chloe, younger by the same. “Two-heads-two-heads!”

Chloe drags the skirt up their skinny legs with Eloise’s help. They’re eight years old—or sixteen, combined. Eloise pulls the sweatshirt over their heads. Each girl gets a sleeve. Side by side, they squeeze through the hallway, a double Popsicle.

“Girls, you’re stretching your clothes again.” At the kitchen table, Mother sits with ruined mascara like a masked bandit. Father has left. They’ve separated; like an egg.

“Please call me Cloise.” They keep moving, past the suitcases.

In the garage, they share a gum. Chloe gets the grapey first minute, chomping near Eloise’s ear as her sister searches for the duct tape.

They hear Father’s VW pull up. Raised, scrambled voices. They undress quickly.

“Chloe, time to go!”

Naked, they move chest to chest. Eloise stares into Chloe’s vague eyes, which may be looking back.

Eloise winds the tape around and around them, from armpits to bottoms.

They’re joined clamshells. They’re a double rainbow. No one’s splitting up Cloise. They’re a package deal.

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Lynn Mundell’s fiction and creative nonfiction can be found in The Sun, Five Points, Hobart, Fanzine, Superstition Review, Tin House online, Eclectica, and other fine literary journals. She lives in Northern California, where she co-edits 100 Word Story and is co-editor of Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story (Outpost19, April 2018). Email: lamama36[at]gmail.com

Milk Siblings

Flash
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.

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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]gmail.com