Daniel Plate

She's Never Been So Tired

If nobody ever calls again
And the doors to the house lock shut on her
She will be content 
To think of the windows as her eyes 
And live as the brick-locked brain of her house 
Until the food runs out. 


——

Dan Plate grew up overseas (Nigeria) and has lived since high school in various places around the Midwest. He now lives in Illinois near the Mississippi with his wife and three kids, teaching and indulging a hobbyist’s interest in everything mathematical.

——

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Isabelle Brock

Blue Fish

 

Our baby sister came out blue, but I didn’t see her. Carson told me, blue as a fish.

“What kind of fish?” I asked. It was three days after, and he’d allowed me in his room, where I sat watching Carson’s fish swim in his saltwater aquarium. I pressed my face against the glass and pointed to a fish darting around the neon coral. “Like that one?”

Carson snorted and flopped down in his beanbag chair. He grabbed a Sports Illustrated and knocked a mini basketball toward me with his foot. “Not one of my fish,” he said. “Bigger. Like a trout. You can be such a dumbass.”

“But this color?” The fish was small and blue as a jewel; its tail glinted yellow at the tip. “What’s this one called?”

Carson snorted again, rolling off the beanbag and heaving his body across the floor to sit beside me. His face was puffy with acne, and a thick log of flab hung over the waistband of his shorts. Thirteen. Gross. “What fish?” he asked. “What fish are you looking at?”

“Her.”

“Damselfish,” Carson said, nodding his head. “Yellowtail damsel. Similar to a clownfish. Hearty. Two inches. Does well in captivity.”

I watched the fish rise to the surface where the bubbles from the circulator boiled around her. “Damselfish,” I said. “Yellowtail damselfish. She’s my favorite. Can we give her a name?”

“God, Anna,” Carson said. “That’s a really dumb idea. It’s a fish, okay? Not a cat.” He reached up to the lid and clicked the button that dimmed the tank’s lights. “Show’s over. Don’t you have somewhere to go?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I do have somewhere to go. Ballet. But Mom’s still asleep.”

“Don’t wake her up!”

“Duh,” I said. But on my way out of his room, I slammed the door as hard as I could.

 

Mom was still asleep at five when Dad came home from wherever he’d been, carrying a bucket of fried chicken and two sweating tubs of mashed potatoes. “Where’s your mother?” He dropped the food on the counter.

I jerked my head at the stairs.

Dad smiled, but not his real smile. “Well,” he said. “Well.” He put his palms on the counter and leaned forward, his glasses slipping down his nose. “How was school? Are you hungry? Did you have a good day?”

“I missed ballet,” I said, and then felt like a whiney baby. “I missed ballet. Again.”

“What’s your brother up to?”

“He’s in his room.”

“See if he’s hungry?”

“Yeah.” I started for the stairs but stopped. “Dad,” I said, even though I knew I shouldn’t. “Dad, did she look like a fish?”

“What?”

I wrapped my hands around the banister and put a foot on the first step. “The baby,” I whispered. “Did the baby look like a fish?”

“What?” Dad gripped a carton of mashed potatoes and came to the stairs. “What did you say, Anna?”

“Nothing. Forget it.”

“What did you say?”

I closed my eyes and squeezed the banister and thought about ballet and the pointe exercises the class would have practiced today. “Carson said it.”

“Carson told you the baby looked like a fish?”

“Yeah. Cause she was blue.”

Dad reached up and put his hand on my shoulder, but I shook it off. “Carson didn’t see the baby, okay? Carson doesn’t know.”

“Okay.”

“That’s a horrible thought,” Dad said. “Don’t repeat it. Don’t say anything like that around your mother.”

“Duh,” I said. “Duh, Dad. I know.”

“Hey,” Dad said, reaching for my shoulder again. “Hey, it’s okay if you’re sad. It’s a sad thing. We’re all sad.”

“I’m not.” I pushed his hand away.

 

Upstairs Carson had the volume of his music turned low, but I could still hear something punk and stupid behind his door. I knocked once, but he didn’t answer, so I tiptoed to the guest room, which we had been calling the baby’s room until that day. The door was cracked and I nudged it open so the light from the hall made a triangle on the carpet. The curtains were drawn, but I could see Mom in the rocking chair by the crib. “Anna?”

“Hi, Mom.”

“Sweetie,” Mom said. She smiled and patted her knees. “Come sit?”

“Okay.” I stepped into the room over an unopened package of Pampers and made my way to the chair.

“Do you want to sit?” she asked, patting her knees again.

I looked at her lap. No room. Her stomach was loose and stretched. A week before, her belly’d felt firm beneath my hand, and I’d whispered to the baby through Mom’s skin. “Come out,” I’d said. “We’re waiting.”

“You don’t have to sit with me,” Mom said, but she was looking at the crib.

“Dad got chicken,” I said. “And mashed potatoes.”

“Okay.” Mom took a deep breath and pushed herself up from the chair, wobbling a little when she stood. “Okay. Chicken.” She leaned in to give me a hug, but her shirt was soaking wet.

“Mom!” I pushed her back. “Mom, you’re leaking!”

She looked down at her shirt and moaned, grabbing her breasts. “God damn it,” she said, in this weird hushed voice. “God damn it. When are these things going to stop?”

“Mom,” I said, but her face was twisted and she was shoving her hands up her shirt.

“God damn it,” she whispered, squeezing and squeezing her breasts like she was trying to ring out a wet towel.

I took a step backwards and another and another, until I was out in the hall, where Dad stood at the top of the stairs. “Hey,” he said. “She in there?”

I nodded.

He sighed and stepped past me. “Oh, honey,” I heard him say, and then he pushed the door shut.

In the hall it was quiet, and I went to the stairs and stood on the landing, where the railing was the height of the ballet studio’s barre. I straightened my back and pointed my toes, bringing my leg slowly up my calf, just like a ballerina, rounding my arms as I touched my toes to the rail. I could have taught her to plié. Shared my tutus. Pinned her hair. Leaning forward, I rested my cheek against my thigh.

A door clicked open in the hallway above me, and Carson started down the stairs. “Hey,” he said, nudging an elbow into my back. “Hey look, Swan Lake.”

“Creep. What do you want?”

“Chicken,” he said, not turning around. “What do you think?”

I pulled my leg back in and lifted the other into the same stretch. From the guest room, I could hear Mom’s voice, whispered and frantic. I leaned into the railing, into the tightness in my thigh. “Not,” I said, breathing the word on an inhale. “Sad.” I breathed out.

 

In the kitchen, Carson was hunched on a stool, a drumstick in each hand. “You’re a big fat liar,” I said. “You didn’t see the baby. She didn’t look like a fish.”

He bit into a drumstick. “It was a joke,” he chewed. “But Anna, the baby probably was blue, you know. Because it couldn’t breathe.”

“She,” I said. “Not it. She. Laurel.”

“Okay,” Carson said. “Okay, so she couldn’t breathe. So she was probably blue. And cold. Like a fish.”

“You’re sick,” I said. “You’re really sick. And fat. Seriously, it’s disgusting.”

He snorted and flopped his drumstick to the table, reaching for the mashed potatoes and a plastic spoon. “Whatever.”

“Seriously,” I said. “It’s gross. Everybody thinks so. They say it at school.”

“No, they don’t,” Carson said, but he looked away from me and the food.

“Yes, huh,” I said. “Carson the car.” I opened the fridge and pulled out the Brita. “You want some water? Carson the car?”

“You suck,” Carson said. He dropped his spoon and pushed back from the counter, catching a leg of his stool on the corner of the island. He fell in slow motion, his face smacking the floor like a pie. When he looked up there was a trickle of blood above his lip, and he was screaming, even though it was just a bloody nose.

“What? What is it?” Mom yelled from upstairs. She came limping down the stairs, Dad behind her.

“It’s just a bloody nose!” I said. “Look! It’s just his nose!”

“Get some ice!” Mom said, dropping to the floor where Carson had curled into himself like a big fat child. “Anna, get some ice!” I pulled a bag from the cupboard and filled it with ice chips, watching as Mom lugged Carson’s upper-half onto her lap. “Poor baby,” she said, wiping his face with her shirt.

“Mom.” I pushed the ice at her. “Here.” I walked to the stairs, where Dad sat on the bottom step with his face in his hands. “Dad,” I said. “Dad.”

He looked at me and his eyes were wet, and I turned and ran up the stairs. “It’s just his nose!”

My bedroom was quiet. Degas paintings hung on the walls and ballerina figurines lined the shelves. My bedspread had ballerinas on it, too, little pirouetting dancers, all in pastel tutus, their hair in smooth clean buns, and it was my own room, but it felt like it belonged to someone else, someone younger, a little kid. I stepped into the hall, and downstairs Mom and Dad were still fussing over Carson. “She kicked the stool,” I could hear Carson saying. “And she called me fat.” Across the hall Carson’s door was open, and the fish tank hummed from the wall. I slipped into his room on the balls of my feet, and I was so quiet, I was dancing; the fish didn’t notice I was there. The little Yellowtail Damsel nudged a chunk of pink coral, and I bent down and tapped my finger against the glass. “Hello Laurel,” I said, and then I reached behind the tank and twisted the heating dial all the way to the right.

 

END.

 

 

——

Isabelle Brock writes and teaches at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. When she’s not writing, she is found planting more and more fruit trees in her garden. Her work has been published in The Hopkins Review.

——

Rachel Nix

Tangents

I meant to love a dark-eyed man;
one who could find my thoughts when I'd landed
on a tangent and bring me back home.
He was to be the old-fashioned kind: quiet
and strong, gentle with his course hands, intense
with his looks. His wit, sharp and mischievous, 
would tangle me up in his tellings; that is, when he chose
to elaborate upon the things he found worthwhile
to grant his earnest attention to.
He would not have been the kind to take over a room, but
he would own me in the privacy of our bed. This man,
I should've met and married him in my early twenties.
I wonder, at times, if I ignored him while I was passing time
in taverns, fanning myself over musicians
who would have taken me home, but wouldn't have cared
for the charm of tangents.


——

Rachel Nix is a native of Northwest Alabama. She likes coffee in the morning and bourbon at night but rarely knows what time it is otherwise. Her work has most recently appeared in Words Dance, Melancholy Hyperbole, and Bop Dead City. Rachel is the poetry editor at cahoodaloodaling; more of her poetry can be found at: chasingthegrey.com

——

Laura Pavlo

Her Years as a Painter

Every Thursday after school let out, Rona sat with her son, Marcus, and taught him the fundamentals of painting.

Rona had a pale face with deep-valleyed cheekbones as though a lover held her face in his palms for too long. She liked the way the colors purple and yellow complemented each other, although the purple had to be the kind found deep inside a lilac near the edge of the stem, and the yellow had to match the dented surfaces of an old golden tuba.

Marcus asked many questions during the painting lessons. He was seven and strikingly imaginative for his age.

“Sometimes I wonder if I should be a painter, too,” Marcus said one afternoon, slipping through sometimes. He rolled his R’s and slid through S’s as if he were tripping on uneven sidewalk squares.

“I used to wonder the same thing,” Rona replied, twisted the cap off a burgundy acrylic named Marsala. “One day, I just knew.”

“Do you think I’ll know?” He spun his brush between his fingertips to paint a feathered circle. Rona noticed his painting habits transferring into routine motions, like twirling his spoon during dinnertime, watching his reflection flip around itself.

“I think you’ll know.”

Rona rented a tight one-bedroom apartment in the Bowery of Manhattan until Marcus was too old for a crib. By the time he needed a room of his own, she earned enough money to rent a two-bedroom a few blocks up-and-over from the Bowery in SoHo. She woke up at six in the morning to the sound of bouncing balls in the street and children’s voices shouting, “Niño, pass me the ball!” She caught a Q subway train every morning and rode one home every evening, the sun low in the sky by the time she made it to Marcus’s after-school care center three blocks from the subway stop.

The movement of her hands replaced red, yellow, and green: she directed traffic in midtown Manhattan for seven-fifty an hour.

Marcus expressed interest in music so Rona brought him to a piano teacher whose fee she paid with shortened grocery lists, fewer trips to get her hair fixed, self-excerpted bi-monthly salary checks, and from the teacher, sympathy like a coupon.

After their weekly painting session, a man named Billy called. Billy was a past lover of Rona’s, a married man who lived in suburban Westchester County, New York, and visited Rona once or twice a month on Thursdays, once a week during tax season because seeing her “relieved stress.” When she asked why Thursdays, he told her it was the night his wife and kids went to their town’s community theater for a show. When she asked why her, he said she was familiar, he missed her, and he felt their nights together were small time capsules in which he could feel nineteen again.

Billy came around that Thursday and walked in just after she closed Marcus’s bedtime storybook. He waited in the living room until Rona shut Marcus’s door behind her, and then led Rona to her bedroom. As the headboard knocked into the lemon-peeling walls, she felt rose stems pressing outward against the skin in her legs. Her hair was matted down from the raking of his hands and the pushing of the pillow beneath it, and as he muffled his outcry into her neck, she imagined the heat of his body as the heat of a sun, and she was lying on sand listening to an ocean she had never seen, and she didn’t have to work because there was no such thing as city traffic or directing it, and Marcus was a child prodigy in one of the orchestras she saw advertised on city buildings, and Thursday nights never happened.

By the time Billy lifted off her and she could see the reflection of the swaying ceiling light in his sweat left in the swoop between her rib cage and belly, she realized Thursday nights do happen and so do Wednesdays and Tuesdays and Mondays, and every day before and after and around again, and by the time Billy left, it would be time for her to conduct the traffic in and out of the lives she would never live, car horns playing a melody she hoped her son would never follow, holding up her hands for “stop,” because it was something she couldn’t say to Billy, “go,” because it was the only thing she could say to her son, and “slow,” because that was how she took it.

Billy fell asleep promptly after intercourse. She used a book light to read until she was tired enough to sleep in the crowded full-size bed. A storm crackled outside, dulling the city’s blares and sirens.

The windows in their small apartment were held shut by chains loosened by the wind. The chains clinked and clanked against the glass.

“Mom?” she heard Marcus whimper from down the hall.

She slid out of bed and tiptoed to his room. He was sitting up, his stuffed lion tucked under his chin.

In general, Marcus was never involved enough in his dreams to stay in them and sleep through the whole night. As an infant, he pinched his fingers into fists and held them above his peanut body as he whimpered for her. He was azalea-eyed, had his father’s face and her lips.

She sat on the edge of the bed, his windowpane cheeks dripping with rain, and he reached for her like he did when he was young enough to believe thunder was gargantuan elephants stomping through the city, sheets of metal clashing above their roof, or the clapping hands of a man too big to fit anywhere but in the sky.

“Shhhh,” she cooed, gently stroking his head as his breathing slowed, his body rising and falling under her hand on his back.

He leaned against her until the lion fell from his grip and he drifted into sleep. She laid his head on his pillow, pulled up the comforter, and flicked on the nightlight beside his bed. “I’m big now! I don’t need that,” he said nearly every night about the airplane-shaped light. She shut the window and admired how the stars looked when everything beneath them was wet.

Rona had a telescope her father taught her how to use when she was Marcus’s age. Stars hung from invisible strings and tagged in her hair, and her father put his hands on her shoulders, gravity in the palms of his hands. “Andromeda,” he whispered.

She was raising Marcus in the city and couldn’t give him a balcony to watch the stars or a telescope to see them. She hoped he wouldn’t need a telescope lens to learn about galaxies but instead learn to paint his own.

Seven months after Marcus’s father left, two-year-old Marcus stacked letter blocks into toddler words and Rona said to her mother over the phone, “I am consumed with the idea that I can keep feeling less and less if I allow myself to.”

“Is that what you want?” her mother asked. Rona pictured her mother leaning against her kitchen counter with a glass of seltzer. Rona pressed the pad of her thumb into the ridge between her eyebrow and nose.

“Of course not.”

“Is Marcus happy?”

Rona looked at her son and smiled. He was wearing denim overalls and a dinosaur patterned shirt, giddily smacking his hands on the floor when the blocks tipped over.

“Yes.”

“Then you tell me: what else should matter?”

Rona hung up the phone and, with a wave of calm settling over her, sat beside her son. Marcus reached toward her, and she held him in her arms, wondering if he would remember his father one day, or if she would have to do the remembering for both of them.

Marcus was grown now, seven years old and curious.

She tucked herself into bed again where Billy idly snored.

“Where do you put your feet when you hug?” Marcus asked on the subway the next morning on their way to visit Rona’s father in Queens. His school was closed that particular Friday to observe Easter weekend. His fingers wrapped around her hand as his body swayed with the bending arms of the train.

“Wherever they go naturally,” she said, not knowing the answer because she had never thought of hugging in those terms before, where the other parts of the body go when left unused. She expected him to flood her with one hundred other questions but realized it was she who was questioning. Where do your hands go when we kiss, where do you put your arms when we dance, where do your eyes go when they aren’t on mine, where does your heart go when I leave you?

“Mom,” he said, “what if I step on your toes?”

Kissing the back of his hand, she said, “I’ll love you anyway.”

——

Laura Pavlo is a graphic designer by day and writer by night. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in English (minor in Creative Writing) and a B.A. in Graphic Design. Her short stories have been published in Four Chambers Press, Stylus Literary Journal, and The Walrus Journal. She won first place for her novella “Ellipsis” for the Jimenez-Porter Writers Prize, and second place for both “Front Lawn” and “The F Train Downtown” for the Jimenez-Porter Writers Prize.

——

Heather Mydosh

Scattering

Dreamscape.
Distant bracken/ashen bramble canes 
ringing the crabgrass hilltop
my bare hands stretching
bearing
the ash jar
lid askew
then
contents awash
burdened breeze whipping
fine particulate
funerary residue.

The simultaneity
wrenches—
knowing
and 
knowing 
the new possibility
of forgetting.

Heaving
scrambling
guilt not yet settling
as protean ash on
raspberry blades
unthinkable
forseen release
from bearing
grit grey bone white dust
in the cold touchstone,
now hollow
void
no memory.

Now 
grains gone
fingers plucking 
at dead molecules
carbon 
on the irretrievable breeze
imbued with loss
longing
loss.


——

Heather Mydosh is a transplant to Independence, Kansas where she teaches composition and literature at Independence Community College. She was awarded first place for poetry in the 2014 Kansas Voices contest for her poem “Strawberry Blood” and has pieces forthcoming in Inscape Magazine, Velvet-Tail, After the Pause, and From the Depths. She holds her Masters of Literature from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland in Comparative Literature and Thought.

——

Hannah Christensen

Mom Told Me So

I wish it would rain again. It doesn’t happen enough here. I think I get my love of the rain from Mom. I like the smell, and the sound too. I used to just like the rain because of those things, but now I suppose we all have to like it.

Something went wrong with the sun. One day, it just flared too bright, I guess, and people started burning up. Just for standing outside for a minute. I know because it happened to my brother. One moment he was laughing and playing football outside with his friends. The next, he burned up. I know because my parents told me.

Now we live in our basement because it’s cool and dark there. We got rid of our TV, too, because Mom and Dad said the TVs all went wrong. If you were watching them when it happened, your brain became rotted. I know because Mom and Dad told me about Aunt Jenny. One minute she was watching her game shows and the next her brain shriveled inside of her skull, and she died. Just like my brother.

Things get pretty boring down here, just the three of us. Mom just sits and sews. Dad just throws his tennis ball against the wall. Pop, thunk, pop, thunk, all day long. I used to play with my dolls, but now Mom says I’m much too old for that, so she tried to teach me how to sew. I hated it almost as much as I hate being stuck in this stupid basement.

One day I got so bored and frustrated that I frowned and pouted all day. When Mom saw me she quickly shook her head. “Don’t make faces like that, Jude,” she said. “Your cousin Anne did that, and her face froze like that. She never smiled again.” I nodded quickly and rearranged my expression to mirror the same blank face Mom and Dad always wear.

We also don’t have very much food down here. Mom and Dad took away all of the chocolate we used to have because they said if I eat it my face will get covered in red, painful bumps that can take over your whole face, unless you pop them, which leaves deep scars that make you ugly and never ever go away. Instead, we have carrots. Mom and Dad say if I eat them my eyes will become so great that I’ll be able to see through walls and see perfectly, even when it’s dark in our little basement. They say I’ll need that vision when the sun blows up forever and the whole world goes dark.

Sometimes Dad goes upstairs. “Just making sure the windows are closed,” he says. (Because the sun is mean and persistent, he says, and could sneak in through the windows and burn us up down here.) I’m not allowed to go upstairs unless it’s raining out. When it’s raining I can go outside too. I used to tell Dad, when he would come back downstairs, that he smelled like fresh-cut grass. He would shake his head and ruffle my hair. I felt childish. After all, how could he smell like grass if he’d only gone upstairs? So I quit telling him this, but still I get a whiff of grass sometimes when he passes.

Today, when Dad comes back downstairs, he’s grinning, and I know what that means. He gives a quiet nod, and I rush upstairs and throw open the front door, reveling in the puttering of the rain. I don’t go far, just sit in our driveway and let myself be drenched. I don’t see many friends anymore, but today I see Thomas, from before. He has a red hood covering his head. I wave at him and he joins me in the driveway. “I’ve missed you,” he says.

I nod my head. “Me too,” I say.

“I hate the rain,” he says.

I stare at him. “But when it rains you can be outside,” I say.

I look up at the sky and try to catch some of the droplets on my tongue. It ends up going in my eyes and I giggle. The sound of the rain slapping the pavement is so loud that it’s difficult to hear Thomas’s replies.

I didn’t realize until now that Thomas has been staring at me with a strange look on his face. I shake my head. “Don’t make that face,” I say, “It’ll freeze that way.”

Thomas looks away. “Yesterday was beautiful, wasn’t it?” he says. “The sun was shining, and it was so warm. I saw your father out front mowing the lawn. Why don’t you ever come outside anymore, Jude?”

I’m about to laugh at his dumb joke, but I hear a door slam under the sound of the rain, and Mom grabs my arm roughly and hauls me inside, kicking the door shut behind us. She pulls me down to the basement and throws me onto the ground. I cry out but try to keep my face expressionless. Mom has never been this rough with me.

“You must never speak to people outside anymore, Jude,” says my mother, her face red and expression pinched.

“Momma, don’t, your face will get stuck,” I tell her.

Mom nods and looks down for a moment. When she looks up, tears are in her eyes but her expression is neutral. “You must never speak to anyone from the outside again, because people are starting to go crazy. They think they can just walk outside in the sun. Do you know what happens, Jude? They burn up. Their skin becomes black and starts to crackle, their eyes melt down their cheeks, and they become a pile of ash. I don’t want the craziness to rub off on you. I know it can, because your friend is starting to think about going outside. We’re staying inside for a while, okay Jude?”

I nod quickly, but I don’t tell Mom that Thomas is so crazy he thought he was outside yesterday, too. My dad would never be so stupid as to go out when the sun is shining, and obviously Thomas hadn’t either, he was just crazy enough to think he had. I hope he isn’t really crazy enough to try to go outside in the sun. He would die. I know it’s true. I know because Mom told me so.

 

——

Hannah is a Colorado native and a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder. This is her first publication.

——