When Deer Shed Antlers

Flash
Josephine Greenland


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

Contractions hurt like twenty bones fracturing simultaneously.

Fear twists inside me, more alive than the child wanting out of my womb. I bite down on the antler velvet, feel sinewy, vascular skin, raw and bloody against my tongue.

Taste the deer’s spirit, they say. Shed your fear like the deer sheds its antlers. Become the deer.

I close my eyes. Rub antlers against legs, velvet peeling off like old paint from a wall.

I stand tall, let the pain bleed out.

Birth is re-birth.

Afterwards, I remove the milky vernix and see my fear transformed in the newborn’s eyes.

Courage.

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Josephine Greenland is a Swedish-English author living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham. Her debut novel Embers is forthcoming with Unbound in March 2021. She was a finalist in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition, won the 2019 Bumble Bee Flash Fiction competition by Pulp Literature and the 2017 Fantastic Female Fables competition by Fantastic Books Publishing. Her work has been published in twelve online and print magazines. She works as an English teacher and enjoys playing the violin and hiking in the mountains. You can follow her on Twitter @greenland_jm. Email: jm.greenland[at]telia.com

Bruises

Flash
Ala Fox


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

Once he observed a bruise on my arm and he pressed it—softly. Softly he said: “I like how this looks on you,” and he kissed me.

I pressed it too—gently. Gently I kissed him, and I smiled.

*

Once, Perry saw the bruises on my arms and he frowned. He observed their pattern and thought he read a story there.

“Did somebody do this to you?” he asked.

I said nothing, but my heart skipped. Perry thumbed my bruise and pressed down.

“Tell me his name,” he said.

I met his eyes but said nothing. I wanted him to say more; I wanted to see everything there. If he keeps speaking, perhaps I won’t have to. And I don’t want to lie to him and I want to lie to him.

“You don’t have to tell me,” —Perry.

Then, abruptly: “It’s fine if you like it.” He says this offhand, as he drops my arms and looks away.

“But if you don’t, you should tell me.”

Now he is staring at me. He grabs my wrist and holds it firmly. His grip tightens as I begin to squirm. “Who was it?” he demands. I can feel his fingers on my bone; tomorrow there will be a bruise.

*

Later, I observe the small purple knot blossoming on my forearm.

Was this love? My heart skips, falters, trips, jumps again.

I hold the picture of his face, angry and confused, as he’d clamped down on my wrist. I remember the neat fingernails, boring crescent moons on my skin, and bite my teeth against the hopeful smile that escapes.

Was this love?

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Ala is a Muslim-American daughter of Chinese immigrants. She writes in English, Python, Arabic, and Javascript. When not programming, she contemplates on life and love in her essays. She is passionate about racial equity and Oakland. Twitter: @alalafox Email: fox[at]origin-of.com

Poof the Sheep

Flash
Lucy Zhang


Photo Credit: S I/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Poof the sheep didn’t stare when you pulled the lid off your plastic container of rice mixed with egg and ground pork—a yellow-grey mush catalyzing questions you’d rather not answer: the girls asking what is that, the boys trying to toss tater tots into each other’s mouths. Poof didn’t laugh at your new haircut, the pink bobbles once tied around your pigtails now gathering dust in the corner of the bathroom counter, the frayed strands of hair above your ears, leaving your neck exposed to the morning cold. The guy who would drop out of high school in a few years, who sat across from you on the school bus, laughed and said you looked like a boy as the vehicle swerved into the neighborhood ghetto where both of you lived. Poof didn’t follow you, a twenty-something-year-old with long, thick hair past your shoulders, around at two a.m. while you navigated to an Airbnb, the apartments too closely stacked, Google Maps in a kerfuffle. Poof didn’t offer car rides to directionally-challenged foreigners and expect affectionate pets and nuzzles and kisses in return.

Poof did offer a warm body covered in wool for you to lean on after you’d attempted to gift the stranger who drove you to the sliding doors of the Airbnb a 3D-printed, bright orange ornament held together by interweaving stripes of ABS plastic, a product of your hours spent extruding shapes, chamfering corners, sweeping polygons along lines, but the driver said no thank you and instead asked for just a kiss on the cheek to which you declined, except you’re not sure you ever really learned how to say no so if it’ll get the driver to leave—even if a kiss on the cheek becomes a kiss on the lips and a hand between your legs and eventually the driver who found you leaves you to your own devices, unpacking your toothbrush and phone charger from your suitcase, lying on a futon mattress on a tatami mat, thinking about tomorrow and the izakayas you’ll visit, the underground book stores you’ll discover, because the jetlag refuses to let you sleep. Shush brain shush shut up; you’re counting sheep now—just one sheep, just Poof grazing on grass, untrimmed wool like cumulonimbus clouds, stopping sporadically to chew its cud and stare.

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Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Her work has appeared in Atlas & Alice, Okay Donkey, Jellyfish Review, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @Dango_Ramen. Email: lucy.7a11[at]gmail.com

On Fantasy Flights

Flash
Mandira Pattnaik


Photo Credit: The Children of War/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

We sew-girls can read minds. People don’t believe us. We don’t care about the negation.

So, when Dallapuri crumples the paper into a ball and throws it at Azma, and Azma reads the note in the shadow of her palm, nods twice, then hides it within the folds of the brocade skirt she had been embroidering, we know one of us has read a mind.

Eighth ball that has got thrown today in the six hours we have been pigeonholed in our Ma’am quarters, ensconced in frigid soundlessness. Only the fourth correct reading.

We girls aren’t happy compatible spouses. Or claim to be Gods.

I wrote one to Gudi,

Sewaiyyan, tonight?’

I was sorry I was wrong, more because her eyes remained downcast for long. We can hardly afford it, unless it’s payday.

We sew-girls play this game away from Ma’am’s eagle-gaze every day. Observe eyes, shoulders drooping or upright, hands nimble or sloth, and then throw a guess, stopping our busy fingers sewing in a fold or the hemline of a petticoat. If the girl nods twice, we giggle and sway like trees in monsoon until Ma’am cranes her neck from her place shoo-shooing us.

We girls pat ourselves—we can read minds.

We tuck our lips in. Go back to attending to the uniformity of the stitches.

Presently, our curiosities rise when Dallapuri winks. And we catch the slipping sun etch a blush on Azma’s face.

Azma pulls the paper out and fashions it into an origami bird which she holds by its belly to imitate a flight on giant wings.

How we girls want to fly! How we stow away dreams in our heads, readily embark on flights of fantasy.

Rashid asked me to elope seven times. Said he’d abduct me the next time he was here if I didn’t agree. We could set up home with dusk-colored curtains, and windowsill plants in Mumbai, where he worked a mason’s help. What’d be the color of my wedding sharara?

No more paper balls acquire plumes.

When the hour gets over, we ignore Dallapuri and crowd around Azma, letting our eyes do the talking.

‘Muku’s left her cage again and I’m afraid, she’ll marry Kalua’s ugly partridge.’

There is a collective gasp before she continues,

‘All that’s left are her parrot-green feathers from her struggle with the cage. What color will their nestlings be?’

She blushes again—faint rust.

We don’t wait to answer her, for we’d miss the boat taking us back to our homes in the riverine delta.

Picking up our rickety bicycles fallen in a heap by the roadside, and fussing over the knots of our dupattas, we pedal hard so we can make a dash to the jetty.

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Mandira Pattnaik’s work has appeared or is shortly due in Watershed Review, Splonk, Citron Review, Gasher, Heavy Feather, Lunate, Spelk, FlashFlood, Night&Sparrow and Star 82, among others. She was recently shortlisted at NFFD NZ 2020 and RetreatWest Microfiction Contest. Her tweets are @MandiraPattnaik Email: mandira.pattnaik[at]hotmail.com

Prayers

Flash
Nora Nadjarian


Photo Credit: Long Thiên/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

For this food, we thank you. My mother leans forward praying with all her heart for the food we were about to receive, her hands in prayer, my father watching us, or praying too, watching over us, that’s what my father does. He watches over us.

For what we are about to receive. My husband is in the picture and I can’t remember who took this photo. Maybe God, maybe God takes pictures of everyone who is in prayer, the rapture—is that what they call it? I remember I’d been crying in church. In church, I cried for Mary Magdalene.

This family, this family. For what we are about to receive, for these full plates and empty minds and heavy hearts, dear Lord, for what we have done and not done, for what my husband knows and doesn’t know. I can’t remember what I’m grateful for. I’m clenching my face to make myself be grateful for something, for anything.

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Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning poet and writer from Cyprus. She has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in various anthologies, among others, in Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books) and Europa 28 (Comma Press). Her latest book is the collection of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017). Email: noranadj[at]gmail.com

Down the Hallway

Flash
Mike Dillon


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

In America, it’s a dolorous sax down a dingy hotel corridor blown by an indigo soul.

Here, in northern Italy, it’s a soprano’s sweet voice trying to follow the slow, minor-key notes of a piano.

You lie on your sleeping bag on top of a dirty bed in an old hotel. You’re in the middle of your backpacking year through Europe after working a night janitor’s job at a posh athletic club in Seattle.

You lived like a monk and saved $6,000—a lot of money in 1975. Europe was cheap then.

And so you lie there watching the white scarves of your breath in a room without heat while the distant snow mountains out the window vanish in the deepening dusk.

She sounds young—talented but unfledged. Sometimes she falters as she negotiates the haunting pathways of a Schubert lieder:

Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
In diesem Hause wohnte mein Schatz.

“The night is quiet, the streets are at rest,
In this house lived my darling.”

The words belong to Heine. Your high school and college German has served you well on your journey.

Her voice shines with promise. Maybe she’s around your age, twenty-four. Sometimes, just like you in your own life, her timing can be awkward. Sometimes, when she falters, the piano breaks off like the snap of a stick in a frozen forest.

Then the chase resumes, her sweet voice clear as creek water.

You close your eyes and listen. You can almost see yourself as clearly as if your body has risen and you look down from the ceiling. That tall young man stretched out on the bed, unshaven, a little pale, listening with eyes shut, is you. These slow, cold moments feel like a remembrance out of some old novel.

She retraces familiar ground: Still ist die Nacht…

Far from home, you wonder what story you’re in.

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Mike Dillon, a retired community newspaper publisher, lives on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. A previous contributor to Toasted Cheese, he is the author of four books of poetry and three books of haiku. His most recent book, Departures, a book of poetry and prose about the forced removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor was published by Unsolicited Press in April 2019. Email: miked7003[at]gmail.com

Carla as a Redwood

Flash
Susan DeFelice


Photo Credit: Tyler Hewitt/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

By the time Carla hits twenty-one, she has become a redwood in varying shades of burnt orange from her hair to her amber-tinted toenails. The wavy hair is her best feature, like twirling leaves in autumn springing out from branches. Either that or her pale hazel eyes, murky behind the thick glasses she wears. Carla’s vision is shot because even with those thick glasses she has to squint.

Carla lacks womanlike curves. Her legs thump down as she walks. There is very little light showing between them, even when she is pacing. They seem to be matted together. Her skin is covered in freckles, some distinct dots and some bled together in a patch. A tall redwood of a young woman.

It wasn’t the case when she was a dainty girl, had possibility, when her skin was creamy olive with tiny freckles fanned over it, her eyes bright and erring on the green side of hazel. She’ll show you a picture of herself dressed up at about age ten for a birthday party, glassesless and with vibrant skin. That is the only proof she was ever a different form of herself.

Carla paces the hospital hallway, driven towards reaching the other end, and when she gets to the barricaded door at one end of the vast hallway she abruptly turns around and is driven to reach the other end, with its barricaded door, searching for it through her opaque glasses. Each time she completes a hallway length could be like the first in the startled way Carla spins around when she reaches the end. When she’s finished ten laps she stops, snaps those trunk-like legs together in an armless salute and stands like a statue. Occasionally there is white foam coming out the corners of her mouth from exhaustion and dehydration.

By the time Carla hits forty-five, the walking is long over, and so is the shelter of hospitals and other types of suitable environments. In fact there are no suitable environments except the outdoors at this point. Why, Carla has depleted those types of institutions and whatnot, people explain dismissively, as though Carla pointedly exorcised all available choices and the outdoors was her natural destiny. She sits outside balled up but still has those trunk-like legs that reach her chin when she bends them, although she is smaller and her arms, wrapped around her legs, are thinner and wispy, like branches used for roasting marshmallows.

She applies fuchsia blush in small circles on her cheeks she says to protect herself, like war paint, and the skin on her face has turned into one immense reddish age spot by this time. The wild cloak of hair is more wiry and, of course, more gray than red. Carla still has the picture, faded now, of herself as the sharp-seeing olive-skinned girl in a dress at a party, although she’s forgotten how it came into her possession and who the little girl is.

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Susan DeFelice lives in Washington state and has a BA degree from Sonoma State University. Her stories have been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Literally Stories. Email: susan.defelice[at]hotmail.com

Change Of Scene

Flash
Tim Conley


Photo Credit: Janne Räkköläinen/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

The day after the news of the architect’s death, his buildings began to mourn. Naturally their shapes and dimensions did not change (though perhaps the tallest among them seemed to bow just a little) but the behaviour of those within his buildings was not just affected but gradually transformed. In his city halls, mayors and councils began to pass a series of resolutions exhorting citizens to be kind to and patient with each other. From his museums came many reports of visitors weeping and embracing each other in front of the exhibits, apparently no matter the subject. The terms of loans and agreements became more compassionate in the banks he had designed. In due course all mortgages were written off, debtors were forgiven, nobody went to jail.

I might carry on with this story if I had a mind to, but just now I am being called to join the dancing in the streets outside.

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Tim Conley’s most recent collection of short fiction is Collapsible (New Star Books, 2019). He teaches at Brock University in Canada. Email: awethorrorty[at]hotmail.com

Island

Beaver’s Pick
Jerri Jerreat


Photo Credit: robmadeo/Flickr (CC-by)

When you live on an island, you need to practice Buddha-like views on life.

The ferry will be on time, but you will arrive seconds too late. The ferry will be an hour late, and you will be racing to the market with fresh eggs and your sauces tucked all around you.

Om.

The garden will thrive and you will bake gorgeous quiches and exquisite salads to sell at the university. Or there will be heat wave after heat wave and the well will dry up. Or rabbits will eat all the leaves of organic beets and heritage carrots. A thunderstorm will beat your tomatoes into bursting; rows of squash leaves might turn white with mold.

Om.

Your partner will be a great support to you, both reading aloud from farming books at Toronto cafés for a year beforehand, excited for this challenge you truly believe in. He will learn about sheep, and care for thirty—plus twenty chickens—and you will laugh together over silly sheep stories. You will take classes in spinning, weaving and dyeing wool, then hang it up like art around your open kitchen/living area in the fixer-upper cabin that you purchased from the last farmer who failed.

Or your partner will begin to curse the sheep and kick them, tell you the chickens are your job now, and complain the wifi is never working and how the hell did you talk him into living god-knows-where with no f—ing Internet?

Om.

When you live on an island you must learn to breathe. Slowly, deeply. Five slow breaths in, five to exhale, pause. Repeat.

You will learn to drive a standard on a twenty-year-old truck, and to rebuild a chicken pen after foxes made away with all the chickens except the only one who won’t lay. You will learn to hand dig a post hole, put in a post, shovel cement around it, and breathe. You will stretch chicken wire around your large garden, then around your chicken pen. (Also along the broken fence where the sheep keep disappearing and which your partner will not repair.) He will no longer cook joyfully with you, experimenting; will come to think in terms of gendered work, which was not The Deal. You will work at learning to enjoy running a farm alone as part of your own personal journey to completeness.

Om.

 

When you live on an island you will read library books on truck engines in the second year and tinker with the ornery steering problem, though it’s likely a power fluid leak. If your partner has difficulty turning when he makes his fast Friday night trip to the city, claiming he has business in the city and will just crash on his old friend’s couch, again—and the truck can’t make that ninety-degree turn to the ferry at high speed, well he—

—should have practiced his Buddha-like views of life.

Om.

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Jerri Jerreat‘s fiction has appeared in Feminine Collective, The New Quarterly, The Yale Review Online, The Penmen Review, and The Dalhousie Review among others, and was featured in anthologies published by World Weaver Press and Edge Publishers. Her play was a finalist at the Newmarket National Play Festival in 2019. Email: jjerreat[at]gmail.com

House Parties

Flash
Zoe Konstantinou


Photo Credit: Jin’s Diary 87/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I

— His friend once gave me whiskey ginger. That was the first time I tried it. He was glad I drank and poured me more. When he rolled me cigarettes, he would give me their very end to lick.

[leaving the party going to the concert hall]

We were sitting on a sofa. Waiting for my friend. Once the tubes there broke and the toilets flooded. That’s what his friend told me. He fought with his girlfriend cause he danced with my friend. I was dancing seated on the sofa. Felt slightly awkward but couldn’t stand still. He said he loved it that I danced so much.

— “It’s quality music.”

I was slightly drunk. We never paid to get in there. We sneaked through the backdoor.

 

II

His ex was there—silver glitter on her cheeks. Stunning. His friend must have seen her too. She was wearing a reddish jacket. Long like an Andean mantle. It could have been my imagination.

[leaving the concert hall]

The only time we were the three of us, was when we slept at his friend’s place. I saw him in the kitchen. I had no idea he lived there. They got their grades from the finals. His friend was complaining, he was mostly listening, and I was trying to smoke as much as I could while I struggled to finish my coffee.

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Zoe holds a masters in International Relations from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Athens. She is passionate about Latin America and her favourite author is Roberto Bolaño. Her work has appeared in The Selkie and Litro Magazine. Email: zina_kon[at]hotmail.com