by C.B. Auder
They found another aerial bomb in the Elbe last summer, just there beside three churches, spitting distance from a Kindergarten playground, not ninety meters beyond a monument dedicated to Friendship Between Nations. Thank a heat wave (Hitzewelle) and a drought (Dürre) so severe that even World War II found a new way to gasp and rear the aging steel canister of its fragmentable head. Mutti
used to send her voice arcing through the August neighborhood towards Richard Nixon Elementary park. Tones that pinpointed our location on that searing metal slide, on those pinch-fingered swings. A new misery announced every afternoon--Fritzi Teufel, the dependable klaxon of the neighborhood--words flying through our chain links, flaying us from ear to ear, piercing even the notion of a cicada's drone of summer love. No longer that shy Mädchen, fourth forgotten child of six, Mutti was an American now, echt, allowed to speak her gottverdammtes piece in Rancho Cucamonga. And how
her worries then grew. Round and thick and lead-filled as a Kommandant's head, as she pushed her walls of Wasser, as she flung her arms out to shoot down all of life's surprises--good or bad for her equally traumatic--anything unexpected that might sabotage the perfect balance she'd attained with the sharp-edged
trenches of our minds. I still see her up on the ridge of my childhood, her words devoted to flying spit, twinkling silver on holidays like Bouncing Bettie toys (Bist du verrückt? Are you CRAZY?). My summer long gone, they land in autumn birdsong now. Soon, they will cocoon my sanctuary of winter solitude, until even the memory of that precisely-scheduled bedtime kiss has risen and cooled and flown.
C.B. Auder's writing has most recently appeared in Milk Candy Review, Bending Genres, Atlas + Alice, and Pidgeonholes. They edit the online journal Claw & Blossom at www.clawandblossom.com
by Liwa Sun
I slice myself into a thousand wafers,
each one scorned by a land. In my second
life I inhabit a panopticon. Sample different
sets of humiliations, trying to decide if
democracy is worth this fight. A lump of
sadness explodes, a drenched
My forbearance shrugged at, my
skin burnt. Garish sun besieges me,
impaling lids. Oriental lids. I grin
and my teeth melt so as to avoid
the real questions. If I will have to go
back, what good does it do me to revel
I am a
thrown out of the bath water.
Liwa Sun is a Chinese writer, poet, and a game-theorist-wannabe. Her works are forthcoming in The Bare Life Review and elsewhere. She lets poetry contaminate her memory, in which she rejoices. She lives in Philadelphia with a small couch and mountains of books.
by William Cass
Glen had mixed feelings about having his last phone appointment with Dr. Bey. On the one hand, he finally felt pretty much like himself again and strong enough to face whatever might lie ahead on his own. On the other, he’d been having those weekly counseling sessions for going on two years since shortly after his wife moved out without warning; she’d simply left her wedding and engagement rings on their bureau on top of a note that said: “I can’t do this anymore.” He was served divorce papers outside the elementary school where he was assistant principal a week later.
All Glen’s immediate phone messages, texts, and emails to her went unanswered. She quickly closed each of those accounts, and he had no idea where she’d gone, so any chance of communication with her quickly became impossible. In those early days, he just wandered around in a kind of numb fog, hardly sleeping, stumbling his way through work, a feeling ever-present like he was falling in a bottomless well. He often found himself gazing with disbelief at the framed photograph from their honeymoon, the one where their tanned faces smiled into the camera with a white-sand beach and blue waves behind them. When he hazarded glances in the mirror, hollowed eyes in a pale face stared back, and he found himself crying often and at odd moments. He finally realized he had to do something to regain some sort of functionality. He was too embarrassed, too proud he supposed, to seek face-to-face help, but found online counseling services that offered sessions by video, chat, or phone. Glen chose the phone option and Dr. Bey after scrolling through the counselors’ profiles on the site because it was the only one that didn’t include a personal photo, furthering the sense of anonymity he sought.
On that first counseling call, Glen was surprised to hear a woman answer.
“You’re Dr. Bey?” he asked after she’d already said so.
“That’s right.” She sounded about his age, fortyish, and there was a distinct accent to her voice.
“Are you British?”
“I was raised in Australia,” she said. “But I became an American citizen while I was still married.”
“You’re divorced then?”
She paused. “I am, yes.”
Glen squeezed his eyes shut. “Well, I’ll be going through that soon myself, so I hope you can help. I’m really struggling with things right now. Badly.”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Her voice was calm, steady, reassuring. “Tell me what’s happened.”
So, he did. And, he continued to do so every Friday afternoon at five o’clock from that point forward. Over time, she did help him understand the roots that were likely at hand in his wife leaving and his own role in that, helped him separate and dissipate blame and anger, helped him navigate the divorce itself and its aftermath. In short, in her even-handed, honest, and gently direct way, she helped him slowly but gradually put the pieces of his life back together.
It was a journey that for the first six months at least Glen frankly never thought would be possible. And even though she’d now also helped him see that he’d arrived at a place where her assistance was no longer needed, he was hesitant to end it. Although their weekly discussions had for a while become more like conversations between friends about increasingly routine and mundane daily life topics, both his and ones they shared, he was sorry to see them stop. An intimacy of sorts had somehow developed, one that she also, it seemed to Glen, had come to appreciate and enjoy. It might have just been his hopeful imagination, but he thought he heard the tiniest bit of reluctance creep into her own voice when they agreed to make this session their last. Perhaps that’s why, in hindsight, there appeared to be insistence in it, too.
As the conclusion of that last hour together approached, Glen sighed and said, “So, I guess this is it, then. The end of the road for us.”
“You can always get in touch through the website and set up a new appointment if you need it.” She paused. “But I don’t think you will. You’re doing really well now.”
“Thanks to you.”
He waited and listened to the soft static on the line. “So, listen, since we’re signing off for the last time in a minute, can you tell me where you live?”
A moment passed before she said, “Here. The same city.”
He felt his eyes widen. “But your area code…”
“It’s a cell number I got a long time ago. Before I moved after my divorce.”
“Wow. All this time, I thought you were in another part of the country, but you’ve been right down the block.”
“So to speak.”
A longer moment of silence passed, then Glen said, “How about a first name, do you have one of those?”
“I do.” Another pause. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to share it with you.”
He nodded, pinched the bridge of his nose, and watched the minute hand on the clock above his desk move into a new hour. He supposed she was looking at the same thing.
Glen could hear the slow, familiar breathing on the other end of the line. His own, he realized, had quickened. Finally, she said, “Well, then…”
“You take care.”
He heard a click on her end, and the line went silent. He lowered his phone onto the desk and stared at her number on it. The light in his study had fallen, the evening’s gloaming begun.
Glen waited a few days before doing an internet search for Dr. Bey along with their city’s name. He was surprised to only get one possible hit: just an address for a “Dr. R. Bey” with the word “Psychologist” after it. No website, images, reviews, or any other entries, which he found curious. That Friday, as five o’clock came and went, he found himself repeatedly fingering and checking his cell phone, a feeling of anxious emptiness enveloping him. He went for a run, turning up the music in his earbuds, but the feeling remained. And it persisted into the next week. He realized that Dr. Bey had become a talisman for him, a mooring. Glen felt untethered without her. He missed her voice. He missed their connection. He wondered if she felt similarly.
As time went on, the feeling only intensified, so two weeks later, he decided to bring flowers to her office to thank her personally for all she’d done for him. He chased away whatever other motives or hopes may have been involved in that decision. A simple expression of gratitude, he told himself. Nothing more.
Glen waited until that first Monday of his school district’s Spring Break to stop at a florist for a mixed bouquet and make the drive across town. He felt himself frowning as he pulled to the curb and turned off his car’s engine in front of the door that led to her office. It was in a rundown, multi-ethnic section of the city. Her nameplate was on the door of a smoke-stained brick building, and through the smudged glass above it, he could see a staircase leading to what appeared to be a small second floor apartment over an auto parts store. On the other side of the door, an old man of Middle Eastern decent sat on a stool in front of a newsstand, a burning cigarette between his lips. With the morning unseasonably warm, Glen’s windows were rolled down, and the acrid smoke from it drifted his way on the small breeze.
Glen moved the flowers from the passenger seat onto his lap, and the door leading to the staircase opened. A woman came through it onto the sidewalk, leaving it ajar behind her. She was also of Middle Eastern decent and wore a black hijab. The rest of her clothing was black, too, and she pushed up large oval-shaped glasses that had slid to the tip of her nose. More distinctive was her size: she was less than four feet tall with the short arms and torso associated with dwarfism. The old man on the stool looked at her and smiled as she came to his side, took a newspaper off the pile by his cash box, and handed him money. They began talking together about the fine weather, and at the sound of her first spoken words, Glen immediately recognized that she was Dr. Bey. Something inside of him dropped. He felt his eyebrows knit.
She and the old man exchanged pleasantries for another minute or so before Dr. Bey returned through the door with the newspaper, closed it behind her, and climbed the stairs. Glen watched the back of her until she’d disappeared. He felt frozen, unable to move. He found himself blinking and shaking his head. He remained motionless there until the old man had finished his cigarette and dropped it with a hiss in a coffee can at his feet. Glen blew out a long breath, got out of the car, crossed the sidewalk, and leaned the bouquet against the door leading to the staircase.
He turned when he heard the old man clear his throat. He was staring at Glen and said, “Are those for Rahima?”
“Well, you can bring them to her yourself. She’s just at the top of the stairs there.”
“I don’t think so, no.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Glen was overcome with shame and self-loathing. She’d guided him through the darkest part of his life. What did it matter who she turned out to be? But he just shook his head and walked back to his car.
As he was getting into it, the old man asked, “Who should I tell her the flowers are from?”
“Nobody special,” Glen told him. “Nobody she’d care to meet. Just an admirer.”
He slid into the seat, closed the door, and started the engine. He was aware of the old man’s eyes still on him. Glen met his even gaze a last time before putting the car in gear. As he pulled away, the old man raised his hand, and Glen returned the gesture. It was the closest thing to human decency he could muster. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t do better, but at that moment, he wasn’t capable of it.
William Cass has had a little over 190 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as december, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. Recently, he was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press, received a couple of Pushcart nominations, and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. He lives in San Diego, California.
by Daniel Bishop
I am a minority now,
which is to say that once she was not
had not yet become
or what she had been has ceased to be
and the spirit of the past follows you
the spirit too
of where you are headed
but you do not know it
haunting you like
Georgia O'Keefe's voice on the radio
like cactus needles
sticking in your socks --
pale and thin as your grandfather
or his beard,
as the mess he left on the sink
after a shave
— pricking now at your toes
so slight and pale
so nearly translucent
you cannot find them all
or remove just enough
it seems a shame
to discard a decent pair of socks
a shame too
to bury them deep in your dresser
to be found
on some other October night
when the last thing you’ll want
is to remember.
Daniel Bishop is a writer of prose, poetry, and music. He is a member of the Albuquerque Writer’s Workshop. His work has been featured on NPR’s Songs We Love and in Prometheus Dreaming. He lives in Corrales, NM, where he gets his hands dirty working with semi-precious stones and silver.
by Eric Aldrich
Veronica and Mother are in Wal-Mart. Veronica is perusing the kitty food in the pet section while Mother stocks up on paper plates in a different aisle. Veronica fusses her way past Friskies and Whiskers and 9 Lives. At the end of the aisle, she confronts a daunting omen: a wall of fish tanks, each one an aquatic mortuary for goldfish, angel fish, and guppies. Belly up they hover, suspended in murky green water. Veronica makes the sign of the Cross, thanks God for the warning. She selects only chicken kitty food, avoids tuna or salmon.
When they go to Walmart, Veronica tries to keep away from Mother as much as possible until it’s time to check out. Much to her frustration, Veronica looks just like Mother, though she’s 34 and Mother is 55. Like Mother, her six-foot frame bears only 127 pounds of woman. Her anxious metabolism incinerates calories, but Mother would never stop pointing it out of Veronica gained weight, so she staves off hunger mostly with rice cakes. Today the women have worn nearly identical outfits – blue jeans and kitty-cat sweaters and white Keds. Mother’s sweater shows kitties and yarn; Veronica’s sweater depicts kitties in a basket. Both Veronica and Mother have waist-length hair. Mother’s hair is red; Veronica’s, auburn.
Laden with kitty food, Veronica must return to the cart. As she passes the McDonalds, the smell of burgers makes her mouth water. A small boy at a yellow plastic table dips Mcnuggets into bbq sauce, sips a soft drink. The scene is lit like a manger display. What does it mean? As a girl, she and Grandmother would go to the Micky-D’s drive-thru and Veronica would always order a double cheeseburger and a large Sprite. Veronica considers sneaking in and cramming down a double cheeseburger, but if Mother smells onions on her breath she will know and endlessly repeat the grams of trans fat and sodium. Grandmother diabetes cost her two toe amputations and Mother would harp on that. Mother will have Wheat Thins in the cart. Veronica will eat some of those. She abandons the uninterpreted omen.
Veronica checks the paperback aisle in case Mother is there. She spots a priest holding a romance novel. The cover depicts Fabio cradling a swooning southern belle, his bare chest bursting through a blue Union uniform. Mother loves Fabio novels. To see a priest holding one is a sign of judgement, but Veronica won’t warn Mother. Veronica hides her oracular literacy. She fears that if people knew, they would exploit her. In particular, she worries about Mother demanding foreknowledge of soap opera plots and upcoming sales.
Veronica comes upon Mother in the personal care department, peering over her glasses at a cornered employee. His nametag says Stan, he looks in his twenties and about 5’4.” Goatee hairs sprout sparsely on his chin. Stocky in his blue employee vest, he cowers in Mother’s lanky shadow as she interrogates him: “Do you have the big squirt bottles of oatmeal lotion? Healing amino oatmeal lotion? My heels get so dry…”
“They’re right next to you, ma’am,” he points to a lower shelf.
Veronica moves closer to the cart and bumps into Stan. He looks over his shoulder at her, then back to Mother, then back to Veronica. His pupils expand. He moves aside and stutters, “Can I help you?”
Veronica replies, “Yes.”She’s not really in need of assistance, but he helped Mother, so he must help Veronica also. She orders the young man, “Take these cans and put them in the cart.” Stan awkwardly plucks cans from her elbows and transfers them into the cart alongside country apple potpourri, prune juice, Diet Pepsi, Metamucil, and paper plates. Mother, crouching like a resting mosquito to examine lotions, notices. Veronica sees Mother move the lavender bottles behind the peach ones.
“Excuse me, young man. Do you have any more of the lavender oatmeal lotion?” Mother interrupts. Veronica shakes her head; the aisle reeks of lavender.
Mother lies. For example, every Tuesday two Jehovah’s Witnesses stop by and try to convert them. One week, Veronica came downstairs from watching Rachel Ray just in time to see them drive off. “They weren’t here very long,” Mother said. Veronica wanted to tell the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be extra cautious on their evangelizing rounds. Someone had turned two religious greeting cards upside down at CVS, inverting the golden crosses on their covers, which was a clear warning. Luckily, the pair were naturally careful people and they were OK, but she had been worried about them. On their next visit, when Mother lured the Jehovah’s Witness man into the kitchen with coffee, the lady asked if Veronica’s yeast infection was better. “What yeast infection?” Veronica had asked at the outset of an awkward silence.
“I see some lavender behind the peach bottles, ma’am,” Stan points to the disorganized flasks of lotion. “Oh, I’m going blind,” Mother overemphasizes her chuckle.
Veronica suspects what Mother might pull next. Mother’s greatest joy is when they’re mistaken for sisters. Conversely, this is Veronica’s profoundest misery. Mother will try to get checkout clerks, mechanics, dentists, or anyone else to make that mistake. Sure enough, she stands up holding a lavender lotion and playfully asks Stan, “How do you think we are related?”
Stan goes red. He replies, softly, “She’s your daughter?”
Veronica, grinning, points at Mother with her knot-jointed finger. Mother lets out a venomous hiss, followed by a guffaw. She stands to her full height, pushes her chest out. Veronica does the same. Standing toe to toe, they look like a kitty attacking her own image in a mirror.
“I…I’m…sorry…” Stan stammers and shakes his head. “Are you her aunt?”
“No!” Mother throws the lotion into the cart and snarls. “You’re right. I’m her mother.”
For a moment, triumph smells like lavender. Veronica could hug the employee, but he is backing away. If he could read omens, identical women would be an sign to him. He flees the aisle, but Veronica suspects he doesn’t comprehend what the universe was trying to tell him. What was the message to Stan?
As she hurries away from Mother to go get Lean Cuisines, Veronica considers following Stan, questioning him about what she and Mother signify. But when she gets to the frozen section and sees her gaunt image in the glass door, she realizes the warning wasn’t for him. Veronica is the soothsayer, so the omen of identical women is meant for her. It has been staring her in the face her whole life, warning her, directing her to action. She selects seven Lean Cuisines for Mother and buys herself seven Hungry Man Dinners. They’re a thousand calories a piece. Veronica will have hips where Mother has bones, she will have smooth fingers with proportionate knuckles, her breasts will fill out, her inner thighs will grow together, she will dye her hair blond, she will wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Maybe she will adopt a puppy. She closes the freezer door and sees her smile reflected. It’s the harbinger of a new Veronica.
Eric Aldrich lives in Tucson, Arizona where he teaches writing and literature at Pima Community College. You can find his most recent fiction in Manifest West, The Worcester Review, Weber: The Contemporary West, and Hobart. He reviews books for Heavy Feather Review, Full Stop, Terrain.org, and Rain Taxi Review of Books. Follow @ericjamesaldrich on Instagram for new stories, reviews, sunsets, and coyotes.
by Michael Chang
i put these secrets into skin fry them till they are golden brown
drizzle plum sauce on them sweet and savory
that is how they want me to write
instead i write about timothée chalamet
some days i wake up and think i am nat wolff or a little pig named wilbur
my governing principle is optimism possibility loud and clear
why are other people so dark so traumatic so sad their poems be like
abandoned trailer teeth claws death rape grease jet fuel blood gasoline walmart train tracks bodies animals coyotes ravaged etc
my poems be like
1990 dom perignon corn chowder lobster thermidor montauk dunes beach reads oliver peoples two hands coffee decaf is hell etc
if i have to read about your hoof again or how he let her flirt when you were right there
we will have a problem words will be exchanged i will hurt your feelings
after all i haven’t forgotten that time you read my work
and asked did amy tan write this
when you told me you were one of the deplorables i thought ugh it’s always the cute ones
and pushed your head down some more
MICHAEL CHANG hopes to win the New Jersey Blueberry Princess pageant one day. Michael strongly suspects that they were born in the wrong decade. A recovering vegan, their favorite ice cream flavor was almost renamed due to scandal.