Category Archives: Magazine Content

“Grand Hotel” By Frederick Pollack

As a courtesy, the government man
lets the manager sit in on
the surveillance. But the cameras
are the hotel’s, and the manager thinks
it’s his courtesy. The other agents
in the room could set him straight,
but their chief signals them to stand down.
On the screen they’re watching,
a man viewed from the ceiling in green light
uneasily sleeps. Earlier they saw him
boringly, unhappily prepare
for bed. This man (the agent explained
with a frankness that pleased the manager)
represents democratic forces
in a small, important, troubled, distant land;
tomorrow he’ll sleep elsewhere,
and tonight his foes will not kill him.
On other screens, in remote stairwells,
men in helmets and armor
unobtrusively lurk; plainclothes types
(the manager knows the look) sit
neatly, here and there, in the lobbies.
The manager observes his usual screens.
On 30 North a girl is locked out
of her room. No – she’s looking
at herself, not in a mirror,
but in a polished panel of the hallway
wall. Will she kiss that reflection?
No – she leans her brow against it.
Will she hit her head against it?
Should he send someone? Can he? On 12 South,
a large man in an expensive
though markedly disheveled suit
(Why hasn’t he put on our nice white bathrobe?
the manager wonders), clutching a bucket,
confronts an ice machine. Seems unable
to interpret it, weaves back and forth
as if praying. The SWAT teams – if that’s the proper term
with feds – take one step up
in their secret stairwells and stop,
like martial angels ascending. Here and there,
in (the manager checks
a readout, smiles without prurience) nine percent
of the rooms, lovers thrash. The kitchens
gleam and are gratifyingly hectic
without chaos. On 50 South
the Thing appears. Maids give it various
Spanish names, but their silence has been bought.
Behind it, scuffs and mildew manifest.
Its grey skin, eyes red
with inscrutable rage, grief
or allergies fill the manager
with professional hate and worry. Of course It won’t
appear on the tapes. Should he ask
the government man for help? Now’s not the time.
In the North Tower bar, entering which
(critics say) is like strolling into
an Old Master, a somewhat older
man and somewhat younger woman
gaze off at angles. “She couldn’t–”
says the woman, and the man: “He–” The manager
adjusts his earphones to block
the jolly noise of the bar. “After a while
none of it meant anything,”
says the woman. “Even the kids?”
the man asks. She possibly sighs.
“He tried as hard as he could–” says
the man, without asperity. But noise
returns, a dropped tray, and what the manager hears
next is something from her about
“values,” how they can’t be just put on
like a dress. He agrees; more vigorously:
“It’s better in hotels,
isn’t it? Someone else to change the sheets…”
Intrigued, the manager misses
the moment the soldiers
begin to mount the stairs. When he looks,
those screens are dark, and so is the room
of the foreign personage. The agent,
pressing his own headphones, scowls for silence;
then rises (his team has exited), thanks
the manager for his patience
and patriotism. Reassures him
no guest and no routine has been disturbed.
“Was he attacked?” asks the manager. “We had to
extract him,” says the agent.
“But he’s safe?” “Of course,” the agent smiles;
shakes hands and leaves. Though it’s late,
Reception is crowded: a boisterous group has arrived.
Huge SUVs pull up, depart;
and if one appears
at a loading dock and leaves with strange cargo,
the manager knows he has no need to know.

*

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, and a collection, A Poverty Of Words. Another collection, Landscape With Mutant, is to be published in 2018 by Smokestack Books. Many more of his poems appear in print and online journals.

Back To Issue Forty-Four

“Signals Of Fear And Uncertainty” by Eric Shattuck

Image by Jia Sung.

There is a fist-sized hole in the concrete floor and another in the ceiling. The hole in the floor is bearded with sunblack shit, and at night the beetles climb out of it and crawl across my toes. The smell is worse in the daytime.

Sometimes I stand under the hole in the ceiling and let the sun cook my scalp until I can’t stand it anymore, until I can feel the edges of my mind singe and curl back like paper held to a candle flame.

I do pushups, sit-ups, handstands. I hum songs, recite half-remembered lines of poetry. I think about my wife: the freckles on her bottom lip, and the way only one cheek dimples when she laughs. Around noon the men bring me food – a paper plate with rice and chunks of flavorless gray meat. I eat with my fingers and stuff the plate down into the hole when I am finished.

There has been no interrogation, no talk of ransom.

I awake to find the President of the United States looking down at me. He is very tall; even hunched over, his shoulders scrape against the ceiling.

“You’re taller than you look on TV.”

He offers a paternal smile. “That’s the first thing everyone says.”

I ask the President how he got in here with me, but he is evasive. He asks me if I knew that an octopus can squeeze through a hole no larger than its beak.

The President doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He fiddles with his American flag lapel pin, cracks his knuckles, holds them stiffly at his sides.

I ask him if rescue is imminent.

“If I could, I would have help on the way as we speak. A whole fleet of black helicopters, chock full of rough men. Real doorkickers.”

“Why can’t you?”

“The truth is, I don’t know where here is. I have the key, as it were. Now all I need to find is the lock.” The President pauses. “You know, I was a prisoner of war once, myself.”

“I know. I remember the campaign ads.”

“They pulled my fingernails out with pliers.” He holds up his left hand, taps the tip of his middle finger. “This one didn’t grow back. The nail is fake. Acrylic.”

I chew my fingernails down to nubs. The President writes his full name and phone number on a scrap of paper.

“My personal line,” he says. “In case you remember any details about the men who took you.” He offers me an after-dinner mint from his breast pocket.

The President comes and goes in the night. Increasingly, I find myself unable to recall what he has said to me. When he finishes speaking, I am left with only the vague impression of having heard his voice. I am starting to resent his presence in my cell. Because of his height, he is closer to the hole in the ceiling, closer to the fresh air. He tilts his head back and inhales deep, greedy lungfuls.

He has roped me into playing tic-tac-toe. We take turns scratching X’s and O’s into the wall with the point of his lapel pin. The President wins twenty games in a row. I have suspicions that an aide is whispering strategies into the earpiece he has taken to wearing of late, but he assures me that this is not the case, and I am in no position to make accusations.

He begins the twenty-first game by placing an X on an edge square, and I see my opening. I box him in and take the win. The President leans against the wall and slides down into a seated position. His face clouds over.

“It’s this heat,” he says. “I’m not thinking straight.” He produces an embroidered handkerchief and dabs at his forehead, his wrists, the back of his neck. He hangs his head.

The President is weeping. Tears are coursing down his cheeks. Despite his height, he seems shrunken down, a boy in his father’s suit.

“Mister President.”

He ignores me.

“Mister President, really–”

The wailing intensifies. I am gripped by sudden predatory urges, like a wolf watching a wounded sheep fall out of the herd. The first kick is weak, but I put my weight into the second. I hurl myself onto him and we roll across the floor together, punching and biting. I put my knee into his stomach while he crushes my knuckles against the concrete.

The lapel pin bounces into the hole in the ground, and just like that, the struggle is over. We lay side by side for a moment, wheezing and probing our faces for injuries. When we get up, we stand in opposite corners with our backs to one another, like two people pretending not to notice each other at a party.

The President has forsaken me. Days go by without so much as a word; I believe he is still upset about the tic-tac-toe.  Any hope of a rescue mission is remote, and morale is low.

I find myself staring at the X’s and O’s scratched into every wall of my cell, wondering if they will blend together, coalesce into something meaningful.

At night, I walk in circles. I listen to the crickets sawing outside. I sit beneath the hole in the ceiling and look up at the stars, searching for the gleam of satellites that orbit overhead. I imagine an antenna sprouting from my head, projecting signals of fear and uncertainty into the dark, as if one of those satellites might pick up on them, might look down into the hole and see my face looking back, and the person watching the feed will say, This man is in trouble. This man needs our help.

*

Eric Shattuck is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. He studied at South Carolina State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and served as an editor for the Inkwell student literary journal. His work has been published in The Nottingham Review, 99 Pine Street, The Molotov Cocktail, Gone Lawn, and the Kentucky Review, among others.

Back To Issue Forty-Four

“Dishonorable Trade” By Elizabeth Sackett

"Dishonorable Trade" By Elizabeth Sackett

the rain chills him to the marrow.
he is meant to be human, not humane,
and the potential of the axe
is resting, for now,
on the scaffold.

a lady’s head is bowed
as she steps forward to the crowd,
the weather darkening her hair,
weighing her crown.
the man can see
the vertebrae of her spine,
the cold pale way
they extend from her neck
like a twisting fish.

it’s easier that way,
he knows,
the hair up so that the strands
don’t snake and snag the blade
but even after a decade
of this dishonorable trade,
the softness of the back of a neck
disconcerts him.

maybe it’s because of his child,
the way she curls against his wife at night,
her dark curls
flickering, insubstantial,
in candlelight,
the sweet smell
at her nape.

there’s nothing childlike
in the woman before him.
the words she speaks to
the people
soak up the rain like paper
and fold, but he is certain
they must be noble.
she turns
and there are creases by
her eyes. he has seen panic
and there is nothing alien
in her resigned desperation,
a shudder in her lip
and a twisting in her hands.

she
reaches
out
to him, a coin
resting in her restless
fingers.
do you
forgive me,
he says.

with her response
she ghosts her nails
across her throat
before kneeling
before a stone bed
and flinging her arms
like a bird.

the coin is cold and wet.
into his pocket
it goes,
and it shall be played with
by small hands
later, the metal
catching
the mystery of
firelight
and his child
shall laugh,
the sound full
in her body,
traveling from
a filled stomach
to a throat,
bubbling
and bursting
but these are thoughts
for a different time.

the axe
releases.
he’s already received
absolution
for this potential sin
and the skin
on the back of the lady’s neck
goosebumps,
for a moment,
with life.

*

Elizabeth Sackett earned a degree in English with a writing concentration from SUNY Geneseo, where she received the Lucy Harmon Award for Fiction Writing and was published in Gandy Dancer. Highly involved with her local live poetry scene, she has also recently been published in Gravity Of The Thing and Fickle Muses. She spends her spare time drawing pictures of bird skeletons.

Back To Issue Forty-Four

“DADT” By Lucas Shepherd

"DADT" by Lucas Shepherd

My best friend in the Air Force was gay;
she separated eighteen months before DADT

became NOYFB.  She worked in the base
hospital; I worked the flightline.  Once

on a frosty October morning, tumble-
weed skeletons piling up on the perimeter fence,

I walked into her clinic.  She wore her BDUs
well, I thought. With blue gloves she lifted

up my shirt sleeve.  Earlier that summer we camped
at Bottomless Lakes in Roswell; she was alien

to me. I tried to kiss her. No, I wasn’t that
drunk. And no to your second question.

It was so windy our tent blew away.  She
administered my flu shot on one of those days

in October that you’d swear you’ve lived before. How’s
the flightline? Fine. Sorties. Smoke pit. Fireball 8.

Nothing exciting? Even with the gunships?
I told her about the 30mm dangling

from a Lockheed AC-130W Stinger II’s waist.
Close to the fuselage, shaded under its wing.  In order

to deliver new gen heaters and floodlights
and an old mule that leaked hydraulic fluid,

I had to park near this cannon. Did you
touch it? No, I said. I wouldn’t dare.

*

Lucas Shepherd’s work appears in The Atlantic, Colere, Rockhurst Review, Razor, Little Village Magazine, Daily Palette and Sliver Of Stone. He was the 2015 fiction judge for Scribendi’s Western Regional Honors Council Awards. From 2006-2010, he served in the US Air Force. Find more of his work at lucas-shepherd.com.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

“The November We Are Fifteen” By Lydia Armstrong

Image by Toby Penney

Previously published in Crack The Spine.

The November we are fifteen we run away and the boys around the block put us up in a motel room on the turnpike that has a hole in the door so we can see everyone’s sneakers shuffling past.

We write poetry and eat potato chips all week and one night I sit on the chipped-tile bathroom floor and feel my mind break apart and the pieces get sucked up into the air vent.

On Thanksgiving the Arab at the front desk calls and says in broken English no one’s paid the bill for the night but we understand clearly when he says, I’m calling police.

We hide our bags in the woods and use the last of our change to call the boys from the pay phone at Waffle House and the ringing just trills through the ear piece like a jungle bird.

We tell the waiter behind the counter we don’t have money and he watches us the way my father looks at sick dogs.

After an hour he gives us coffee and after two hours he goes over to the gas station and buys us cigarettes and after three hours he puts sopping plates of smothered hash browns in front of us that we can’t eat.

Two boys with slick white smiles and a car say we can go with them and the waiter behind the counter keeps wiping the same spot and watches us go out into the dawn, where everything is soft and blue at the edges and we are glad the night has passed.

The slick boys have keys to an uncle’s barber shop and say, here sit on our laps, and we look at each other like maybe this is exciting, maybe something is happening.

Something must be happening because the lights are off but the room is still glowing and the only thing holding us onto these bony knees are the arms slung over our hips.

But it’s hard to tell because we are weak from hunger and sleeplessness and the blunt passing through our hands and all we want is home.

The problem with a strange boy’s lap at dawn is that it shrinks your hearts, like how eating potato chips for a week shrinks your stomach, and when someone tries to give you something real, there isn’t anywhere to put it.

*

Lydia Armstrong lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is active in the spoken word community and helps facilitate Slam Richmond. She collects bugs, drinks copious amounts of white tea, and has a cat named Birdie. She is working on her first novel. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @cr0ssmyfingers.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

“98 Ianthe” By Robert N Lee

"98 Ianthe" by Robert N Lee

Previously published in Shimmer.

You used to be in the band; now you work on the asteroid. People you have to work with, they ask about it all the time when they find out. And they always find out – somebody always tells them. They all want to know what that’s like. “You used to be in the band? And now you work on the asteroid?”

They always think they’re the first ones to ask. You can tell because they always start with “You must get asked this a lot…” and nobody really ever means what they say – they always mean the opposite.

“Didn’t you save any money?” That’s the next question asked by approximately two-thirds of those who want to know what it’s like, being in the band and then working on the asteroid. They don’t really want to know that, though. They already know you didn’t save any money, or you wouldn’t be working on the asteroid, even if you weren’t still in the band. It’s not really a question, so much.

What they’re really saying is, I would have saved some money. It’s all over their faces, although they probably think it looks like concern. Or pity.

It just looks like reverie and scorn.

Whatever, they bought the record. They spend their money on one hit wonders because the song was in the surprise hit feel good groovie of the year and everybody everywhere played it all year long and there were kisses and fucks, and it was the last year of college.

But sure, they all would have saved some money, some of the leftover-after-I-go-buy-the-same-record-as-everybody-in-the-known-universe-this-summer money.

That money.

Things move so fast, here in the future. As humans age, so also goes humanity and as the peak of a race’s existence is hit and passed – time seems to speed up on the downhill slope. It’s inevitable.

“It takes a thousand years to go from one to twenty-one, the rest is a rocket slide,” you saw in a burst yesterday. Attributed to Einstein. It had a date and everything.

Everything is attributed to Einstein, especially online. Einstein said we only use ten percent of our brains and if we’d use the other ninety, we’d all discover Jesus through science, plus cleanliness is next to godliness.

Einstein never said that. It doesn’t matter. Somebody said it, and somebody else copied it and used it to tag a burst, a unique quote to express their common individuality with 876,453,667,981 other humans throughout the galaxy using that quote to tag their bursts.

The human race is well past drinking age. Humanity has already sobered up and is settling in for a soft descent into fading quietly into a good or bad night. Everybody knows it, like an old dog knows it: time to go. Past time, maybe.

“Great minds think alike,” Einstein said that, too. Or he didn’t. It doesn’t matter, no one ever says what they mean or means what they say.

The shifting slopes of language, the treadmills that render words blasphemous one day, innocuous half a generation later – they go faster, too. Here in the future. The name of the band was the name of the asteroid, and back then, all those months, mere days ago, that was a risk.

The name of the band was the name of the asteroid was the name of the massacre. The massacre reigned in young hearts and minds, supreme and bright and loud. You didn’t know that would happen. It was just dumb luck. The band played that kind of music, dark and driving and angry about things to be angry about, and the singer was a wannabe Altairan and a poly sci major, so he heard about 98 Ianthe way before anybody else. He wasn’t that smart, he wasn’t a songwriting or music playing kind of lead singer, his boyfriends did all his homework for him – but he came up with a dilly of a band name. You had to hand him that.

It worked. People asked about the name, found out about the massacre. The band started bursting at shows, infodumps with images of the asteroid branding them. The band raised consciousness. The band got on some politically-oriented festival lineups. The band got signed. The groovie happened, the same time another groovie about the massacre became very big for ten minutes or ten days or ten months.

That was two weeks ago, or two years, or two decades.

Now it’s just an asteroid again.

Wars are like bands. They come and go throughout your life, large and small. It’s impossible to remember them as they pile up, dragging behind you as you march toward the bright future when no bands play for no wars.

Some very few bands and wars stick around, become legend. There are so many songs and so many groovies about them, people start making songs and groovies about how there are too many songs and groovies about that band or war.

Most bands and wars do not stick around. 98 Ianthe was that kind of band, and that kind of war. You used to sing harmony on songs about the massacre, you co-wrote one of them, and now when you go out to the craters and look at the signs on the monuments, the basic details of the story seem new. Then you remember, oh yeah, and a piece of once-dear lyric, a shocking, bloody image emerges from the past and you smile or wince.

I remember that. I remember dancing to that right before John or Jane got killed in that.

Or I remember drinking to that a year or a hundred years before John or Jane came back from that and it was another thousand years before John or Jane ever danced to anything again.
No wonder we forget so much, no wonder we speed the time along the longer it goes on.

You would kill yourself, sometimes, under the crushing weight of all the dancing and wars and John and Jane you’re speeding away from. You have a weapon that would work. You could go out to one of the craters you first saw one day the last year of college, when another twenty-two year old with richer parents and surgically sculpted ears and eyes that almost looked Altairan passed you the pictures. You could use the weapon. It would work.

It would be appropriate. So appropriate you can’t, you can’t face the thought of 98 IANTHE MEMBER ENDS IT ALL ON 98 IANTHE. You didn’t even tell your friends and family you were working here for a year or maybe seventeen months or seventeen years, it’s the last thing you want in your obituburst.

The last thing you want to do is die here.

The third question that isn’t a question is: “You must hate it when you hear the song.” This one comes up close to one hundred percent of the time when the song plays at work or in a vehicle going to work. The song comes on, and you catch your breath and hope somebody who knows won’t say anything, but somebody does.

No, you don’t hate it when you hear the song.

You hate the question.

You don’t usually add the second part of that. When you do, they look at you like you were in a war, not a band.

Out on the edge of one of the craters is a bench for sitting and reflecting. You are supposed to reflect on what happened in that crater four centuries or four millennia ago. Or four months. When you do that, you start seeing a giant bloody bowl full of baby Altairans who look like seals who’ve just become angels.

The baby seal head pointy-eared angels, in your mind, are at first glance Altairans, and then they’re not really, they’re Altairan-shaped bits of breakfast cereal, soaking in blood instead of milk. Around the bowl are grinning human children faces, going YUM YUM! in what was at the time a very kitschy, retro typeface from a different war and band logo, eight hundred years or eight hundred days before.

The drummer drew that picture, his girlfriend made it a poster, it became the first t-shirt, the first EP cover, the first thing that got the band yelled at in papers and extra-frisked and busses torn apart at border crossings.

It was compared, famously, to toddler wall scribbles in poop and Warhol and Scooby-Doo and Guernica. Everybody burstargued about it all the bursting day long for ten minutes or ten weeks.

The sprint to a groovie soundtrack was pretty much on the first time the band was compared to Hitler and Che in the same minute by 5,639,593,842 people.

There are some Altairans working here. Not many, and they work on the other side of the asteroid. You have no idea what they do over there. They come sometimes and stand on the edges of the craters, their silky seal-angel heads bobbing. They don’t talk to each other, but they are talking anyway, you know this. They may be pointing with those tentacles, they may not be. You can’t remember, and you used to know so much about them.

The band had to meet some Altairans, once. The lead singer grilled all of you for weeks on what this or that meant. Or his boyfriends did while he freaked out and primped.

The pictures burst everywhere, with the manager-planted headline 98 IANTHE OFFERS AID AND COMFORT. It was the end of the very short, short ride, and the government and the uber-nationalists you hoped would react didn’t have time to take the bait.

The pictures were faked, the band’s PR summit with the Altairans never happened. The Altairans heard the song about the massacre, apparently, or… did something like hearing the song, and pulled out at the last minute. They didn’t like it. The label or the manager or the band decided that the meeting would happen, anyway. In manufactured burst pictures, at least.

It came out.

A legend can survive martyrdom, even in these last days. Fake martyrdom and get caught, though, and the whole universe unbursts you.

That’s true, anyway.

A cluster of Altairans at the craters approached you, sitting on your bench, exactly once. They didn’t want to know if you’d saved any money or did you hate the song when you heard it – they wanted to know why you’d lied about them.

They waved tentacles around and you didn’t know if they were pointing at you or not, and you didn’t know what to say, either. So you just stared and they waved tentacles and bobbed angel-seal heads with pointy elf ears and finally they went away sad.

You thought they were sad.

You were sad.

They probably don’t say what they mean or mean what they say with those tentacles, either.

A couple years ago, or maybe it was twenty, there was a tribute record and the current clump of college twerps named after some newer war on a bigger asteroid with even more pathetic and adorable alien victims wanted to cover the song. They flew out to the asteroid, the lead singer and guitarist, and they were not at all like you eighty thousand years ago. They were earnest and passionate and they were totally down with that old school vibe, but they wanted to take the old and mix it with the new, yeah?

It was darker, it was harder, like all the new music you didn’t like anymore, and they changed the lyrics so they were about the new war and the new massacre and the new asteroid, and what a bunch of sellout assholes you were. They would never be like you, the song promised, their hearts were truly woven to thousands of babies who looked like talking Christmas trees with clown shoes, freshly dead in fresh craters.

In their ironic, anti-retro t-shirt design, though, they were that band from twenty million wars and bands ago, they were dressed as you, force feeding bloody baby Christmas-tree-clown-shoes cereal to weeping children going YUM YUM? in the same typeface, which was now so un-retro it was retro.

Again.

Last week or last year, you exchanged private bursts with the bass player, and he said something you’d been thinking, but not saying. You said oh my god, I’ve been thinking exactly that.

He said maybe ten million years ago, for the ten seconds the band and war lasted, you were, the band was, on the wrong side of that fight. Look at how things are now, they’re everywhere. They’re taking over. Did you think it would be like this?

You never thought it would be like this.

That’s what it’s like when you were in the band named after the war named after the massacre, and now you work on the asteroid.

*

Robert N Lee was born in New Jersey and has lived all over the place since, including Vietnam, Hawaii, and Florida. He now lives in the Columbia River Gorge with his dog, Otis. He writes and designs and draws things, and can be found online at www.awesomedome.com.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

“Empty Frames” By Juliet Kinder

"Empty Frames" by Juliet Kinder

They are in a field in one of the two town parks. This is the larger, nicer park, and so this is the park they like to take their children to on the weekends so that they may soak up the things that magazines say they should be soaking up. Children like jumping in colorful leaves, throwing Frisbees, and eating a perfectly arranged picnic off a blanket, the magazines also say. The photographer crouches in front of them. The knees of his pants are stained by the grass.

They have a boy and a girl. Boy has Husband’s eyes. Girl has Wife’s. The children look like them and they look like each other and it is such a brisk, yet sunny, day. Perfect for light, pastel sweaters.

On days that are not weekend days, one of them works and one of them stays at home. You can guess which one does which. There is no tension. They are exactly where they want to be in life. They wear khakis and reading glasses. Much of their life is furnished with Pottery Barn. Sometimes it is hard to see because the stock photo logo obscures their vision, but they manage.

You can use their image. They are for use.

Boy and Husband will play catch after this photo. Or maybe soccer. Whatever is more fashionable for boys and dads to play. Girl will read a book with Wife, flipping the pages with doughy toddler fingers. She will never smear her hand against the ground and bring dirt to her puckered lips. Boy never did that either. Neither of them ever cried. They were spooned mashed up fruit from mason jars on the white couch and never spilled. They were star students at their baby Mommy and Me swing dancing classes. They have the photos to prove it.

Husband majored in finance and found a career just out of college that allows him to be home at five o’clock each day, brown suitcase briefcase swinging from his hand. Sometimes he hums on the way home. Sometimes he listens to the radio. He is an informed man. He reads the newspaper while sipping coffee from a white mug in the mornings. For breakfast he eats an English muffin with jam and a banana. He packs himself a lunch. Hums. Kisses Girl and Boy on the forehead. Kisses Wife on the lips. In his free time, he putters around the house. He does projects with wood. He is not good at projects. Wife has had to replace most of the things he fixed. He has never noticed.

He only fucks his male boss when the stock photo camera is focused on Wife reclining on the white sofa with Boy and Girl reading, reading, reading. Sometimes she feeds them. Sometimes she does yoga with them. Sometimes her smile strains against the sides of her cheeks and she makes fingernail indentations on her palm in the out-of-focus edges of the frame.

Motherhood is a beautiful commodity. She sits with her children coloring beside her while she bakes brownies for the PTA meeting. Her hair is twisted above her head, some strands slipping out for effect. Her children dutifully complete their artwork, never once kicking one another or growing bored. They will color until told to do something else. Boy draws a fire truck. Girl draws a flower. They have only ever seen other white people because that’s just how it is. It’s never occurred to them to think about that.

Yesterday, Wife started her affair with the cameraman just to get him to put down the camera. Still, sometimes he has to do his job. He alternates. Every time he picks it back up, her ribs grind together and she imagines killing him by pressing the camera against his eye until it crushes through.

The cameraman has never been a stock image.

Yesterday she did a do-it-yourself activity with the kids. It was so simple and fun. It took time, yes, but she has time because Husband is at work and the house is always immaculate. Anyone who doesn’t make the time is a bad mother.

Husband is at work fucking his boss in a supply closet. He wrinkles the other man’s suit and leaves splotchy bruises on his neck. He bites. Wife has a magazine open to an article. It is on the benefits of juicing. Maybe her family should start only drinking juice. Maybe they would be healthier and more whole. They can start making arrangements out of the leftover orange peels.

The cameraman touches her softly. He moves hair behind her ear and then lets it fall back. He kisses her temple like a whisper. He would be very surprised if he knew she wanted to scratch down his back until she drew blood. She is so lovely. The sun dances against her face. She has never been in a poorly lit room. He gingerly moves against her. Slowly. She is too delicate to be careless with.

Husband tightens his tie around his neck. His boss is panting against the shelves and Husband turns on his heel. The cameraman is going to visit him at work for his promotion. He is going to shake his boss’s hand with two hands, one on top, to connote intimacy. He and his boss have a positive working relationship. He gets days off for holidays without any interruptions so he can sit by the fireplace with his kids and smile at his lovely Wife.

The cameraman has set up a tripod in front of them in the park that he crouches behind.  They all stand in a field, Wife, Husband, Boy, Girl, and camera. The cameraman wants to be where Husband is. He believes that he is in love with Wife. He says smile. The whole family smiles. Boy and Girl are on their parents’ backs and they are not too heavy. Husband and Wife press their cheeks together. Cameraman doesn’t just want to make love to her anymore. He wants to be Husband and press his cheek into her and play catch with Boy and have a pastel picnic on the grass. He wants to Photoshop his face onto Husband’s body, but already knows without trying that he wouldn’t fit the image.

She wants to fuck him into the picnic blanket. She wants to murder him so graphically it will have to be blurred out in the resulting photos. She wants to crush the stock photo logo between her teeth.

Husband smiles. Wife smiles. Boy and Girl smile. There is a special on families. Buy now.

*

Juliet Kinder grew up in a small town in New Jersey and recently graduated from Washington University in St Louis with a double major in Psychology and Spanish. She is currently teaching in Spain. Her work has appeared in Duende.

Back To Issue Forty-Three

“The Keepers” by Luke Silver

"Keepers" by Luke Silver

Carla and I draw our blood in the auditorium. They collect our specimens in Dixie cups and send them to a laboratory. Do it! Do it! they urge us. We disrobe and I masturbate onto their microscope slides. My performance improves when I look at Carla’s breasts. My performance diminishes when I look at Carla’s helmet. Carla’s helmet is always turning black. I do not know what face is under Carla’s helmet. It is supposed to be from Nicaragua. Carla does not know what face is under my helmet. It is from the United States.

At night we sleep in separate dormitories and, sometimes, I hear her whimpering through the walls. Hector. Hector. I wish Carla would stop. I wish Carla would let me sleep. I wish Carla would take our responsibilities more seriously.

Sometimes, she communicates to me that her heart is broken. When she does this, I communicate to her that Hector is dead. Still, when they demand we lie together, her breasts feel cold like there is no organ beating beneath them. When they demand we lie together, her helmet is always turning black.

Most weeks I give Carla a rating of fair on the peer evaluation form. Under additional comments, I often write “lacking energy and enthusiasm.” I do not know what grade Carla gives me. It does not matter. They have no replacements for us.

On Tuesdays, Carla self-administers a pregnancy test. So far all the tests have come back negative. Carla communicates that she feels lucky this is the case. I communicate that she must soon adopt a positive outlook. We have an important function in the preservation of the human race. Still, every time Carla squats and pees on the thermometer, her helmet turns black. Carla’s helmet is always turning black.

I sometimes share Carla’s morbid sentiments. Their tests on our bodily fluids have not produced any tangible results. I know this because we stay in their compound. I know this because they continue to ask for samples. I know this because they stock my dormitory with Lemon-Ice flavored Gatorade, and say, Drink up! We need you to replenish your electrolytes.

I do not communicate my unease with Carla. I do not express my belief that medical breakthroughs will never be reached. Doing so will disturb her and likely turn her helmet black. It seems impolite to expose her to more worry. Her helmet is already always turning black.

Recently they have begun examining Carla’s hormones. They fear that she is unable to reproduce because she is deteriorating from stress. I am not deteriorating from stress. I am drinking all of my Gatorade. My teeth are deteriorating from sugar, but I am not deteriorating from stress.

Whenever Carla leaves to get doctored, I draw on the walls with a Sharpie marker. Sometimes I draw out my name in block letters. Sometimes I draw Jean Luc-Godard in Breathless with a fedora and a gun. Sometimes I draw two stick figures having sex doggy-style or holding a stick figure baby. The stick figures are Carla and myself.
I recently sent in a request form for a queen-sized bed. Under additional comments, I suggested moving Carla and myself into the same dormitory. Snuggling together nightly should help expedite Carla’s familiarity with our coital routine.

I have not decided whether I want to see the face under Carla’s helmet. In my mind, she is attractive, but I am aware that this might not be so. I have decided Carla does not want to see the face under my helmet. I am not Hector, and she continues to cry for him at night. But still, we are the only ones with natural antibodies that can withstand what they brought. But still, time changes everything.

They reassure us that our helmets are for our own safety. From what I do not know. They did not tell me. Nor did they accept my request for monochromatic helmets. They did accept my request for a queen-sized bed. I have not told Carla. I am afraid she will cry. I am afraid her helmet will turn black. For one-hundred-and-eighty-five days, we have lived in this compound. At least once every day, her helmet has turned black.

Yesterday, they brought Carla a dog to help fight her depression. Like us, he is supposedly immune. He is nine months old and a chocolate lab. He makes Carla happy. Today her helmet has stayed a neutral blue. He does not make me happy, however. I detect competition, and I do not know their long-term intentions with him. I do not know his long-term intentions with Carla. If it comes to it, I plan to kill and eat him. But I do not share this with Carla. It would only make her upset. I am afraid it would turn her helmet black. Carla’s helmet is always turning black.

*

Luke Silver is pursuing his MFA candidacy at Sarah Lawrence College. His work has been accepted by Dogzplot, Literary Juice, BOAAT Journal, and elsewhere. He occasionally tweets @LUKEABRASSI.

Back To Issue Forty-Two

“Elicit” by Clifford Parody

"Elicit" by Clifford Parody

“Elicit” was originally published in Forklift, Ohio

I am the stretch of easement
beneath a stretcher beneath
your broken body, your weight,
and I hate that the last hand you felt
was gloved in blue latex, attached
to a man who detached himself
from the boy who lay bleeding
before him. I am the minivan
and the pilot, frame and feet,
I am the kids in the backseat,
how I scream, how I scream,
how my  body tenses, my
tires screech, we meet. I am
the green light so quick
to turn yellow, I am the aluminum,
the seat, I am the pedals
beneath your feet, how we
creak turning tires that took you
and took you, I am the backpack
you threw on the floor as you walked
through the door, I am the door
and the floor, I am the school bus
that carried you home, I am the school,
I am the bell that carried you from room to room,
I am the bedroom you woke in, the bed
where you slept, I am a flash card
on the side of the road, weeks later,
stumbled upon, staggering stoned:
to draw forth— to bring out from the source—
I am picking it up, I am thinking,
and the only word I can think of is theft.

*

Clifford Parody holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently lives in Lakeland, Florida, where he writes for the local newspaper, co-runs the record label Swan City Sounds, and hangs out with his wife, daughter and dog. He is the recipient of the 2015 Noel Callow Award from the Academy of American Poets and his work has appeared in Forklift, Ohio, Backlash Journal, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, Terminus Magazine, and The Greensboro Review, among others. His first chapbook, Because I Did Not Know What To Do is forthcoming this fall via The Altar Collective.

Back To Issue Forty-Two

“Belasis And Hastur” By Mack W Mani

"Belasis And Hastur" by Mack W Mani

It is the first cold night of Autumn
and I smoke a cigarette to myself
looking up to the sky;
you can’t see many stars from the city
but you can see Belasis and Hastur,
the new constellations.

When they first appeared
two weeks ago,
no one knew what to do
but crane their necks upward to see,
everyone asking the same questions.

Even during the day
you can feel the weight of them
hovering above us, waiting.

No one showed up at work
but the administrator and me,
a lot of places are closed
but the bars are all open
and in every joint it’s the same thing.

A TV on mute,
some harried looking news anchor
mouthing the words:
No idea as of yet…
No one seems to be able to explain…
We will keep you updated as…

After a few beers I dial my ex,
who sounds scared
so I offer to come over,
but she says she’s fine
that she has it under control.

Shots.
The girls at the bar,
they seem scared too,
but the words
get caught in my mouth
and all they want to talk about
is the sky.

Alone now with another beer
then another and at midnight,
birthday drinks,
one for me and one for
Belasis and Hastur.

Outside,
it’s starting to rain,
the sky coming down
dark and close,
but I can still sense them,
up there watching
and I imagine
I can feel their pull,
tugging me gently across
the vastness of space.

Gently, I ask what they are
but the only answer I receive
is thunder,
without any flash of light,
just a loud rumbling
cast down from the heavens.

*

Mack W Mani was born in rural Washington State. He currently lives in Portland. His work has appeared in The Pedestal Magazine and The Non-Binary Review.

Back To Issue Forty-Two