Spare

Baker’s Pick
Helen Coats


Photo Credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Two tickets, free, addressed to him. That was all. He waited by his mailbox for days, expecting to receive an invitation to the premiere, but it never came. No matter—he could attend a showing with the public. The welcome mat of the cinema was his red carpet, the buttered popcorn, a five-course meal. He wore a tuxedo so that the other moviegoers could pick him out from the crowd. They would recognize his beard, a red bush, and whisper,

Whoa. That’s Fisherman #2.

You can see him behind Chris Pratt in this shot.

He caught a bass on camera.

Maybe someone would want to see the fish again. Maybe someone would ask for his autograph, his spare ticket. He would be generous. He would personally accompany them to the show, would regale them with a blow-by-blow account of backstage mishaps and happenings. He would recount how ecstatic he was when he caught the fish, how it weighed down his line like an anchor. He would share this, his one venture into the spotlight, and he would make a friend. But the more he thought about the prospect, the more he grew ashamed of his papery dream. Instead of waiting, he spent the extra ticket on next Sunday’s matinee. As always, he went alone.

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Helen Coats is from Rock Hill, SC, and is currently enrolled as a Liberal Arts major at Purdue University. Her work has appeared in Litmus and Visions Literary Magazine. Email: coats.helen[at]gmail.com

Hush Hush, Little One

Flash
Merran Jones


Photo Credit: Daniel/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Those hands: the knuckle creases and droplet nails. Overnight, they’d changed from newborn-pink, fisted and desperate, to chubby, toddler-white. I’d observed her grow and yet hadn’t. It’s entirely possible to watch something unfold and not see it.

And our ‘Little Man,’ who hadn’t yet learned to hear or breathe… how unfair his heart should’ve beaten for only a fraction of mine.

I now have two shadows—one which stretches outward on long summer days, and one which casts inward, into the space where my children used to live.

*

“Your little girl didn’t make it, neither did the baby,” the doctors said like an afterthought as I lay in intensive care, as though my lacerations and internal bruising were the real trauma.

Nothing hurt like the pain of hearing I’d caused my children’s death.

“I can’t breathe,” I said.

“That’s the tube in your chest. You have a collapsed lung.”

“No, that’s not it.”

I’d hit a Stobie pole at full force, sustaining kidney damage; spleen and liver lacerations; pelvic, rib, and sternal fractures. I saw the car after I was extracted, crumpled into a grimace. The Stobie pole leant at an obscene angle.

Now I can drive again, I pass one after another. They all say, what if, what if, what if… The tic of guilt never leaves.

I’d felt strange the morning of the crash, as though I might have a seizure. The house kept telling me I wasn’t in it. Sounds were too big as they tried to collect in my ears.

My neurologist cautioned me: “Your epilepsy can worsen when pregnant. We may need to increase your medication.”

But I ignored the warning signs. Chloe needed nappies and I needed fresh air because she was driving me crazy.

When they pulled my belongings from the wreckage, they found the nappies in the boot, along with a packet of dummies for the baby, in anticipation of those long nights, imploring him to, “Hush hush, little one.”

He succumbed to the quiet for a different reason.

*

I beg my husband to move us away from South Australia. To a place where Stobie poles don’t dominate the landscape, a place where the cables are buried deep underground. But I can’t leave our children. Their two graves rest side by side, surrounded by other graves where the years can be counted on one hand.

“It’s alright, darling,” my husband says. “It won’t ever be the same, but it will get easier.”

I want to believe him. Maybe if I cede myself to time and age and, eventually, menopause, it won’t hurt so much when I inhale, maybe people will stop asking if we’ll try for another.

I drive to the cemetery, passing 56 Stobie poles. I place multicoloured poppies on my children’s graves. The flowers from two days prior are still fresh. I lean forward and whisper to the stones and the moss, the ashes and dust. Then I drive home again, the tic of guilt in time with my heart.

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Merran Jones’s fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Vestal Review, After the Pause, and Flash Fiction Magazine among dozens of others. She lives in Adelaide, Australia, and is a physiotherapist and mum in her spare time. See more of her work at merranjones.com. Email: merrankjones[at]gmail.com

New Chairs

Flash
Malka Herman


Photo Credit: Jin Choi/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Sometimes, she wished he would abuse her. Leora immediately felt guilty for the thought, but when she realized no one could hear her, she lovingly turned it over in her mind. She was 23; married for two years to a man she didn’t love but gave her no good reason to leave. Right now he was sitting in his favorite chair—tan corduroy with burgundy stains—reading this week’s Torah portion.

“How was your day?”

He looked up from his book in a foggy confusion, “Um… it was good. Thank God.”

“Mine was good too.” She tried to think of something that might keep his attention. “I bought a new set of chairs for our kitchen table.” She dragged one from the kitchen and made him look at it. “New furniture kind of feels like having a stranger over, doesn’t it? All out of place and wrong, and then one day, when it’s seen too much, it becomes part of the home.”

Her husband’s expression turned panicked. “Having guests over is a Mitzva, Leora.”

She felt a little bad, seeing him this uncomfortable. “Yes, you’re right.”

 

At eight o’clock they both undressed in the dark. He was an accidentally good kisser; something sensual about his lips.

“Am I hurting you?” He always asked this after he entered her. She shook her head no so he slid in and out of her briskly, reminding them both that this was an action meant to produce a baby and not physical pleasure.

Leora thought about her friends who described sex as something spiritual and satisfying; she pictured her husband’s lips all over her and fantasized about their two bodies in naked light, in the shower together, on the kitchen table. Without realizing what she was doing, Leora let out a small moan of pleasure. Her husband stopped his motions, embarrassed for her.

“Sorry.”

He pulled himself out of her and went to take a shower.

 

Leora had a nightmare that night. She sat in a field of corduroy grass while one dark, burgundy patch started at her feet, spreading outward until it covered the whole field. When she stood up she realized the burgundy patch was actually her own blood, draining flesh from the soles of her feet until all she had were stumps for legs.

“What am I supposed to do now?” She screamed into the empty field of blood.

“Sit.” Her own voice echoed back.

Leora woke up. Her husband slept in the bed next to hers and she had never been more grateful for his presence. That weird whistling noise his nose made at night grounded her in its disgusting normalcy.

Leora went downstairs, made a cup of tea, and sat on her brand new chairs.

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Malka Herman graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May 2015. Since then she has worked for Penguin Random House, lived on a ranch in Colorado, and taught a writing course at Duke for high school students. Who knows what’s next? Email: mherma16[at]jhu.edu

The Twelve Steps to a Better Friday Night

Flash
Izabella Grace


Photo Credit: Jessica Spengler/Flickr (CC-by)

1. Admit life has become unmanageable—that you no longer wish to pin time to a bar stool and seek answers in the depths of a cloudy pint glass.

2. Believe in your power to act. Stop stealing glances at Aoife, while she tidies menus and polishes glasses. Say something. Anything. Ask how she’s keeping. See if she’s heading out tomorrow. Man up. You can chat to other girls. Why not her?

3. Decide you deserve better than to collapse into a pool of your own vomit at dawn.

4. Call Aoife over. Marvel at her sweet floral scent and how the lights spark copper in her pretty curls. When she asks, “how’re you doing?” act like a nodding dog. Fiddle with the beer mat, and ignore the way her dimpled smile makes your heart hammer.

5. Think of something clever to say. Quick. Then, when words scatter, blink until the puce-faced landlord calls away your dream girl.

6. Die. A dozen times. Blame the drink for pickling your thirty-year-old brain.

7. Stumble out into the dark, wet, pub garden for a cigarette or four. Scratch your bearded cheeks, and scan the starless sky for inspiration. Wonder if your dad’s up there, still hugging a whisky bottle and drifting on a cloud. Admit you’re turning into him. Admit you don’t have to.

8. Make a list in your head of people you’ve harmed, discounting your thieving, gobshite brother. Swear in future you’ll talk to your mam, not just grunt.

9. Shove away last Saturday night’s memory of that lanky fella’s nose crunching beneath your fist. Step out from beneath the striped awning, and let the cold rain wash away your sins.

10. Wait for Aoife to collect dirty glasses from the table beside the window. Head inside. Ruffle your drenched hair, and joke about building an ark. Then, when Aoife’s laughter warms your skin, blurt out how you’ve meant to ask for her number.

11. Follow her back to the bar, and grin like an eejit when she slips you a curled strip of paper.

12. Seek a way to celebrate. Reject alcohol. Hesitate. Then order another pint. Just one. Sure, what harm will it do?

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Izabella Grace grew up in London and now lives in rural Ireland. She writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Cease, Cows; Black Heart Magazine; The Molotov Cocktail; Dirty Chai Magazine, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @iza8ella. Email: izabellagrace[at]outlook.com

Red Hair and Rain

Flash
Tomas Marcantonio


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

Red hair and rain fell over her pale eyes and the roar of weekend men shook the windows of the damp bar behind her. The street was dark and quiet with the misery of lonely winter, but the artist came with such purpose and caramel clothes that he might have been walking straight out of summer’s garden gate.

‘You paint it, I sign it,’ the artist said to the girl on the edge of the gutters. ‘Together we see what revenge and money and ridicule we can milk.’

It took less than an afternoon for the red-haired girl to finish the painting, less than a week for the papers to declare it a masterpiece. It took less than a month to move into the penthouse by the harbour and forget the hard cobbled roads of the lanes and the sad fall of copper into her wet hands. It took some sudden guts and another month of finery to expose the lie, to declare herself the true artist and genius behind it all.

Money, fame and praise tickled her cheeks each day as easily as the raindrops on the streets once had. The darling of the gutters became the darling of the art world, but the art world had its own stencilled script to follow. There couldn’t be a rise as swift and sweet without a sudden scythe to hack it down just as suddenly. Lost her focus, trying too hard, out of sorts, the reviews joyfully declared. The money soon lost on parties and happy destructions, the penthouse gone and the red hair quickly back to her gutters. The artist in his caramel clothes walked right out of summer’s garden gate and dropped a coin at her feet, and the roar of weekend men shook the windows of the damp bar behind her.

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Tomas Marcantonio is a writer and English teacher from Brighton, England. He graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in English Language and Film, and has since travelled widely. He is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he writes whenever he can escape the classroom. Email: tommarcantonio[at]hotmail.co.uk

Following the Ghost

Flash
Fran Laniado


Photo Credit: Estitxu Carton/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

I feel him in odd moments. He doesn’t haunt our house, or the place where he died, he haunts me. Just like he promised. Sometimes its a feeling, soft as a memory. Sometimes it’s more like he’s a truck that’s just hit me in my tracks.

I saw him for the first time at a hot dog stand, on my way to work. I never ate at those hot dog stands, for sanitary reasons. I just don’t trust them. But they were Dan’s guilty pleasure. He said that the risk made them taste even better. Which made me roll my eyes.

But the hot dogs didn’t kill him. A stupid fall down the stairs did that. For a long time I was angry for that. That he’d allow himself to be killed by such a stupid accident. Likely tripping over his own two feet. All I heard was the crash. I stop remembering then. Because I can’t allow myself to remember seeing him crumpled at the bottom of the stairwell. So I was quite surprised to see him at the hot dog stand six weeks later.

He wasn’t transparent, or translucent. There wasn’t cold air around him. His neck wasn’t tilted at that angle… He wore a green button-down shirt and blue jeans. My first thought was to wonder where he got the shirt; I didn’t recognize it. Then I remembered what happened. I walked toward him slowly as if he would disappear if I moved too fast. He stayed where he was, and then, as if sensing me, he turned around and gave me a smile and a small wave. When I was almost close enough to reach out and touch him, a bicycle went by, coming between us. By the time the bike was gone, so was he.

I’ve seen him since then. In the elevator at work (the door closed before I could get on). For some reason, I once saw him riding on the back of a garbage truck. I chased the truck for several blocks until I was forced to stop or be hit by a car. I sometimes wonder what will happen if I catch him. Will he pop, like a balloon, when I touch him? Or, will he take my hand, and take me with him, wherever he goes now, when he isn’t visiting me?

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Fran Laniado usually writes longer work, however she likes to write flash fiction as a way to clear her mind and her writing. A way to remind her what she needs on the page and what she doesn’t. She has had fiction published in Synchronized Chaos and New Works Review. She lives in New York and has a secret identity as a school teacher. Email: fl827[at]hotmail.com

The View

Flash
Sabrina Hicks


Photo Credit: Jon Wiley/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

The fancy restaurant had been Robert’s idea, a way to make amends for his hectic work schedule and long hours—not a far cry from what my mother had to endure with my own workaholic father. While Mom painted desert landscapes, Dad tore them down, making real estate deals for more strip malls. Much like my flexible hours being a local photojournalist were a huge contrast to Robert’s days and nights spent at his law office.

“I requested a table by the window,” Robert said to the host, who was checking off our names on the reservations list.

“Certainly,” he said, gathering menus before leading us to the back of the restaurant where expansive windows took in the vistas and red rock landscape.

He pulled out my chair next to the window, and I sat, thanking him as Robert took his phone from his pocket.

“Just a client I need to get back to,” he said, texting.

As the shadows began to descend down the mountains, bathing in a blood orange sunset, I thought how much my mother would have loved this view; how her eyes used to hold the colors of the desert as she painted, interpreting the mood of the mountains; how her work grew darker as she grew older, until she finally left my father and moved to California to live alone in a bungalow near the ocean. She would have loved the view as much as I did, and suddenly I felt sorry I had ever been angry at her for her choices.

“Get anything you like,” Robert said, setting his phone on the table between us, just as it lit up again. “The trout is excellent.”

I perused the menu, but stopped to see the sun slipping below the mountains, staining them purple. The saguaros in the distance, standing like kings crowned in a halo of sunlit yellow thorns, begged to be noticed. Robert’s thumbs typed a furious response, and I watched his brow knit in disgust, leaning further away from the table, reflected in the large window before us.

“I need to use the restroom,” I said, hesitating a moment for his acknowledgement, but his mind was elsewhere. I reached for my purse and slipped away, pausing at the ladies’ room and back at the table to see his head still bent forward, fingers moving across his phone, and the sun dissolving into a thin pink line, pooling along the jagged peaks in a final gash of day.

I rolled down the windows as I drove away, inhaling the orange blossoms at dusk, watching the last of the shadows slip off the foothills, deciding it was a fine time to text him I wouldn’t be returning.

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Sabrina Hicks lives in the Southwest. Her work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Gyroscope Review, Spelk Fiction, The Drabble and Panoply. Email: desertdwelleraz3[at]gmail.com.

Major Award

Flash
Michael Snyder


Photo Credit: Judy van der Velden/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Some people really are as dumb as they look. Harold was one of these people.

He knew the alphabet, but sometimes confused the order. His face was slack, the muscles droopy, as if he were melting. But Harold did have a big heart. Literally. His blood pump was the envy of cyclists, mountain climbers, and sex addicts everywhere.

His real talents, in order, were: finding four-leaf clovers, blind taste-testing, and making razor-straight lines with a push mower.

But his proudest possession had nothing at all to do with his talents. It was actually a cartoonish-looking statuette that his estranged daughter picked up at a yard sale, yet another belated birthday gift.

Dumb as he was, Harold was not immune to irony. Though he’d learned that some things were better left ignored.

Harold was a creature of habit. Each night he brushed, flossed, and stepped into a fresh pair of underpants. He then slipped between the sheets and prayed for all the people he used to know. Once his spiritual accounts were settled, he would reach blindly for the nightstand until his fingers found the chipped scalp of his prized statuette. Next he rolled his bulky form into a sloppy fetal position and hugged the figurine to his chest, fingering the inscription along the base. Sometimes he cried a little. Only as his breathing slowed to an even hum would Harold dare to wonder if maybe he really was the world’s greatest dad.

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Michael Snyder lives in middle Tennessee with his amazing wife and children. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The First Line; Cease, Cows; Everyday Fiction; Greater Sum; Relief Journal; Lit.Cat; and various other online haunts. His first three novels were published by Harper Collins/Zondervan. Michael is not a big fan of reading his own work. Email: snydermanwrites[at]gmail.com

Ski Lift

Flash
Zack Peercy


Photo Credit: TMAB2003/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

We’re sitting on a ski lift and my butt is cold. I can’t tell you this because of what I already told you. So we continue to sit in silence.

We’ve taken this ride before. Every year, we come to this mountain and you try to convince me to wear the goggles, and I tell you to get a better hat, and we quote that ski instructor who was totally hitting on you. And right now, if I hadn’t said what I said, we would be making bets on who would beat who down the hill.

The sun is setting behind the mountain. The ski lift continues its ascension as we chase the remains of the day, chase yesterday, chase the moments before I said what I said.

You turn to me in the fading light. You say something I don’t want to hear. And I know that this will be our last time racing down the slopes.

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Zack Peercy is a playwright. He’s been published in The Sandy River Review, among others. Email: zackpeercy[at]gmail.com

What the Anemometer Measures

Flash
Becca B. Jenkins


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

Her science teacher called them geodes, but she knew them as thunder eggs. To be precise, all thunder eggs are not geodes, and not all geodes are thunder eggs. But sometimes one and the other are the same.

This is the anemometer, her science teacher said. Do you know what it measures?

It measures the wind. The wind at her back. The speed of her feet. The space between where her toe last was and where her heel touches again. The space between the last letter she wrote and the next one she begins. The space that widens when she stretches her metatarsals, that shrinks when she crinkles herself, her entire self, into a ball.

This is what the anemometer measures.

No, her teacher said. It measures the wind.

He is wrong.

He has science. She has life.

Her mother taught her the four directions, the four mountains, the four colors, the four elements, the four seasons, the four everything. The four phases of life. But she didn’t have four everything. She didn’t have two grandmothers and two grandfathers. She didn’t have two parents and a sibling. She didn’t have her own four limbs.

I’ll hold the pen for you, her classmate said.

Don’t be silly, she replied. See how it fits in the space between my toes?

Sometimes you find jasper in the geode, her teacher said. Not at the center, but in the area around it. It is often red, from the presence of iron. It is almost never blue.

She is red. She is iron. She is always blue.

Last night she dreamed of the raven. She was jealous of his two wings.

You have legs like the bear, the raven said.

But I don’t have four, she replied, only two.

In the morning, her mother poured her coffee. The flavor astringent and dead.

She drank it down and told her mother she didn’t want to go to school.

You have to learn their stories, her mother replied. You must learn their maps.

But I don’t want to go where they want me to go, she said.

Her mother shook her head. At your center is a silk road, her mother said. A route from one world to the next. A path from sea to sky.

But I can’t carry anything back, she told her mother. Only what fits in one palm.

She stretched her single set of metacarpals as evidence.

You have the wind, her mother said.

This is the anemometer, her teacher said. Do you know what it measures?

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Becca Borawski Jenkins is a writer and editor. She holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in The Forge, The Knicknackery, Panorama, Five 2 One, and Corium. She lives with her husband in an RV they built by hand, on an off-grid homestead somewhere in the Idaho Panhandle. Email: beccabjenkins[at]gmail.com