Category Archives: Issue #11

Kathryn Ordiway

After/Again

When the war was over, we returned to what was left of our houses and pretended life was normal. Carbs became a staple at every meal and we women relished the fat that piled on our once prominent bones. We shared our limited clothing and enjoyed each other’s closet scents.

In months, we were our old selves again, poking the fleshy deposits we thought we would always love, trying to target their specific demise. We quickly forgot the luxury of fat.

The men took to organizing, though this was once our job. They organized sporting events and city leagues boomed. They organized quick plays littered with garish actors and then reviewed their own productions in meager publications. They organized dinner parties and seating charts. They organized our children and said “look, look at our children without dirt on their faces or gashes on their knees.”

For the first year after the war, we forgot what we were expected to do and did what we could.

It started with the return of recognizable government and continuous TV programming. The leader called himself President, in the old fashion, and developed a talk show so he could keep the public informed. He encouraged us to fill the country with potential.

We women mumbled that he should be thrown out. We asked for a new leader, perhaps a female leader, and the men scowled.

They asked why and we said “men got us into this mess” and they said “but men got you out” and we said “we all got us out” and they said “but look, look at our children,” and took credit for our most glorious work.

We worked in fear of stopping. For so long, all we had known was the mindless energy of accomplishing tasks. When the novelty of peace began to fade, we ran back to the comfort of labor.

Unemployment plummeted, and for this the men thanked the president. We thanked the war, then rapped our large knuckles on warped wood.

We were startled by how many of us had died, startled more still by how many had survived. We took the names of our departed and tattooed them in hidden places, the spaces between fingers, the bottoms of our feet, behind our ears. Our bodies became living memorials to the rotting flesh that paved the way to peacetime.

Eventually, we found that it was harder to have children than it was before. We deemed this a quiet blessing. The men were looking for more children, crying out that we had to repopulate, but we possessed none of that desire, that fantasy.

There were those of us who tried, those of us who took to our beds for the good of the future, but there was little success.

In public, we would stutter and wail, wrap our arms around our remaining friends and scream at the sky that we had lost so much already. In private, we whispered that we were thankful, that we hoped the men would stop asking, that we did not want any more children.

With time, televised sports returned, and again the men gathered around their TVs. Again we could be found in the kitchen, glaring at the food we were asked to display on tarnished platters. We could not understand how, after everything, we were not invited to participate in the viewing of acceptable violence. Had not we killed, too?

We encouraged our daughters to sit with their fathers and they were welcomed, encouraged to watch and clap and shout along with the men.

Already, we had returned to thinking of future generations.

The men flaunted our daughters, had them spin, and said, “Look, look at her, my child.”

The men agreed, more was more.

The President spoke to us weekly. We spent Sunday mornings sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the purr and gravel of his voice. Our men sipped weak coffee, nodded slowly, flexed their hands and clapped at the conclusion. They asked our children questions about what the president had said and rewarded thorough answers with old, bitter chocolates.

We bit our tongues and drank our coffee and never relaxed our hands. When the questions were asked, we averted our eyes and counted the food groups in the pantry.

The first to conceive was lauded as a miracle, an inspiration and guide. When she walked past in the street, they clapped and cheered, whistled and winked.

We seethed. Now we would be expected to do the same.

It truly started, then.

We would be ready to sleep, ready to close our eyes, and the men would put their fingers in our hair, run their thumbs along our ribs. They would ask and ask and we would decline and decline, and then they would bury their palms in the backs of our necks and fight for the future between our thighs.

We filled the country with potential.

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Kathryn Ordiway is a short story writer, poet, and small-town Pennsylvanian currently living in Oklahoma. She received her degree in English from Saint Vincent College. In her spare time, she enjoys classical music, tea, crime dramas, and heavy blankets. Her poetry has appeared in Francis House.

Sarah Salway

On Hold

She was just passing the phone box the first time it rang.

Or that’s what she said afterwards. She checked her mobile of course, but her boyfriend had recently changed her ring tone to ‘Hello Barbie’ so he could find her easily. This was an old fashioned dring-dring. It brought back so many memories that when she picked up the receiver she almost imagined it to be her mother telling her to be careful.

‘Hello,’ she breathed, ‘hello, hello, hello.’

She gently touched the four corners of one of the postcards plastered on the wall as she waited for the torrent of words in a language she couldn’t understand to finish. And then she replaced the receiver.

***

The second time she took the call, she’d been waiting for half an hour.
The phone box wasn’t even near her house, but she changed the route of her run so she could pass it. Every third run, she’d wait. Just to see. Her boyfriend complained that she wasn’t losing that much weight for someone who ran so much, but she told him muscle took time to build up.

When the phone rang she didn’t say anything at first, just let the voice on the other end run on, smiling at the way it rose and fell, how the consonants tripped over each other. As she listened, she let her fingers trace the women on the postcards. They were all so happy looking.

‘Sweet dreams, be safe,’ she whispered as she replaced the receiver. It was what her mother always used to say to her before she went to sleep.

She threw the cards into the bin by the park. ‘Sweet dreams,’ she whispered as she imagined them nestling together in the dark.

***

It was some time before she could go near the phone box again. Her boyfriend insisted on running with her and he liked easier routes, ones he could measure after on his computer. He liked to run for twenty-five minutes exactly and then have sex for another twenty-five minutes. Ten minutes for a shower. He called it their productive hour. ‘I don’t understand why you used to take so long,’ he kept saying.

It was a relief to get out without him. The roads seemed familiar, as if they were welcoming her home, and the phone box gleamed like a red present waiting for her to open it.

There were new girls pasted up, all still smiling though. She was counting them, cataloguing them in her head – brown haired, Asian, blondes – when the phone rang. Dring dring. It came as such a shock that she almost dropped her stack of girls.

It was a different man on the other end this time, but the words were the same. Unintelligible, and such a hard rhythm to the language that she shut her eyes as if that might stop her hearing.

‘Mum,’ she whispered, ‘Mum, hello, it’s me, Josie.’

She was still talking when the phone box door swung open, an arm grabbed at her, swiping the cards so they fell, forming a circle around her.

‘Sweet dreams,’ she told them. ‘Be safe, be safe, be safe.’

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Sarah Salway is the author of six books: three novels (Something Beginning With, Tell Me Everything, Getting the Picture), two collections of poetry (You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book, Digging Up Paradise), and one short story collection (Leading the Dance). She is a former Canterbury Laureate and RLF Fellow at both the London School of Economics and the University of Kent. She writes about gardens at www.writerinthegarden.com, and tweets @sarahsalway. Her website is www.sarahsalway.co.uk.

 

Fred Muratori

Orson Welles

Lesser evils gather and disperse, ephemeral as fine hairs on a barbershop floor. But the greater evils aren’t obvious until it’s too late. You think Looks like it might rain and then a SWAT team storms the house next door. I remember the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. My parents didn’t know what was going on, but at first I didn’t think it felt evil, just strange – candles encrypting the living room, rosaries at our fingertips in case we passed the limits of reasonable conversation. While Mom prayed to her Jesus of Prague, Dad and I went out to find the news on our Chevy Bel-Air radio, sitting in the dark garage, engine running, scratchy voices in the dashboard as if from tiny hostages. That was when he told me about hearing Orson Welles’ famous broadcast in 1938, how he wasn’t fooled at all. But nowadays, he said, who knew what those Communists might do?  You mean Martians, I corrected incorrectly, too frightened to know the difference.

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Fred Muratori’s prose poems and flash fictions have appeared in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Fiction International, 100 Word Story, Inch, Duende, NANO Fiction, and others.  The latest of his three published poetry collections is A Civilization, issued by Dos Madres Press in 2014. He lives and works in Ithaca, NY.

Melanie Márquez Adams

Betrayal

When I finally had the courage to say goodbye, I let my beloved doll know that our time together was coming to a tragic end. I whispered in her ear what the doctor told my parents. “I will get really thin and you will see blood coming out of my mouth”, I explained, “I won’t make it to eleven”. She just nodded, indifferent, looking past me.

I followed her turquoise eyes right into my sister’s doll collection.
That same night as I laid down, I told Mother in my most serious voice that I already knew the toy with which I wanted to be buried.

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Melanie Márquez Adams is the author of the short story collection Black Butterflies (Eskeletra, 2017). Nominated for Best Small Fictions 2018, her work has appeared in Aster(ix) Journal, Thrice Fiction Magazine, The Acentos Review, and elsewhere. You can find her at melaniemarquezadams.com and @melmarquezadams

Elaine Chiew

Insurance

 

You go diving with him in the Bahamas as a leap of faith, even though you’re not sure whether it’s a leap of faith in yourself or in him or in your togetherness. It’s new still in your relationship; you’d met him at a medical conference, out lounging on a cabana. He had drawn up close, in his tan linen jacket and sharply-creased blue trousers, and asked if he could buy you a drink. Not that you are looking for a relationship, or even a carefree fuck, because your mother is in her last stages of Alzheimers’ and it’s just you and her but between shuttling on the commuters’ train from her home of assisted living and your job in insurance sales, you’d begun to find chit-chat with strangers nauseating. But there was something about his blue eyes and shaggy hair that spelled an aura of wanting to please and you thought to yourself, oh why the hell not? Your mother would disapprove of his slight put-on dishevelment and crude jokes. When it’s just the two of you, he is altogether more serious, more real, more himself, but he truly comes alive when the audience is ten or more. Then he would sing Nessun Dorma in a faux baritone (which your mother would find kitschy or attempt a ballerina stunt and split his pants). But your mother will never meet him, or if she does, she will never remember.

So you think of him as insurance. A kind of biological safety net, safe enough to risk an underwater world where you go diving with him. You are such a terrible swimmer that once you’d sunk to the bottom of a kid’s pool at the swimming club and thought you were drowning and surfaced and screamed for help and when people rushed over and someone finally pulled you out, you claimed a leg cramp because you were so embarrassed.

Down now in these murky watery depths, you panic and start hyperventilating. Water rushes into your mask. Your heart drops to a new plumbing depth. Someone grabs your shoulder and then holds your hand and guides you with finger gestures on how to empty your mask of water. You suck in lungful after lungful of oxygen and begin to feel giddy. All you can see behind his mask are his eyes, but not the expression in them because there is a film of moisture over everything. A school of fish swims past and you think you’ve never seen anything more beautiful in your life. You think the man holding your hand is a godsend, and you wonder if he isn’t the diving instructor, with his rapid gesturing and purposeful movements. There, before you, are schools of marine bioluminescence. Florets of musky coral. Plumes of purple anemones. Membraned jellyfish, lit from within, rising as clouded fumes. Seawhip. Polyps like thousands of eyes. They sense your dark presence. An entire school of fish changes direction. Your lungs swell, you feel the massive ache in your jaw even before you hear the snap upon bone. What is blue becomes red, then black. You are neither fish nor human now. There is no name, no memory, for the undersea monster you’ve become. You power through subterranean coves, your body sleek, aerodynamic. Swimming. Finning. The water closing over you is icy, instantly numbing. Your sleek tail torque, you rappel down to seabed level.

When you finally surface, you are delirious.

You tell this man it’s the most amazing trip of your life. The two of you are sitting eating lunch at a seafood place with all the other divers, and that’s when you learn two things: the school of fish is barracuda, and the man who had held your hand is no instructor but the man you are dating for insurance. You burst out laughing and you simply can’t stop. Everyone around you first smiles indulgently, including the man you are dating, and then their smiles become more hesitant, and the way their smiles start to fade made your epiglottis seize up and you almost choke on your mouthful of tilapia.

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Elaine Chiew is the editor/compiler of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015). She has won prizes for her short fiction and also been shortlisted in numerous other U.S. and U.K. competitions. She is currently based in Singapore and has just completed an M.A. in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts.