Category Archives: Issue #12

Robert Lopez & Eva Ruiz

I’m Fine or Save Me

She likes to commemorate bad situations with tattoos. This time it was an ambigram on her wrist that reads “I’m fine” or “Save me” depending on how you look at it. Last time, it was “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” scrolled across her lower back.

I never looked at her tattoos. She’d always ask me to look at them and I always said I wouldn’t.

Sofie always asked to look at her tattoos. She thought they were brilliant, deep.

I didn’t like Sofie, didn’t like anything about her. I didn’t like how she wore too much perfume and not enough eye makeup, didn’t like how she spelled her name.

Sofie thinks I am swell.  Sofie is always calling and writing and suggesting the three of us go out to dinner, that we hike up some mountain in Vermont or go on vacation someplace tropical.

I’ve stopped answering the phone as a result. If I return a message I say that I’m busy at work, that my dog is in the hospital, that I’ve had to move to Oregon.

I’d arranged it so I’d never see either of them again.

This is why I was disappointed when I felt them huddle around me as I was out buying cigarettes. I only smoke two or three a week, so I rarely have to go out to buy them, maybe once a month.

I waited for one or the other to say something. Instead, each of us hugged individually, then as a group. Then they walked out of the bodega and down the street.

I almost asked why she never tattooed a picture on herself, why it always had to be words, why it always had to be deep. But I didn’t because I think I know the answer and I don’t want to hear it.

###

Robert Lopez is the author of five books, of which the most recent are All Back Full and Good People. He teaches at The New School, Pratt Institute, Columbia University and The Solstice Low-Res MFA Program of Pine Manor College. Find out more at www.robertlopez.net.

Eva Ruiz only has time to write flash fiction because she’s too busy starting Mi Casita, a bilingual preschool and cultural center, in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, www.micasitabk.org.

 

Sudha Balagopal

Separations

 

Nina finds her six-year-old twins in a tangle of skinny limbs on the same bed.

Today, they’ll go into separate classrooms.

“It’s healthy,” the school counselor said.

“It’s school policy,” Principal Brown insisted.

Tino, Nina’s husband, concurs with the counsellor’s opinion. “They’re too close,” he says, like it’s a failing.

The twins brush their teeth, pick identical clothes—yellow shorts, white shirts, sneakers with red laces.

*

Layla and Sheila are miracles. “My gifts at forty-three,” she tells Tino.

He hadn’t felt her agony: the building hope month after month, the devastation when things dissolved to nothingness. The endless cycles of calendar dates, body temperature, and a laboratory dish.

From five fertilized embryos, the doctor at the in vitro fertilization clinic implanted two. The obstetrician performing the C-section found the twins with their arms around each other.

Is the terror of separation embedded, a remembered fear?

The clinic froze the remaining embryos, tagged them with Nina’s name.

*

She walks the girls to their classrooms. “We’ll take it from here,” one of the teachers says. Ten minutes after the bell rings, Nina’s listening to her heartbeats in the school’s parking lot.

At eleven, the school calls.

“What happened?” she asks Principal Brown.

“Sheila’s crying and tearing up pages from her notebooks,” he says.

Nina stands, her knees threatening to buckle.

“And, Layla runs out of her classroom. It’s disruptive.”

Nina’s hands shake. “The problem is not my children.”

“It’s school policy to keep twins in separate classrooms.”

She brings them home.

*

Nina calls Tino.

“You’re reinforcing bad behaviour.” He’s disapproving.

Words scream in her head: I don’t agree with you, either. He thinks there’s no point in paying the hefty cost to keep the embryos frozen any longer. Last week, he contacted the clinic.

*

“It’s separation anxiety,” the twins’ paediatrician tells her. “They connect in ways we cannot understand. Being apart must feel intense.”

“But, the school policy . . .”

“I’ll send you a couple of studies. Read them, you’ll understand.”

*

Nina’s throat constricts when she sees the clinic’s number on her phone. She does not answer the call.

She’s seen the woman in the office: emotionless, narrow eyes behind thick, black-rimmed glasses.

“The embryos have been thawed and will be disposed of,” the woman will say, as if they’re nothing more than old frozen peas waiting to be tossed.

She had envisioned a visit, a ceremony to say goodbye to her embryos.

There won’t be one.

*

 In the evening, Tino’s silence thunders.

She writes letters to the PTA president, the head of the school district, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

It’s late when she’s done. The light in the children’s room is on. She pauses, her hand on the switch. The girls are asleep on the twin bed in a tangle of limbs.

She lets them be.

###

Sudha Balagopal’s recent fiction appears in Fictive Dream, Spelk Fiction, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Jellyfish Review and Foliate Oak among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.

Jo Davies

Forgotten

 

He’d been under the stairs for years, forgotten and neglected. This wasn’t what his family had envisaged when they’d sold him. The money had been much needed, but they’d also liked the idea – as much as anything – that a future full of purpose and respect lay ahead for him.

At first he’d received much attention and care, always admired, studied and appreciated. Even though his eyes were gone, he’d sensed their awe, fascination and respect. Hushed tones caressed him: “He’s real?”

But times changed. The day his owner retired, she’d packed him into a box and taken him home. Naively, he’d assumed that after decades sharing the same office, he’d be given a quiet corner of her lounge where they’d enjoy her retirement in companionable silence. Instead, she’d stuffed him into the darkness beneath the stairs, where he lay, listening to the slow thud of her footsteps pass overhead morning and night.

One day the thudding stopped.

Some time later, the little under-stairs door creaked open. Youthful, energetic arms hauled things out into bright daylight. Fingers grasped his ankle and soon he was sliding, clattering, across the wooden floor towards the light.

“Gosh, look Dad! Did Nana kill someone?!” A young girl’s voice cried.

Heavy footsteps approached and a deep voice laughed. “Don’t be daft, Mum didn’t kill anyone! That’ll be her old Chinaman.”

“Her what?”

“From medical school. She bought a real skeleton back in the day. Must’ve kept him all these years – goodness knows why.”

If he’d had skin and muscles, he’d have scowled. How dare they think he was Chinese! He’d never set foot outside India in his life. In death, perhaps, but he accepted no responsibility for that. He felt himself held up high for inspection.

“Perfect for Halloween,” said the deep voice. Suddenly, he was violently shaken from side to side in an undignified dance. “Mwah-ha-haaar!”

“Oh Dad, don’t!” protested the girl.

Outraged, he allowed his limbs to flail more than necessary, his bony fingers outstretched. He felt them scrape something soft.

“Ow!” came a low growl. “Git.”

If he’d had lips, he would have smiled.

###

Jo Davies is a new British writer. By day, she works as an editor and publisher in the civil service; by night her imagination comes out to play in the form of flash fiction and short stories. She lives in Berkshire and enjoys finding story prompts in everyday life. Her work has appeared in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and Spelk.

Anita Goveas

Bone Deep

No-one’s sure what going to happen next. Today, its ‘acids and bases’. They’ve dipped litmus paper into milk and ketchup and written down the results. They’ve got the left-over chicken bones from the morning’s biology lesson and soaked them in vinegar, Mr Bangura promising a surprise on Friday.  They’re now dropping baking soda into Sarson’s, and taking selfies with the resulting volcanoes. Nadia, with the shiny brown bob and purple Doc Martens, is brushing her hair by the window when she starts coughing.

“Mr Bangura, something smells weird.”

From the plastic cups containing chicken bones, there are wisps of green smoke emerging.

Dominic raises a tentative hand. “Erm, my chicken bone looked cooked. Does that make a difference?”

Jaya scrunches her nose. “I used this bottle. The one that says hydrochloric acid. That’s bad, right?”

Mr Bangura’s face turns greyer than aluminium.

“Right, open a window if you’re near one, then go to the school nurse. I’ll see you in five minutes.”

He’s draining the chicken-bone-carbon-possibly-chlorine-gas mixture into the sink, handkerchief pressed over his face, when Mr Peckersniff charges in.

“I knew you were up to something. We’ve had to evacuate the classrooms above here.”

“A bit of improvisation that went wrong, sir. I’m fixing it.”

“It’s grooming, that’s what it is. I googled your funny tattoo, I know it says “Death to Infidels.”

He shouts “I play golf with the Chairman of Governors” as he storms off. Mr Bangura stares at his retreating back, but there are twenty cups left and he’s already light-headed. He’s got eighteen to go when a gas-masked fireman bursts in.

“Is that a chemical bomb? ”

“Um, chemistry experiment?”

The fireman backs away, hands raised. Mr Bangura blinks, but carries on. He’s pulled over a chair, the room’s started spinning, when the door flies open for the final time.

“Nobody move!”

The gas has affected his brain, because that’s apparently a red-haired woman wearing a jacket saying ‘Bomb Squad’. He should have listened to his dad and stayed in Hounslow.

“It’s ‘I love my mum’ in Arabic’, he says, waving his wrist. “It’s henna?”

Black-clothed people in tactical vests start removing bits of the lab to control-detonate. One is carrying his lunch-box.

He’s sitting outside, head in hand-cuffed hands, when the SAS helicopter lands on the Jungle. Mr Peckersniff plays golf with a lot of important people.

###

Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. Her stories are published and forthcoming in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, the Word Factory website, Dodging the Rain, Rigorous, Pocket Change, Haverthorn and Riggwelter Press. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer.

C.E. Shue

The Mechanics of Reincarnation

 

The Terminal:

But the woman seems so nice. She reminds Jenny of her mother, and her mother always taught her to be polite to old people. Besides, it isn’t like she has anywhere to go, having arrived at the airport a good two hours before her plane is scheduled to leave. Jenny didn’t want to be snippy with the TSA agents because she was worried about missing her flight. God knows they have enough to worry about what with shoe-bombers and airport snipers and all.

People crowd through the lines, pushing the gray plastic bins and hurriedly taking off their jackets and jewelry only to put them back on haphazardly after complete strangers have looked at their x-rayed underwear. Bright lights reflect off the linoleum floored passageways, the moving sidewalks inching slowly like flattened escalators past long lines of travellers waiting impatiently for coffee and packaged sandwiches.

*

Rolling Luggage:

It was enough to make anyone anti-social, Jenny thinks, so when a little poodle-haired old lady approaches her with a wobbly rolling suitcase (blue, with a piece of red yarn tied to the handle) and asks cheerily, “Would you be a dear and watch my bag while I go to the Ladies?”

Jenny says yes immediately, even though the voice on the PA system is in the middle of her oft- repeated message, “For your safety, do not accept packages from unknown persons. . . ”

“My husband used to watch it for me,” her new companion says, but then the woman’s blue eyes begin to tear up and her voice trails off. Thinking about the missing husband—balding, wearing a short-sleeved Mexican wedding shirt (why?) in her mind, Jenny’s eyes water too. What would be the harm? she asks herself, wanting to comfort the woman somehow, but not knowing what to say.

*

The Mechanics of Reincarnation:

At that moment, Jenny almost feels like she knows this mild-mannered—dare she say meek?—woman, or women like her, from her aunts, some of them married to second husbands now, to her mother-in-law, widowed a year ago. According to the spirituality book tucked into Jenny’s carry-on bag, hasn’t everybody been reborn so many times that they all have been, not only mother and father, but sister, brother, daughter, son, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle and so on and so forth to everyone else ever born on the planet?

In a kind of kaleidoscopic, mind-bending, psychedelic, back-to-the-future scenario, this little old lady probably has been her mother, Jenny thinks—and vice versa; at least once, maybe multiple times. By that reasoning, wouldn’t she be taking care of the woman the way the woman has undoubtedly taken care of her in a past incarnation? And doesn’t Jenny want to honor this once-and-again-now-and-future bond?

After all, few decades from now, she might actually become this woman, Jenny muses. Female longevity being a scientifically established fact, in all likelihood her life will continue beyond that of her future adored, but gender-disadvantaged husband. And when that day sadly comes to pass, Jenny hopes someone will help her by doing such a small favor as safeguarding her carry-on bag, right? Of course she does.

Karma:
Jenny imagines herself at 80 and recently widowed, on her first trip to see a new grandchild. “A little boy 6 pounds, 8 ounces, with wispy red hair, just like his mama when she was a baby,” the elderly woman exclaims proudly, showing her the tot’s picture on her phone.

Jenny’s smile lingers as she watches the old lady’s loving soul make her way to the restroom, her maternal bulk moving unsteadily through the school of harried travellers that dart about like erratic fish. Jenny gazes at the woman’s taupe orthopaedic shoes; they have little holes for ventilation that look like bandaids. Her permed hair matches the nubby gray of her cardigan and as she walks, the black rubber stopper of her aluminum cane accentuates the downbeat of each stolid footstep.

Jenny feels her smile melt into a sort of benevolent glow and she pictures her own mother’s closet, sees the rows of chic dresses, elegant blouses and tailored pantsuits. In contrast to the owner of the faded carry-on, her mother’s tresses are still deeply black, with a dyed blond streak that swoops elegantly over one eye.

And no canes for either of her parents yet. They go ballroom dancing three times a week even though her mother’s feet can hardly fit into her Capezios anymore. No one at the Social Club suspects that her mother has hammer toes; she is used to pain and hiding it.

*

The Terrorist:

A dark-haired woman walks by Jenny, peering at the foreign bag at her feet with heavily mascaraed eyes. “I can’t believe it,” She hears a voice in her head say, “You have fallen for the oldest trick in the book!”

Jenny knows her mother would never dream of asking a stranger to look after her belongings at an airport, and yet here Jenny is, suddenly surrounded by a torrent of little old ladies, a deluge of the elderly. She watches them tottering on their unsteady legs, dragging their tippy, overstuffed suitcases behind them, circling, circling, circling her with their massive, unmanageable bags; luggage filled with old sweaters and new baby blankets, sagging nylons and shapeless skirts; stacks of pictures, mementoes, memories and regrets, habits and complaints, neuroses and god only knows what else, all of them ready to blow at any minute.

Jenny feels her heart pulse with a panicky fever. Over the loudspeaker, the smooth, disembodied voice of the female gate agent announces that the flight is ready to board, and as other passengers gather up their suitcases, purses, and backpacks, Jenny looks wildly toward the ladies’ room, wondering when that sweet white-haired terrorist is going to detonate the love- bomb that she herself has so willingly accepted.

###

C.E. Shue holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of San Francisco. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Washington Square, Drunken Boat, sparkle + blink, Works & Days Quarterly, Versal, Flock, Storyspace, Paragraph and other journals. A Kundiman Fellow, she has received grants from the Provincetown Fine Arts Workshop and the Vermont Studio Center. Her photography and poetry were featured in the 92nd Street Y’s #wordswelivein project and she has read at LitCrawl, Quiet Lightning, Naropa, Under the Influence, Beast Crawl, and other venues, and has performed her poetry at Beyond Words:  Jazz and Poetry.