Author: The Editors

Paul David Adkins – Poem

Paul David Adkins – Poem

As a former Marine, I knew the dangers,
knew I’d earn the Medal of Honor in ‘Nam.

I got a Dishonorable instead, and this prison stretch.

I knew I’d be famous. I never gave up.

I slipped word to reporters – There are 
chinks in the armor, division in our ranks.

Other inmates saw me, seized the note, 
tried me for treason,
banged a ballpeen hammer on a card table.

My cell was a circle dug in “D” Yard with a boot heel.

Before my countrymen laid me on the altar of a metal bunk,
they gave me water, combed my hair, fed me the only

unbruised Red Delicious ripped from the burnt commissary. 

Author Bio
Paul David Adkins lives in Northern NY. He served in the US Army from 1991-2013. Recently, he earned a MA in Writing and The Oral Tradition from The Graduate Institute, Bethany, CT. He spends his days either counseling soldiers or teaching college students in a NY state correctional facility.

Tangerine Strands- Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi

Tangerine Strands- Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi

The little girl and boy were screaming.

            Not the bad screaming.

            Not Mia’s screaming.

            Lucretia stood in the outer schoolyard, looking through the fence that separated her from the scene of the crime she had created two months prior.  Of all the kids packed into the limited pen designated for kindergarten students, her eyes and ears couldn’t help but track the running, laughing—For now, she thought—screaming little girl and boy, engaged in the age-old interplay: the fluttering of the little girl’s long hair; the little boy’s outstretched hand; the former barely outrunning the latter, whether by choice or biology, laughing, screaming, most times out of exhilaration, sometimes because a primitive thought told her she was in genuine danger; the way the invisibly tethered pair navigated the other children, who were merely sitting ducks oblivious to the fast-paced game of tandem sparrows; the little boy finding a latent gear, accelerating, reaching with a clawed hand, closer, closer, closer; the little girl abruptly turning to avoid his fingers; the chase slowing down—this time—to recover for an encore, or dying altogether, the dangerous game saved for something as distant as another day, or as close as the next recess.

And outside of this customary exchange, outside of this playground within a playground, Lucretia felt relief, for the little girl and boy had yet again successfully avoided recreating the history that had taken place in there.

She and Mia’s history.

A history she had forgotten until last week.

Lucretia had looked forward to the first day of school. Her mother had dropped her off at the side of the building, wished her good luck on her first day, and drove away to the job that paid their rent. Mia’s mother, on the other hand… well, if she had work, she had clearly called in sick so as to protect her daughter from Lucretia.

It was in the gymnasium, where the buzzing student body waited to be assigned their new teachers, that Lucretia had felt the summer’s sunburns in her gut, the summer’s scraped knees all over her body, for she had seen for the first time how and in what condition Mia had spent her summer—thanks to that single moment in June.

Thanks to Lucretia.

The little girl and boy were screaming again.

Not the bad screaming.

Not Mia’s screaming.

Not yet, Lucretia thought.

She looked away from the potential violence and focused on the one obstacle she would need to overcome if now was indeed the time to do what she hadn’t any real courage to do. But when the obsidian eyes of Ms. Jackson, perched atop the steps leading to Lucretia’s assigned door, met hers, she panicked, resorting to blindly surveying the vast schoolyard available to her.

She knew her new world by heart: the field that was home to two continental versions of football, haloed by quintuplet tracks; faded baseball diamond; fully-loaded play area—just some of the perks of becoming a full-day student in the first grade.

The perks, however, did nothing to perk her up.

Everyone was out here, relishing their twenty minutes outside the stifling classrooms, trying to capture as much of the lingering dog days as possible. Everyone who stole glances of Mia, who never saw, but must have felt the judging eyes. Everyone who gossiped, but pretended otherwise, as if the school was ripe with other Mia’s.

Everyone was out here.

Except Mia.

Lucretia could bear the Mia-less vista no longer. Heavy guilt shepherded her heavy legs toward Ms. Jackson. She could have claimed to have felt ill—she was, after all, sick with nerves—but opted for a watered-down lie that the hateful teacher would likely deny. “Can I get a drink, Ms. Jackson?” Her voice cracked, supporting her cause.

Ms. Jackson smiled, opened the door, and held it for the stunned Lucretia. She eyed the teacher as she crossed the threshold. The woman indeed appeared to be the same Ms. Jackson who had cradled and cooed the wailing Mia on that day in June; the same Ms. Jackson who glared and yelled at the culpable Lucretia. Doesn’t she remember me? Lucretia mused. Doesn’t she remember what I did?

The hard handrail felt like a slippery serpent of electric nerves. With legs of quicksand, she began the long ascent. She caught up to her pounding heart upon reaching the second-floor landing. There, the pair of heavy doors guarded against her, protecting whom she sought. But they were no match for a mousy thumb pressing the latch.

The click of the stairwell door did nothing to interrupt the hushed voices wafting over to her from the opposite side of the hallway. While the volume of the conversation rose with every step toward the only open door, specific words refused to clarify themselves. Still, Lucretia discerned two voices: one she knew, but scarcely heard during class; the other could have belonged to either relief or dread, for Mia’s mother was prone to classroom visits between the usual drop-offs and pick-ups—which contributed to the list of gossip topics.

Please be Mrs. Atwood, she thought.

Lucretia reached the door and listened for whether or not she would abort her mission. When her heart, thudding in her ears, skipped a beat, she heard not dread, but relief—Mrs. Atwood!—and turned the corner just as another thought occurred to her: Mia’s mother could still be in there, not talking.

Two pairs of eyes looked up at her from their respective desks. One pair looked back down just as quickly. The other pair held her gaze. “Hey, Lucretia.” There was a tinge of surprise in Mrs. Atwood’s voice. Surprise turned to concern. “You okay?”

Lucretia knew she looked as disheveled and antsy and nauseous as she felt. “Yeah,” she croaked. “Just…” She couldn’t lie about needing a drink; she had passed the fountains on her way over.

“Too hot outside?” Mrs. Atwood offered.

“Yeah,” Lucretia exhaled, relieved for the out.

“Well, you can take your seat if you like. Recess is almost over, anyway. Speaking of…” Mrs. Atwood rose from her desk. “Girls, I’ll be right back. Gotta use the ladies’ room.” She turned to the damaged thing at the far end of the second-last row, peeling a tangerine. “We’ll talk some more about it later, okay, Mia?”

Lucretia wondered if Mrs. Atwood saw the pain, suffering, and sadness that animated Mia’s barely nodding head. She wondered if Mrs. Atwood knew that she was responsible for those emotions. Of course, she does, Lucretia reminded herself. Mia and her mother and Ms. Jackson for sure told her what I did.

Mrs. Atwood flashed Lucretia a smile on her way out.

Victim and criminal were alone.

Lucretia remained at the door. Staring at Mia, like the other kids. Talking about her, like the other kids, except her conscience was the mouth, tongue-tied, inarticulate. Her meagre vocabulary boiled down to a single thought: Just do it, chicken!

Paring herself from the linoleum, Lucretia shuffled toward the row of desks in a wide arc, simultaneously avoiding and gravitating toward the back row. Her eyes never left Mia, who busied herself with her tangerine. As she drew reluctantly closer, Lucretia was afforded a profile view of the baseball cap—a major topic of gossip—that never left Mia’s head. Having reached the beginning of the back row, she then trudged the never-ending trudge toward her ill-placed desk at the very end.

Each timid step brought her closer to Mia.

Each fearful step brought her closer to the damned baseball cap… and what it hid.

Each outright terrified step packed more and more of Mia’s citrusy snack into her nose.

Standing behind her chair, which sat behind her desk, which sat behind Mia, Lucretia wondered why Mia’s mother—who had witnessed the unfortunate seating plan during several of her visits—allowed the criminal so close to her daughter.

Lucretia heard Mia’s chewing slow, saw her back stiffen, growing uncomfortably aware of Lucretia’s presence, and the lack of chair legs scraping against the floor.

Chicken! Chicken! CHICKEN!

She collapsed, rather than sat in, her poorly assigned seat, and couldn’t help but fall into the week-long habit of studying the bit of naked scalp visible under the rim of Mia’s baseball cap. She memorized the bony ridges, the shallow pockets, the pronounced point where the skull met the spine, the precise number of pink and red bumps. She knew each of Mia’s five beauty-marks intimately, and no matter how many times her eyes played with them, she couldn’t settle upon a shape, pattern, or design. She believed that if the school day were longer, she would finally be able to count each terribly short bristle of thin hair.

A fresh burst of tangerine invaded Lucretia’s nose. The odour divided itself: southbound, to her stomach, where it mixed with and churned breakfast; northbound, to the mysterious region of the brain where scent converted to imagery. There, she saw that bright June day, not too dissimilar from the little girl and boy outside. Did he catch her? she wondered. Is she crying?

Chicken! that other part of her taunted.

What if she doesn’t believe me?

Chicken!

What if she screams and cries again?

Chicken!

What if she hits me?

CHICKEN!

Another burst of tangerine perspiration. This time Lucretia didn’t see the little girl and boy, but another film entirely: the claustrophobic kindergarten playground; Mia clutching the back of her head, bawling in Ms. Jackson’s arms; Lucretia trying her best not to join in on the bawling, but failing, trying to give back the long brunette strands of hair wrapped around her stubby fingers; Mia blaring her refusal; Lucretia covering her blubbering face, her snotty nose detecting something flowery, something fruity.

Yet another surge of Mia’s tangerine, and Lucretia realized that Mia’s envied, rope-like hair had been washed in tangerine-scented shampoo that day in June.

“I’m sorry.” Lucretia craved to be heard, perhaps even to be forgiven, and yet she didn’t understand why Mia was turning to face her.

“For what?” Mia asked.

Lucretia couldn’t believe the question more than the fact Mia was actually talking to her. Did she forget, too? Like Ms. Jackson? Does her mom remember?

Mia started to turn away.

The tangerine had completely assimilated with Lucretia’s stomach contents, and out came a vomit of sorts: “I’m sorry for pulling your hair and for making you cry and for making all your hair fall out of your head and eyebrows and everyone talking about you and looking at you and not playing with you and making you not want to go outside and play…” As she purged, she saw the most peculiar thing: a smile. Mia had never looked so pretty. Lucretia thought Mia had been pretty on their last day as kindergartners, when she had asked if she’d like to play tag, but this was…

…beauty.

Lucretia sealed her spewing. She noted a sliver of pale orange flesh stuck between Mia’s big teeth, somehow enhancing her beautiful smile.

“You didn’t pull all my hair out, Luke,” Mia said, her voice tickled by a suppressed laugh.

Lucretia—“Luke” to her only friend, Mia—saw two of the girl before her. Both Mia’s lost their beautiful smiles as they took Lucretia’s hand, and asked her why she was crying.

“I thought I…” Tears drowned the thought. “I thought I pulled out all your hair when we played tag that time.”

“No,” Mia said, beautiful smile nowhere on her lips. “I was sick.”

“Sick? Like a cold?” Lucretia sniffled as if she bore the illness.

“I got leukemia,” Mia said, the word somewhat shaky on her tongue.

Lucretia tasted the foreign word. “Lu-Luke-Mia?” She beamed. “Luke-Mia? Like our names?”

Mia smiled another one of her rainbows, tangerine pulp and all. “I never thought of that.”

“What’s Lu-Luke-”

“Leukemia,” Mia corrected. “It’s a bad sickness, but I don’t got it anymore because the doctor gave me medicine, but the medicine makes your hair fall out. My mom is going to come to class one day soon and help me and Mrs. Atwood tell everyone about it.”

On the one hand, Lucretia was relieved to be off the hook. On the other, she now wished she had been the cause of Mia’s hair loss. “Is that why you don’t want to go outside?” The regret of the inquiry came as swiftly as Mia’s radiant smile faded.

“I want to, but I can’t do too much stuff, like running. I don’t like the way the other kids look at me, and stuff.” Now it was Lucretia’s turn to wipe her duplicate self from Mia’s brimming eyes.

The school bell rang, setting off an uproar outside.

Mrs. Atwood returned as if on cue. “You girls okay?” She hadn’t noticed the swollen eyes. They smiled. “Mia, all good?” An extra smile from Mia.

Once again, Lucretia was gifted with the back of Mia’s baseball-capped head, the way she would remain until the glancing and gossiping kids were summoned outside for more for-granted play. She leaned forward, and whispered each word louder than the next, for the rowdiness was racing up the steps. “If you want, I can play with you outside next recess.” She saw the beauty-marks closest to each of Mia’s ears rise ever so slightly, and she knew her friend was smiling.

And though the children were screaming in the hallway—not the bad kind of screaming; not Mia’s screaming—Lucretia caught Mia’s whisper: “Maybe we can play tag.”

Author Bio: Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi has spent a decade penning award-winning short- and feature-length screenplays, while working as a full-time artisan baker. His prose work explores the trials and tribulations of ordinary people embedded in ordinary and extraordinary environments and conflicts. His short stories have appeared in over 45 literary journals worldwide, and was a finalist in the Blood Orange Review Literary Contest. In addition to several short pieces, he is currently working on his debut novel.

Hickory Farms – J. Saler Drees

Hickory Farms – J. Saler Drees

The first time I stole was in second grade. Our teacher, Mrs. Beamer, gave us silent reading after lunch recess, but I couldn’t read well, not like Logan Lee, who read big words— think “behemoth,” “colossal”—and he bragged he already read older kid books—Sarah Plain and Tall, Charlotte’s Web, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing— but his dad was the school principal, so why shouldn’t his son know how to read. I didn’t like him much. He called me Smelly Face, and since the name Logan sounded like “yogurt” to me, I called him Yogurt Head. Like I cared he could read. 

 Who needed books anyways? Books had few pictures and since the pictures were stuck between a bunch of words, they just didn’t do it for me. But then I found Hickory Farms holiday catalogue. When I reached into that bookshelf and discovered it—filled with pages of sausage links cut so the slices spilled off the log, and little jars of sauce, and cakes with pastel frosting, and baskets of bright fruit, honey hams, wheels of cheeses—I was in heaven. 

At the time, I didn’t know the flavors, but I could imagine them as sticky-sweet, peppered tingles on my tongue. So, clap those hands, that’s when I learned how to read. The pictures and words finally made sense. 

I started looking forward to silent reading time, ready to grab the catalogue from the shelf and disappear into Hickory Farms, a place filled with food and no people. I liked to picture this farm tucked away in the hills, a secret place where pears dripped off trees, oranges glowed through leaves, cows dotted the fields, and chickens scattered the grasses. A place where, somehow magically, foods popped forth. Every silent reading, I went there. Yet with summer coming, I’d no longer be in Mrs. Beamer’s class, and no longer be able to look at the Hickory Farms holiday catalogue. 

Taking it seemed an obvious solution. First, I tried to slip the little catalogue in the back of my pants, but there was nothing to hold it in place. I didn’t wear undies—Ma said underwear was a waste on boys— and the catalogue slid out in front of Mrs. Beamer, but thankfully she was busy confiscating the WWF action figures Logan Lee brought. Did I mention, on top of being the ace reader of the class, he was also the kid with all the latest toys, including, as he liked to boast, a Super Nintendo at home. Secretly I wished he’d invite me over to play, but he never did.

 But back to underwear. I needed to get some and guess who had a bunch of it: Ma. While she was out with one of her boyfriends, I snuck into her bedroom, a room of bent blinds and overloaded surfaces. Ma liked to keep everything: past knitting projects, spools of yarn, purses full of empty pill bottles, National Enquirer and Weekly World News magazines, a box fan here, a litter box there, Big Slurp cups everywhere, tons of clothes—she especially had a thing for jackets out of lost and found bins. “Just in case,” she liked to say.

I waded my way to Ma’s dresser drawers, full of lacy soft things. She kept them apart from her other things. She told me once that her undies were sacred, and she always wore undies unlike Auntie JoJo. Auntie JoJo, Ma said, didn’t wear underwear. Auntie Jojo also believed the government paid for her baby making. This was back in 1991 during the wave of welfare dependents, and people like my Auntie Jojo didn’t have the resources to get out of having children, but I’m getting off track. 

Undies, yes, one strong enough to hold the Hickory Farms catalogue in place. I tried on lacey undies, stringy undies, sparkly undies, silky undies, all too big, but if I slipped through the leg holes of one very stringy pink pair, then it was tight enough around my waist like a rubber band, but small and hidden beneath my pants. 

What risk! If Ma caught me, she’d take it another way. Also, if any of the kids at school found out I was trying on my Ma’s underwear, I’d be called mean names and not allowed to play tetherball or dodgeball at recess. 

But for Hickory Farms holiday catalogue, I’d face the possible dangers. Who else to enjoy those well-taken photos, the foods so thoughtfully arranged on tables of candle and wreath, distant hills in the background?

I planned to tuck the undies, small and light, into my pants pocket, take them to school, and, during the lunch recess, slip them on in the bathroom. Then during silent reading, I’d tuck the catalogue in the band of undies, and throw my t-shirt, originally my older brother’s, over it. 

At this part of the story, I’m often asked why I didn’t just have a backpack or lunch pail to easily slip the catalogue in. Well, I did have a bag with colorful zigzag lines stitched in it that Ma had given me. She said it was a special bag, one made of leather, a strong material, and that the bag had traveled all the way from Mexico. I took pride in that bag, except one day at school Michelle Davies had stolen Mrs. Beamer’s wallet from her desk and all our packs and bags were searched. It happened to be Burger Day at the school cafeteria—which was on a special program where lunches were free—and none of the kids liked Burger Day, saying the burgers tasted like “rat butt.” Except I didn’t think so. Everyone ended up giving me their burgers, and I stashed them, not one, nor two, but five burgers in my leather bag, for later meals. Yet, when the principal, searching for Mrs. Beamer’s wallet, pulled out the burgers, she looked at me all sad-like and quizzed me, “Why’re these burgers in your bag?” 

I stammered and couldn’t speak. Explaining that all the kids, but me, thought the burgers were “rat butt” felt a dumb thing to say. 

While I didn’t get in trouble, Ma did. She came home crying, asking me why’d I take all those burgers? I didn’t like to see Ma cry. The world seemed to end when grown-ups cry. She hugged me tight, and I let her, this time not wriggling away and saying I was too old for hugs. She told me if I took food from the school cafeteria again, bad people would come to our home and take me away, how they did my older brother, before he moved with his dad. I imagined people in lab coats. From then on, I stuffed myself with cafeteria food only at lunch time and never brought my bag back to school.

And there it is: why I had to rely on Ma’s undies, bunched in my pocket as I walked to school on the morning of the Hickory Farms heist. Already I’d gotten away with taking Ma’s underwear, and this emboldened me. 

Throughout the day, I rubbed my fingers along the underwear’s elastic strings safely tucked inside my pocket. We had a secret, a mission. Yet, after playing a palm-slapping round of tetherball against Logan Lee aka Yogurt Head during lunch, I reached into my pocket for the undies to find them missing! I frantically glanced about, but the tetherball court was clear of any pink stringy lingerie. No sight of them flung in the line of kids waiting to play tetherball next. What to do? Not about to ask anyone if they’d seen a pink thong.

A shrill whistle blew and then a loud, raspy voice, the type of voice that made you want to pee your pants, the voice of Ms. Sharon, the meanest yard duty teacher. She shouted, “Who here thinks it’s cute to bring these to school? Who here thinks it’s funny to throw these at my feet?”

She held up Ma’s pink undies dangling like a drowned mouse at the end of her ruler stick. My face went dizzy-hot, my legs noodle-limp. All playground action came to a standstill. Even the wind seemed to halt, and the birds quit chirping. A basketball bumbled across the blacktop. No one spoke, but there were several stifled giggles and some moans, “Gross, a thong,” and some of the older boys nudged each other, whispering, “Those your sister’s?” But no one dared confess, especially to Ms. Sharon, known to throw you in the detention center without a cause. 

“Someone better speak up,” Ms. Sharon said. “Otherwise you’re all going to find yourselves staying after school until the culprit admits to this tasteless prank.” 

All the kids were looking at each other, trying to guess whodunnit, the giggles over. This became serious and soon fingers pointed— “Logan, I saw him do it”; “no, I seen Allison wearing ‘em”; “shut up, those not mine”. The chorus of voices grew louder and more desperate while the undies hung limply from Ms. Sharon’s ever fearsome ruler. 

I stayed quiet, staring at the hole in my sneaker and wouldn’t it be nice to have the power of invisibility, where I’d just walk up and pluck those undies off Ms. Sharon’s ruler and run away, the undies appearing to be carried off by the wind and so fast no one could catch them. 

Ms. Sharon, evidently fed up with us children and our name-blame game, lowered her ruler, tore the undies from it and tucked them in her back pocket of her jeans, on full lecture mode—how she was ashamed of our behavior, our inability to tell the truth, oh, you bet she’d be writing us detention slips right and left—and while she ranted, we all rocked on the balls of our feet. Sure, I could’ve fessed up, saved everyone from detention after school, but I worried not only would I get in trouble but Ma too, and I didn’t want to see her cry, and I definitely didn’t want the bad people in those lab coats to come. Finally, the bell rang. 

Undie-less and detention looming, I ran to class, but noticed my shoelace was untied, and when I bent down to tie my sneaker, the most brilliant idea came to me. I unthread the shoelace, and tied it around my waist, armed once again to take the Hickory Farms. 

During silent reading, I searched the bookshelves but couldn’t find Hickory Farms, shoved away in its usual space in the corner. I flung books off the shelves. Mrs. Beamer, from her desk, frowned and said, “Hunter, you have one minute to pick a book and clean up that mess.”

“But, Mrs. Beamer, the book I want isn’t here,” I said. 

“Someone else must be reading it today. Pick another one,” she said, pushing her glasses up her nose, and turning back to her paperwork.

I scoured the rows of desks, the books kids were reading, and then landed on none other than Yogurt Head with my Hickory Farms sprawled out on his desk. He wasn’t even looking at the pictures, instead fiddling with a toy car under his desk—a toy I later stole—and I walked over to him, yanking the Hickory Farms off his desk. He tried to grab the catalogue back, saying, “Let go, Smelly Face.” 

And remembering what my older brother often said, I snapped, “Suck dick,” and added “Yogurt Head.” 

Logan’s eyes went baby-wide. The whole class looked up from their silent reading, some gasping, some giggling, some looking clueless like they didn’t know what I said. 

Mrs. Beamer looked up from her desk, sighing. “Hunter, those are not school words.” 

With a groan, she pushed off her chair, and shuffled toward me, pointing to the time-out corner. I marched over and hunkered down, clutching the Hickory Farms catalogue so hard the pages bent. 

“What’s going on with you today?” she asked. She took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes, looking more tired than mad. “Is there something you’d like to talk to me about?”

I shook my head, wishing I could hide. Usually a quiet boy, grown-ups assumed me a bit spacey, a little slow. Eventually I believed, yes, I lacked the brain power others around me had. Why couldn’t I read? Why did I get so easily distracted? Questions adults asked me, soon became my own questions. 

Mrs. Beamer said I looked ill, and would I like to go to the nurse’s office?

I nodded because being sick always got me out of trouble. Nurse Peggy was called. She came to our classroom, took me to her office and examined me, finding the shoelace tied around my belly, which prompted her to asking me who did it, and I told her me, and she asked why.

“Because I felt like it,” I said. She pursed her lips, clicked her pen, took my blood pressure and my temperature and weighed me, clicked her pen once more. I began to feel I was in trouble again, that I’d done more wrong than I knew, and what if the lab coats found out. The whole time I was clutching the Hickory Farms holiday catalogue, and no one took it from me, so I didn’t dare say it wasn’t mine, especially since more questions were being asked, like, What did I usually eat for dinner? When was bedtime? Did I brush my teeth? All these questions were shutting me down; I didn’t know the right way to answer them. What answers did she want?

“I don’t have to talk to you,” I finally said. 

Nurse Peggy, grandmotherly with white hair, spectacles and wrinkly hands, didn’t ask more. In fact, Nurse Peggy—after calling my Ma, who didn’t pick up, and then my Grams, who did pick up—had a brief talk with Grams when she came, which ended in cuss words on Grams part, something about don’t you say how to raise her grandbaby, he’s a fine, fine boy, taught to be mindful and eat his peas, why, the boy would eat leather if you asked him too, he’s that well-mannered. Such was what Grams said, but I spared the more sailor-like version. Grams grabbed my arm and told me as we walked out the door, “This town can be full of snobs. Your Ma, she tries hard, see, but people think it something else.” 

All the way home, I gripped the Hickory Farms holiday orders catalogue. Applaud loudly. Victory, all mine. Once home, I ran to the gully that was behind the trailer park. I scrambled along a secret deer path weaving through blackberry bushes and pines on down to the pond, covered in a lawyer of green algae. At the edge of the pond, a little grove of bushes sheltering flat moss-covered boulders. I crawled under the bushes, and sat cross-legged on the moss, dried out and flaking due to the oncoming heat of the summer. The wind shifted triangular light through the branches and the woods seemed to sigh, finally, finally. At last I could look at my catalogue in peace. At last, here in my quiet space with the tilted shadows, the high-whine of mosquitos, the solo chirp of a cricket, I could allow myself to enter Hickory Farms, where all the foods grow, and are loaded in baskets, arranged on trays, displayed on large dinner tables for invisible families.

I laid out the Hickory Farms holiday catalogue on a rock and smoothed it out, rubbing away creases, bending back crumpled pages and flattening its cover, a photo of a honey ham with glistening, ribbed skin, the slices spilling over onto a gold platter. I’d memorized the order of the log. First the new additions, then the best sellers, next the holiday meats, the cheeses, the fruits, the sweets, then the gift baskets, boxes and tins and finally the items on sale. Drumroll! I opened the pages, and I’ll end here. I could go further, tell what happened to Ma, how Grams became my guardian, and how I started stealing headphones and Gameboys, even shoes and lunch boxes, later bikes, lawn furniture, keep going, and then there was juvie, then there was writing it down. But this story isn’t about all that, the real things outside of Hickory Farms. No, this is about me, under the bushes, looking at that holiday catalogue, finally something I owned. 

Author Bio
J Saler Drees was born in and has lived all over California. Recent works have been published in Blue Lake Review, Hypertext, OxMag and RavensPerch. Forthcoming work can be found in Evening Street and Shooter Literary.

Husband Material -Danielle Kelly

Husband Material -Danielle Kelly

“Not every guy you meet is going to be your husband,” Mom said.

“I know,” I replied.

We sit in the hotel room in Berlin, Ohio eating our takeout dessert: cheesecake. 

“I like him,” I tell mom.  

She’s heard this story before. But I wanted to believe this one, that John, the guy I met right after two back-to-back break ups, was the one. Or, potentially the one. I wasn’t getting younger and Mom wasn’t either. A few months shy of thirty and I had finally dropped the strong, no-man-is-good-enough attitude I had perfected since middle school.  I was always too smart, too focused, too shy, too busy to chase boys according to my family.  The adjectives were many, but no one ever said what I knew to be true: too fat.  Too ugly.

“I know,” she finally said, finishing the last part of our shared dessert. 

I wait for her to add more.  A mother’s nag, that’s what you said about the others or like and love and lust are different things.  But she doesn’t say anything else. She just sits and listens like most women wish their mothers would do.

When I was in grade school, I was surrounded by boys.  A self-proclaimed tomboy, I played soccer with the best of them at recess, navigating, without a second thought between the guys and the crab-apple holes that littered the school’s field.  

Toby. 

Brandon. 

Addison.  

Dillon.

Dillon was my first boyfriend.  He lived nearby over the local Butcher’s shop his family owned.  One summer, mom let me walk home with him after a night of playing giving me permission to stay the night.  We were in third grade.  It was the first night I spent with a boy.  

Once at his house, we played with his toy soldiers and he introduced me to war: Confederates vs. Yankees.  At the time, I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I remember nodding at every word he said, like a good girl should do.  We didn’t play long before his sister snuck in the cramped living space and stuck in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a movie I had never seen before.  She sat in her nightgown and I sat in a pair of shorts and a matching t-shirt, me twice her size, wishing I would be like her when I was in fifth grade. Dylan kept playing with his toy soldiers.

What I remember most about the movie is Esmerelda. Her long brown hair flowing in soft waves to her shoulders.  Her skirt and cropped top and the scarf wrapped along her hair.  Her skin was tan.  Mine was as pale as paper.  I let my hair down from its permanent ponytail as I watched the movie, but no matter how much I ran my fingers through it, it didn’t lie right.  

Later that night, Dillon snuck out of his room and into the living room where his sister and I slept. He crouched between our sleeping bags with his hands firmly wrapped around his back.

“I got you something,” he said.  “Close your eyes.”

I closed my eyes and my hands gave way to a heavy object. I wanted to open my eyes, but, even then, I didn’t want to forget this moment. The object was cold and smooth and heavier than a bag of Halloween candy. “What is it?”

“Open your eyes, silly.” 

A glass, pink translucent apple sat in the palm of my hand. It was the first time a guy had ever given me anything. 

Now, I wish I knew how to give back whatever a guy gives me.

Being a woman isn’t simple.  No one told me that.  Not in health class. Not even in those what-is-happening-to-your-body videos the guidance counselors showed us in fifth grade as they separated the boys and girls and handed out hygiene packets full of sanitary napkins and powder fresh deodorant that no one ever used. In fact, what people don’t tell you about being a woman is how shitty it is. How once your breasts start developing there is no slowing down.  That from the moment of your first period, you can’t control the pain.  Pain is normal.  Pain is womanhood.  Pain is never ending.  Pain crescendos and draws the breath from your lungs until there is nothing left but a swift exhale of air.  I’ve learned recently that pain doesn’t get a voice. 

As singer, I pride myself in my voice taking care of it. Paying attention to everything that can harm it from ibuprofen to the common cold to dehydration to overpowering perfume to overuse. But somewhere with Mitchell, I lost that voice. He was temporary and the first boy I truly dated as an “adult”. He was nice, found me online as a new face in town. We were both young, catholic, lonely—the holy trinity of what we thought would be a lasting relationship.

We had only dated a few months when he censored me. I was standing in the kitchen, making breakfast when he called to check in as he got off his night shift.

“What do you think about this thing with the teachers,” he said, referring to the latest teacher strike that shut down the state.

“Do you really want to know?” I said. I scraped at the eggs in the pan, creating curds trying to formulate a proper answer, thinking about what would keep him happy, as I had done since he told me he had voted for Trump and I had told him that I was a birth-control taking, pro-choice, gun-control seeking liberal Catholic. “You know they’re doing this for everyone.  You.  Me.  All state employees,” I said, “give them a break.”

“If it was anyone else their asses would be fired,” he said. “I couldn’t do that with my job.  They’d send me packing.”

I agreed with him because it seemed like the right thing to do.  As I sat the phone down on the counter, I tried not to erupt into what I really wanted to say: the teachers can walk out for those that can’t and rub in the fact that I, once again, had proven a point.  He never liked when I challenged him. 

A week later while we sat at the bar, he drank while I carted him around. He placed his hand over my mouth to silence me. He laughed. His friends scolded him. I let him do it and didn’t leave immediately.

Outside the hotel, horse-drawn buggies sit tethered at the nearby market while cars populate the space between. It’s a blending of cultures.  But I wonder if it’s more like a population banking on the ideas of wholesomeness and simplicity not realizing that they don’t exist anymore. 

Mom throws her dessert container in the trash. I want to ask her more about guys, about dating, about everything we’ve never quite talked about when it comes to being a woman, but I don’t. I’m not sure if it is the shame or embarrassment that keeps me from speaking up. Good girls don’t speak of their curiosity, my grandmother’s ghostly voice echoes in my ears. So instead, I remain silent. 

Silence is powerful yet overpowering. In music, we don’t step on the rests. We let the silence be as powerful as the notes that build poco a poco into a swell of sound before the sound is stunted again by silence. However, sometimes, a singer holds on to a note longer because they just don’t want to let go of a rush they may never get again.

Danielle Kelly serves as Instructor of English at West Virginia University at Parkersburg where she serves as part of the editorial collective of The Poorhouse Rag, the campus literary magazine. She received her MFA in Fiction from West Virginia Wesleyan College. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in rkvry, and in Women Speak vol 5, an anthology of women’s voices produced by the Women of Appalachia Project. In addition to writing and teaching, Danielle is a classically trained singer and has performed with ensembles throughout the state of West Virginia.

The Peloponnesian War- Franz Neumann

The Peloponnesian War- Franz Neumann

ATTN: All Academic departments

An off-campus individual impersonated a professor on the first day of class. The impersonator engaged in awkward and inappropriate behavior, including drinking from a bottle that appeared to be an alcoholic beverage. There was a fair amount of confusion and concern until a neighboring instructor came into the classroom and confronted the individual. Thankfully, the episode ended without incident when this instructor dismissed the class and notified campus police.

Well now, look at you. Getting younger every year, but you don’t look so bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Parking issues, right? C’mon in, you’re not late. So I’m Professor Gantz. You’re in a Survey of World History…or you’re lost. Show of hands, who likes history? There, guess we’re done. Class dismissed.

So, yes, syllabus. Someone didn’t order toner for the department printer so a syllabus will have to wait until next week, at the earliest. To sum it up, uh, there’ll be weekly readings, monthly essays, a midterm and final. I take roll.

Alburez. Alamain. Bonner. Bonner, Eric. Relation? No relation. Okay, that’s enough. I didn’t say I take the whole roll.

Textbooks? Nah, we’ll just use Wikipedia, right? Yes, sometimes it is inaccurate, thank you for that, but history is written by the victors, so it’s all relative anyway—don’t write that down. Jesus, is that the first time you’ve heard that? I fear for you and I envy you. Never mind. We’ll also be reading critical essays by some of our greatest historians, mostly dead, but that’s okay because they’re closer to the events than we are. These essays should help peel the film from your eyes and show you what’s what, as well as what an essay can achieve. I’m not expecting you to write like them—you can’t. You couldn’t if you spent ten years trying. I can’t either. Don’t sweat it. Do the best you can without obvious plagiarism. Don’t go overboard. History will be there for you, and even if you ignore it, you’ll disappear into it anyway. Don’t burn yourself out just for this class, is all I’m saying. Go have a life, too. You’re at the crest of history. Look back once in a while but keep your eyes ahead, mostly. Sorry about this voice. I’ve barely spoken all summer. Vocal cords are out of practice. This? Let me see: Dehydrated grapefruit crystals. One little packet into this bottle, a little shakey-poo, yeah, it’s not that great. It could use something else. You know what’s hard to find on campus? Ice cubes. Sure, but do you see me walking into the student union?

Okay, so you in the back, looking to add, most professors will tell you we’re full, but that’s just because we hate grading a hundred essays. It kills the soul. And we are full, right now, technically. Ergo you’re standing. But persevere, because half of these students sitting here are going to drop out within the next two weeks. There’ll be seats then. They’re uncomfortable seats, though, so you’re better off standing. And it looks like there’s a nice breeze up there by the doors.

Yeah, I know. Is that coming from next door? Thin walls, right? Jesus. Is that Shakespeare? That sounds like someone’s shouting in iambic pentameter. One of you standing in the back, take a peek next door and tell me what’s going on. Settle down, folks. Maybe the drama department has staged an incursion into our decrepit building. They’ll perform anywhere they can if they—yes? He said what? You’re certain? Class, stay put. I’ll be right back.

Okay, okay, it’s all right, everyone. It was good of you to lock the door on me, but look, this wasn’t a shelter-in-place scenario. Just someone pretending to be a professor. No, it’s not funny, I agree. It’s just…look at this. He even had a syllabus. More prepared than I am. All of you trying to add, come down, there’s plenty of seats now, as you can see. Looks like the little drama next door scared a good number off.

Wait, hold on, let me see if I can get the overhead to come on…there, I’m just going to project this syllabus here for a moment so you don’t complain when you get my syllabus.

SYLLABUS FOR THE SUB-ALLYS

READINGS: The Holy Bible, the Koran, the Book of Morman (misspelled, did you notice), Reader’s Digest 1960–1962, NOT APRIL 1961.

PURPOSE: FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCKL, FUCK.

So the question I think we have here, beyond this individual’s headspace and his motivation to mess with what should have been Professor Larou’s class, is: what, exactly, is a fuckl?

All right, just trying to defuse the situation. For the record, then. Let’s hope the campus police—weren’t they quick?—help that individual receive the mental health assistance he needs. I did not mean any disrespect. Certainly not. Look, I’m happy to detail the cocktail I’m on, and the help I get from Dr. Green every Monday at 4:30 p.m. if you need some cred from me. It’s no laughing matter, you know, but sometimes…it is. Let’s also hope Professor Larou’s students come back, and let’s hope Grace orders the copy toner for next week or you’ll have to hear me blab again. No, no danger to me. Dr. Green is about seventy, short. Yeah, yeah, I know you mean next door. Look, whoever he was, he just thought he was a professor. Not the most advantageous delusion to have. Though, come to think of it, maybe he was from the theater department. Just to shake up the class, though that doesn’t sound like something Larou would be up for. Still, stranger things have happened in this building.

See you on Thursday, everyone. Same time.

Sorry, wait, yes, there will be textbooks. I wasn’t serious about Wikipedia. But the textbooks aren’t in yet as I forgot to order them. I was, you see, operating on the assumption that I had been let go for a number of vague financial and administrative reasons having nothing to do with student evaluations or student-teacher relationships, honest now. Nothing you need to worry yourselves over. What’s that? I’m forty-nine. That is old to still be an adjunct, yes, but that shows how little you know about the state of higher education. Anyway, the department ended up short one history prof so…desperate times call for desperate—you’re writing that down? You are going to learn so much in college your head is going to explode. Okay, so you know what? For our Thursday meeting, read about the Peloponnesian War on Wikipedia. For real. The Spartans kicked the Athenian’s ass. Come prepared to discuss how that changed history.

Now, bring those add forms down here. Plenty of room. Plenty of room.

Franz Neumann has been published in Colorado Review (Pushcart nominated), The Southern Review, Passages North, Fugue, Confrontation, Water~Stone Review, and elsewhere.

The Dreams of the Last Men by Holly Day

The Dreams of the Last Men by Holly Day

There are people who lie awake at night

dreaming of how rich they’ll be

after an Armageddon, a world-wide plague

some global pandemic or war

in which their side wins.

These people dream of walking through the houses

of the wealthy dead, of pushing shopping carts

down the quiet hallways, filling bags

with priceless artifacts to take home

or simply moving their own meager belongings

into the waiting rooms of empty hospitals 

the entranceways of empty castles.

Somehow, they think, that through vigilant prayer, 

social isolation,

or random luck

they will be spared the ravages of disease

the falling bombs

the radioactive fallout

somehow, they’ll survive

and then we’ll be sorry.

Author Bio: Holly Day (hollylday.blogspot.com) has been a writing instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Grain, and Harvard Review, and her newest full-length poetry collections are Into the Cracks (Golden Antelope Press), Cross Referencing a Book of Summer (Silver Bow Publishing), The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press), and Book of Beasts (Weasel Press).

No Place to Hide – Holly Day

No Place to Hide – Holly Day

My husband bought a sofa so low to the ground

I couldn’t hide under it, there was no way to slip under it

I could barely even slide 

a slip of paper under it. I asked him

why we got a sofa so close to the ground and he said

it was more stable that way, I wasn’t sure 

if he was talking about the sofa

or the overall atmosphere in our house

or just me. 

Author Bio: Holly Day (hollylday.blogspot.com) has been a writing instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Grain, and Harvard Review, and her newest full-length poetry collections are Into the Cracks (Golden Antelope Press), Cross Referencing a Book of Summer (Silver Bow Publishing), The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press), and Book of Beasts (Weasel Press).

April Theme

April Theme

Given our tight deadline for our April theme, we are announcing it a little early so you can get a head start! Submission deadline is April 15th, 2021. See flyer for more details.

The Pigeon’s Tale -Frank William Finney

The Pigeon’s Tale -Frank William Finney

The Pigeon’s Tale
(A Parable)

They throw us popcorn
and moldy bread,
then shoo us off the promenade.

Yesterday, they shot a dove,
thinking it was one of us.

One of them called me a flying
rat.  So I dropped him
a present in his coffee.

My little way
of saying thank you.

Frank William Finney is currently based in the Boston area. He spent 25 years teaching in Thailand (1995-2020).   His work has been published in Black Works, Constellations, Millennial Pulp, Silent Auctions, Variant Literature and elsewhere.  Work forthcoming in Terror House Magazine and Marathon Literary Review.  He has three cats and three bass guitars.