Tidy Cats Bahama Sunset Litter

Flash
Shelbi Tedeschi


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

February 25, 2020

Purina
Office of Consumer Affairs
PO Box 340
Neenah, WI 54957

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to lodge a complaint with your Tidy Cats Bahama Sunset litter. It promises to get rid of litter box odor and “take your nose on a tropical vacay.” Bahama Sunset? What a scent for a cat litter. Tell me what exactly a Bahama sunset is supposed to smell like, would you?

Last week, on our three-year anniversary, David arrived home after work with a load of groceries. I picked up cat litter, I heard him call from the back door. These were the first words between us in days, after he’d refused to adopt another kitten with me, even after I showed him the perfect orange tabby on the local shelter’s site. I kept ignoring him but peeked inside the bags he dropped in the kitchen, and that’s when I saw your Tidy Cats Bahama Sunset litter.

We have four rescue cats together—Sweet Pea, Mermaid, Tigress, and Lily—and we are an Arm & Hammer Multi-Cat Easy Clump Litter family. After all this time, how would he not know that? And you had to tempt him with the label—cat silhouettes among palm trees—promising to fulfill all our cat litter needs.

Well, let me tell you something: Bahama Sunset is not a “tropical vacay” for my nose. The sweet, perfumey scent scared Tigress and Sweet Pea away, so they left puddles on our new LifeProof Flooring from Home Depot. David said, No big deal. Look, it wipes right up—that’s why we got the LifeProof. That’s not the point, I told him. I peeled off my right sock, soaked in cat urine, and the girls ran to hide under the couch.

Toss it! I told him. No—we aren’t wasting a whole tub of cat litter, he said. They’ll get used to it. We spent the night in silence, trying not to gag while cleaning up warm piles of cat feces in the hallway, and I spent the morning after my anniversary loading up David’s Subaru with boxes. He stood on the front steps, rubbing his temples: Don’t you think this is an overreaction?

What kind of person makes such drastic life changes for a family without consulting anyone? Trust was out the window. Three years of lasagna Thursdays and vacations to Branson, Missouri be damned.

I threw in the rest of the container of Tidy Cats and slammed his back hatch shut.

All this to say, this is the worst case of false advertising I’ve ever seen. I hope you’ll remember my four—soon to be five—fatherless girls and consider discontinuing the Bahama Sunset litter for good.

Most sincerely,

Linda Call

pencilShelbi Tedeschi is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Writing at Ball State University, where she teaches first-year composition and serves as an intern for River Teeth. Email: shelbi.tedeschi[at]gmail.com

Root of Anxiety

Flash
Clara Schwarz


Photo Credit: Bill Smith/Flickr (CC-by)

Just outside the entrance, Sophia paused briefly to glide the straps of her mask over her ears. She pinched it tight on her nose, nonchalantly picked a basket, and entered the fruit and vegetables area. The basket gained the weight of tomatoes, onions, courgettes, and broccoli, when suddenly, she spotted an unknown root. She approached it curiously and read: Parsnips, Loose, £1.15/kg. Three parsnips now rolled around in her basket, as she continued past cheese and yoghurt, reaching up to grab a pint of full-fat milk. She enjoyed it this way, each gulp coating her throat and filling her tummy with comfort. Sophia was a cooking novice, keen for the comfort of following instructions and the silent repetition of chopping and slicing. Not knowing how to prepare a dish or how to chop a vegetable made her feel insufficient, but her newfound root vegetable would provide some exposure. Surely, the variety of recipes online would spark delicious manipulations of this new root. She could boil it, fry it, grill it or bake it. Mostly, she was eager to roast the parslip, parnils, parnip? The familiar heat flushed her face, as she scrolled her cooking-app trying to find an enticing recipe for the parlip, but the app won’t recognise purnip! Jaw clenched and brows furrowed, Sophia serpentined past eggs and flour, made a beeline for the nut-free muesli, briefly browsed roasted and salted nuts, and indulged in a multi-pack of dark chocolate digestives. Wrists strained and biceps struggling, she dragged herself and the basket along the self-checkout queue. Her brain buzzed and eyes rolled back as she desperately clung to the sound of the root in her ears, trying to reconstruct its name from the echo of her internal voice. The queue inched forwards, as the echo inched further away. Her basket reached its destination, and she initiated the staccato rhythm of the beep. After she moved her acquisitions one after the other into the bagging area, she carefully placed the pale carrots on the scales, and selected “root vegetables” on the screen. She skimmed carefully, past turnips and beetroot, onion and sweet potato, her forehead warm and palms sticky. Her fingers swipe across the screen and finally, calmness washed over her: Parsnips, Loose, £1.15/kg.

pencilClara Schwarz is a researcher, educator, and podcaster based in Germany. They are passionate about social justice, creative writing, and researching queer friendship. Find Clara on Twitter @clararosawelt and their podcast @bullsh_tbinary. Email: claraschwarzz[at]gmail.com

The Bittersweet Taste of Greek Honey

Flash
Gigi Papoulias


Photo Credit: Ishwar/Flickr (CC-by)

I found Mamá sitting up in her hospital bed, breakfast tray untouched, staring out the window. “Aren’t you gonna eat a little?”

At month ten of advanced, incurable, gastric adenocarcinoma, eating or not, how much of a difference would it really make? Deep down, we both knew this, but said nothing.

“Just get me some tea.” She looked at me. “I’m OK,” she added.

*

It was Sunday morning. My cousin and I sat at the table, waiting for our pancakes, which our mothers had agreed to make, even though we were running late. Mamá was by the stove, stacking pancakes on a plate. My aunt, Thía Maria, put a jar of honey on the table. It came from their village in Greece.

“You’ll see, it’s sweeter than maple syrup,” Mamá told us. “It’s better for you. Now eat, we can’t be late for church.”

She placed the heap of pancakes on the table and Thía Maria said to her, “Remember when we saw what was inside the church?”

They had grown up during the war, and would sometimes mention a childhood memory. In this sudden recollection, they told us that when they were kids, after a deadly ambush on the outskirts of the village, they had slipped out and sneaked into the church—which served as a temporary morgue.

“Yeah, they were stacked one on top of another,” Mamá said matter-of-factly, while Thía Maria poured thick honey over the pancakes.

I sunk my fork into the fluffy stack. My cousin licked honey from his fingers.

Mamá shot Thía Maria a look and said to us, “Anyway, hurry now, eat.”

We ate in silence. I remember finishing the last pancake. It had absorbed all the honey and rested on my tongue just enough for me to savor the sweetness before I swallowed and it sunk into my bloated belly like a stone.

“Mmm, good,” I said as I stood up. But the heaviness inside made me feel like I was moving in slow motion.

*

I returned with two cups of tea. Noticing my red, swollen eyes, Mamá demanded, “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing.”

I put the tea on her breakfast tray. “You need to eat these pancakes, too.”

I placed the napkin on her lap. “Here, this will make it sweeter.” I took out a jar of Greek honey, poured some over her pancakes and swirled a spoonful into her tea.

“No honey for your tea?” Her dull eyes scanned the small amber jar.

“I never really liked the taste of honey. Or pancakes, actually.”

“But you loved pancakes and honey when you were little.” Her bony hand gripped the paper cup.

“Mamá, the doctor will be in soon, to discuss hospice care.”

She sipped her tea and swallowed hard. “Mmm, good,” she croaked, “I feel better now.”

I moved the tray closer to her, the thin pancakes drowning in a pool of honey. We looked at each other. Mamá reached for the fork and I nodded.

pencilGigi Papoulias was raised in Boston, a daughter of Greek immigrants. She lives in Athens and continues to coexist within two cultures, realizing it is mostly a privilege and sometimes a curse. A deserter of the corporate world, she enjoys writing stories and translating. Her fiction has appeared in Your Dream Journal, Literally Stories and in an anthology by Kingston University Press, London. Twitter: @manyfacesofATH Email: gigipapoulias[at]yahoo.com

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