On a crowded dance floor in a trendy club, a slightly-drunk bank teller with an athletic build, shimmies, shakes and throttles face to face with a lanky blonde with manicured nails whose name he is yet to find out. All the while, he is fully aware there’s a redhead in the shadows, checking him out, eyeing his ass and making no attempts at being discreet. He works out and he’s extremely proud of what he’s shaking. The blonde, he decides, talks too much. She tells him she’s a pharmacist and at first he thinks she’s making some sort of drug reference. She laughs. “No really, I’m a pharmacist.” She keeps talking and he eventually realizes it’s true. Turns out, she works at a drug store not far from where he lives. She’s nice enough and pretty enough, but he wants a crack at that redhead. He ditches the blonde and buys the redhead a drink. They sit at the bar and she’s frisky as hell, with her hands all over him. A wide grin stretches across his drunken face. “You’re not shy,” he tells her. “Guess not,” she says in a giddy voice. She takes a final sip of her drink and excuses herself to use the ladies room. “This one’s in the bag,” he whispers. He summons the bartender, orders another draft beer for himself and another Gin and Tonic for the redhead. When he reaches for his wallet, he discovers his back pocket is empty.
Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 35 print and online magazines including Boston Literary Magazine, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Foliate Oak, Vestal Review and Voices in Italian Americana. In his nonfiction adventures, Germano has worked as an editor and writer for Le Moyne College, Syracuse University, The Catholic Sun, Syracuse New Times, The Post-Standard and Stars Magazine.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Passing Through Los Altos in the Winter After the Summer of Love
That summer everyone was young and no one was afraid.
We lay on the grass in the park
while the Diggers stirred pots of soup over illegal fires.
Small muscles of love swelled in us.
But winter was different. Winter pushed us inside,
up the hill to a cabin that we sublet for one fifty.
Los Altos held none of the new-blue-sky
techno-dreams then. We lived on food stamps, a chain
of wet hours hanging over us—you, me, your brother—all
strung together so that each irritant amplified, until we
couldn’t stand each other
and then we sublet the only bedroom to an acid freak who buried
his stash in the backyard beneath the persimmon tree. I’d never had
a persimmon before, the orange cream of the fruit beckoned me—
the first chalky bite left me swearing off them for life
and then one day your brother dug up the cup of acid, dipped in a spoon,
then split for Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, miles away, speeding wild
through that gray-glass day, vertebrae whistling with fire and he swore he saw
Ken Kesey and the bus, the horizon full of signs,
a wheel of belief driving him. Los Altos ambushed me,
thrust me into a film where I had no part or mumbled forgotten
lines. I turned my back on the lemons
growing beside the door, opted for the East Coast where
snow and ice zip lined in my veins.
Judy Kaber is a retired elementary school teacher, having taught for 34 years. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, both print and online, including Atlanta Review, December, The Comstock Review, Tar River, and Spillway. Her contest credits include the Maine Postmark Poetry Contest, the Larry Kramer Memorial Chapbook Contest, and second place in the 2016 Muriel Craft Bailey Poetry Contest
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Minding my own business,
I adjust the setting
on the hose head, set it to
spray to water freshly planted
delphiniums, petunias, store bought,
not grown by me from seed.
Soil parched, it’s noon, not best
time for watering, spray filming
wide umbrellas of delphinium leaves,
forming cup sized pools:
praise me, from whom all blessings flow.
Feet braced for long haul, I hold hose
for dowsing, mist branching out rainbows,
then foot long garter snake edges forward
out of brush, red forked tongue darting
seeking droplets, slithering soundlessly closer,
head raised inch off ground, basks
underneath spray, turns to drape head by pool
formed beside delphinium, sinks head to eye level,
drinks, pale flaps behind jaw that allow
its mouth to open for wider prey,
expand, contract, just the way
you could see Cinnamon swallow water
behind her jaw, drinking five gallons
like a glass of water. The garter snake
continues to drink, expand, contract,
my shoulders burning from sun, I turn
hose off, set it down a ways away,
as the pool recedes, snake consuming
every drop he can.
Laura Rodley, Pushcart Prize winner, is a quintuple Pushcart Prize nominee, and quintuple Best of Net nominee. Latest books are Turn Left at Normal and Counter Point.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Eau de Marketing
Start soundtrack: a torch song, French. Cut to a terrace in Positano. An open-collared hedonist gazes down upon a palm-dappled pool in LA. Zoom in on celebrity cheekbones and flaring nostrils deadpan behind obsidian lenses. Their hauteur is surely a trait of the privileged. Their faces, though striking, affect disaffectation. Their languor could be the sickness of ennui. Numbed into indolence, only one thing can rouse them! It comes in a bottle. It's what each of us wants: a fragrance impelling all others to love you— but with no obligations to requite.
R. A. Allen’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the New York Quarterly, RHINO Poetry, B O D Y, The Penn Review, The Hollins Critic, The William & Mary Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Memphis and was born on the same day that the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism: December 26th.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Mr. Patel’s Unfinished Business
Poor Mr. Patel lay there, morphined up,
and only the pretty young girl
from No One Dies Alone waited with him,
slumped back in her chair, twirling a Twizzler,
observing the zagging waves on the monitors,
listening to the whoosh of the breathing machine.
His room has a view of the indifferent city,
its spires occluding the sun. A single
strip of green could be seen in the cityscape--
the park where he used to take his dog.
Outside his room, the hospice doctors are as cheerful
as ever—making plans for holidays, boasting
about their children, discussing their portfolios.
Though no one knew it, occasionally,
in a miasma of pulsing darkness, Mr. Patel’s sense
of self would return; he would see a flash of light,
would feel a beckoning, and then he’d remember
all the things still left to do—straightening
out his son who was mixing with the wrong sorts,
mending things with the brother he hadn’t spoken
to in years, making his last house payments.
Why, he was in the middle of writing his very own
Philosophy of Life which was to grapple
with the finality he had not yet quite reached.
And then the light would recede, his sense of self
would dissolve, and he’d slink back into the darkness.
Soon he will fall off into a final stillness,
and those who had been too busy to sit with him
will gather around his body—some will wail,
some will slap their foreheads, brimming
with a showy grief, some will quietly weep,
while Mr. Patel’s business remains unfinished,
and no one will know his struggle against such a fate.
Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives near Richmond, Virginia. His work has been featured most recently in the American Journal of Poetry, Glass, The Blue Mountain Review and Prometheus Dreaming.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Tyler Lawson and Billy Hajo came across the giant Burmese Python in an Ochopee, Florida Subdivision lot and realized it was close to record-breaking size.
"It’s long enough, Billy, but it looks to be a few pounds shy of the one they caught over in Sylvan Shores last month.” All the while, a Standard Poodle breed barked at the duo and the snake incessantly from behind a neighbor’s fence. Tyler and Billy came up with the solution to their problem almost simultaneously. As an added bonus, there was no more racket.
Phillip Temples resides in Watertown, Massachusetts. He's published five mystery-thriller novels, a novella, and a short story anthology in addition to over 140 short stories. Phil is a member of the Mystery Writers of America.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
The Raven Talks About Her Clipped Wings
The man who owned me did it, saying it was for the best. He would keep me, feed me. They were experimenting on pesticides. His daughter was born missing a brain. The wheat crop was supposed to feed the hungry people of the world.
I beat my shortened wings, tried to lift off, the blue air still above me, pressing me down. I promised I would not eat his wheat, but he said he wasn’t a farmer, he wanted a safe pesticide that wouldn’t ruin his daughter.
My eggs are soft-shell, my chicks don’t get born. Now what? Now what?
Cezarija Abartis has published a collection, Nice Girls and Other Stories (New Rivers Press) and stories in Baltimore Review, Bennington Review, FRiGG, matchbook, New World Writing, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a crime novel. She lives and writes in Minnesota.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Family Movie Night
Donald A. Ranard
With so much grim news, so much death and dying, they settled on something light and funny, a PG-rated romcom. “Now I know why screwball comedies were so popular during the Depression,” he said.
They sat on opposite ends of the sofa; she was immunocompromised, so they were being super-cautious. Their five-year-old daughter lay on the carpeted floor in front of the big-screen TV.
Thirty minutes into the movie, the man said to his wife, “All that touching and hugging. Seems kind of strange now, doesn’t it?”
Their daughter turned around, a look of alarm on her face. “Are they gonna get sick and die, Daddy?”
Donald A. Ranard's stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Flash Fiction Magazine, Every Day Fiction, 100 Word Story, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere. His essay “The Accidental Hotel” is anthologized in The Best Travel Writing 2005. He lives in Arlington, VA.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
I had a dream that made it profoundly clear I had the passion to be a writer but not the talent and I should have quit years ago. I thought pandemic nightmares would be zombies and stuff, but instead they’re just your worst fears about yourself.
Greg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, a novel, Hibernation, a YA thriller, and the memoir Letters Home: A WWII Pilot's Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific. He has four other completed novels, unpublished to date. His short fiction has appeared at Boston Literary Magazine, Toasted Cheese, and is in Confrontation.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Poseyville, Indiana, 1953
Michael C. Keith
Our house was at the far edge of town on a gravel road that came to an end at the creek we spent most of every summer fishing. Because we hardly ever caught anything in it, it didn’t attract other folks. That was fine with Pa, because he couldn’t abide strangers or even people he knew, for that matter. In fact, it seemed he just barely tolerated us, although Ma treated him like he was the nicest person there was. It’s not that he wasn’t okay with me and my younger brother. It’s just that he never stopped telling us he had hidden a gun somewhere close by and he knew how to use it. He would say that out of the blue when we sat with him on the porch or work the fields with him. Blurt it out like there was someone else there with us. It didn’t seem like it was intended for us, but it didn’t seem like it wasn’t. My little brother would ask me about it, but I didn’t have an explanation. Finally, we just accepted there was a gun hidden somewhere on the property, and it was important to Pa that we knew it.
Michael C. Keith’s latest book, Insomnia 11, is his 15th story collection.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
She was an angel, he says, pointing at the woman with red hair who happens, also, to be nude, green and somehow levitating and accepting a bouquet of flowers from a giant bird wearing a dress; but he’s juiced up already; and jumbled: does he means his wife? his mother? (with both former, now), anyway, he’s gesturing at the Chagall painting.
On the wall. It’s a reproduction. It’s the same thing all over, again. First, the gin and bitter lemon—sliced thin—his fingers fat as sausages; big swatches worn out of the rug, circling the stove, it all goes in: a head of cabbage; two carrots—shredded—three cloves of garlic; minced. Austere; Levitical—the smell (of formaldehyde): him.
The weekly shower…a battle: the iron vice grip, the vigor, undiminished; the endless kvetching: just dump me in Potter’s Field. If wishes had wings. These visits! Family!
Toweling the folds of skin; so icy; ashen. Dressed and then ensconced in the cleft of chair from where (or whence?) came the gesture. Fleeting; pitiless: more loss; the lost: rickets-thin, peering out the frame [the picture, sitting on a dirty doily; on the end table]: the brothers; the sisters.
Let’s get some air: I hector; the walker, tennis ball-capped chuffing the cobbles in the park. Bench-bound, spit bubbles floating words over his tar-stained lips: I could die for a cigarette. A clot of kids filtering past—“hey, whatchya doing here, where you from gramps”—Riga, Riga. Damn it: I’m from Riga.
Robert Libbey lives in East Northport, NY. He has work at: Ligeia, Anti-Heroin Chic, Cabinet of Heed, Spelk, Drunk Monkeys and elsewhere. He is a reader with Literary Orphans.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
the Kennedy space Center
warned us —
you will feel it,
then you will hear it
then you will see it,
and it was like being strapped
to the table
and his cry opening
into the world
like an iron rose,
and I sobbed before
the barb of him
was even in my brain —
before I thought
that is him —
before I saw him
bloody red and roaring
my heart was
already in his
Leslie J. Anderson's writing has appeared in Asimov’s, Barrelhouse, Strange Horizons, and Apex, to name a few. Her collection of poetry, An Inheritance of Stone was nominated for an Elgin Award. Poems from the collection have won 2nd place in the Asimov’s Reader’s Awards, and were nominated for Pushcart and Rhysling awards. She lives in a small, white house beside a cemetery with three good dogs and a Roomba.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Bar Fights and Brain Scans
I struck the man’s jaw, the crack echoing down the long, wooden bar. The impact left a small cut trickling crimson down the crevices of my knuckle.
He fell backwards, his portly face making a sound like sludge being dumped into a bucket as it smacked the floor.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the bartender shouted. His name tag read Mark.
The portly man pointed at me. “This maniac punched me.”
“You were talking,” I said.
“Why’d did you hit him?” Mark interjected.
“Because he wasn’t saying anything,” I responded.
Christina walked through the door. We were supposed to meet here for lunch. It was where we first met 27 years before. “Gary, what’s going on?”
I realized my right fist was trickling a crimson waterfall. “Just a bar fight,” I said.
She pulled a cloth napkin from a nearby table and covered my fist.
“I got the results back,” I said.
“What did they say?” Christina’s eyes were filled with compassion.
I looked away.“Cancer.”
The C-word. Christina’s face contorted. “What did Dr. Phillips say?”
“He said they can’t operate.”
Mark turned away, fire melding into pity.
Christina’s head nestled into my shoulder. “Let’s go home,” she said.
Christina and I departed. The world had changed and was still shifting. No one else noticed.
"No more fights.”
I held Christina’s hand. We joined the passing crowds, carried away by the unending parade of the temporal and the fleeting.
Neal Suit is a recovering lawyer. He is a writer of fiction and is working on his first novel. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife, two daughters, one cat, one dog, and periodic writer’s block.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Aria caught the city bus as the sky donned a pinkish glow before the day’s final gasp. Her daughter Millie sat on her lap, gripping onto her mother's wrinkled hospital scrubs—the ones with the cat patterns on them. Millie had entered that age where she often asked all the difficult questions of the universe. Are the sun and the moon friends or enemies? Do aliens go to the bathroom? Why do other kids have a dad, but I don’t?
“Here’s our stop,” Aria said.
After dropping Millie off at grandma’s house, Aria hopped back on the bus and waited for it to bring her to work. She gazed out the window and sighed. The city was winding down while she was just beginning her 12-hour shift. The bags under her eyes carried enough stories to tell to the stars. Sleep was just an elusive dream at that point.
As she exited the bus, she dashed past a group of five nurses who were relishing a smoke break. She always wondered why her fellow healthcare workers would pollute their pink lungs, but she wasn’t hellbent on judging. Stress is a pervasive beast. Paranoia is a sneaky shadow that never leaves you alone. Uncertainty makes your mind spin in circles.
The moment she strapped on her mask and walked through the hospital’s sliding doors, she already couldn't wait to pick up Millie in the morning, then go home and change.
As always, she wondered: Will tonight be the night?
Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories have appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Mystery Tribune, Ghost City Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Ellipsis Zine, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Lotus-eater, Crêpe & Penn, WINK, Levitate, Drunk Monkeys, Door Is A Jar, and Yellow Medicine Review. He lives with his wonderful wife Kelly in St. Paul, Minnesota.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Consider the Stingray
In the aquarium there is a large tank
Into which grey stingray are placed
At waist-level, we’ve the staff to thank,
For our introduction to a life encased,
Alien to us, without appendage or face,
Monocular observation, stern tail,
Gliding in centrifuge at a gentle pace
For leering bipeds with skin so frail,
Who’re allowed to pet this contrary genus,
If we don’t grab, as our ancestors might,
These sons and daughters of Venus,
Who are submerged, yet emulate flight.
Avian yet aquatic they move through the brine,
Until one ascends and connects with my hand,
Which finds thereon soft wet skin and a spine—
A spine! Do my brethren, who here also stand,
Folly to consider this outlandish stingray—
This distant mammal-estranged kin?
I’m corrected—dermal denticles—in no way
A spine but in fact not unlike scales or a fin,
That tail contains poison, which can kill,
And those jaws obliterate invertebrates,
Hunters cursed never to be still,
Surveyors on a plane omnipresent.
Ah, but those searching, sagacious eyes,
Who consider me in mutual observation—
A placid primate in civil disguise,
Transfixed in trivial contemplation—
Codify me immediately as neither prey
Nor predator; nor even purveyor of food;
To think that on any given day,
These creatures in their mirth and mood
Would hazard to touch a human hand,
For reasons unknown to the bystander,
As here at the stingray tank I stand,
Speechless in spite of newfound candor.
Joshua Brunetti lives in Connecticut where he serves the public as a Probate Court Clerk and teaches part-time at two community colleges as an adjunct professor of both English and Public Speaking. New to being published, his poems have appeared so far in Dual Coast Magazine (Prolific Press) and Teach.Write. Magazine.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Just Noticeable Difference
In the bedroom I ball up a pair of socks
fresh from the dryer
with a green logo embroidered on the throat
I toss it on his pile of folded T-shirts,
jeans and shorts
He lobs it on my bureau:
Not mine. He shrugs,
I frown. Not mine, either
we search each other’s eyes
In a kitchen drawer I fish for a fork
draw one out
unlike the others
off shade of pewter
Where’d this come from? I ask
He examines it
hefts it in his hand
voices in the hall
tones below our hearing threshold
a party outside the door
I stop breathing
Pull my feet under the covers
clutch his sleep-limp arm
At the foot of the bed
the cat twitches
thrusts his gaze toward the door
settles back to sleep.
Sandy Deutscher Green writes from her home in Virginia USA, where her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and appeared in Bitter Oleander, Blue Nib, Neologism, and Qwerty, as well as in her chapbook, Pacing the Moon (Flutter Press, 2009). BatCat Press published her limited-edition chapbook, Lot for Sale. No Pigs, in June 2019.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Thank you Note to Online Poetry Instructor
Julia Caroline Knowlton
Thank you and I confess, I was under my weighted
blanket for most it. I did not write an ode to a common
object, like the others did. I switched on video only
to show the class the silver baby cup I never knew I
had, the one my mother and I discovered while going
through her things, after my dad died, because she
has to move now, before she dies. Maybe it was the bird skull
you held up to the camera, as an example. I could not stop
thinking about its flight. Maybe it was how many others
chose bowls, like you did. I silently judged them in
my alone bed of night, video off again, fetal under the
navy blue weight, berating myself for the mean spirit
of my mind. I sent you fifteen dollars, then went to sleep.
Bone hull of a dream, fly me here, find lines to keep.
Julia Caroline Knowlton is the author of four books, including a memoir, a poetry chapbook, and a full-length collection of poetry. A Professor of French at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, she has a PhD in French Literature from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University. In 2018, she was named a Georgia Author of the Year for her chapbook, entitled The Café of Unintelligible Desire (Alice Greene & Co.). The recipient of an Academy of American Poets College Prize and a Pushcart nominee, her poems have appeared in journals such as Roanoke Review and Raw Art Review.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
St James’ Hospital, Balham, London SW12
South of the river, pronounced ‘Bal-um,’
not a fashionable spot. In 1949 Peter Sellers did a
mock travelogue my father liked to imitate:
“Bal-Ham, Gateway to the South!”
(It called for an American accent; dad did his best.)
The hospital itself was born
A year after father—1909—on
the site of a workhouse for juvenile offenders.
Blitz bombs knocked out the boiler house.
There I had my Advent in 1953; went back around 1960,
when the boiler house failed again. They couldn’t sterilize the
instruments so I spent two weeks on the ward
waiting to have my tonsils pulled. From my bed,
through high windows, I watched the rockets leap,
celebrating the fall of Guido Fawkes. Ice cream and jelly for my
tortured throat, quite a treat in those days,
even though rationing had already ended. The acrid smell of spent
fireworks lingered along with the clutch of the last of those
great, yellowy, fogs, thick as phlegm,
girdling the taxi mum took me home in.
John Richard Heath was born in London, England but has spent most of his life abroad. Following a career in the World Bank, he now teaches international development at American University in Washington, DC. He has recently published poetry in Pendemic and Horror Sleaze Trash.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Before leaving Savannah, the middle-aged couple stopped by Leopold’s for ice cream. Photographs of celebrity patrons lined the 100 year old institution’s walls. The husband ordered a scoop of chocolate, scoop of vanilla. The wife two scoops of pistachio.
They invented Tutti Frutti here, the husband said. My goodness, Sir Anthony Hopkins has had a scoop here, the wife replied.
The husband gazed around the iconic shop. There was a marble soda fountain and everything inside remained unchanged. Children of various ages, happy with sticky fingers and dirty mouths ran about. He licked his ice cream and looked at his wife. She’d gotten a dab of pistachio on her nose. They’d made the decision together, but in times like these he felt remorse they would not have children.
As he pondered this and decided not to mention the dab on his wife’s nose, he recalled visited Bald Head Island off the coast of North Carolina, years before, when they’d been lucky enough to witness the birth of sea turtle hatchlings and to stand in a line of spectators and turtle rescue workers who attempted to usher them safely into the ocean. One worker told them 1 in 1000 sea turtles make it to adulthood.
The best anyone could do was assure they reached the water. As they watched the procession of tiny turtles waddle down the make-shift chute toward the breaking waves, a seagull swooped in and plucked one up in its beak and flew away.
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work has recently appeared in Ghost Parachute, Ellipsis Zine, Menacing Hedge, The Hunger, New World Writing and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.