This was a most unlikely event. It began on short notice in a province known for rain on every summer weekend (both of ’em), and curvy-wurvy highways crowded with deer in the headlights and the potholed pavement weakened by frost and infrequent maintence. The distances were as great as the odds against it taking place. And yet they came, these hardy champions of prose and poetry! They blew in like storm clouds from Nopoming, filled with electricity and ready to rumble! They were generous, gregarious, hilarious, loud and funny, and rude but charming, and misquito-bit, and silly, and slutty (ask Christiane), and poised, and harmonious. They held us in their gentle hands but punched us in the nose when we needed it. They railed and ralleyed and led us with their rhyming couplets, waiting only for our bootheels to come following. They read us Fish, and Murray, and Sharon Frame Gay, and Haydon, and Spenst, and Yeats, and other divine meanderers and wild, wild horses.—Prosetry hosts, Janice & Mitchell Toews
Here then, is the written record of the prose and the poetry: those submitted, those we read, and those we didn’t get to but wish we had. July 20, 2019.
P.S.—For the songs, which were mesmerizing as Vincent’s starry sky above, you’ll have to attend in person… next year!
Kevin Spenst, a Pushcart Poetry nominee, is the author of Ignite, Jabbering with Bing Bong (both with Anvil Press), and over a dozen chapbooks including Pray Goodbye (the Alfred Gustav Press), Ward Notes (the serif of nottingham), Flip Flop Faces and Unexpurgated Lives (JackPine Press), and most recently Upend (Frog Hollow Press: Dis/Ability series). He lives on unceded Coast Salish territory (Vancouver) with the love of his life Shauna Kaendo. https://kevinspenst.com/
An Eyelid is the First Eclipse
Your eyes are hummingbird bodies held in place
on the thought of wings. When the sun comes out,
I go out too in search of some tree that nested
your start. Between the lenticels of a cherry
blossom, a transistor radio antenna shoots up,
picks up new wave from the static of your hair
in the 80s. Further down the path, chords of bark
flow down a trunk like roughhousing eddies of
the Saskatchewan River in a flooding spring, but
it’s on an islet in Lost Lagoon where I witness
a beaver felled oak diving into its reflection –
shavings from its old base thumb rides from
clouds who oversaw your flitting across Prairies
to some iridescent risk-takings across a continent.
Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work has been internationally published in anthologies and literary magazines, including: Chicken Soup For The Soul, Typehouse, Fiction on the Web, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Crannog Magazine, and others. Her work has won prizes and at: Women on Writing, The Writing District, and Owl Hollow Press. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. You can find her on Amazon as well as Facebook as Sharon Frame Gay-Writer. Twitter: @sharonframegay
by Sharon Frame Gay
The faces around the table are blurred. They’ve lost their hard edges, my vision deteriorating. In front of me is a cake gaily decorated in pinks and greens with enough candles to set off the sprinklers in the ceiling.
I am one hundred and four years old today; April the 11th, the time of year when spring lambs are born. I came into this world in a small town in North Carolina. Father named me Charlotte, after the city where he grew up. He said he wanted to move to the shadier side of the Carolinas, up into the Great Smoky Mountains, where you hear owls as you fall asleep and count the hills and ridges as they rise from the smoke of dawn. Over a century later, I’m still living in the same small town Daddy moved us to after he and Momma started their family.
When I married, I moved from my childhood farm to a house near Main Street, and from there to a tiny apartment above the drug store. Finally, I came to this retirement home. Not five miles away from my earliest memories it sits near these beloved hills.
To prepare for the party, I was bathed and brushed like a poodle in one of those fancy pet salons. The nurses and attendants in the facility fussed over me with lotions and hair dryers until I was exhausted. Then they stood back, smiled, and flourished a mirror. I stared long at the reflection.
Peering back was a very old woman. My face looked like one of those storage bags they sell on television, where they put a vacuum hose in it and suck all the air out. I have dark brown eyes, but they’re cloudy now, covered with overhanging lids, two tiny orbs peering out of fleshy curtains. There are skin tags and age spots scattered across my face and neck like a map of a heavily populated state. Hair, once long and thick, the color of an oak leaf in the fall, is now wispy and white, scalp shining through like a baby’s bottom.
“Thank God I still have my mind.” I burst out laughing. “That’s what they all say.” I laugh some more.
The gals give a hug then leave me in my room in a wheelchair. It’s not time for the festivities yet, they say, so here I sit, fingers laced in lap. The skin on my hands is paper-thin and fragile. I am afraid of banging them on a doorknob, or bruising them knocking against the nightstand reaching for water, so I wear soft white gloves for protection.
I’m in my best nightgown, light blue with tiny white dandelions sprinkled across it, the bodice smocked and embroidered. It’s my favorite piece of clothing, and I insist on wearing it today. On my feet are pink slippers with non slip bottoms.
I never wear shoes. I only walk to the bathroom and back. The rest of the time, I am in this wheelchair, my feet in retirement.
My daughter Esther knit a yellow shawl that I wear every day. I wrap it around my shoulders and pretend she’s here with me, though she lives three hundred miles away.
She’ll be here today, along with my son Gerald and his wife, kids and grand kids. Esther will bring her sons, too, and their wives and grand children, even a couple of great-grandchildren. Esther’s husband Roy passed away five years ago. She still has to work, well into her seventies. After retirement, she’s moving back here, to be closer to me.
I think to myself, Hurry, Esther.
Four years ago, my hundredth birthday was quite the shindig. I suppose everyone thought they would celebrate my natal day, and have a hail and farewell party all at the same time. It was something to behold. The party was in a rented hall, and over fifty people attended. There were speeches, little kids reciting poetry, live piano music, and a potluck dinner. My birthday was announced on national television. A photo of my face peered out of a Smucker’s jelly jar on the Today Show.
Most folks don’t make it another four years, but I surprised everybody, including myself. Family and friends have dutifully gathered every April 11th and twisted paper streamers through the dining room of the facility, brought vases of peonies and jugs of lemonade and ice tea, and sang “Happy Birthday”.
While waiting for the party to begin, I glance around the room. My eyes rest on a photograph of Peter, my husband, dead so long ago I barely recognize him. I wonder if that will change in heaven. Will I walk right past him, or run into his arms?
He passed away almost forty years ago. I gaze at his face, so much younger than mine now, and try to remember what it was like to feel the bulk of him wrapped around me as we made love, recall the fights, the kisses and the laughter we had over the years. Would he still think I was pretty if he saw me now? Would he sneak his hand up my leg, a sly smile on his face, and will I slap it away, tired and weary, like I was when the kids were babies?
He went off to war decades ago then came home. We had to learn the map of each others’ body all over again. There were shy moments in the dark, his stranger’s breath on my neck, a warrior now who knew things. Things we didn’t share, because he refused to talk about the battles. It was never the same between us, but over the years things softened, grew more comfortable.
Peter was as dear to me as my next breath. The day he died I begged God to take me with him. I cried and yanked strands of hair out of my head, heart yearning. Over time I learned to talk about him the way you talked about a character in a book, fondly, but able to close the cover and move on.
Now they wheel me down the hall. There’s a singular quietness in the dining room, as though everyone is holding their breath. We push through the door, and the room energizes with children and teenagers, middle aged folks, and the other ancient ones who are on a journey in this tired old place.
They light the candles on the cake and sing right away, as though they want to make sure I live long enough to purse my lips and send weak wisps of air towards the cake. Esther steps in and helps, blowing the flickering candles out before the wax runs down into the frosting, turning it hard and inedible.
I clap my gloved hands together and make a big show of opening presents. Talcum powder that smells like another era, new slippers to replace the ones that I have just recently broken in to perfection. Bath soaps and a fresh Bible, with a white cover that looks like leather, and a rose colored book mark. There are sweet cards with bluebirds and posies. I thank one and all, flash a gummy grin and raise my Minnie Mouse hands in the air, give a thumbs up. They all laugh, hug me, then drift over to the refreshments, cheese and crackers, little sausages in puff pastry, cake for later.
One by one, I am approached by my guests. As always, after they kiss my cheek or shake my hand, they wish, “Happy Birthday,” then ask what the secret is to my longevity.
Truth be told, I have no idea. But they want to know, they are eager to know. Their faces peer at me with such yearning and hope that I set out to oblige them.
I tell the stout, sweating young man who works for the local newspaper that my secret is exercising every day and eating plenty of vegetables. I assure the spinster in the corner that it was years of living alone after Peter died and my children left home that afforded me this luxury. To the tightly wound nursing facility manager, whose very breath comes out in spirals of angst and tension, I say that a glass of wine every night is the key to survival. And once, just to see what might happen, I announced to my fellow residents that daily masturbation does wonders to loosen the body and enhance one’s longevity.
I am not sure why I ‘m still here, or what God had planned for me. I don’t know what I did to maintain my body, and give it cells and atoms that are more robust than someone else’s.
What I do know is this: I lived. I laughed and played as a child, and I grew into a woman. My heart was broken and pelted with the heartache of many storms. I got back up and tried again, and again, and again.
I held sick babies in my arms, and a dead husband in my lap, waiting to hear the squall of the ambulance. There were Little League games, weddings, Christmas trees, and funerals. Quiet, magical days drifted into one another like waves on an autumn pond.
I had friends who helped, friends who hurt. Scares. Oh, so many scares. Frights that kept me up nights, cursed my days.
And joy. The kind of joy you can only get when those frights go away and are replaced by love so magical, so sweet, that the sun pours itself into your soul.
My life is like this old nightgown, faded from many washings, but soft as a summer’s morning, yielding and cozy. I remember when it was bright and starched and filled with promise. Over time, it learned to give in, to fold without whimper, yet still cover with a sense of purpose. Every button knows my fingers, a rosary of sorts, as I twist and stroke them in my hands.
On bright days, I ask the nurse to put it on a hanger, set it on a hook outside for a few hours. It comes in smelling of sunshine and trees. I pull it over my head, bury my face in it. Remember.
I asked to be laid to rest in it. Esther shakes her head. She thinks I’m kidding. I’m not. It’s written in a letter to her, in my dresser drawer. I asked her to lay me down in blossoms of pink peonies, strewn around the coffin like a spring storm. I tell her to wash this gown, set it in the sun to dry and place it back on my body.
Until then, I look around the room, touch my collarbone with a finger, my way of getting God’s attention, and whisper, “How about next year?”
“Birthday Girl” appeared first onMe First Magazine, June 19, 2019: https://mefirstmagazine.com/2019/06/19/birthday-girl-by-sharon-frame-gay/
Guest reader Irene’s presentation of this touching piece was said to be, “Perfect, only better!”—MJT
Ross Murray is an author living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. He writes creative humour, satire and other bad ideas. Is it truth or fiction? Only his hairdresser knows for sure. https://rossmurray1.wordpress.com/
by Ross Murray
Grunting: Not Just for Tennis Players Anymore
Welcome to middle age, a beautiful time of life when your body is going through many changes, all of them accompanied by sounds you had no idea you were capable of.
Whether it’s settling noisily into a chair or aurally drawing attention to yourself as you get back up, grunting is a natural, noisy part of the aging process and just one more thing for your spouse to find tiresome. But the onset of middle-age grunting may trigger a lot of questions: Why am I doing this? Is bending over like that really grunt-worthy? Was that grunt too loud for a funeral?
This guide will help you and your loved ones understand grunting in middle age and provide tips for grunting and grunt-related activities.
Am I Really Ready to Grunt?
There is no specific age to begin grunting. Many people in their twenties experiment with grunting, though usually ironically, probably while bowling. However, most men and women find themselves beginning to grunt in earnest in their mid to late 40s or around the time they start considering the highlight of their day to be PJ time.
Here are some other indications you may be about to begin grunting at the drop of a hat (because you have to bend over to pick up the hat):
- Frequent world-weary sighing
- Entire conversations about joints (non-weed)
- Consciously putting off trimming your toenails
- A sudden disdain for stairs
- Not understanding what all the fuss is about
If you indicate one or more of these signs, chances are that very soon you will be stretching for the remote on the coffee table and going, “GNURRRUGHHH!”
Grunt with Gusto!
Now that you’re a middle-aged grunter, it’s important to embrace the grunt! Grunt and incoherently grumble with determination, or at very least as much determination as you can muster now that you’ve watched most of your dreams wither and die.
The key to a good grunt is the diaphragm. This is the band of muscles across the front of your abdomen that you have completely let go since you stopped going to the gym because you “have no time” (binge-watching “Parks and Rec”), and now you go “UNNNNGGGHHH” when you reach up to the high shelf to get the bag of Party-Size Doritos.
If, for example, you are bending down to tie your shoes, begin your grunt in the upright position, with a slight, high-pitched “urrrrr…” Then let the tension of bending over propel the grunt out of your lungs with a loud “RRRGGGHHHH” before releasing an unapologetic steam of “aaaaaaahhhhh” in the downward position, only to realize that you can’t actually reach your shoes anymore from a standing position, so you collapse into a nearby chair with a vocal “OOOOffffff….!” Don’t forget to announce to everyone, “My dogs are killing me!”
Is Grunting Only for Strenuous Exercise, Like Getting Out of Bed?
No! The benefits of middle-age grunting is that you can grunt all the time! Thanks to your quickly atrophying body and waning ability to feel joy, you can integrate low-grade grunting-slash-moaning into your everyday sedentary life. This can be anything from the occasional mournful groan directed at your workplace computer or even an incessant chesty growl, as if the very act of breathing were something of a chore.
Be warned, though, that such chronic grunting can cause respiratory complications and complaints to Human Resources.
You can also implement low-grade grunting in your household chores. Grunting is not only a reflection of the minor stretching and bending you are doing as you, for example, clean the nasty places behind the toilet but also an audible reminder to your family that you are martyring yourself doing this highly unpleasant task, and aren’t you simply the best?
Now that you are naturally grunting, it is time to bring your grunting to the next level. Instead of grunting only when undergoing moderate physical activity, set time aside daily to grunt. Settle into a cross-legged position while complaining like someone is amputating one of your limbs. Focus on your grunting. Notice how the sounds as you exhale loudly bring into sharp relief the fact that you will never again scamper. Stay in this position, moaning pitifully, for 10 to 20 minutes or as long as you can stand it. Then ask someone to help you up.
What about intimate grunting?
You’re middle-aged; there’s not much of that.
Your End-Life of Grunting Awaits!
Congratulations once again on reaching middle age. A past-your-prime existence of making guttural sounds is within reeeeeachHHHUGGGH!
The readers here, a husband and wife team, really OWNED this story and we all knew they spoke—from the heart and the diaphragm—with experience.
Marylou Driedger (above) shared a spellbinding short story. See her AMAZING blog for more information on her writing: https://maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com/
Charlie Fish is a popular short story writer and screenwriter. His short stories have been published in several countries and inspired dozens of short film adaptations. He was born in Mount Kisco, New York, and has moved between New England and old England several times (he now lives in London). Since completing a law degree in 2002 he has done a variety of jobs, none of them connected to law – or, indeed, each other. Since 1996, he has edited www.fictionontheweb.co.uk, the longest-running short story site on the web.
His interests (apart from writing) include scuba diving, voluntary work, and playing Scrabble for extremely high stakes. In one of his more successful games of Scrabble in February 2001, he won his beloved girlfriend – now wife – Emma Smith.
by Charlie Fish
Dear Ms Linden,
Please find enclosed my resumé in application for the post advertised on the dating site, MatchFit.
I am a fast and accurate lover, with a keen eye for detail. My skills and experience uniquely qualify me to meet your requirements for a long-term relationship. In particular:
- I attend a gym at least once a week, and maintain a BMI of 21.0. In a recent 360-degree feedback exercise among my peers, I was ranked 7thin attractiveness in a pool of 23.
- I achieved an IQ score of 123 on a Mensa intelligence test. I can solve a 9×9 Sudoku puzzle in an average of 12 minutes.
Sense of humour
- I once made my Auntie Noreen laugh so hard milk came out of her nose.
I am able to take on the responsibility of this position immediately, and have the enthusiasm and determination to ensure that I make a success of it.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this application and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
* * *
MAREK NOVAK – CURRICULUM AMORIS
A highly driven lover with over 8 years’ experience in heterosexual relationships. Delivered an increase to self-esteem in excess of 10% per year over the last 3 years, despite a challenging market. Particular expertise in cooking, massage and pillow talk. Feminist. Now seeking to use my skills and experience in a permanent role.
Brona Walsh – October 2013 to May 2018
Equal partner in this multi-hundred pound turnover relationship, with responsibility for life skills training, general corruption, and Brona’s finance and administration. Key achievements included taking on the leadership of various romantic treasure hunts, and successfully applying for an extension of the relationship in June 2016. Promoted in March 2017 for discovering Brona’s G-spot, allowing me to continue ensuring that the customer always comes first.
Louise Gosford – January 2013 to October 2013
Dealt with Louise calmly and efficiently in a high-pressure rebound environment. Other tasks included designing poems, and collaborating with third parties to enhance our sex lives.
Dembe Bigombe – 1 January 2013
Developed a renewed zeal for sexual relationships, and an affinity for light bondage.
Elle Johnson – September 2009 to August 2011
Built relationship communication skills in the context of a University culture. Achieved a Grade 8 in Truth or Dare, and a Gold Award in getting people naked. Ensured compliance with health and safety regulations throughout.
- I have a full, clean bill of health.
- A dedicated and passionate flirter, I have honed these skills to a fine art.
- I have conducted extensive research into Internet pornography.
My faithfulness record is 100% (all penalty points have expired).
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. She writes short stories and poetry. She has been widely published in web magazines and print anthologies. She was Highly Commended in the Blue Nib Chapbook Competition [Spring 2018], won the Hedgehog Press Poetry Competition ‘Songs to Learn and Sing’ [August 2018] and was shortlisted for the Neatly Folded Paper Pamphlet Competition, Hedgehog Press [October 2018]. In 2017 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University and she is now developing practice as a creative writing facilitator with hard to reach groups. She believes everyone’s voice counts.
For this selection, four poems were read: Janice (“Big Feet”), Maryann (“Gin Bottle Blues”), Christiane (“Gooseberry), and Gale (We have done our time diving shipwrecks”) agreed to read. They all presented Ceinwen’s beautiful work well.
Chris, in particular, as she was—in equal parts—sultry, suggestive, giggly, slutty, breathless and bawdy. She took “Gooseberry” in a midsummer night’s dream direction and had us eating treats from her hand. An audience favourite!
You. Pale green orb, cream-licked,
sprout pubic down of youth,
moonballs flipped from Mars’ sky.
Will you, your bushy branches part
seeing how I pant
hold back your spelky thorns?
Or will stiletto thrusts penetrate
my flesh, draw scarlet wine
from secret folds?
I had a bobble-popper necklace, as a girl.
It shared your hue and glittered
as I sucked each hard blob
whilst writing homework.
I tried not to bite, and yet my teeth
still left sharp-needled scars.
If I taste your juice fresh squeezed
I’ll fall to hell in tart-sweet sin.
Published in Algebra of Owls
Spelk – splinter (Northumbrian dialect)
Gin Bottle Blues
you are old, chipped and dimmed, thumb-printed by
long dead careless hands
that threw you in the sea when your spirit was consumed
to be wave crashed on rocks and tide scratched by sand the mother of all glass
your blue emptiness captured me in twelve bars and I took you home
to sit on my window-sill and hold seven fresh bluebells in spring.
Published in Obsessed with Pipework
We have done our time diving shipwrecks title from George Wallace, ‘You and Me Dad’
time to head for the highlands, for the hills,
to wild-camp, cook by open fires on mountainsides,
sip single malt with spring water. Tell stories
and star gaze for hours. Time to sea kayak
unchartered currents through the Western Isles
and drown nightmares deep in Loch Linnie.
To watch water reflect clouds, moon and sun,
bent willows and muscular oaks. And us, crinkled,
rippled, in the small curved moments of our lives.
To pick dandelions, blow wispy whispered clocks
and free seeds to fly, sow and feed the fresh damp earth.
Published in The Eunoia Review
Tree of Temptation
The Pink Lady dangles, ripe, trembles beyond reach.
I stretch my arm up, ripple branches, wade through waves of leaves,
paddle twigs aside. Still, acid green flutters about my empty hands
as my fingers, breeze-licked, search in vain for fruit.
A jackdaw rides a gust and lands above my head.
His beak pecks, takes what I could not. I watch.
He eats: flesh and pips and plump white maggot.
Next year, I’ll be taller. Will I have the stomach?
Published in Barren Magazine
My feet carry me, move me, if shod right
on paths that set me free. My long, flat
feet. First my father’s and now mine.
How they suffered, tight in shoes
too small, blistered and bleeding.
They begged for space to wriggle toes,
stride out and dance on cobble stones
Published in Nine Muses Poetry
The Sisters of Mercy after Leonard Cohen
the pressure of fingers is theirs
their warmth blankets the wasted
protects the undone from pharisees
they live in each leaf that turns in autumn
each kiss on the cheeks of the sick
and they turn tender tricks in
brothels and backwaters
the decayed the abandoned
the lonely whose smouldering
taints the breeze with
ashes of sulphur
they caress with love
stroke with hope
Published by Diamond Twig
She twingled him bewake and span
drippling dewdrops on dandy lions.
She watched a curlicued cockerel
featherup the hen house roooftas
and caughthold his handsome sharphorn
talons to whizzle and reel another swingaround.
Gashedly her skirt ripped and she was shorn
arsebare exposed to his nudey doodydallying
and frut she glampsed his wiggle-worm.
Sharp on she cursed him country-style,
with a frick-puck and buntcastard
for all earwiggery round about
and she spittled and fringled
and gived him back his diamond ringle-band.
Published by Sub
Mitchell Toews read “The Toboggan Run”, a new short story that will appear soon in the August 2019 issue of The MOON magazine.
Charlynn Toews has been a teacher, a student, a columnist, a freelance writer (Terrace Standard, Northword, Herizons, Canadian Dimension, Halifax Daily News, Winnipeg Free Press), a local TV program host, and is the creator of “Hangry” a LinkedIn column on food and mood. Char lives in Terrace, BC with her husband Dave Menzies and his mom, S. June Menzies. Kidling Cameron Toews Menzies lives a block away with his fiancée Rebekah Coburn.
Mitch’s sister Char wrote this poem shortly after the passing of their father and not too long before the birth of her son.
Schedules are subject to change without notice
by Char Toews
My departure was April at eight and it was late
So we were all bussed over to Rupert
If the weather’s that shitty it’s kind of iffy
You’re better off in the air or on the land
Or living or dead, which is what my Dad did
And me with a number of things planned
Then home in May, cutting the grass that first day
Mowing and crying and thinking about worms and their dirt
The seven-year-itch without a hitch
My marriage was “barren” but thriving
Pinkish or purplish or definitely darker
I read it, it said and it said
Pinkish or purplish and definitely darker
Now mowing puts that song in my head
Schedules are subject to change without notice
Whether you’re the departing or the arriving
Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer based in Toronto. She returned to writing in 2011, after a very, very long break. She has since been all over the place, writing very long short stories and very short poems and most things in between. She’s been published or is forthcoming in J Journal, Saint Katherine Review, Monarch Review, Citron Review, Sycamore Review, subTerrain Magazine, Agnes and True, Forge Literary Magazine, Fjords Review, Grain Magazine, Typehouse Literary Review, The Nasiona, WOW! -Women on writing, Burning House Press, Haiku Journal, Gone Lawn, Crack the Spine, Carve Magazine, The New Quarterly and elsewhere. You find her on twitter @hegelincanada and on her website: www.hegeajlepri.ca
by Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri
Most nights, I’m able to weave the sound of a passing ambulance into my night-visions. This time, the siren shears into the woollen emptiness between dreams. My blood racing through me with a nameless burden of doom and hope.
I gaze at the alarm clock. 5:10. Daylight is hours away. If I get up, the day will be lost in a blur of drowsiness. What’s wrong with you, Helen, I think. I always needed my sleep. These days more than ever. My body is emitting new signals, and listening to them takes all my strength. I try to slow my breathing in the restored silence: Two heartbeats to each inhale, two to each exhale. Work with my body. Guide it gently back to sleep. In two minutes, I’ll feel the first dreams flicker against my eyelids, in five, the tension in my muscles will be gone.
I’m almost across the threshold when I’m jolted back. A slight tremor. I hold my breath. Nothing. There is nobody on the other side of the bed, no rhythmic breathing behind me. My back is exposed to the absence. I stay perfectly still, holding my breath, only my heartbeat giving me away.
I try to remember last night, whether I went to bed before him, if I had a fight and told him to sleep on the couch. The night has taken yesterday’s memories and mixed them with thousands of other days. They’re all equidistant now.
I switch on the night-lamp and turn around. The bed is still made on his side. Not even a hair from his ever-receding hairline on the pillow. Every hair tells a story. There’s no story this time, not here. Instead of relief, I feel a dull pain. I sit up, listening for sounds elsewhere in the house. Nothing, not even a dripping faucet.
Has he left the house? Why would he leave the house in the middle of the night? Then I remember that time, during a rough patch, many years ago. I hear the refrigerator hum the same note of the murmur inside I Then I think of the ambulance, trying to evoke the siren’s pitch. Suddenly, I am certain the cargo it carried was mine.
I walk stiffly into the bathroom, my hip sore, eyes closed while I splash water on my face, careful to avoid my own reflection. Where is he? And why can’t I remember last night? I don’t keep much wine in the house any longer, so it can’t be that. I pick up a grey hair from the sink. I should start dyeing it again. Lack of colour makes everything indistinct.
Suddenly, I remember the long, red hair on his tweed-coat. Swirled into the rough wool, hard to get off even with the clothes brush. I tore off a nail while trying to get a handle on it. Some nights I still hear the echoes of my screams in the house, my screams and his stubborn denial.
It could have been the end. For years, I had days when I thought it should have been the end. But somehow, we limped back from that battle and found a kind of peace again. Together.
Later, at the kitchen table, holding a mug of hot tea, I examine my age-spotted hands, wondering if he found someone else again. Someone younger, more vibrant. Men defy death by drinking women’s youth. I can’t offer that.
In a distance, another siren. I’m wearing an old, beige housecoat. Maybe he felt he needed more colour, more excitement. I can’t really blame him. I shiver, noticing the night turning into day. There’s a peach line expanding across the grey horizon. It is November, I’m almost sure of that, so it must already be quite late.
When is the time I should start calling the hospitals? I know he’s a careful driver, someone with nothing to prove behind the wheel. At least not at this age. But there was that time after a row when he drove into a pole.
The telephone rings. It is mercilessly shrill. On the sixth ring, I pick up. I say hello with a voice I don’t recognize. I listen for the echoes of hospital corridors, chiming bells, the grave voices of doctors in charge.
But all I hear is muffled domesticity, then a cheerful voice.
“Mom, I’m up!” It’s Penelope, sounding much too old, like she’s somebody’s mother.
I wonder what she knows that I don’t.
“I’ll pick I up around ten,” she says.
I start shrinking, and when I say, “I know”, I sound sharp and angry, like an insolent child.
I rest my head in my hands, the skin of my cheeks bulging out between my fingers. Every tissue is giving in. The inside of my head is stuffed with cotton balls. Soft, shapeless, yet strangely sullen.
Eyes closed, I try to remember the dream I had before I woke up. Sleep is what I need. If I could make it back to that point in my dream, things would be different.
by Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri
That summer Lily had just lost 100 pounds and her photo was still on the “Wall of Heroes” at the local gym. My whole body ached from sucking in my gut every time she or anyone looked at me.
It was almost Labour Day when she found the time to go on a picnic. “Just the two of us, like old times.”
Old times was last year. Old times, was tuna sandwiches and chips and lemonade spiked with her mom’s vodka. Old times, was skinny-dipping in the river together, laughing our throats sore. Those times were dead and drowned in change, and we both knew it. But I couldn’t say no.
From the outside things looked the same: We’d taken the usual path through the woods down to our place by the river. There were insects feasting on my bare arms just like last year. But now Lily was joking about the sugars in my blood, and she never knew how to tell a joke. She walked ahead of me. And I wondered, had her hip always done that weird thing that made her ass look like it was grinding something?
The black swimsuit was new, and she made perfect circles in the water when she jumped in—legs straight, arms above her head. She had remembered to pull back her hair in a ponytail, so when she reemerged and threw back her head, it didn’t turn into a brown slug covering her face. I was on the riverbank, there was no way in Hell I’d place myself in the same frame as that swimsuit. I watched her tumbling and splashing in the water and noticed the coarseness of my black t-shirt. There was nothing to laugh about so we didn’t.
Afterwards we sat down on the blanket I’d brought, the same picnic blanket we always used, but which seemed to have grown, and there was a fresh gap between our bodies—plenty of room for the food and plates and thermos. I remember the veggies and dip I brought, the orange and red harsh against the faded plaid. The white dip with green speckles unopened.
She must have been in her swimsuit, her ever-shrinking ass leaving a damp spot on the fleece. But when I close my eyes I can’t see her body. Instead, it’s always the cupcakes that appear first.
There were two of them. Two chocolate miracles with a cloud of creamy red sweetness on top. To this day I don’t know where she got them. In my memory they are more real than the bug bites, more palpable than my heartbeat. Unlike anything I’d seen: moister than mouths and fluffier than dreams.
I remember how it burned in my hand while I waited for her to take her own cake. Hey Lily, I wanted to say, Just this once for old times sakes. But my tongue had turned into a log.
And her words had dried up too, her head slightly tilted to the left, and she smiled as she waited for my mouth to give in. Even as an itinerant army of ants started removing the crumbs of the carcass of my cake, she was smiling. The dimple in her cheek was almost gone and still she was smiling. There was runaway icing on my arm and instead of licking it off, I rubbed the napkin onto it until paper flakes stuck to my arm.
Her mouth unfroze only when I started packing up the knapsack with that last sugar bomb—the one I later threw into the garbage by the gas station. There were weeks until school started, but that would be our last picnic.
Sometimes, when I’m on the exercise bike and want to quit, I look over to the space where her portrait used to hang. I can no longer remember all of her face, just the dimples and her round chin, but I’ve never forgot those cakes. The one she handed me, and that I held in my hand as I waited and waited for something to happen, someone to release us before everything fell apart.
That’s usually enough for me to pick up speed again and keep going. I close my eyes as my mouth fills with the taste of iron during that last hard stretch. And that’s when that August day comes back to me full force. Lily is half hidden behind the best cupcake I never ate, and the tug I feel is equal parts hunger and remorse.
Space Force vs. Space Squids
by Doug Hawley
“Mr. President, we have our first action taken by Space Force.”
“Jenkins, I told you to call me ‘Your Excellency, Emperor For Life’. I knew that the 200 billion dollars start up cost for Space Force was well worth it. Have Space Force Commander Hanley come in to brief me.”
POTUS pointed at Jenkins, frowned and said “One more thing. You’re fired” while spraying spittle.
“Thank God, I won’t have to lie about what I do for a living anymore.”
Hanley walked to the front of the gold plated POTUS desk. “Your Excellency, Emperor For Life, have you read our report of our encounter with aliens?”
“Hanley, you know that I don’t read. Just tell me what happened.”
“Our ship, Donald 1, was between Neptune and Pluto..”
POTUS interrupts “Of course Pluto isn’t a real planet. You have to be big like me to be real. I’m a big strong guy.”
Hanley is used to these interruptions and continues “when we encountered a small spaceship of alien configuration. We were pleased that they responded to our English message to them in good English. We didn’t talk long enough to find out how they knew English.”
“Here is the transcript:”
“This is the US Space Force. Halt where you are. You are entering US territory. We are prepared to blast you from the sky if you proceed towards earth.”
“We need to see your leader on important business Space Farce.”
“His Excellency, Emperor For Life, does not meet with aliens and the proper name is Space Force.”
“Whatever, but we have brought gifts from afar on our home planet Xan.”
“I’ve never heard of Xan and I think that you are lying to me. Do you have a visa?”
“Stupid untranslatable humans. But what of our gifts of precious metal for your leader and the finest Xanian clothes for his many concubines?”
“Do you have any idea what the tariff is on interstellar good?”
Alien to crew “Well it looks like we came a lot of light years just to get sent away by some untranslatable. Mark my words, they’ll be sorry.”
“You Excellency, Emperor For Life, at that point they turned around at warp speed.”
POTUS after awaking from a short nap “It sounds like you did the right thing upholding my rigid dislike of aliens, from inside or outside this universe.”
“We learned more. We were able to get them up on our five hundred million dollar cost plus contract viewing screen which was delivered after only five missed deadlines. They were purple with six legs, two hands and a head which was encircled by eleven tentacles. The tentacles waved continuously. We may be wrong, but they appeared to have two penises if male, and three vaginas if female. Our crew spent a lot of time while coming back trying to decide how that works. For some reason, their leader kept swinging an odd stick while we talked.”
At the last sentence, POTUS became instantly alert, spilling his Big Mac and Coke in the process. “Where did you say they came from?”
POTUS looked around for the TV cameras and then remembered where he was. “You idiots. You should have told me. I wanted to trade them a POTUS brand golf course for the secret of faster than light travel, and you blew it. You’re fired.”
Plan to be in eastern Manitoba, near the 50th latitude next year around this time, July twentish. We’ll save a spot by the fire for you!—Jan and Mitch