1500 miles from home ⎯ now the van was running funny ⎯ still a long way to go. Better not press our luck. A quick pause at a roadside rest stop told us all we needed to know. The long way got longer. I eyed the corn, into the shop with ye, Chevy.
We killed time in the best way we knew how, cold Cokes in the warm sun. Oh hey, an antique shop ⎯ let’s pop in for a quick look-see. Much cooler inside. Mom and I browsed while Dad chewed the fat with the old man. Dad was always up for a chat.
The room, perfumed in age… old woods, motor oil, tanned hides; filthy pine floorboards caked with grime; shelves amassed in knick-knacks of every kind; steamer trunks of a bygone time. Cobwebs clung to stacks of tobacco tins. In one case, a death’s head pin – how surprising to see such a thing. Spoils of war, collected from the corpse of a dead German – affordable for those who enjoy the souvenirs of sin. I imagined some middle-American named Bill or Jim telling the proprietor to “wrap it up with those Bakelite plates and that hurricane lantern.” How casually it sat, embossed with a rictus, that grin, a grim reminder to some, a display piece for him. No one else seemed to care. I pretended I didn’t either.
We walked out empty-handed and into the still-warming day. Repairs made, once more on our way… 1500 miles from home and double that back. One day I’ll return with my own children. Will the pin still be there in that case? And, if it were, wouldn’t it look better at the bottom of the river? We crossed over the mighty Miss. Onto Illinois and all points east.
Davey Adams was born and raised in Southern California to a family of actors. Lifelong student. Collector of Associates Degrees and part-time jobs. Writer. Poet. Singer. AKA The Good Doctor. You can find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp.
C.C. Russell has been published here and there across the web and in print. You can find his words in such places as The Meadow, The Colorado Review, Cimarron Review, and the anthology Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone. He has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. He currently resides in Wyoming where he stares at the mountains too much. You can find more of his work at ccrussell.net
Sarah Jane Justice is a fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken-word artist based in Adelaide, South Australia. Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry and prose published in Australia and internationally. Find her at: on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I got sick at Sunday School today—threw
up outside our portable building when
we got to that part in the Good Book where
Jesus raised up Lazarus from the dead.
I don’t want to die at all but when I
do I want to stay dead or I’ll scare Hell
out of everyone when I get up
on my feet again and all covered with dirt
and maybe blood and guts, depending how
I kick. And for breakfast all I had
was Tang and cornflakes and they came up all
over the spring-green grass where the spigot
leaks by the front porch, that’s as far as I
got before I vomited. If my dog
had been there he would’ve lapped it up but
I would’ve stopped him though still he’d try. I
asked Miss Hooker after class—she let me
sit on the porch while class was going on
without me sitting in our half-circle
(she’s my teacher and a lot to look at,
red hair and green eyes and freckles) if I
would go to Hell for getting sick in class
and she said, No, no, that I had gotten the demons out, meaning Tang and cornflakes
I guess, and I forgot the milk, maybe
it had soured, it came up, too. My stomach
was naked—empty I mean, naked is
a sin, I think, especially at church,
they don’t even bury dead folks that way.
I usually walk home but this time
Miss Hooker drove me after Sunday School,
it’s not far, a little less than a mile.
When we stopped in the driveway I got sick
all over again, but it was just love
that made me start to dry-heave and all that
came forth was air. Still, I got out of there
fast and barely said goodbye but I’ll get
my place in Heaven, Miss Hooker felt it
too, even if she’s 25 to my
10, and now I’m afraid to go back next
Sunday with her in my soul instead of
God but I think that’s how babies get made
and without them we wouldn’t have people
and no one else would ever rise again,
in Heaven at least, and live like angels
forever and never get hungry and
never hurl. And all because God hates us.
In Sunday School today Miss Hooker said that if
we have an enemy we should love him.
Or her. And if he wants to take our cloak,
to let him. Whatever a cloak is. Or
her. And to give him our coat, also. Or
her again. She says that Jesus said so
and He’s the Son of God. That’s good enough
for me, I guess. No wonder they killed Him.
They didn’t get away with it because
He rose from the dead. It took three days. Me,
if I had to rise from the dead, without
any help from God, I mean, I’d still be
trying to rise at the end of the world.
I’m small for my age. 10. Miss Hooker says
—and she’s our teacher and she ought to know
—that when I die my soul goes to Heaven
to be judged. She says that in our church that we
don’t think the soul just hangs around until
Judgement Day but that it goes lickety
-split to Heaven. I guess it hardly has
the time to know that it’s not still inside
a body. It shows up at God’s throne and
He asks an angel to pass Him the Book
of Life and the angel obeys, that means
he does what he’s told, or she, and God looks
through the Book and hunts up the name and if
He finds it you get to stay in Heaven
but if He don’t—doesn’t—you go to Hell.
She says it’s that simple. I wonder if
God wears glasses. He’s older than Father and
Grandfather and all the folks who’ve ever
lived and ever will. That’s powerfully
old. Miss Hooker says that we need to pray
everyday to be forgiven for our many sins. I don’t think I have many
but I’ve been wrong before, about plenty
of things. Like the one about the screen door
on that submarine to keep out the fish.
That made sense to me. It keeps out the bugs
at our house. But a screen door in a sub,
that’s short for submarine, would let the sea
Then the sailors would drown. They’re sailors
even though they’re underwater. Well, not
underwater all the time. But on land
are they still sailors? I rest my case. When
Sunday School’s almost over Miss Hooker
tells one of us to say the Lord’s Prayer
and we all say it along with him. Or
her. This morning was my turn. I stumbled
because I was thinking about the screen
door on that submarine. It might work out
when the sub isn’t underwater but
floating on the top. It would keep out birds.
Then there may be a fish who likes to leap
out of the water and back in again.
In that case he’d bounce right off it. Or she.
So I guess that I’m not entirely wrong, entirely means completely. Only sin
is entirely wrong, and I never pray
to be forgiven for being stupid.
If I die in being-stupid I won’t
go to Hell. If I die in sin, I will.
Someone might say that sinning is stupid
but they’re just mincing hares. Hares is rabbits.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Chiron Review, McNeese Review, Adirondack Review, Weber, Florida Review, South Carolina Review, Carolina Quarterly, Arkansas Review, Poem, South Dakota Review, and many other journals, and has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel (BrickHouse Press, 2004), The Weight of the World (BrickHouse, 2006), and The Story of My Lives (BrickHouse, 2008). He has taught university English in the US, China, and the Palestinian West Bank.
Fate arrives in her mailbox. And with its arrival, a decision. Fate is a red matte lipstick, a special order that arrived for Nicole Masterton, the person who lived in 12A before Allie. Allie has lived in 12A for five months, and she still receives Nicole Masterton’s mail. Sometimes Allie takes the mail to the post office and leaves it. Sometimes she throws it away. The magazines and catalogs she keeps. She guesses Nicole must be a fashionable young woman with a formidable shoe collection.
She doesn’t generally open Nicole’s mail, except for she did open the heavy envelope, embossed, that turned out to be a wedding invitation. Allie doesn’t get invited to many weddings. The fancy envelope has been sitting on her end table for three weeks, the gilded RSVP card askew as if the person who opened the invitation to the nuptials of Sarah Jane Laux and Jeffrey George Bolingbroke couldn’t be bothered to hurry an answer.
Allie imagines Nicole waiting for a wedding invitation, wondering if she had been forgotten, if she should call and inquire, if she should just show up as if the invitation had arrived as expected. Or if she should be hurt, or angry. Allie has considered bundling it all back into the torn envelope – why hadn’t she used a letter opener? surely such an envelope warranted a letter opener? – and taking it to the post office with a murmured apology. Instead, the envelope sits there, silver-foiled and pretty.
And now Fate has arrived. Allie doesn’t think of herself as a red lipstick type of girl. But when Fate is delivered to your door, oughtn’t you to accept it? The lipstick is a good match for Allie. It complements her complexion. She wonders what Nicole looks like, if Fate looks as good on her.
Allie wears Fate on her lips and goes to Nordstrom’s. She walks through the women’s section, aimlessly trailing her fingers over the sale racks and she sees it, a dress red as Fate. A dress in her size, on sale so ridiculously low she’d be a fool not to buy it.
For two days the dress lays over the back of a chair, waiting, like the wedding invitation. But Allie has known since she held Fate in her hand that she was going to the wedding. She wants to see it, to see this wedding announced with such an elaborate invitation, sent to a woman with a chilly name like Nicole Masterton who buys a lipstick called Fate.
Inside the church it’s all flowers and tulle and crystal and candles. Extravagent. Allie doesn’t sit all the way in the back as she’d planned. Women with Fate on their smiles don’t sit all the way in the back. She sits on the groom’s side, looking on the bride’s side for someone who might be Nicole Masterton who surely came, who isn’t at home sad and angry, whose friends told Sarah Jane Laux about the lost invitation and she surely was sent another.
The ceremony is beautiful, of course. The bride could grace the pages of Vogue and maybe she does. Allie dabs her eyes, caught up in the couple’s first married kiss. She finds herself in the receiving line, and she hugs the bride, who glows with happiness, and she hugs the groom who says, “It’s so good to see you again, it’s been so long.” It has, she agrees, but he doesn’t really know her. She leaves a touch of Fate on his cheek. It’s ok, she brought Fate with her in the tiny purse she dug out of her closet from prom years ago (from prom! seriously!) and she’ll keep Fate with her all night.
Because of course she attends the reception. The tables are set with name holders. There are two tables for those who have not RSVP’d. Allie wonders if she’ll be seated near Nicole Masterton. She doesn’t catch all the names as introductions are made, but Nicole is not one of them. She gives her own name as Tiffany Smith and hopes she remembers it later, if necessary. When she’s asked how she knows the bride, she says she knows the groom, but it’s been a very long time, not since they were quite young and the blush that warms her cheeks at the lie makes her wonder if people will assume they were lovers. She imagines what it would be like to have been his first love. Someone clinks a glass and the happy couple kiss. Allie smiles with her Fate lips. The table she is at is far from the wedding table, this table reserved for those without reservations.
Allie leaves a mark of Fate on the cloth napkin, reapplies in the Ladies where every moment she expects to run into Nicole Masterton, whose invitation she usurped. Allie smiles at the mirror. Fate looks good on her. So does the dress of the same hue, the only one like it she owns.
She watches the couple’s first dance. She leaves traces of Fate on more than one champagne glass. It’s past 11 when she decides to leave. The reception shows no sign of slowing down, and Allie wonders if it will end at midnight or continue until the sun rises.
Allie walks past the cloak room, past the bathrooms on her way out the door. The groom emerges from the men’s room. “Wait,” he says to her. “Don’t leave yet. I’ve wanted to talk to you all night.”
Allie turns, smiling with Fate on her lips.
Epiphany Ferrell lives and writes on the edge of the Shawnee Forest in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in New Flash Fiction Review, Third Point Press, Newfound and other places. She recently received a Pushcart nomination, and has a story forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020. She blogs intermittently for Ghost Parachute and is a fiction reader for Mojave River Review.
Gregory was the only male in the Hadrick Women’s Mental Institute. He was a burly nurse of about six foot six, heaving several bowling balls worth of excess weight around his stomach, and in his fifteen years as a professional carer he had committed many crimes.
It was a normal day at the asylum. Gregory padded up the shiny white floors – so clean they were sticky – and he entered Gina’s room. She was in bed, duvet wrapped around her bare feet, cheek squished against an exposed mattress spring. Gregory poked her nose with his plimsoll. She sat upright and rubbed her eyes with her fists. She received the milk, the buttered toast and double the number of pills she’d been prescribed.
‘I can’t remember anything,’ Gina moaned. ‘Not even yesterday. Gregory, do me a solid, tell me what happened to me last night or, God damn it, I’ll end it all. Life’s not worth living if you can’t remember last night’s Yorkshire pudding.’
Gregory sniffed and shrugged.
‘What if I just stopped taking the pills Gregory?’’
‘That would just be stupid.’
‘Wild stupid. My vagina feels weird.’
‘I don’t… Need to…’
‘Something’s not right. Something’s been in it, I’m pretty sure. I need to know.’
‘Um? Forget about it?’
‘I’ve got a vibe, man, and I can’t let this one slide!’
Gregory decided not to indulge Gina any further and finished off the rest of his rounds. The other girls were maudlin, grey and placid. They ate the food that made them fat, and the overdose of pills that made them pliable. They didn’t struggle.
Visiting hours came, and Gina met with Jackie, someone she’d befriended in Hadrick a year ago. They sat by the expansive window, far away from reception, as Gregory was there analysing their every move, chewing on a soggy pencil rubber.
‘I broke into Gregory’s home. He has mother issues,’ Jackie whispered, ‘serious mother issues. He has shrines to her, pictures everywhere, dresses laid out on chairs and beds. He sleeps next to her ashes. He’s an acid freak too. That’s how we get him.’
An hour later, Jackie skirted around Gregory, eyes locked to the floor, and exited the building. Gregory turned his gaze to Gina, who was chugging on a cigarette in the smoking cage, peeking out of the corner of her eyes, sussing Gregory up, hatching a plan.
That night Gina felt the thick velvet fog descend upon her – the consequence of the obscene amount of pills she’d been swallowing. But tonight would be different. Jackie had slipped her some poppers and the pungent effulgent rocked her mind enough to stay alert through the night – with the added bonus of making her bowels a little more carefree.
At the strike of two in the morning Gina heard the squeaking of trainers on linoleum. In the light from the lamp by reception, Gina watched as Gregory bore down upon her singing ‘The Yellow Submarine’ and smelling of pork scratchings.
Gregory flung Gina’s duvet off her and drooled. He began to undress her.
‘Come to Matka, lovely baby boy,’ Gina said.
‘Matka?’ Gregory said, dumbstruck. ‘Mamma?’
‘Yes baby, don’t look at me, what we are about to do is shameful but nevertheless – we must. Our love shall be anointed.’’
Gregory stepped back and covered his eyes with his arm.
‘I want to mamma, so have I missed you. But I’m afraid. Can this really be true? No, it can’t be. Maybe I’m losing my mind. I am on a helluva lot of acid.’
‘If you can’t please your mother then who can you please?’
‘Please Matka, I’m very confused.’
‘Make love to me now, or may Beelzebub eat your soul!’
Gregory began to cry and, keeping his eyes shielded, stumbled out of Gina’s room.
The next day Nurse Fold gathered the girls by the sofas next to the TV and told them Gregory would be absent for a short while and she would now be in charge.
As Nurse Fold started to dole out the day’s pills, Gina made a beeline for her and smashed the tablets out of their containers causing them to scatter to the floor.
‘I dare you to pick them up,’ Gina said. ‘I dare you. From now on I’m in charge, otherwise I’ll expose you for letting Gregory get away with what he did to us.’
Days passed and the girls still refused their pills. They tuned into MTV and danced on the sofas. They smoked joints in the dining room and stubbed their roaches out in their mashed potatoes. Gina was high as hell and jumped onto her friend’s back like a footballer who’d scored a goal, and shouted, ‘You can’t stop us, we’ve got too much spunk in our veins! Knock us down, we’ll just come back for more!’
And then things turned religious. Many of the girls recited babbling scripture – making the sign of the cross after every sentence they spoke. A week off the pills and the fights broke out. Girls made weapons from toothbrushes and plastic spoons. They picked sides.
Then time stopped.
One of the girls killed a nurse. She slit her throat with a shiv. The nurse had refused to bow down to the girl who claimed to be the new messiah. In the hours that followed, before security bulldozed their way through the doors – blocked by chairs and beds -everyone, including Gina, quickly sobered and saw things clearly. They were nobodies. They had nothing, never did. Who could blame them for thinking they were gods, who could blame them for wanting to live large for once in their lives?
As Gina was tackled to the ground by security, she saw light sweeping through the hospital hallways – a kingdom of light. She’d never felt so alive and she knew life would never be so wondrous again. She was ready to go back on the pills.
Tim Frank specialises in the comic, the dark and the surreal. He has written a semi-autobiographical novel, Devil in my Veins, and is currently writing a sci-fi thriller novel.
Dani Ferrara is a poet, writing teacher, and self-proclaimed ‘pataphysician. She proudly graduated with an MFA from the School of Disembodied Poetics alongside some of the most incredible writers she’s ever met. Her work has been featured in Dream Pop Press and Black Sun Lit. She is in three garage bands: Warm Dad, Bad Bath, and The Spellmans. She is also part of the extended Black Market Translation Orchestra. Dani lives in Denver. [Daniferrarapoet.com]
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Fifteen years old was when Shane Allison wrote his first poem. Since then his poems have appeared in countless kick ass literary journals such as Chiron Review, West Wind Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and others. He is the author of four collections of poetry. His new collection Sweet Sweat is out from Hysterical Books. He is also the author of two novels. Harm Done and You’re the One That I Want.
Body Autonomy sits next to M & I at a bar named Vesuvius. The kind of place people sit facing north, & maybe each other when the weather is right. Josie the bartender is chatting up a couple a few stools down, shows them a video of Johnny Marr playing a Clash cover to her in Los Angeles. “You are very magnetic,” M says. Josie free-pours silver tequila into cold glasses, says “I know.” Body asks for a remote to the tired TV, flips through channels, mumbles mention of the news headline, a mother pleading for assistance in finding her 17-year-old son, who left in the night to a city she can’t quite name or find on a map. “The heart leaves when we don’t make a home for it,” he whispers into his whiskey lemonade. I don’t feel the need to leave.
M & I stop to stretch our legs in a tiny town named Big Sur but isn’t actually named Big Sur. A town of stasis, of pausing movement while inertia presses forward in form of rented RV & restless toddlers. A town built on trinkets & organic oils & overpriced rooms. I light a smoke, stretch— one in the same, these days— M snaps analog photos of flowers that sway palm tree green. Body walks by in overalls & combat boots, long blonde hair. She places time-worn lips together into red highway line, hums, “Yummmmmmmm. You don’t see enough people smoking these days.” Swings her bag of chips like a little sis as she continues seaside.
My parents haven’t seen Body in years. Met them once at a corner on Baker Street. In aisle 5 shopping for Frosted Flakes. A sticky interaction, one worn like memory, like cut-off jean jacket hiding in the back of the closet. When M & I leave for Highway 1, they feel the grief. Miss Body, wish their children could have seen the swag of their grin, heard the sharp cuts of Body’s laugh. They want to tell us these things, want to postpone the distance, but say “Be careful” instead.
M & I stop for gas in North Lake Tahoe. We barely make the sunset, water lava-lamp-like, holding ground as we stumble over twigs & tired feet to catch a glimpse. We find the cheapest gas in town, only two options. Fill the tank slowly. A busted black Corolla drives in slowly. The teen boys inside open the door, speak slowly. Say, “Hey! Slow down, baby.” M & I move quickly. Body watches from the next pump, filling up his baby blue Bronco. Shakes his head slowly, says nothing.
Body agrees that being locked in a car-sized cage & being licked by Kevin Spacey for a year is better than living out every “would you rather” scenario in alternate dimensions, but not by much.
M & I stay with our friend L in San Francisco. L takes us to their neighborhood bar. Tells us the first time they really felt their legs was when they took rose-oil-infused-ketamine with Queens at a Pride party. Body sings “We Are the Champions” with the karaoke DJ as we take boomerang videos of our apricot beers clinking.
M, L, & I talk numbers, how they follow us. M says 5 is her favorite, a sign of luck when she drives the 12 hours from Minnesota to Denver, & then back again. L says seeing 22, 23, & 24 before their 28th birthday lets them know when to leave someone behind. I have an affinity for 32, my first jersey when I was 9. Tell them about the time K told me about my palm. Told me that I’d meet Body when I was 32. Said, “This uncertainty will be gone at 32.” Body passes us on the sidewalk, crosses south to head down Hyde. We head east, back to the car before the meter runs out at 12:45.
For Marie, who played 1,632 games of Would-You-Rather with me while we remembered Body’s face.
Shawnie Hamer was born in the heat & dust of Bakersfield, CA. Her first book, the stove is off at home (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) is an experimental art & poetry book curated through a community ritual which focused on the identification & exorcism of trauma. Hamer is the founder of collective.aporia, & a co-conspirator of the off.collective. Her poetry can be found in publications such as Bombay Gin, Tooth n Nail: practical advice from and for the everywoman, The Birds We Piled Loosely, SWP Guerrilla Lit Mag, & Tiny Spoon Lit Mag. She is currently living & creating in France.
Grief visited me like a roaring fire
from my round belly.
like a volcano
using me to clear a path for destruction.
Anguish took me by the hair and flung me around
day to day
like a tornado
ripping apart entire towns
launching metal into sky to make electricity.
I couldn’t understand the hunger
of a first true heartbreak
until I lived through the disaster.
When the white-hot violence finally reaches my community
it is with a shock
because we are the good,
one of the models in minority,
and despite this,
if our bodies are still deemed different
enough to be dispensable,
are we brought to reckon with our internalized shame
that led us to believe our existence depended on
being an unwilling willing confidant to our supposed
To reckon with the idea that
we are better than
those whose land we
and those whose bodies were
ground to the ground
to build a sense of nation?
where is home?
When you are constantly asked where you are from,
where you belong
while you straddle several worlds,
what choice do you have
but to make yourself your home.
Plant that lovely garden around you
and stay a while.
my english words
My black bata english medium boarding middle school shoes –
glossed and shined.
A singular activity
with black polish on a soft bristled brush
then a hard-bristled brush
that buffed and swiped until
I met the rules on appearance:
my reflections clear on the tops of my shoes
distracted from the black
on my palms,
under my fingers
my english words then
were mumbled under breath,
rehearsed out of sight,
practiced until my
when my father called cable companies
and asked me to interpret his spoken english,
the ear on the other side of the wire would finally understand, would
finally care to hear.
No longer would they laugh and
ask me to repeat
when my Ca-lee-for-nee-ah became kal-uh-fawrn-yuh
my cu-tit-ow-tuh became cut-it-out.
Shlesha Basnet is a clinical social worker and a part-time dabbler in poetry as a means to self-healing. She was born in Nepal and has resided in Colorado for more than half her life. Shlesha loves to hike, listen to stories, and attempts to love cooking.