Category Archives: Issue #9

Whitney Scharer

Tooth

 

My new husband’s daughter comes into our bedroom just before dawn. She is seven going on thirteen, thick-boned like her ancestors must have been, built for a day’s hard labor. She sits down on the edge of the bed. She is still new to me. Unsure, I reach out and begin to rub her back and when she leans back a little to meet my hand I only hesitate for a moment before I wrap both of my arms around her. She doesn’t have your gossamer heartbeat, your ribs that felt as delicate as a strung harp when I ran my hands over them. But she is here, stolid and alive and breathing hard through her stuffed-up nose in the dim room, and you are not.

She does not say much, this child. After a few minutes her breathing slows and I realize she had been scared, that this girl wakes in the night the same way you used to, that perhaps with time she will crawl into our bed when she is frightened and press her warm body up against mine for comfort. I squeeze her tight and she unclenches her hand, which had been shut in a fist this whole time. Inside is a small white pearl, a grain of rice, a piece of chipped china.

“Do you think the tooth fairy left it for me?” she asks, and I am crying, hot tears that slip down my cheeks and stain the back of her purple nightgown. I remember your pride when that tooth fell out, shouting to anyone who would listen I lost my toof! I remember putting it in the special enamel box we had bought for you with the little winged fairy painted on the top. Did I fail you in this as I did a thousand other things, not remember to sneak into your room and replace it with a dollar? “Do you think the tooth fairy got confused?” this new girl asks, and turning my head so she will not see my tears, I squeeze her tighter, saying, “It’s a special girl who gets left a tooth. Let’s put it under your pillow and maybe the tooth fairy will realize her mistake and bring you some money.” And together we get up and go into your bedroom and place the little bone in her bed, and I tuck her in as if she were my daughter, as if I loved her as much as I love you.

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Whitney Scharer is a writer and graphic designer. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington, and her short fiction has appeared in Cimarron Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Mare Nostrum, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a St. Botolph Emerging Artists award, a Somerville Arts Council grant, and a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her first novel, based on the life of photographer Lee Miller, will be out from Little, Brown in early 2019. She lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with her family.

Jason Jackson

The things taken, the things left behind

 

Some nights, you lie awake and think about those times, about how the things which happened to you back then can become more like stories written by strangers. You only lived in that flat for six months, and you’d already been there too long by the time the man moved in next door.

He had a girl with him. Not young enough to be his daughter, but young all the same. You could hear them through the walls. Sometimes they fought, but most nights the noises you heard weren’t fighting.

One afternoon you saw him in the stairwell, and he said to you, “Come over sometime, man.” He was smiling, shifting from foot to foot like a boxer. He said, “You smoke weed, right?” and he laughed, moving past you up the stairs.

You only went because you’d seen her shoes outside of their door. You couldn’t imagine why anyone living in a communal block would leave their shoes right there for everyone to see, but there they were most mornings, kitten-heeled, powder-blue and scuffed to shit. You couldn’t work out what it was you felt when you thought about those shoes, but it was something.

Their place was like yours. One room. A box big enough to fit a life inside, but not two. The girl had tried to make it nice – curtains, postcards of flowers – but there were stains on the wall, burns in the carpet.

“Here,” he said, and he handed you a can of lager. “Don’t say I’m not the hospitable type.”

She was sitting on the couch, her legs pulled up under her so that her white cotton dress stretched tight over her knees. In the corner of the room, their bed was unmade, her blue nightdress lying on the pillow.

You were standing with the man near the fridge and he said, “You want a smoke?” He smiled and took a jar from the side of the sink. It was about half-full of weed. He took it over to the bed, sat down and started building a joint.

You looked over at the girl, said, “So, you like it here?” and she turned to you, smiled, and then just turned back to the television.

“Julia don’t talk much,” said the man, not looking up from his work.

You took a swig from your can. “You both working?”

“Not Julia,” he said. “I get her what she needs.”

“And you?”

He twisted the end of the joint with a flourish. “We get by,” he said, and he passed it to you. “Here. Be my guest.”

Later, when you thought about what happened, you couldn’t remember Julia moving to the bed with him. But you could remember them kissing, his hand on her leg while you sat on the floor and rolled another joint with his weed, and as you lit it, took a drag, they both looked at you, smiling, and he moved his hand further up her leg, her thigh, showing you the white of her skin, the taut tendons behind her knee.

“What do you think?” he said. “She’s a princess, right?”

She was smiling at you, and her toes were moving slowly in a kind of rhythm.

“How come you leave those shoes outside your door?” you said.

The man laughed. “Man, those shoes stink!” he said. “There’s nothing worse than the smell of a woman’s shoes when you’re trying to sleep.”

You looked at the girl. “You got really beautiful feet.”

“You like them?” she said, and she kept wiggling her toes, watching them.

He said, “You know what I do? Every night, I wash those feet of hers. Soap and warm water.” He held his hand out for the joint and you passed it to him. “I get right in between those toes. Make ‘em smell like the feet of an angel. And then every morning, she gets up and she puts those stinking blue shoes right back on.” He started to laugh, handed Julia the joint, and as she took it from him he kissed her on the cheek.

“Why don’t you buy her some new shoes?”

“Tried it,” he said. “Tried all kinds of shoes.”

Julia blew smoke in a long, thin line, and then she looked at you. “I really like those shoes. Those shoes are the most comfortablist shoes I ever wore.”

“Most comfortablist!” he said, laughing, and he grabbed her face, looked at you, held her chin between his thick fingers. “She’s a princess! Don’t you just want to kiss her?”

It was hard to smile at him but you did, until he said, “Well, what you waiting for?”

It wasn’t his words that did it.

It was the way she moved over on the bed to make room for you.

In the days afterwards, you didn’t see either of them. But you saw her shoes each morning, outside of the door. You’d never caught the smell of them before, but you held your breath anyway as you headed past them and down the stairs.

On the Thursday, you heard him shouting, but you couldn’t hear what he was saying. After a while he stopped, but later when you were trying to sleep, you could hear both of them, those noises they made.

On the Saturday, when you came home, her shoes weren’t there anymore, and your lock was bust, your door wide open.

They hadn’t taken much. A pillow, a lamp made from a wine bottle, some books, an old radio. You’d left some coins on the table, and they’d taken them as well, and as you walked around checking on things it felt as if you’d never set foot in the flat before, as if the things they’d taken and the things they’d left behind weren’t even yours, and had never been yours at all.

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Jason Jackson writes short fiction and poetry. He also takes photographs. He hopes to find the time in a busy life to get better at all three. Find links to his published work at jjfiction.wordpress.com Jason tweets at jj_fiction

 

 

Jacquelyn Bengfort

And So She Did

 

A fact about mayflies you may not know:

Mayflies act like canaries in a coal mine, only for fresh and unpolluted waters.

“Mama, I don’t want to be a bug.”

“Shhh, Jenny-Lee. Stop twitching. I need to pin your wings on straight.”

The crown she added herself, built of a heap of carnations and a few browning roses filched from the funeral parlor’s trash.

More mayfly facts:

They operate in swarms.

They mate in mid-air.

Their sexual organs are paired, two penises or two vaginas each, like animals boarding the Ark.

“I’m the only one, Mama.”

“The only what.”

The only insect. Ms. Butterton picked five blonde girls to dance around the maypole, three boys for Morris dancers. Everyone else: flowers, frogs, frolicking rabbits.

Mayflies live for years in water, die quickly on land.

Jenny-Lee tied on her crown just before stepping on the stage. She squinted in the glare.

“Hiho, I am the mayfly!” whispered Miss Charterton from the prompt corner.

Jenny-Lee scratched at her forehead, where her third eye would be, were she truly a mayfly. She shook her wings, so secure against her back. She felt quite suddenly that she might be able to soar.

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Jacquelyn Bengfort was born in North Dakota, educated at the U.S. Naval Academy and Oxford University, and now resides in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Gargoyle, Storm Cellar, District Lines, matchbook, CHEAP POP, The Fem, and numerous anthologies, among other places. She was a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly‘s 2017 Kathy Fish Fellowship and The Iowa Review’s 2016 Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans. Find her online at www.JaciB.com.

 

Lynn Pattison

Canon

 

Nicole’s doctor says she has a portion of intestine that’s twisted in over itself, a knot that needs fixing. No inkling of what he’ll find. Everything in her gut is looped. Not in the normal way the gut turns back and forth upon itself, but in graceful arcs, spiraling passages that look worked by artists’ hands. Vessels to or from her kidneys, her gall bladder, lacy traceries. Slender curved arteries remind him of glass condensers back at the lab. Blood vessels wind in Escher progressions, then trace fragile branchings around the surface of the pancreas and spleen. He would like to see her lungs and heart, but sticks to his task. He works gracefully and rhythmically, guided by the music she requested: Pachelbel. The surgeon tries to smooth Nicole’s intestine back into what he guesses was the original pattern. Almost doesn’t want to sew her up, fascinated by this intricate clockwork. He takes photos, spends the rest of his life trying to convince someone to reconstruct his own insides to such singular beauty.

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Michigan poet, Lynn Pattison’s work has appeared in The Notre Dame Review, Rhino, Harpur Palate, Smartish Pace, Rattle, Tinderbox, Slipstream and Poetry East, among others, and been anthologized in several venues (most recently in NASTY WOMEN POETS, An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, ed. Grace Bauer & Julie Kane, Lost Horse Press, University of Washington). She is the author of three collections: tesla’s daughter (March St. Press); Walking Back the Cat (Bright Hill Press) and Light That Sounds Like Breaking (Mayapple Press).

 

 

Diane Simmons

Images

 

They are pencil drawings mostly – seven or eight of them hanging on the wall above Helen’s bed. Some are intricate, drawn with a care that must have required several sittings. Others look like they’ve been dashed off in a few minutes – the aggressiveness of the strokes at odds with the subject matter. Sophie can’t imagine the sittings, can’t picture her friend drawing for hours in that anonymous room. Had someone been with her? She has no idea of the protocol. Or of how Helen could have coped with being in there, let alone with being able to draw.

Helen stands beside her, waiting for her response to the drawings. During their short friendship, Helen has taught her so much about art appreciation, but Sophie still feels ill-equipped and unable to find adequate words. ‘They’re good,’ she eventually squeaks. Good? She tries again. ‘It must have been hard. I can’t imagine …’

‘Some sittings were easier than others. But I had to do it.’

‘Had to?’

‘I couldn’t not have done them. And it gave me somewhere to escape to – time to think. There always seemed to be people around.’

The number of visitors had made Sophie worry about Helen at the time. Her need for silence must have been overwhelming. But the urge to draw? If it had been her, what would she have done to escape? She can’t imagine that anything would have worked – except sleep, and that, even with the drugs, would have probably eluded her.

‘I’ve done a sculpture,’ Helen says. ‘From one of the drawings. Come through and I’ll show you.’

Silently, she follows Helen to the studio. The room is messy as usual. There is clay dust over most of the surfaces and half-finished paintings propped up on chairs and worktops. Helen leads her to the table next to the kiln and gestures towards a small sculpture. Sophie can almost not look. Feeling tears forming, she swallows hard. How can she cry when Helen isn’t? Had Helen cried when she had been making it? Perhaps when she moulded the clay or when she’d taken it out of the kiln perfectly formed?

She forces herself to look properly at the sculpture of the baby’s head. It looks complete, perfect, like a baby gone full term. Helen’s womb did its job of protecting him when her car turned over – at least from any outward signs of damage. He looks asleep.

‘They were good – in the hospital,’ Helen says. ‘They let me go down to see him as many times as I needed – for as long as I needed to get to know him.’

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Diane Simmons studied creative writing with the Open University. Her first writing success involved a TV appearance on ITV’S This Morning where her story was awarded second place by a panel which included the writer, Jacqueline Wilson. Since then she has been placed in many competitions and has been widely published. She now mainly writes flash and is a keen participant in NFFD in the UK, with her stories included in their last five anthologies. Diane was part of the organising team for the first ever flash festival held in Bath earlier this year. She regularly performs her stories.