Category Archives: Featured

Triptych: Michelle Ross

Dwellings

1.

Godzilla is the pet name he gives her not long after they start sleeping together. She’s restless, especially at night. And she doesn’t yet know her way around his apartment in the dark. Topples the footstool, the laundry hamper. Creaks the wooden floors. A mouse would make those floors creak, but a mouse wouldn’t rattle him awake with its sad bellow. Wouldn’t stomp and roar because he’s turned away from her, pressed his hands to his ears. Always she wants to have the serious conversations when he’s asleep. Civilized creatures don’t pick fights in the middle of the night, he says.

2.

Once upon a time he tied her wrists to the headboard and spanked her, but her bruises were all from bumping into his furniture in the dark. Now they live in a house with carpet, their bedroom like the plush inside of a melon. She sleeps through the night. How many years since she had a bruise? These days they pad themselves with jokes. During sex, he says things like “I’m putting my lug into you. I lug putting my lug into you.” She visualizes his penis is a magic wand sprinkling glittery dust so that something new will grow.

3.

The old house’s first groan is subtle, like the pop in her jaw when she yawns or the squeak of his knots when he climbs the stairs. Before long, the bedroom rumbles like a gurgling belly. One day the door no longer fits its frame. Another day: a draft along the window frame. The concrete baseboard cracks, separates from the wall behind their headboard. Cold creeps in, as do crickets and rodents. They spend thousands on subterranean piers. The house may never settle, experts warn. But the couple is adaptive. By now they’re good at finding each other in any dark. 

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Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2017 Foreward INDIES Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Epiphany, The Pinch, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Reviewwww.michellenross.com 

Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Triptych: Elisabeth Ingram Wallace

ALZHEIMER’S AND WANKING

OAK

“I can’t stand Literary Fiction, it’s all Alzheimer’s and wanking.”

She’s draining her second bottle, Red, the White long gone; and I realise, I want to put this woman inside a tree and set fire to her.

Inside the tree I saw in Cyprus, struck by lightning, its inside glowing Notre-Dame.

All the leaves gone, birds skedaddled, eggs popping in their nests.

She’d look good in that tree. 

Or the tree I climbed when I was six and fell from, fracturing my foot in three places. That was a malevolent bastard of a tree.

An oak.

She’d look resplendent inside that tree.

Mice would nest in her skull. Badgers would pluck out her eyeballs.

I like trees. 

I hate this woman.

The world is that simple.

GIANT SEQUOYA

The world is simple twenty drinks into the night, everything dehydrated into alcohol poisoning.

With sleep, carbs, painkillers, water, I will return to life, tomorrow.

Focus, on the trees.

The most important tree, the best tree – if I had to marry a tree – would be a Giant Sequoya.

But, you can’t take a tree for a walk.

You can’t hobble home from a bar, giggling, with a tree. 

A tree won’t ever wank, and certainly not in Ikea. A tree won’t get Alzheimer’s, forget you write books, forget your name, put sausages in the dishwasher and wake up crying, saying “The speed of the house is broken.”

The police won’t ever bring a tree home to you.

You won’t kiss the hot neck of a tree and say you’ve been brave, very brave.

HAWTHORN

In 17th-century England, King Charles II drank “King’s Drops” made of powdered human skull and alcohol – I want to be buried beneath a tree, give it my restorative nutrients – Give something back – Ideally I’ll be chopped up and distributed mathematically in a forest – I bequeath my right lung to a silver birch – there has to be value even in my biological matter – I mean – I was made before 1945 – you can tell if a wine was made before 1945 by testing for cesium 137 – nuclear explosion waste is present in all wines made in the nuclear age – I could be a nutritious, meagre apology for the fuckwittage of humanity, “Sorry, World. Have my spleen.”

I explain, to my wife.

She laughs.

“Drunk, drunk, drunk.”

We walk home through black fields full of frogs.

Pop, pop, pop.

We sway, veer into hawthorn-hedge-ditch.

She falls.

“Nothing’s broken,” she shouts.

She once told me before you go anywhere far away, you have to sit down and say “We’re not going anywhere,” to trick the Devil.

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Elisabeth Ingram Wallace is an award-winning short story and flash fiction writer. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, Flash Frontier, and selected for anthologies, including Best Microfiction 2019. Her short stories have won the Mogford Prize 2019, Writing the Future 2017, and a Dewar Arts Award. She is the Senior Editor for Flash Fiction at TSS Publishing, and a Senior Editor for ‘Best British and Irish Flash Fiction’. 
Twitter @ingram_wallace   

elisabethingramwallace.com 

Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Triptych: Leonora Desar

Three Ways of Saying the Same Thing

It happened to me a couple of years ago—

One day my boss was talking to me and I just disappeared. Like that. It was amazing. Then I came back. This wasn’t so amazing. I was pretty pissed. I said, come on guys, meaning my body. My body wasn’t used to being addressed in the plural; it kind of stuttered then it flickered then it vanished. It left my right arm—which was kidnapped by my boss. He put it to task for my abandonment. It does all kinds of things; filing, helping the boss masturbate, pick up phones. It still calls me from time to time.

Dark. Darker. Darkest.

The other day I was walking home from the diner and I realized I was dead. It just came to me. When I got home my husband tried pretending, this wasn’t so. He had to help me adjust to my new life, but couldn’t we wait just five more minutes? He brought the TV—we watched it. It was just like normal except instead of wanting to get up and pee I didn’t. I didn’t have to. I missed it very much. Pee, I said, where are you. I told my husband I was stretching my legs and took a walk, I walked to the bathroom—I squatted on the toilet and willed the pee.

I said, come on guys. I imagined them like soldiers, all the pee drops, if they could just line up and squeeze I would know—I still had some fight. I waited and I waited. It got dark. It felt the same as being light. My mind didn’t process it. I dug a hole—the neighbors watched me. I crawled in, and still I tried to pee.

It got dark. Darker. Darkest. I shut my eyes.

When I Could Fly

I met these men, I told them how I learned to fly. They knew too, they were brothers. One learned when he was very young. The other had to wait. He was in his 50s. It seemed so unfair. That he had to wait so long. I told them about me. I was in my 50s, too. No, my 40s, sorry I forgot.

I woke up one day and my head was against the ceiling. It was wonderful. I was free.

Someone told me to come back down. My husband, probably. He said get down here. I said no. We argued—Finally I came. We looked up at the ceiling. I thought, that was me. I was there. I remembered it. But it seemed so far away.

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Leonora Desar’s work has appeared in River StyxPassages North, Mid-American ReviewBlack Warrior Review OnlineSmokeLong QuarterlyQuarter After Eight, and elsewhere. Her story “My Father’s Girlfriend” (matchbook) is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2019. Three of her pieces were chosen for Best Microfiction 2019. She won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest, and was a finalist/runner-up in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She lives in Brooklyn

Special Features & Fiction Editor – Steven John

Triptych: Kathryn Kulpa

Jessie’s Life in Three Surnames


Mrs. Walker

Jessie wakes to the smell of manure being spread. Every day. Or maybe only growing season, but it feels like every day. When her father and brothers come in from the fields and Ma has one of her sick headaches, it’s Jessie who washes their clothes, pounding dirt and dung out of stiff, worn denim, watching her hands grow cracked and red, and thinking about death. Or a life like this one, 50 more years of leaning on the pump handle, watching the well water flow out, cold and clear but with a bite of rust. Jessie’s making alternate plans. Borrowing bag balm from the cows to soften her hands. Jessie in gingham, starched so it snaps blue like her eyes. She refills the boarder’s glass. Thank you, Miss, he says. I might wish it was beer, but I thank you just the same. The boarder laughs. His clothes are clean, his eyes grey as morning mist. His people are farm people too, he says, back in Sagadahoc County. I could use another hand around the place, Jessie’s father says. And Jessie freezes, her mind saying no, no, no, and the boarder thanks her father but says he plans on Going Into Business. He smells of Pears’ soap and close shaves and Jessie knows the only way to move ahead is to burn your bridges, and she’s got matches to spare.

Mrs. Willis

Mr. Willis the whistling ice man comes with his ice wagon and his happy dappled horse that Jessie always saves a lump of sugar for. The sugar is white and Jessie’s in black. There’s a black wreath on the door and a deep black hole opening up under Jessie’s feet and she can only sidestep it most days, can never fill it in. We’ll try again, she tells her husband, not that she wants to, his punch-drunk eyes the grey of ashes now, his stubbled cheeks, the way he smells of beer and defeat. Infant girl. Pneumonia. Dirt falling on that tiny grave. Ten years from now he will join her in it, but Jessie will be standing in another man’s kitchen by then.

Ice has no smell. It’s clear enough that you can see through it, and when it melts, there’s nothing left. Jessie likes that about ice.

Mrs. Ethier

Mr. Ethier wants to open a boarding house and Jessie’s a good cook. It falls into place with a click, just like that, nothing romantic about it and nothing has to be, now. She’s done with drama and tragedy, fire and ice, dirt and death. What Jessie likes are hot and cold faucets that run with the lightest touch of her hands, an all-electric kitchen, and a fat grey cat that crawls under their quilt at night when her feet are cold. The cat never says Are you happy now, Jessie?, and so Jessie never has to say yes.

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Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her chapbook Girls on Film and is the author of a short story collection, Pleasant Drugs.  Her work has appeared in Superstition Review, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, and other journals, and she serves as flash fiction editor for Cleaver magazine. “Jessie’s Life in Three Surnames” is loosely based on the imagined life of her much-married great-grandmother.

Steven John – Features & Fiction Editor

Triptych: Jude Higgins

TRIPTYCH
An artwork in three panels

Practising Flower Arranging on New Year’s Morning, Utagawa Kunisada, 1786-1865

Three Strands

1. Father

This morning when I walked Jimmy to school, I ruffled his hair and told him he’d end up with a bald head like me. All the men in our family go the same way. He’s got a lovely cheeky face, my boy, and I said even if someday he didn’t have hair, the girls would love him. But they’d hurt him too. Girls always do. The bakery is stifling – I’m cutting three strands of dough to make up the milk loaves and wondering what it would be like to have a daughter with long hair to plait. The wife said, if we ever did, she’d hand over that job to me, because I have the knack. Makes me smile to know I’m good for something.

2. Girl

In Arithmetic, Jimmy Jones sat behind me and yanked my plaits twelve times while we said our tables. I would have set my brother on him at playtime but Miss told us he went home because his dad had died.Wanda Thomas said her mother, who helps in the bakery, told her Mr Jones was plaiting a milk loaf when he had a heart attack and his face fell into the dough.Jimmy didn’t come back to school for a while and when he did, he was too thin and had a bald spot on his head. 

3. Boy

Susie was sitting in front of me in class while we recited our tables and I tugged her plaits in time to the counting. Afterwards, she said her brother would get me at playtime. But when I was drinking my milk, the headmaster called me into his study and said Dad had died. He patted my head and told me he was very sorry. His hand felt  all wrong. That morning on the way to school, Dad had messed with my hair. I pull it around myself now, exactly like he did, but Mum says I’ve got to stop, it won’t bring him back. When they found him, Dad’s face was covered in dough. I didn’t eat bread for weeks – not until Susie shared her sandwiches with me and squeezed my hand so hard it made me cry.

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Jude Higgins is published in Flash Frontier, New Jones Street, The Nottingham Review, The Blue Fifth Review, The New Flash Fiction Review, NFFD anthologies among other places. She has won or been placed in several flash fiction competitions. Her debut flash fiction pamphlet, ‘The Chemist’s House’,was published by V.Press in 2017. She organises Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs Flash Fiction Festivals UK.
Twitter: @judehwriter / Web: judehiggins.com

Features & Fiction Editor – Steven John