February 2023 Issue # 28 Flash
Tina Barry * Robin Bissett * Kelli Short Borges * Amy Goldmacher * Mary Grimm * William Hawkins * Amy Marques * Jayne Martin * Robert Scotellaro * Dawn Tasaka Steffler * Chelsea Stickle * Danielle Stonehirsch * Tim Tomlinson * Rachel White
View the February FLASH Launch Reading here:
FLASH Launch Reading
Friday, Feb 17th at 7 PM ET
Please Register in Advance
Why mermaids upset me
I tell Henrietta why mermaids upset me
After we finish our hot dogs, my mother gives my sister and me a couple of dollars to buy cotton candy. Behind us in line, a man with a tattoo on his neck— a mermaid, finely drawn and delicately colored—catches me staring. I expect an indulgent smile but his bugged-out eyes mock me. His gaze travels from my face, to my T-shirt and the flat chest beneath. When he reaches my ankles, he lingers on the lace-trimmed socks. Grimacing, he shakes his head. A small, intentional cruelty.
I tell Henrietta about a recurring dream
In the tattoo shop, I sit before a wall of images: cartoon characters and geisha girls, swans and dragonflies, hearts broken and mended. Tonight, the artist and I ponder possible designs: a four-leaf clover for a wrist, a goldfish to be hidden in a knee’s dimpled flesh. We decide on the word “rose” to be etched beneath a small pink bud on an ankle. When I lay my infant daughter on the table and hold her leg steady, the artist peers down at her trusting face in the bright light, and switches off the inking needle. “I can’t,” she says. “Please take her and go.”
Henrietta wonders why I married a surfer
When my boyfriend and I walked into a bodega, the shop cat, mouse-sated and snoozing, snapped its eyes open and followed us. At the end of the aisle, the cat hurled its heft onto a shelf where it stood eye-level with my boyfriend. Something passed between them as they stared. Some silent language of understanding. The cat moved closer so did my boyfriend, and they touched noses. It wasn’t the first time that kind of thing had happened. Once, as he sat reading a book on the cement slab known as my backyard, a glittering of hummingbirds rose from behind the chain-link fence, circled the sky. I was already in love with his sun-streaked afro, the puka shell necklace nestled in the dip of his tanned neck, his burritos carnitas. The only creature that had ever visited the backyard was an old crow that looked like the ragged remains of someone’s Halloween costume, so the hummingbirds were a sign I couldn’t ignore.
I mention our neighbor’s luau
Haloed in Marlboro smoke, a few women circled our neighbor’s dining table and slivered green tissue paper into grass skirts. A month before, the hunt for her husband’s Hawaiian shirt began. She preferred silk, heavy with hibiscus and purple orchids like the lei she’d wear. During the luau, their son stayed inside so he couldn’t mix with guests, at least until he dragged him out by his pajama collar and flung him into the pool. You could always count on that, that and tiki lamps, a red-faced bartender mixing Mai Tais, and catching people married to other people kissing in the garage. The next morning, tiny paper parasols of hot pink and bright blue bloomed on the lawn.
Tina Barry is the author of Beautiful Raft and Mall Flower. Her writing can be found in Rattle, Verse Daily, The Best Small Fictions 2020 (spotlighted story) and 2016,The American Poetry Journal, Gyroscope Review, and the Nasty Women Poets, An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. Tina has several Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. She is a teaching artist at the Poetry Barn and writers.com.
A boy is born to two parents, a salesman and a schoolteacher. He is given a biblical name and raised in the suburbs.
At 7 years of age, one night, he cannot sleep. He fears the end of all things familiar: his parents, his love of odd numbers, his parakeet. The sun, the sun, the sun.
Where will they go? Who will remember? He sits up in bed and twists his Rubik’s Cube in all directions. In the dark of his bedroom, he is unable to see if any of the six colors line up. He imagines the great thumbs of God finding his eyes, pressing down and popping them like hot grapes.
He cannot lock these things out.
He gets up to let his parakeet out of her cage, falls asleep with her on his chest, and in the morning, she is gone. Whether she has flown away or he has smothered her in his sleep, he does not know. He lies dead still, afraid to check his sheets.
When the sun rises, he crawls to his window and imagines his bird out there in the world. She will search high and low, chirping for a companion, ignorant of the knowledge that there is no one and nothing left.
Robin Bissett is a writer, editor, and teaching artist from West Texas. She is an alumna of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program Summer Institute and a first-year fiction MFA candidate at the University of Montana, where she serves as the Online Managing Editor of CutBank.
Kelli Short Borges
We file into the pews quietly, as we are told, all ladylike lace and swish. We want to be worthy. We clutch our Bibles, press them against breasts tamed beneath stiff, church-issued fabric, so we will be worthy. We wear dresses our mothers sewed late into the night, their blood-pricked fingers a small sacrifice, so they can be worthy. The chapel pulses, contracts and expands with the song of many voices, worthy. Boys, future priests, sit opposite us, in front of the room, their places appointed by God. Already worthy. We fan ourselves, eyes cast down. Only modest girls are worthy. We listen to the elders speak, hear their testimony of God’s plan for us—to marry, to cook, to clean, to bleed, to birth. To serve.
Then we will be worthy.
At night, we bear witness to fireflies, to the flit and pulse of their freedom. We ache to shed our garments, to dance under the light-pricked sky. We dream of a God who dances with us, who sings for us, who looks like us. We wonder what it’s like to live this way. To be loved this way. Worthy.
Kelli Short Borges is a writer of essays, short stories and flash fiction. A former reading specialist in the Arizona public school system, Kelli is a life-long reading enthusiast. Her work has been published at MoonPark Review, The Tahoma Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, Flash Boulevard, and Ghost Parachute, among other publications. Kelli is a 2022 Sundress Publications Best of the Net Nominee. You can connect with her on Twitter @KelliBorges2.
Am I The Asshole?
On a blisteringly hot Labor Day Weekend, you have invited sixty of your closest family members and friends to your wedding reception at your home. A rented tent on the driveway covers rented tables and chairs but does not provide any relief from the relentless heat and humidity. You and your husband had eloped in January.
Your sister-in-law asks if she can put the baby in your bedroom during the party. Your cat is in your bedroom and your mother’s cat is in the guest bedroom because your mother is staying with you, so that’s not going to work. Your garage is the only space big enough for the caterer to prepare paella in a five-foot pan over an open gas flame. You say it’s not a party for children.
Your best friend, who left her newborn twins at home to fly halfway across the country to come to your reception, is drunk before the party starts and locks herself in one of two bathrooms.
Your mother-in-law says she almost didn’t come because she was the only one who could babysit her uninvited grandchildren. She tells everyone, repeatedly, throughout the party.
Your good friend and her husband say they’ve decided to take advantage of their evening out without their kids to go out to dinner, so they leave the party before enjoying the event that costs you $100 per person.
Your mother-in-law asks if you can turn on the air conditioning for the old people. You say it’s on full blast, but it’s ninety degrees outside and there are sixty people coming and going in and out of the house between the patio in the back and the tent on the driveway in the front. It’s cooler in the basement, you say, but she doesn’t want to go there.
Now there is no bathroom for your sixty guests and the staff you’ve hired to serve at your event, because your husband’s 60-year-old cousin gets so high and paranoid on a marijuana edible he brought for himself he locks himself in it.
Your sister-in-law asks the staff for a piece of the cake that has not yet been served so she and her husband can take it home, and then they leave.
There are lines of guests waiting for the bathrooms. You tell the wife of your husband’s cousin locked in the bathroom that she needs to take him home. People need to use the bathroom. She doesn’t want to leave the party, doesn’t want to be responsible for him.
You pick the lock of the bathroom your best friend has passed out in and put her in your bed with your cat and a bucket to vomit in and go back to your party. You will sleep in the bed with her tonight and your husband will graciously take the couch. It’s just one night. You will eat leftover paella and cake for weeks.
Amy Goldmacher is an anthropologist, a writer, and a book coach. She is the winner of the 2022 AWP Kurt Brown Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The New York Times, Essay Daily, The Gravity of the Thing, Five Minute Lit, and elsewhere. She can be found on social media at @solidgoldmacher.
For a long time Janet had remembered where Angela’s house was, but today when she drove down the street, it had made itself invisible. All the houses were white bungalows, but there had been something about Angela’s that flicked in her memory every time she drove by, until now. It was on a corner, but there were so many corners.
Fifty years ago, Janet had been in the upstairs of Angela’s house with some other girls. The girl who was athletic, the girl who had been born in Europe, the girl who was on the school paper. And Angela of course. Angela’s room was under the eaves – its ceiling was slanted to follow the lines of the roof, her bed tucked into a low corner. Her parents had had a portrait done of Angela and her sisters, and this hung over a desk – the three of them solemn in pastels and identical haircuts. A pair of pink ballet shoes dangled from their ribbons to remind them that Angela did dance lessons.
The inside of the room was so vivid in Janet's mind (round rag rug, checked curtains, matching bedspread, the half-open closet door with Angela’s dresses and shoes inside) that she couldn’t believe she didn’t remember where it was anymore.
She didn’t know why she’d been there that day, but she remembered what she was wearing: a white pleated skirt and a red and white print blouse. Angela’s mother had brought up a plate of cookies and bottles of soda. Angela sat on her bed to eat, with the girl who was athletic beside her. The rest of them sat on the round rug. Janet’s legs were stretched out in front of her.
“Oh,” the girl who’d been born in Europe said, “haven’t you started shaving your legs yet?”
Janet didn’t answer. Or maybe she said something like “Umm…” Was there a deadline? She had started wearing a bra, but maybe that wasn’t enough.
Angela looked at her legs, and then politely away. They all started to say when they had begun shaving – in the winter, last year, since I was twelve. One of them said that her cousin’s mother had told her that if you started shaving, the hair would grow in heavier and darker, that it was better to let it alone. “Yeah, right,” the girl who was on the school paper said, and they all laughed.
Angela’s bedroom was the center of everything for just that little time, vivid and bright with pain, the rest of the world gray around it. Angela’s legs were slender, with bony knees, tan and hairless.
Janet remembered the taste of the cookies in her mouth, vanilla and cinnamon, and the buzz of soda on her tongue. The silky disturbing feel of the hair on her legs when she surreptitiously ran her hand over her shin. She remembered looking out of Angela’s bedroom window at their backyard, where her father could be seen doing something in the garage. He was whistling and she remembered the five-note sequence he whistled over and over.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection). Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Antioch Review, and the Mississippi Review, as well as in a number of journals that publish flash fiction. Currently, she is working on a historical novel set in 1930s Cleveland.
A Hole Where Night Should Be
Tequila kicks out the skull and makes the bar breeze, all these whooshing people, as you skate the sawdust and say, “Hiya, handsome,” to a stranger, your love’s disapproval coming from behind, a curtain hook in a Looney Tunes toon. And you say, “You’re looking fine,” and laugh because funny is easy, now that people are disco ghosts, save for your love watching you, always watching you. Like judgement. You cup the man’s crotch in front of you and measure with your heart saying, “This is looking fine, too,” making no sense and happy to be so senseless, to keep away from knowing that such a thing as after exists. But then you smell sweat and your own breath rising nauseous in your throat, and the skull’s backdoor swings shut. It is airless in your brain, now, stifled between the ears, and you stumble nightwards. Love, your love follows you home, watching you dance with sidewalk cracks, until bed, until his arms are around you, keeping the bad inside, his voice soft, “Why do you do this?” so softly on your nape, where the guillotine passes. Why do you do this to him? Your head rolling. Night comes through an open window and buries you in an empty sleep.
William Hawkins has been published in Granta, ZYZZYVA and TriQuarterly. Originally from Louisiana, he currently lives in Los Angeles.
They first met in the children’s section of the library. She refused to let go of the only copy of the book with the yellow astronaut on the cover. He said it was a boy astronaut. She said Nuh uh! She’s wearing yellow. Everybody knows boring boy astronauts wear white.
He wore white.
They always met in the children’s section of the library. Fridays after band practice.
Whichever books the librarians displayed were the books they read first. Then they chose by color, by number, by blindly running fingers over spines and sensing which yearned to be pulled off shelves.
They piled the picture books up high and sat, legs crisscrossed, on the floor at the end of the aisle near the Z authors and took turns reading out loud.
They rated the books for art, for language, for resonance, for laughter.
They rated the books for endings. They told each other alternate endings. They weren’t always making them up.
They met again in the children’s section of the library. It was quiet there Thursday after work. Evening patrons—mostly college kids—stuck to the top floor.
He tried to sit on one of the tiny red chairs, but it took all his concentration to hold himself in the squat, arms resting on knees that reached uncomfortably high. She laughed and spread out on the green mat on the floor, a cushion for a pillow. When she closed her eyes, he joined her.
In the hush of the library he found that he could tell her stories from his past. The kind that wouldn’t be found on the picture books.
They met in the children’s section of the library. It was less conspicuous. They both had children at home. Nobody would find it odd.
They whispered. Everybody whispers in a library.
In reaching for books, they found fingers. Lingered. Bumped hips. Breathed in hints of perfume and old books. Gazes. Sad smiles.
He hooked a finger in the front pocket of her jeans and pulled her toward him. The tiniest of tugs. Over her shoulder he saw the yellow astronaut. His son’s favorite bedtime story.
She started to step back. His fingers tightened for a beat and his breath rustled her hair before he let go.
He sat alone in the children’s section of the library.
It was quiet most Monday mornings.
The yellow astronaut book on his lap.
Past the books, through the window behind the nonfiction section next to a faded map, a young gangly hawk dove too hard and attempted to land on a frost-slippery fence post.
He never found his footing.
Amy Marques grew up between languages and places and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee and has work published most recently in Streetcake Magazine, MoonPark Review, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, Jellyfish Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Reservoir Road Literary Review. You can read more at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.
My father was a young American alone in Paris, out to follow in the footsteps of Hemingway and Faulkner, while seeking a voice uniquely his own. All his possessions stuffed into a well-travelled backpack, he slept in the cheapest of hostels or sometimes on the floor of a bistro where he could earn a few francs washing dishes.
She was a beautiful French girl, a seller of flowers in her family’s stand near the Cathedral Notre-Dame. He came to the outdoor café across the way from her each morning, stretching his savings for a boiled egg and a roll, a cup of café au lait. There he was allowed to sit for hours, his notebook open, a pencil now worn down to a stub from words written, scratched out, written again.
They had noticed each other, exchanged discreet glances, always turning away before their eyes could actually meet. He felt foolish in his desire to speak to her. What could an impoverished young writer have to offer such a girl, even if he could find the words in her language?
It was May first. Labor Day (Fête du Travail) in France and, as was tradition, everywhere the scent of Lily of the Valley, “Mayflowers” as they were called, carried or worn on a lapel, caught the early breeze off the Seine.
On this morning, words failing him once again, the last tiny bit of lead fell from his pencil and he closed his notebook. He would return to America. He would go to work in his father’s factory. He would admit his foolishness.
Then there she was, standing before him, carrying a sprig of tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers which she laid across his notebook, along with a new pencil.
And though they’ve heard the story countless times, when my children and I visit him today the first thing they always ask is, “Tell us again how you met Grandma.”
Jayne Martin’s poetry has appeared in The Bluebird Word, Shambles, Cleaver and Sledgehammer Journals. A Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award, she is the author of Tender Cuts, a collection of microfiction from Vine Leaves Press, and The Daddy Chronicles-Memoir of a Fatherless Daughter, published by Whiskey Tit Books. She lives in California, but dreams of living in Paris.
A Home for Monsters
Rose waltzed in holding the baby monster against her chest. I took one look at it and grumbled. She told me it wouldn’t kill me to show a little good cheer, and how monsters had feelings too. She took the monster everywhere and it soon became too large to carry, so she hired a weightlifter. His name was Hugo and he and the monster enjoyed playing rummy and arm-wrestling on the card table Hugo brought over, which kept tipping and spilling their drinks. When I brought home a monster of my own it was fully grown and clicked in a bit clumsily in red high heels and had electric hair that made little strike marks on the kitchen walls, Rose, no matter how hard she tried, couldn’t wash off.
Viva Las Vegas
The sky shook the plane out of its hair. It is big enough to do such a thing. There was a fruit picker onboard who used stilts to reach the highest branches and had a saved up wad of cash with which he sought to pick the roulette tables clean, an Elvis impersonator with a wig and several glittery jumpsuits in his luggage, and Molly Glum, who was far from it, so eager to drain the casinos of their coffers with her Blackjack skills. Molly so pumped up and spring-loaded, wearing her lucky shoes, shiny as she felt. So happy she just made the flight, barely, racing to her seat beside Elvis, who wasn’t Elvis yet and didn’t have the voice, the charm, or that lopsided cocky grin, but was sure he would soon enough, channeling “The King,” who offered her his window seat which she took gladly and would later regret as the hard earth rose up at them and everybody screamed except Elvis who just thought, fuck! –there goes my big shot at being someone, kingly. And, fuck, fuck, fuck, wouldn’t you just know it!
When I looked out the window I realized the moon was only a few feet away with all those craters and that broken-egg-yellow light. The kid’s swing set was smashed and the garden blooms crushed, but Rita brought in a bottle of wine and two glasses and said how romantic it was, and I told her I never knew gravity had such big hands and complained about the swing set. “Don’t be a crapehanger,” she told me, filling the glasses and said how she always wanted a swimming pool, pointing to one of the smaller craters. Lights were clicking on around the neighborhood and I noticed our car was missing and hoped little Ruffy was somewhere safe, hiding in the bushes, but, damn if Rita didn’t look good in that sexy white nightie which was golden now. Tomorrow I could break out the garden hose and fill the crater so Rita and I could do some laps in those hot swimsuits we hardly fit in anymore and the kids could splash around, and hell, even though I kind of missed the way things were, with it up there in the sky and all, this was beginning to look like things were going to work out just fine.
Robert Scotellaro is the author of seven flash fiction collections and five collections of poetry. He has, along with James Thomas, co-edited New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, published by W.W. Norton. His work has appeared widely and is included in several Norton Flash Fiction anthologies, five Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction award anthologies. He is the winner of Zone 3’s Rainmaker Prize in Poetry and the Blue Light Book Award for his fiction. Robert lives in San Francisco. Visit him at: www.robertscotellaro.com
Dawn Tasaka Steffler
It’s been weeks since the sun disappeared behind a ceiling of smoke and the mountains lost their green and the nights lost their dark to an eerie, orange sky. Barb sees headlights pierce the grainy murk. Eavesdropping from her usual spot, she holds her breath while the deputy tells Frank that CalFire has issued a mandatory evacuation order, until Frank bluntly interrupts, Okay but we’re not leaving.
She’s known for years what she’d grab: photo albums, Grandma’s jewelry, Ma’s cookbooks. She packs his stuff, too, because Ma always said, You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. She doesn’t bother reading the tiny labels of their medications, just arm-sweeps everything into a grocery bag. Each time she pushes open the front door she dreads Frank standing there, feet planted, arms crossed, but she dreads the approach of the glowing orange line more.
Frank is actually down by the pool, in a blizzard of ash flakes fiddling with his newest toy, the Acme Portable Home Wildfire Protection Pump and Hose System for Swimming Pools. The pump arrived four days ago, dropped off by an Amazon driver who looked terrified of being in wildfire territory and incredulous they were still ordering shit. The haze makes Frank look very far away. Barb imagines putting her seventeen-year old cat, Gus, in the car and just driving away. But she pulls the neck of her t-shirt up to cover her nose and mouth and walks down to the pool instead.
Frank? As usual he ignores her. Frank, I’m done packing us up. Can we go now?
What the hell are you talking about?
CalFire said to evacuate.
If someone says jump off a bridge, are you gonna jump, too?
Please Frank --
And not try out my hose?
Don’t be an idiot.
Watch your fucking mouth!!
Just think about it, you’ll be boiled alive. If there’s even any water left after you shoot it all at the house. She has a sudden vision of him holding his firehose like an assault rifle when the water finally slows to a trickle. What will she tell the boys? She’s scared they will blame her: What do you mean you left Dad there?! She softens her tone and takes his hand, Please Frank, let’s go, but he yanks his hand back like she’s a burner on the stove.
Please Frank, he says, mocking her. Nope, I’m staying here. But you go. He shoos her off with a flick of his hand. Then he adds, I don’t know why you waited so long. If I was you, I would’ve left hours ago. You’re probably gonna burn on the way out. He clucks his tongue at her.
Suddenly a crinkly brightness on the hill catches her eye, bright like a sunrise, the brightest thing she’s seen in two weeks. And she staggers back up the hill. She thinks she hears him yell, Good luck, scaredy-cat! She thinks she hears him laugh.
Gus is curled up in his usual chair and when she approaches he fixes his ancient, yellow eyes on her. She scoops him up carefully and fast-walks to her car, his purring vibrates against her chest. For the first few miles she keeps checking the rearview, hoping to see Frank’s headlights emerge from the murk, until the embers start flying, hitting her windows from all sides and she can’t afford to look away from the road. Her hands white-knuckle the steering wheel at the ten and the two. The trees are on fire and thick smoke obscures the road like fog. Still, she keeps her foot on the gas, hoping for a red tail light to materialize out of the gloom, something to focus on, someone to follow out. Eventually the road climbs and she gets above the smoke, one last glimpse of the valley she’s called home for fifty years, black where the fire has yet to advance and the rest, a furious, glowing orange. Good riddance, she thinks spitefully, but she doesn’t really mean it, because already she misses her garden, kneeling in the dirt and the dappled sunlight with Gus nearby, his silly tail twitching, stalking a bird he has no chance of catching.
Dawn Tasaka Steffler is a fiction writer from Hawaii who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she isn’t writing flash, she is working on a first novel. Her work also appears in Heimat Review. Find her on Twitter @DawnSteffler.
The Psychic Drowns on Dry Land
The humidifier exhaling lavender sputtered to a stop. The psychic had it running all day, every day, but an uneasy feeling sunk in. She poured water down the mouth of the humidifier. Turning, she heard the bell over her door. She didn’t like being caught with her back to the entrance. Pasting on her Miss Liza mask, she greeted the woman in her doorway and hastily hid the repurposed Arizona Tea gallon jug.
“Excuse me?” the woman said. “Your sign says you take walk-ins?”
She had loose brown curls that looked and smelled wet but not clean. Like she stopped during a shower to come here. It was the middle of the day on an arid Tuesday.
“Yes, of course.”
The woman dropped into the client chair and plopped her Louis Vuitton purse onto the carpet. “I’ve passed this place so many times and thought about coming in.”
“What stopped you?”
The woman wrung her hands and the psychic clocked a carat and a half marquise cut diamond with small blue sapphires haloing it. Princess cut diamond earrings, two carats each. Her quilted black jacket was a Burberry classic. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know.”
The psychic nodded sagely. “It’s important to be honest with yourself about how much you want to know and what you can live with.”
The client grabbed the psychic’s hands. Her skeletal fingers squeezed. “My son, he drowned.” She swallowed heavily.
The psychic saw the story unfolding. The phone call that caused the woman to wander over to the window and observe the water as she asked the person speaking to repeat themselves again and again. Her husband hustled the phone away from her and the person on the phone repeated the story one last time.
“I need to know if it was an accident,” the woman said. “I just want to talk to him again.”
The psychic tried to regain her hands, but the woman held tight like she wanted to pull the psychic into the water with her. That was it. If the psychic tried, she could learn how the son died, but that wouldn’t be enough for this woman. She wanted her son back or to follow him into the water, and she wouldn’t have a problem dragging anyone else with her. “I’m sorry, but I’m not a medium,” the psychic said. “I don’t speak to the dead.”
“Please,” the client begged. “I’ll give you anything.”
The psychic yanked her hands away. There was a line indented on her finger from the woman’s wedding ring. “I’m not a medium.”
The client retrieved a Kleenex out of her purse and blew her nose. The damp sound of snot traveling through a confined space at a quick speed filled the room. “Please. He’s my only child.”
The psychic stiffened. Normally the people accusing her of being fake weren’t asking for help. Sometimes they were disappointed by her answer. Other times they were angry at the world and punishing her. But they never asked her to pretend she was something she was not. “Ma’am, I don’t do spook shows.”
The woman’s head reared back. “Well you don’t have to be crass!” She threw the Kleenex onto the table. “I thought you were psychic! It’s not my fault you aren’t!” The client huffed out the front door like the tide.
The psychic could finally emerge for air.
Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CHEAP POP, CRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2022. Everything’s Changing, her second chapbook, is forthcoming from Thirty West Publishing in January 2023. She lives in Annapolis, MD, with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at chelseastickle.com.
Hide and Seek
The boy in the tree sits on the second branch, balanced with one knee up and one stretched flat. His bare feet rub against the rough bark searching for comfort in the ridges. Wind pulls his black hair and tugs the red leaves, moving the pages of the novel in his hands. He is not reading; he is waiting for his name to be called from the house.
The house is white with blue shutters and gutters that need to be cleaned. The boy notices the windows are shut though he is sure he opened the one in the kitchen. His branch is visible from the kitchen window.
The hours pass, dragged along behind the sun while warm air turns cold, sliding over his cracked skin. The boy watches the clouds, feels the bite of the breeze on his cheek, and hopes they remember him before the rain.
Danielle Stonehirsch lives in Maryland and works for Health Volunteers Overseas, a non-profit focused on global health. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in several places including on the Tin House website and in Bethesda Magazine, Washington City Paper, Montgomery Magazine as well as in anthologies This Is What America Looks Like and Roar: True Tales of Women Warriors. She hopes to publish her first novel soon.
We couldn’t prove it of course, the evidence was already eaten, but on the drive home on the North Country Road, Hardin fishtailed at the nuclear curve (he was going sixty in a fifteen), spun and spun and spun, and came to a stop facing backwards in a patch of prickers.
“The beer,” he said.
I said, “Yeah, it’s OK.”
We had a case of Ballantine Ale, 7-ounce ponies in deposit bottles. Intact, back seat. Ditto, the two in our hands.
“But, holy shit,” I said, “the pizza!”
We’d purchased a pie, anchovies, extra cheese, at the Tavern. The entire thing slid from its flimsy box and each of its wedges, all eight, had separated at the seams and stacked, one on top of the other, in a perfect triangle, as if arranged by hand for display.
“Goddamn,” Hardin said. “What do they call that in geometry?”
I said, “I don’t know. Is miracle a math term?”
I never made it out of Elementary Algebra.
“Isoceles,” he said. “That’s it. Isoceles. Some Greek fuck. Grab me one of them bitches.”
I handed him a slice, took one for myself, and he was already screaming out of the briar patch, tires smoking, and off onto the road again.
There were people waiting for us back at the cottage.
“No one’s gonna believe this,” I told Hardin.
“So we don’t tell them.”
He sucked sauce off his fingers, and snapped them.
“Come on, man,” he said. “Another slice.”
So this is a miracle I’ll carry with me to my grave. As did Hardin, dead of cirrhosis at forty-two. Although in his case it’s quite possible he just forgot.
Tim Tomlinson is the author of Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire (poems), and This Is Not Happening to You (stories). Recent work appears in The Antonym: Bridge to Global Literature, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Jerry Jazz Musician, Lighthouse Weekly, and in the anthology, Surviving Suicide: A Collection of Poems that May Save a Life. He is the director of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He teaches writing in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies.
I adore the little trees that sprouted in my lawn since I let the grass grow wild, out of laziness and desire to save water in the worsening drought, and to see if the foreign turf would revert to something that wasn’t imported across the humidity line from the other side of the continental divide — there must be 75 starts or more, mostly ornamental crabapples smaller than six inches high that grow better than weeds. In fall, they are wine red like crushed cochineal, in pleasing contrast to silver stickers of evergreen junipers in miniature, and bonsai amber oaks — serrated leaves the chestnut brown of powdery rust.
My boyfriend at the time was disgusted and would repeat exhaustedly, you don’t need to let grow every little seed that blows into your yard. (But really, doesn’t an errant seed on the random wind know better than I do where to land?) Another bolus of wisdom he liked to offer was, Poor people have poor ways — he was full of such hard-edged gems, which respectable people maybe used to say out loud and nowadays don’t. Really, he was just looking out for me and meant well, but ultimately couldn’t be associated with my self-defeating habits, afraid that if he gave into chaos, it might not be clear what was good or bad, or simple to discern what was nice from what was ugly — possibly, he’d have to admit that beauty is often a mix of both, and success involves a lot of chance.
I think of him almost every day and laugh, hearing in my mind his tired platitudes — he had a brilliant comic way of saying them, tongue in cheek with an affected antique speech like verbal quotation marks, a dual valence of irony that mocked the cliché, and didn’t — it was charming and irksome, both. I’ll carve his name in the trunk of the grandest tree, if any survive to full size and I am alive to see them, and if I can still remember him then.
Rachel White's poems have been broadcast on radio, featured at arts festivals, and published in anthologies, chapbooks, journals, and the liner notes of a classical pianist's album. She lives and writes in Salt Lake City, Utah. rachelwhitepoetry.org