David Walker

Rugburn

He doesn’t find blackened fingers
in electrical sockets,
or nooses in our low-hanging blind cords
as I was warned. He’s crawling,

the second day he’s waveringly
fought gravity’s pull
on his young limbs.

I should be proud – 
nestled a few feet away on the floor
of his nursery, fringing a landscape
of toys landmined, scattershot.

Some make noise 
as he bounds meticulously

on his impromptu sally: a zigzagged 
assault on plush and plastic,
on singsong education. A father

has a bank he fills with moments.
As my son grips a blue elephant to his mouth,
my thumb is sliding across

the screen of my phone. My friend

has come back from Florida –
rippling blue sea skin, frosted margarita
glasses deafeningly clink 
their way into
the nursery prodding out currency.

My vision a pie chart,
scalloping 
attention from this digital flame 
casting cave-drawing shadows

on my son in the background –

his war cries 
the only tug on my stupor.

He may not find maiming 
in his own devices,
but the trophies he’s hoisting atop

every breath may find
rusting 
in my fragmented attention.

His conquests largely go unheralded
until his hand finds the knobby 
skin of my kneecap

stitching together the mosaic of my gaze.


——

David Walker writes intermittently, at best. He is a husband and a father. He has published two poetry chapbooks and has one forthcoming. His work appears in Soundings East, Menacing Hedge, ELJ, Sediments, and others. He is also the founding editor at Golden Walkman Magazine.

——

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Maria McLeod

She Wants

to protect herself
from recollection.
To think back is to enter her parent's
house, nothing left but a child's 
cryptic script.  Her mother's voice
is an apparition
she reads as warning
of her world without end, a loop 
a daughter hopes to fall out of.  
Refuge is a self
inserted inside a self, slick as the space
between two teeth. She allows herself 
to linger. Even now,
when her palms want to lift 
in praise of recollection,
she keeps them still 
beneath her, and the past shrinks
to another abstract sentence: the place 
we keep returning to is the place
we've just left from.  It's the punctuation
she'll end with:  a period, 
an exclamation point, a question mark. 


——

Maria McLeod writes poetry, fiction, monologues, and plays—three of which have been performed on stage. Honors include three Pushcart Prize nominations and the Indiana Review Poetry Prize. Originally from the Detroit area, she resides in Bellingham, Wash., where she is an associate professor of journalism at Western Washington University.

——

Becca Borawski Jenkins

Digger Needs New Socks

On the days when the things that crawled in the back of her mind became too much, she walked into town. The ocean air flowed up her nostrils, opened her sinuses, and pushed through the lobes of her brain. It imparted the sensation of freeing her thoughts. This sense of freedom—even if, in truth, it was simply choosing to live inside a slightly larger vault—was worth every moment. It was, in fact, critical.

At first, years ago, she had imagined walking into town via the same route each time would be best. The steadfastness of her body’s actions would un-complicate things. But this had proved not to be true. When she thought about it, it had been a bad theory from the start. If the mundane were freeing, she would have been freed already. She would be freed anew daily. She would be so free that it might become mundane itself, and wouldn’t that be quite the complication. A true conundrum. Perhaps quantum in scope.

Since that realization, she walked into town via a different route every time. Sometimes she went in the mornings, sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes she went left, left, right, and sometimes she didn’t turn at all. Sometimes she went up the hill, and sometimes she stopped for a while and sat on the park bench after the third right after the left, right, left. But no matter, she always found a way to wander past the ocean.

There, where the sidewalk turned to parking lot turned to rock pile turned to beach, she would breathe in the sickening rot of low tide and let the shrieks of the seagulls fill her ears. It was cathartic on some level that she herself had never understood. Like repeatedly licking something foul, like smelling your dirty clothes, like dating the wrong man.

There, where the sidewalk turned to parking lot, just a few steps back from the beach, a small wagon stood sentry. Maybe in its time it had been a fancy red Radio Flyer, but now it looked rusted, and bondo-ed, and painted again. Still red, but not the red of childhood dreams. Precise rows of colored bottles filled its bottom. Blue, then aqua, then purple, then blue again, then green. Tall, then short, then tall again, then fat. Each dusted with ocean sand and crusts of bacteria-laden mud.

A small sign hung from the wagon handle.

“Beach bottles 5¢.”

Each day the bottles changed, though she never saw the wagon arrive or depart. She imagined a man must pull it, certainly somebody did, but since she never saw this man or even the wagon in motion of its own accord, it occurred to her that the bottles might rearrange themselves whenever she wasn’t looking. This mystery took a hold in her mind, and with each walk its purchase grew the tiniest bit larger. Now, after months—or was it years?—of her daily purposeful losings of herself, she found herself consumed with the empty bottles. How did they get there? When did they leave? Did they simply transform or did someone exchange them?

Today, she allowed herself more time than normal, or at least usual, at the place where the sidewalk transitioned to parking lot. She didn’t worry about the trail of thoughts that might be following her, that might track her here. She had a thought in the front of her mind. She had a theory to test.

She stood in front of the wagon and blinked.

She blinked again.

She blinked longer.

No, the bottles remained the same. Was it that she looked a certain amount of times and then they changed? No, that was ridiculous. If she fell asleep here, if she curled up in front of the wagon and stayed through the night, would it matter? Would they shift in the darkness? Her instincts told her no, that it was leaving and returning, that it was her absence that allowed things to change. It was her not here that allowed them to be there.

With a sigh she turned and wandered home without even thinking if it was the same or a different way, without even worrying if she walked faster or slower than her thoughts for her brain was still blocked by this particular peculiar meandering.

Tomorrow, she would come earlier. The bottles must change earlier than her arrival. Therefore, the man who pulled the wagon—for it must be him that changed the bottles and not the bottles themselves—must be present at some time earlier than she. There was obvious logic in that.

The next morning, she arose early. She took shortcuts, she turned fewer times, and she skipped the hill. She nearly scurried across the road to the parking lot and almost to the beach. For a moment, the morning ocean haze blurred her vision, and all she saw as she approached was gray and blue. But then, the little red rectangle took form and her shoulders slumped.

The wagon was already there.

But the bottles had changed. Purple, then pink, then blue, then blue. Short, then fat, then skinny, then tall.

Tomorrow, she would come later. If the bottles changed after she left, it must be because the man came after she left. There was real logic in that.

She ran home, hoping all the while that later could come sooner.

When she arrived home she realized it had, for today had a later, not just tomorrow.

She headed back to the beach, but this time she walked slowly. She walked the curb like a high wire, she zig-zagged back and forth across the alley to cover more ground, she was determined to find the all-uphill route to sea level.

Eventually, she did arrive, but she had taken so long to do so that she’d grown tired from so much aimless walking and nearly forgotten her purpose in arriving “later.” She shuffled her feet through the place where the sidewalk turned to parking lot and was nearly upon the rock pile when she noticed a man.

A man with a bottle.

A man with a messenger bag but no shoes, only socks.

A dread-locked man placing an aquamarine bottle into the wagon.

She ran toward him waving her hands and screaming. It was only later she considered her potential banshee-like presentation.

The man observed her—then his dreadlocks spun in the air as he sprinted for the street.

She followed.

He turned left, and then right, and then left again.

He ran faster, turned quicker.

He ran uphill and down.

But each block was just a little too long for him to lose her. She would catch sight of the bottoms of his feet as he turned right, and right, and right again. The threads of his socks wore thinner under her gaze. Like a gobstopper, at first they seemed brown, then blue, then green. Even a block away, she saw the colors shifting in the sinking evening light. Yellow now, or maybe a bit orange. Back to brown. These must be the thickest socks anyone had ever seen.

Right again, left, then around the roundabout.

Downhill, past the lagoon, then up by the church.

Back north, nearly to the ocean again. They both glanced to their right to catch view of the little red wagon, once again alone with its bottles, no master or witness in sight.

Left, left, right, left, up, down, right, up, up, right, down.

Blue, green, purple, brown, orange, magenta, and might that be called cyan? His socks continued to shift colors though she noticed a trail of shredded threads marking their way. A little rainbow of spirals unraveling, yet leading.

She kept her eyes on his foot bottoms while his dreadlocks floated at the upper edge of her vision.

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Orange, orange, green, green, brown, brown, blue, blue.

They reached yet another hill—who knew how one tiny town had so many hills—and her breath finally began to struggle. The sun had sunk from its zenith and now glared sidelong into her eyes. They must have run for hours. She slowed, put her hand to her forehead, and looked to the crest of the hill.

The dreadlocked man stood there, his hand to his forehead, looking at her.

The sun dropped another inch.

She could no longer see the color of his socks, silhouetted in the light.

They stood saluting each other.

The man bent over, and even from her distance she could see that he pulled his socks from his feet and shook them.

The sun inched down a little more.

She blinked and he was gone.

She blinked again and he was still gone.

She blinked longer, and he was still not there.

She sighed, turned left, and headed home—unsure of how she would replicate today’s experiment tomorrow to see if she arrived at a different outcome, a different destination, or perhaps even a different universe entirely.

The next morning, she rose, still pondering this question of the little red wagon confounded by the dreadlocked man.

When she arrived at the place where the sidewalk turned to parking lot, she stood in front of the wagon and made her daily observations.

Just two bottles. One green, one blue. Both skinny, none fat.

A new sign hung on the wagon’s handle.

“Beach bottles 10¢. Digger needs new socks.”

——

Becca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, concis, The Forge, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Jersey Devil Press, and Corium. She and her husband have lived the extremes of city and country life, and now roam the North America in their RV.

——

Natalie Crick

This House

Fog rolls in on the red mountain. 
A husk. It is blood Winter. 

We sell ourselves, ounce by ounce
To the moon.

The sky has swallowed it’s full and 
Grows colder, darker. 

Years peel back like rind.
My children are as old as scars.

There is no air in this
Dead bird of a bedroom. 

Panic spreads, wildfire.
I wish myself a ghost town,

Wish myself the cool hush of night,
A blanket of dusk,

Listening to illness move 
Beneath the floorboards,
Moths to red clouds,
Clogging my throat like cinnamon.

Never trust the spirit. 
It escapes as steam in dreams.

More light. Fog is rising. 
Let us go in. 


——

Natalie Crick, from the UK, has poetry published or forthcoming in a range of magazines including The Chiron Review, Interpreters House, Ink in Thirds, Rust and Moth, The Penwood Review. Her work also features or is forthcoming in a number of anthologies, including Lehigh Valley Vanguard Collections 13. This year her poem, “Sunday School” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. 

——

James Owens

The Grammar of Loss

1.

Gets tangled in double negatives.
Forgets
to gather warm eggs for breakfast.

2.

Scampers out to the thinnest branches
and flies from
tree to tree. Burrows
past taproots
to the sweetest, mineral-savored water.

3.

Grows demented in the slow evenings
when shadows open like wounds.

4.

Whispers urgently at the train station
to the woman in the gray raincoat,
who turns and walks back
into the spring-scented twilight,
down an alley empty except for the sound of footsteps,
past the aching roses,
and to her room,
where she will remember the way these streetlights
burned circles in the fog.


——

James Owens’s most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems, stories, and translations appear widely in literary journals, including publications in The Fourth River, Kestrel, Tule Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in Indiana and northern Ontario.

——

Geneviève de Angelis

This Is Joan

What if I told you that being a genius was actually quite boring? Just a little…

Humdrum.

Would you believe me?

It’s an unfortunate predicament, at best. At worst it’s like having a fat whiny baby that you can’t dislodge from your side. A suckling little monster. Endlessly troubling you to complete some kind of “great work,” a “magnum opus.” So like any good mother, you have to engage the little shit. Coddle it. Feed it. You can’t just let it pickle in its own drool. You have to clean it, too. While it screams like a thing not known in nature.

There you are, a woman alone with this…this THING–and all you want to do is be an ordinary little dove like all the rest of them. Having a sandwich. Watching a documentary about an endangered species. Taking a nap. But no. That’s not what your odious little nursling wants. It wants you for something else. Something grand. Something it won’t let you forget. That’s what being a genius is like. It’s a forever hungry, unsleeping, angel-face little shit. I won’t be the least bit upset if you offered me your sympathy.

It’s the least you can do.

This is how it feels to sculpt with wood or bone:                   . This is what it felt like that time I used wire and antlers instead:                    .

This is the searing beauty of my work:                    . This is how right I am to feel self-important about it:                   .

But the elegance of a masterpiece says nothing of its corrupt process. Don’t let anyone convince you of otherwise. They’re lying. People only enjoy the aptitude of their own genius when someone’s handing them a check or being particularly reverent. When that’s not happening artists smell like unwashed bodies and they sound like a pair of shuffling feet on a sleepless night. They taste like coffee and cigarettes. Most of these problems arise from an innate failure to stop thinking. Is that what you want? No. It isn’t. I think you’ll agree that your interest is misguided.

This is what the night feels like:                    . This is how solitary it is:                    .

It’s fascinating, the things which are born of isolation. Guess that makes me my own walking masterpiece. Funny how that happens. While the world’s heart is beating in tandem with life, my heart skips a beat. I make an effort, though. I swear I do. Why, just a month ago I committed myself to a social engagement. With other women. I talked to them. Or I tried. All I can remember about that night is a rail of a girl with a halo of blonde hair. She was talking–about what I can’t imagine. I bet she couldn’t imagine either if you’d asked her. My attention hovered around the room like a ghost at a seance, looking at the flowers and demitasse cups while she blathered away. By the time I returned to my body it was my turn to talk. Of all the ludicrous things–can you imagine talking to a person like me? Before I even began to speak I trailed off… It was the most I’d said in a week. I could feel my mind wandering again. Maybe to other parts of my body. Maybe to other people’s bodies. In that moment my face was possibly just a blank. This happens sometimes, you’ll understand. In the middle of a sentence all of a sudden the inside of my mouth tastes like sand, as if underneath my tongue were a great big nothing. Just some air. And for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it was I might have been trying to say. Or if I had been planning on saying anything. Or what it was we had been talking about. In times like those I sometimes feel myself at the edge of a precipice, about to lose balance. I remember wondering if the heavily made-up blonde could detect my panic. Thankfully, our waiter dropped a glass and everyone clapped. After that I looked away and pretended we’d never spoken. I forgot who invited me there in the first place.

This is how many times I’ve loved anything:                    . This is how many times I’ve tried:                    . This is how many times I’ve failed:                    .

If only it were possible to wish something to love into being… I’d do it out of curiosity more than anything else. I’d do it completely possessed of a self-righteous indignation at the rest of humanity. How could they know something that I can’t understand?

This is how I feel about the whole business of other people:                    .

Then just like that everything changed. “I met someone” is how it’s commonly put. Or someone met me. I felt light. An almost insufferable lightness.

Let me explain: I was just getting a coffee.

That’s how it went. I walked into Henry’s on Henry Street downtown. I’ve retraced these steps over and over in my mind and I can say with total confidence that there had been no magic to it. Every step I’d taken was the same I always have. Exactly the same. But this time I didn’t walk out of Henry’s  alone.

If I could have looked down over my own body at that moment, like a nosy specter, I’d describe the look on my face as being akin to watching a car get totaled. Only truly delightful and with an abundance of smiles. I was not the same afterwards. It made me lose my balance. Caught totally unawares in a sort of loving bear trap. It snuck up on me like sudden death. A sudden ego death, at least. Because if love is true then I don’t know what to believe.

There we were. Just him and me. He had a glint in his eye that broke my heart in the most satisfying way. The unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth ate me alive. He had a voice that sounded scorched or charred.

This is how much I didn’t mind him:                    . I didn’t mind him.

That might not sound like a lot, but how could you have any idea.

That’s when I stopped sleeping.

***

Supposed advice for insomniacs are as follows: drink a glass of warm milk before bed; turn off the television three hours before your scheduled bedtime; don’t do anything else in your bed but sleep or you’ll get confused about your purpose there; if you eat in bed your brain will think it’s dinner time, so don’t; if you read a book it’ll think you’re in a library; don’t even think about checking your email–you don’t want to know what’ll happen then. And apparently you’re too excitable as it is, so I wouldn’t argue.

This is how hard I tried to sleep after we met:                    . This is how long it was that I sat up sweating:                    . This is how I’d lay awake for the rest of the night:                    .

The machinations of sleep became a mystery. I was no longer sure exactly what was supposed to happen. I asked him to explain it to me–maybe I’d forgotten. Certainly I’ve done stranger things. He could remind me. But honestly, he didn’t make it sound terribly interesting.

I had to watch the miracle of sleep happen across his face every night while I grew sallow and wore a hole into my side of the bed. I was somehow barred from the paradise of sleep, so he always went in alone. And why couldn’t I get there too? I just couldn’t.

This is how long it’s been since I’ve slept:                    .  This is how many times I told myself to get over it:                    . This is how happy I tried to be anyway:                    . This is how very wrong I was:                    .

He read aloud to me. That was his big idea. He’d say, listen to the sound of my voice. This man with his glasses pushed too far up on the bridge of his nose. I’d watch it slide off as he read with affection. I suppose I was expected to follow the sound of his voice like a thread that would lead me to sleephood–as if I were Perseus and insomnia my minotaur. It was at just that moment I realized he couldn’t possibly ever know me. If he thought a way to escape from torment was through any other means but endurance… Well, then I guess he’d never really been tormented.

How nice for him.

Thankfully this promised to become a real problem or I’d have been stuck, bored to death with the tenderness in his voice, the easy smile on his face, the way he seemed so hopeful for things… He always had a despicable look in his beautiful eyes that told me he’d never once experienced anything that could qualify as “gruesome.” He even smelled like someone who’d been loved as a child. I won’t mince words: I find that sort of thing hard to stomach. There was a good reason why I didn’t lose my lunch every time I looked at his stupidly mesmerizing face.

He read with a voracity I’d never seen.

So I smiled instead. This is how my face looks when I smile:                    .

The day he walked me through his foyer and all but risked his stupid little life climbing over the vast plenitude of his books, all just to reach the lamp, was the day I pardoned him for every future wrongdoing a man could ever commit. I even forgave him for being so well adjusted, irksome as it was. When I first saw him crack open a healthy 900-pager something inside me forgave him everything. I forgave him for disappointing me in all the ways a person inevitably will. He hadn’t know it at the time, but I’d just gotten done forgiving him for forgetting my birthday when he stubbed his toe on a mountain of hardcovers on his way to the bathroom. He was given carte blanche to commit any foul behavior that he saw fit. I forgave him all of it. I knew that when it no longer thrilled me to smell him or hear him talk, that I would stay and listen anyway. It’s an even trade. My own personal vow to meet him between the pages for as long as I was living. What could there possibly be to want after that?

I didn’t have to wonder about all those petty things that make strangers out of people who love each other. Questions like “does he really understand me?” would never cross my mind. What concern is it of mine if he doesn’t understand parts of me that matter so little, even to me? Whether he lets me hold the remote is really of no consequence. I can’t be bothered with being truly known in all the absurd ways in which people want to know each other. When he reads, digests the words, he’ll know me. When he falls into blissful sleep with a book on his face, he’ll know everything. There’d be nothing left to find out.

This is how I feel about books:                    .

There’s a real difference between someone who enjoys a good read and the fanatical desires I’m confronted with if I’m close enough to smell them. Back in the days of sleep I’d curl up with a stack of them. My eyes would light up like a candle in a dark window when I read Wallace Stevens; I was an empty house otherwise. Always hungry for Beckett or Ballard. Reading is like being close to an explosion. You walk away dazed, stuttering, head in hand, semantic shrapnel buried in your gut, and scarred for life.

Here is a scar inflicted by my favorite book:                    .

Maybe he was on to something when he tried to read me to sleep. Who wouldn’t feel soothed by the soft sound of pages turning? He read Foucault’s Pendulum until I could see Casaubon squinting into a fog of ectoplasm. But he was always the one to doze with the book on his face.

And I still couldn’t sleep.

There was one time I managed it. One time. This is how he woke to the left side of the bed soaked with my sweat as he felt around for me in the dark:                   . This is how he shuffled down the stairs, groggy, eyes unfocused in the light:                   .

This is what people do, in case you were wondering. They look for each other, track down their loved ones when they are gone. I didn’t get it the first time either.

This is how he searched through every room:                  . This is the back door, unlocked and slightly ajar:                   . Here is the flashlight he grabbed as he walked outside, following something like the sound of scratching:                   . This is how he walked through his own yard like he’d never been there before, unsure of everything the moon had drenched in eerie luminosity:                .

Out in the garden. That’s where he found me. Still as a stone that cuts the water in a stream, dressed in nothing but the white fire of the stars. I wondered if he could hear me breathing, panting like an animal, keeping time with the tiny kingdom of nature breathing around me. All those busy insects doing their work in the darkness. I couldn’t even remember his name.

This is how it felt to see me squatting in the moonlight:                  . This is the shape his face made when he couldn’t understand what it was he was seeing:                  . Here is the strangeness of coming up behind me to put a hand on my shoulder:                  . This is my face as I turned to him, soil streaking my mouth black under the pale light, caked under my nails, caught in my hair:                   . This is me shoving fistfuls of dirt into my mouth, smiling at the way it stuck between my teeth:                   .

The look in his eye was haunting and feverish. It reminded me of that poem by Stephen Crane, the one I like best, the one with the beast who was come upon by a stranger as he ate his own heart. “And the stranger asked, Is it good friend? To which the beast answered, It is bitter—but I like it because it is bitter, and because it is my heart.”

This is how he gaped at me like he never knew me a day in my life:                  . And he didn’t.

This is me, this is Joan:                   .

 

 

——

Geneviève de Angelis is an emerging writer from Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine. She is currently completing her first collection of short stories.

——

Jim Zola

What the Feral Boy Might Tell

Farmers whispered of the fleeting ghost, 
a naked beggar crouched at their back doors. 
They caught me scrounging tubers in a field 
at the edge of St. Sernine. I was expected 
to have the sense to die, left pig-stuck 
in a thicket, my father’s signature -- 
a jagged scar across my neck. 
Farmers’ wives claimed they saw me howling 
at an empty sky. Lies. They say 
I never smile, only crave food and sleep. 
Curled in a fetal wrap, I dream 
of Psamtik, the lonely room. How I fool 

them all. They poke me with their simple hopes, 
torture me for speech. Eau, the glass half-filled 
but out of reach. Idiot. I shine 
the apple of debate, piss wherever 
I please. I fill a cart with dung and then, 
unstopped, shovel it unfilled again. 
To show me off, I dine with generals 
and dark eyed intellects. I wolf each course, 
stuff my fancy pockets with desserts, 
then slip away, strip my outer skins 
to leap through gardens, agile as a squirrel.


——

Jim Zola has worked in a warehouse, as a security guard, in a bookstore, as a teacher for deaf children, as a toy designer for Fisher Price, and currently as a children’s librarian. Published in many journals through the years, his publications include a chapbook–The One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press)–and a full length poetry collection–What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press). He currently lives in Greensboro, NC.

——

Rita Hooks

The Rowboat

Summer 1965. There are nine of us in the little rowboat. Ten if you want to count Mom’s bump. Dad sits on the rower’s seat. He had wedged Mom in behind him. She sits on a lawn chair under a brightly colored clamp-on beach umbrella with Daughter #7 sitting atop her baby bump. Daughter #7, only a year old, is afraid of the water. She is a reluctant maharaja riding high in a howdah on the back of an elephant. Mom wears a maternity muumuu, Dad a French bikini.

***

He had put us in a house out in Babylon for the summer. Today he had come by for the weekend and rented a rowboat to surprise us. He had pulled the boat onto the sand at the end of the backyard and called us all out to see it.

***

We are now on Great South Bay heading out toward the bridge. I’m Daughter #2, eleven years old and wearing my first two-piece. I sit in the bow, keeping an eye on Mom in the back. Daughters #1, #3, #4, #5, and #6 squeeze in between Dad and me. We are a heavy and precarious load. When we had all piled in earlier, the day was fine. Warm and sunny. But now we are almost to the bridge, the Robert Moses Causeway, and the weather has changed. The sky is dark, the wind is up, and the water is choppy. Dad stops rowing. The bay mud from our feet has made the bottom of the boat sandy, wet, and cold. It makes me think of the clams I dig up to feed Mom’s voracious appetite. I steam three or four—they’re big—until they pop open, I put butter on them, and then I watch as they slip down Mom’s hatch.

***

The boat rides up high on a wave and then slams back down. This happens over and over again. The force of the sea frightens me. We are all very quiet. I glance at Mom. Daughter #7 sucks her thumb. So does Daughter #5. I realize that we’re not wearing our life preservers. I think this is strange because Dad always insists that we wear them whenever we go to the beach, much to the humiliation of Daughter #1 and me. None of us girls can swim, not even Mom. Dad, however, is an excellent swimmer. Not wanting to look like a scaredy-cat, Daughter #1 wears a goofy smile. Daughter #3 holds onto Daughter #5 while Daughter #6 climbs halfway into Daughter #4’s lap. Big drops of rain begin to fall, pelting our bare shoulders. I look around and see that we are the only boat in sight. I grip the sides of the bow and watch as the slate-grey sea attempts to hurl us from its angry surface.

“Shouldn’t we head back?” Mom asks Dad.

“Water’s too rough.”

The rowboat is close to the foundation of the bridge. I can see little pebbles in the rough concrete of the piling. I imagine a wave crashing the wooden boat into the fortress-like structure, shattering the boat and throwing us all into the sea.

***

I remember that Mom didn’t want to get in the boat. Heck, she didn’t even want to spend the summer—pregnant, alone with us girls—in a little rental house on the bay. She had told Dad that he was just embarrassed in front of the neighbors back home, that he wanted to hide her away, that he didn’t want them to see that he had knocked her up again.

“You’re as big as a fuckin’ water buffalo,” he had said.

They fought all the time. They blamed each other for their inability to produce a son. Dad shouted that the male seed would curl up and die inside of Mom. And Mom bawled that Dad wasn’t man enough to make a male. They used the Catholic church and its ban on birth control as an excuse for having so many kids. But we girls knew they were trying for a boy.

***

On one of Dad’s earlier visits (he came by on payday to drop off groceries; Mom didn’t drive) he noticed that Mom’s time was drawing near. He gave instructions to Daughter #1: “If your mother goes into labor, go down the road to the phone booth and call for an ambulance.” He said to me, “You go with her.” We rehearsed one night. It was a long walk on the pitch-black seaside road, looking for the phone booth. At last we saw it up ahead, like a shrine, its light luminous through the murky night air.

***

The worst of the rowboat ride is over now. Dad rows the boat back to the house. He lifts Daughter #7 from Mom’s lap and places her on the sand. Then he helps Mom out of the boat. While he gathers up the folding chair and beach umbrella, Daughters #5 and #6 struggle to climb out. No longer afraid, I want to stay in the boat. So do Daughters #1, #3, and #4. The sky is clear; the sun’s come out again. I am happy. I sit in the front as Dad rows to the dock with ease, his burden much lightened. As Dad throws the rope to the man, the man reproaches him: “Five people. You’re overloaded.” He seems as angry with us as the sea had been. Thinking that now we are half as many as we had been, none of us say a word.

***

Later, after the twins are born, Mom confides in me. She says, “Remember that day your father took us all out in the rowboat.”

“Yes,” I say.

“I think he was planning to let us all drown.”

I don’t say anything. Then she laughs a loud dry ha ha ha.

“What’s funny, Mom?” I ask.

“If he knew I was about to deliver Daughters #8 and #9, we would all be dead.”

 

 

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Rita Hooks lives in Florida where she works as a writing tutor at St. Petersburg College. Her work appears on East of the Web, Haibun Today, Deep Water Literary Journal, Pear Tree Press: The Literary Hatchet, and she has a blog at http://ritadalyhooks.wordpress.com/.

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Olivia Abt

The End of Lusty-Gallant

No one ever explains that when you pick
A flower you become a murderer.
She sits like a statue, simple and beautiful
against the roughness of the world not
fully seen. 
He loves me,
Can I still be soft if I scrub my body
with rocks? Finger tips trailing along
skin can be just as cold as no hands at all.
Yours were. I would sit in gardens that didn’t
fully belong to me and pick petals from living flowers,
why did no one tell me? Your breath like water to me.
Flower shops make their money from love and death,
same occasion, different name. Flowers must hate the
sun and the moon always watching them. I named your eyes 
Sun and Moon.
How many petals do you have to pick for a flower to
die without cutting its stem? I lost count a long time ago.
He loves me not.
She sits in the garden burrowing her toes in mounded dirt.
Bury beauty to feed the real living thing.


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Olivia Abt is currently a junior at Central Washington University majoring in Professional and Creative Writing. While she is currently unpublished, she hopes in the near future to become a published writer. After graduating Olivia wishes to work in publishing and become an editor herself.

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Denny Marshall

Snow O Machine

P Body

S

Bot Escapes Assembly Line

F Shadows

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Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Recent credit include cover art for Bards And Sages Quarterly Jan. 2017 and poetry in Space And Time #126 Winter 2016. His flash fiction story “The Window” published by Sci Phi Journal is on the Tangent Online 2016 Recommended Reading List, a review magazine for short SF & fantasy. See more at www.dennymarshall.com.

 

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