Author: The Editors

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).

Broken Up- James P. Hanley

Broken Up- James P. Hanley

Broken Up

By James P Hanley

I looked out the kitchen window and saw the movements of a couple directly across in the tall, brick apartment building constructed in a row of similar design. The often-malfunctioning elevator in my building had trapped another resident pressing frantically against the emergency button and sending a loud signal to the superintendent in the lower floor. I stacked the dinner dishes while the coil on the stove reddened and the kettle water bubbled. Pouring the hot water into unmatched cups over mounds of sugar and dark granules of instant coffee, I took each steaming cup by the handle.

When I placed the coffee on the low table in the living room of my furnished apartment, I saw Natalie slouching on the couch and staring at a cheap painting on the wall.

“What are you so lost in thought about?” I asked as I set a cup in front of her.

“We live in the same apartment complex but our lives are so different. Yours is settled, mine…” she said, pausing as if uncertain where to take the sentence.

“But here we are, so we can’t be so different,” I said cheerfully.

Her eyes closed in annoyance. “You never take me seriously.”

She was partially right. I’d learned to accept her dramatics without reaction or dismissal, but internally there was always a nerve that twitched, fearful I was misreading her words.

“It must be wonderful to have a plan.” The sarcasm underlined each of her words.

“What’s really wrong?” I asked, but had waited too long to show interest and she wasn’t going to answer.

“I didn’t realize how late it is,” Natalie said without looking at her watch.

“Do you turn into a pumpkin?” I teased.

“No, an eggplant; don’t I look like one?” She stood and pointed at her small-breasted upper body and the thicker legs and buttocks.   

She got up, blew me a kiss and walked to the door. “I’m going for a walk before bed.” The statement was devoid of an invitation to accompany.

It seemed that whenever Natalie left the room she took the air with her, and I sat silently in the vacuum.

                                                            ***

Natalie’s apartment was a floor below mine. We’d introduced ourselves when we nearly collided on the stairs, she running down the steps and I slowly ascending, balancing two packages. Our immediate connection was a distrust of the elevator. As we’d acknowledged soon after, both had a vague sense of having met previously but not recalling where. About the same, age, build and general style of dress—although I admit to her greater attractiveness, despite her constant self-deprecation about her form—we approached our early friendship hesitantly, but soon we arranged times together. We went to somber movies with blatant messages, stuffed articles on women’s issues in each other’s mailbox, especially on misogyny, marked with comments in angry ink, and read the shared Sunday newspaper, trading comments on the headlines while we ate pizza.  Despite the willingness to talk about any topic external to our lives, we shared little that could be called intimate. We were buddies, as she’d once described our relationship. That changed a few months later when I stopped by her apartment to slip a movie review under the door. I could hear soft sobs as if she was on the other side of the wood. I banged hard and called her name. She opened, and despite the late hour, was fully dressed; her cell phone was on the floor near her feet. I asked what was wrong, but she was too choked to respond, so I ushered her to the couch. After she threw her head back and inhaled deeply, she calmed and told me her father had died. Her grief released a flood of recollections which she shared over the next few hours. I was drawn into her early life, which was much different than I’d envisioned.

“My father was a barber with a small business bracketed by an Italian restaurant and a laundromat in a neighborhood people rushed to get through. There were three chairs in the shop although only two were ever used.” She chuckled. “Dad didn’t have hair on three quarters of his head, which to me, as a child, seemed as odd as a fat dietician or a pimply dermatologist.  I often sat in the third chair, my legs stretched out, and watched my father or the young assistant. Periodically, Dad would instruct me to sweep up the cuttings and I imagined the hairs as worms slithering across the linoleum floor from the wind that blew in from the opened door. Men would come into the shop, sit on the soft cushion of the metal-sided chair and grunt a greeting while my father put the striped apron around the customer’s neck. He would ask what they wanted and they would mutter ‘regular’ or ‘trim.’ Dad would nod compliantly, but they all got the same cut: buzzer up the sides and back, and scissors shortening the top hairs. Guess that’s a good way to get through life.”    

“Did he cut your hair?” I was looking at her thick locks which cascaded down from a center part and flared out at her shoulders.

“No, he never would; he said something about a shoemaker’s child. Once, when I was about thirteen, his assistant volunteered to trim my stray strands, but when his hand reached beneath my apron and rested on my thigh while he snipped, my father saw him and banished him, throwing the pervert’s framed license onto the concrete. When I graduated high school I told him I wanted to be a beautician, figuring he’d be pleased that I wanted to go into a parallel occupation, but he answered with his usual, dismissive word, ‘bullshit.’ I heard that word a lot.”

                                                 ***

When I got home from my job as an elementary teacher, I found a note taped to my door that she had taken a flight home and would be gone for a week. Natalie preferred written notes over texts, arguing they conveyed greater care. Below the specifics, she’d added: I’m grateful to you for being there last evening and letting me pour my heart out. I can’t do that when I get home because I’m supposed to be the stoic one-Ha! I guess this makes you my best friend—a dubious designation.   I was oddly pleased by the nomination. The note was unsigned.

I texted her a few times while she was gone asking how things were going, but never got an answer. Having been warned that she looks at her phone infrequently, I wasn’t surprised. The day she was to return, a Saturday, I went downstairs, still in my bathrobe, and knocked gently on the door. She wasn’t home so I pushed a message under her door: I collected your mail. Call or text me when you get back.

The humidity climbed with the sun and I opened the windows to let in the breeze. The smell of diesel exhaust from the trucks moving across the avenue outside the building seeped below the frames. I was vacuuming the rug when she called.  

“I’m back,” she said stretching out the words.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Long story. I’ve got to unpack, buy a few things. Why don’t you come to my apartment at four. Bring wine.”

I looked at myself in the mirror before leaving, putting on makeup and changing out of my cleaning clothes. Picking up her mail from a bamboo basket, I went to her apartment. Since we had agreed on the time, I saw no need to knock and opened the door. Sitting on her couch, Natalie held her phone and waved with her free hand. She was dressed in shorts that stretched to her knees and an orange blouse. She looked tired but when she smiled, the fatigue seemed to dissipate. She was playing a CD of melodic, melancholy music of an earlier generation, which she lowered after she finished her call.  

Before I settled in the lone chair in the room, she charged toward me wrapping me in an embrace before her forward motion had ceased so that we both nearly fell back. I was not as demonstrative as Natalie and put my arms around her when I felt her hands pressing into my back.

“That was my brother,” she explained after we sat. “Did I tell you about him? After high school he had a succession of jobs until my father took him into the family business. Seems he wasn’t much good at that either. Right after, he grew his hair long, even longer than mine. Still, he’s my mother’s favorite. I’m last on the list.”

“Why are you always so negative about yourself, especially when it relates to your family?”

She paused before responding, “Conditioning?”

“What about your sister?”

Natalie hesitated, “She’s autistic, so sweet and loving, her faults forgiven because they are not a matter of choice.”

“How was the funeral?”

“Well-planned with the right amount of grief and the laudatory eulogies, staged well but nothing like what he would have wanted. I don’t know what was the most unreal: the made up face in the coffin or the overstated description of his character. He was a flawed man and that’s why I loved him.  When I die, I hope they list all my screw-ups.”

I could sense she was drifting toward immersion into confused recollections so I shifted the subject. “I see you brought back a friend,” I said, looking at a stuffed bear that was undoubtedly old: the painted facial features had dulled and there were stitches in the soft fur of the body.

“Say hello to Reginald.” She poked the animal and it fell over on its side.  “I try to sneak things from my past each time I go home. Reggie was my friend from ages six through eight.”

“You have a good memory.”

“No,” she answered, lifting the bear and pointing to a sewn cloth strip at the bottom of the fur marked with calligraphy: Natalie, ages 6-8. “My mother is very organized.” We both laughed.  Handing her the bundle of mail, I stood to leave but she stopped me by a strong grip on my arm. “Stay while I open the mail.” Often she grabbed my arm as an exclamation point to her sentence and the feel of fingers on my skin lingered longer than the white marks on my arm from the squeeze.

Collecting a small pail at the corner of the room, she tore at the envelopes, discarding some without opening. I noticed a few had bold lettering above the address: 2nd notice. Midway through the sorting, her phone went off with the Star Wars’ theme. She ignored the sound.

“Aren’t you curious?”

“I know who it is—some guy I met through a dating website. Prince Charming never comes through an app.”

I said with unintended sharpness, “I met my boyfriend—ex-boyfriend—through a site.”

She lowered her head and looked at me with her eyes pointed upward: I’d proven her point.

“Why did you break up with him?” she asked, putting down the envelopes.

“We met online, went on dates and communicated mostly through texts when we weren’t out together. I stayed at his apartment at times and we had so much time to spend with each other, but we always ran out of topics, resorting to watching television programs that interested neither of us. We weren’t good at conversations longer than the size of a phone screen. However, it was exhilarating at first.”

“Was the exhilarating part about the sex?” Her expression when teasing was distinctive: mouth turned up in a half-smile, eyes widened and the blue iris pushed aside the sclera, sentence ended with a muffled chuckle behind closed lips.

After opening a second bottle of wine, we ordered take-out and she talked more about the funeral and her family gathering. Finally, I said, “I should get going; you must be tired and have work Monday.”

“No, I don’t, actually. I was fired.”

“They can’t fire you over a death in the family. Don’t they have a policy about emergency leave?”

“You’re part of the education system where they have all sorts of policies. I worked for a small insurance broker. They allow three days for a death in the family. I told my boss that wasn’t enough. I said, ‘it’s my father, for God’s sake,’ and the discussion went downhill after that. I admit I said a few more things I shouldn’t have.”

“Can’t you go back and explain you were grieving and didn’t mean it.”

“He’s a bastard; he won’t take me back.”

“Did you call him that in your downhill discussion?”

“Worse than that. I did mean it. Anyway, I can collect unemployment insurance if I was fired.”

                                                ***

In the following month, I was nearing the end of the spring term and hadn’t seen Natalie for nearly a week. I thought that she’d gone home again; she’d talked about doing so. I resisted calling her but yielded. One time before when I didn’t call her after a gap, she’d knocked on my door with a heavy fist. She’d entered and stood so close to me, I’d felt her breath on my face. “Whenever you don’t take the initiative to contact or return a text, I feel it’s some sort of test like a guy playing a game of let’s see who cares the most.”

In the middle of an ordinary discussion that evening, she blurted, “I’m being evited.”

I wondered when her lack of money would result in eviction. The apartments were at best non-descript, but the neighborhood was up and coming, as was our rent.

“If you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, you can stay here.” My voice rose with the offer.

She pulled her head back. “You may regret the invitation; I’ve been told I’m not easy to live with.” There was no further discussion. We marched to her place and transferred her clothing to my closet—the only one in the apartment—and her other personal items were stored in a brown suitcase in the back of my wardrobe. The first night, after she’d settled on the couch, I opened the closet and looked at her clothing on one half of the small space. The sweet smell of her perfume replaced the prior mustiness. The bathroom was also divided but she tried to minimize the portion she occupied by putting her makeup in a pink, plastic case. Natalie insisted that she share in the cost and when I declined, she would leave bills on the kitchen counter or at times, stuffed in my purse. To economize, she suggested we share a towel, leaving enough time between showers to allow for some air drying. I felt an odd sensation when I rubbed the terrycloth that was still damp from her earlier use. 

I was largely content in my life; there wasn’t a lacking that she filled but rather one created by her occasional absence. What seemed so vivid was the consciousness of her physical proximity and touch. To ensure I was listening, she often took hold of my chin and drew me closer, or grabbed my hand when either of us was emotional. Her unembarrassed nudity jolted me. I felt as I was on the edge of an unbordered love that only a woman would understand. But I doubted that she’d ever experienced the ambivalence.  

Even through the growing closeness, there were setbacks, largely caused by her sardonic moods as I described in the beginning of this telling.

                                                ***

On a Saturday, I was going out and found her standing outside my bedroom door leaning against the hallway wall.

“How long have you been there and why?”

“Not long.” She wasn’t going to answer the second part of my question and it was useless to repeat.

“I’m going to the mall if you’d like to come,” I said.

She kissed me gently on my lips, which caught me off-guard, and went to the closet to get her clothes.

The shopping mall was a cavernous, two-level structure of symmetrical stores as a perimeter to a flat central area with lined-up kiosks hawking perfumes, sunglasses and toys. Rubber plants, plastic bushes and brightly colored trash pails with cone tops that looked like stubby crayons were spread about the mall.      

            “We have something similar to this near my parents. I’d go there to hide out which seems like an odd place to lie low,” she said in an uplifted tone as if she’d realized her own words.

            When we were in front of a clothing store she grabbed my hand and yanked me inside, my shoe leaving a mark across the floor. Natalie sorted through a row of dresses in my size, pulling out a few for me to try on. I held the selections in from of me and looked at my image in a tall mirror, delaying trying on any of them until I first sorted through the mix. I was undoubtedly taking too much time.

“Are you at least going to see if they fit?”

“Don’t rush me,” I responded.

“By the time you choose, the clothes will go out of style.”

I chose a blue dress, and after we left the store and were further down the mall, Natalie giggled like a child. Stopping me with a tug of my sleeve, she released me to open her wide-bottom purse and pull out a blouse, the price tag still hanging from the sleeve. My shock was apparent and she responded, “I can’t bring it back now.”

“Is this how you fill your closet?” I asked.

Her head was down but the lowered expression flashed defiance. “No,” she said curtly. “Besides, it’s your closet, so that makes you an accomplice.”

She made dinner that night after having purchased the items for the meal on our way back from shopping, almost theatrically opening her wallet and laying the bills on the counter in front of the register. Over the meal, she asked about my summer plans once school closed. I told her I’d declined teaching summer school and inquired about her job search.

“I had two interviews but when they checked references, an offer never came. I’ve also decided to take the summer off.”

I laughed. “And when did you make that decision?”

“Just now.”

Natalie was a restless sleeper. At times, I could hear her as she walked past my bedroom to the bathroom or the kitchen. The light—the refrigerator bulb or the overhead bathroom fixture—seeped under my door. I was conscious her footsteps and the sound of the sofa cushions as she settled back down. 

Over the warm months, we went to the beach often until we were both deeply tanned. Turning down invitations to parties and even dates, I was stunting my social life and she was narrowing her friends to only me.

“It’s not healthy, you know,” she said after we’d spent a long day that began with breakfast and ended with dinner and a late movie. She knew I understood her words.

One day in early August, I went downstairs to collect my mail from the tin receptacles in the lobby and saw Natalie with a man I didn’t recognize. She looked at me with a dismayed expression. I never asked about him and she never offered, but I sensed that whatever their relationship, it was short-lived.

Natalie seemed more distracted lately; I believed she was thinking about her family. I’d learned long ago that she could be so glib and open but could not be coerced in revealing what she wouldn’t offer on her own. Sometimes, she would, in brief words, reveal her thoughts: “He used to beat me with a barber’s strop.”

A few days later, I went to the grocery store and upon returning, saw Natalie sitting on the apartment floor with maps scattered all around her.

“I’m planning a trip for us,” she said, her cheeks puffed from a wide smile. “Right here,” she added, pointing at the center of the Pennsylvania map, which was the closest to her. I lifted her finger and saw the name: Intercourse, Pennsylvania.

 “About as close I’m going to get to it,” I joked. Looking down at the map, I found another town nearby. “Bird-in Hand,” I exclaimed, and we both chortled, linking hands in our mirth.

We took turns driving my car on the day of the excursion. The weather was accommodating as the sun was unblocked by the few clouds that meandered across the sky. We arrived just before dark and pulled into a motel with a vacancy sign flickering in the twilight. Unlike the unopposed sun, the nighttime sky was filled with quilts of bulbous clouds and the slithering light of stars slipping through. After checking into a single room with two beds, we went to a restaurant in walking distance and ate the family-style dinner: bowls of vegetables placed on the table to be spooned into our plates with the ordered meat. Afterwards, we walked around and found a shop that sold tourist items: laminated placemats with drawn maps, dolls dressed in Amish style, and postcards of barns and fertile fields. In the morning, we avoided the guided tours and drove on narrow, concrete roads, some stretching into dirt paths cutting through tall grass and cornfields. Buggies with curious children staring out the back stayed to the road’s edge, their horses with leather strips blocking their side views. Once we stopped at a house with a crude sign and bought a quilt from a shy, bonneted woman. Back by late afternoon, we sat on the cement porch of the brick and shingle motel. The light breeze kicked up stray leaves that had died prematurely and bent the uncut grass. I was content with the quiet but the setting was a time of revelation for Natalie.

“I’m leaving soon, going home. I can’t keep living off you.” She smiled quickly. “I feel like a kept woman.” The smile disappeared. “My mother is struggling and I’m afraid my job prospects are very limited. I have no reason to stay, do I?”

I didn’t know how to answer. I turned my head so she couldn’t look at my face.

She broke the mood. “Maybe I’ll be Amish. I can learn to milk cows and feed goats.”

We both laughed; it sounded forced.    

We went to our room and changed for dinner. I dressed first and watched her as she readied. In the semi-darkness of the room, I could see her pretty face reflected in the small, portable mirror as she puckered her mouth and applied lipstick.  The desk clerk had recommended a restaurant a few miles away. Rain clouds had taken over the sky and the drops played on the car window like light tapping. At the restaurant we were escorted to a dark-wood table lit by a refitted oil lamp with a small bulb giving off a circle of light. We sat across from each other, squinting at the menu. Music poured from corner speakers. The walls were thick with velour, absorbing the sounds of clanking dinnerware and conversations.

After we placed our food orders, Natalie said, “Are you upset about my plans?”

“Yes,” I said more loudly than intended. “I don’t really understand; don’t know why you didn’t tell me this was coming.”

She shrugged slowly. “I don’t know why either.”

“And why you are so unaffected. Everything lately is so casual to you.”

I wasn’t looking at her when I said that, but when I did, I could see her eyes were blinking. I reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

Back in the room, we watched television and both started to doze, likely from the wine we had at dinner. I heard her get up and turn the program off. The full, pitted moon broke clear of the covering and flooded the room. I woke around one; Natalie was fetal, the covers curled around her. I thought she was sleeping until I saw her shaking under the blanket. Turning to look upward, she covered her face with her arm. Next, she turned toward me; she was awake. Her cheeks were wet and stray light was caught in her tears. I got up and knelt at the edge of her bed. Reaching across her shoulders I pulled her toward me and her head slipped onto my breast. I put my mouth on the top of her head, my breath flowing back into my face.  She was silent as I held her in the awkward embrace, and when I stepped back eventually, I saw she was asleep.

In the morning, she was showering when I got out of bed. She’d taken clothes from my case for me and laid them neatly across the only chair in the room.

In late August, I had to get ready for the fall term by preparing my classroom and ordering books I would need for the students. Looking at the roster, I smiled at a child’s name halfway down the list—Natalie. When I called my friend, I could only leave a message. She didn’t answer my texts until that afternoon, sending a simple response on my phone: I’m on the way to the airport. When I returned to my apartment, I opened the closet and saw the empty space where her clothes had been. I checked the bathroom and the pink case was gone.  As I lay restlessly on the couch that night, ignoring the drone of the television, I could envision her looking out the window at the lighted buildings and streets as the plane ascended, while I stared at the blank ceiling, sinking.     
 

James Hanley has had several careers: Human Resources director, adjunct professor and writer. He has over 90 stories published in print and online magazines. In addition, he has completed six novels published in 2014-2020 by small independent presses.

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.

Roundelay for the Pandemic Ann Howells

Roundelay for the Pandemic Ann Howells

It will linger,
this sense of violation, vulnerability,
will judder minds through months, years –
carousel, warning bell, bombshell,
came as blackout, ack-ack,
off-the-cuff blindman’s bluff,
bourgeoisie fisticuffs.
Imagine yourself anonymous, impervious,
tintinnabulous,
the virus in ennui, fiddle-de-dee,
austere among irises. Is it even real?
Thunder crack. Zodiac.

Remember easy street, honeysweet,
then heat, bleat, cheat.
All this metaphor, meteor battering,
cudgeling, walloping, a simple scrap of RNA
loose among quarks and leptons,
lost between matins and vespers.
Go ahead, marshal trepidations
(life reeks of brimstone).
Annihilation is a slavering chimera
settling on its haunches,
and you, were caught star-gazing. 

#AloneTogetherConcentric circles, suns, moons, comets,
and Fibonacci sequences –
breaths is just a fragile puff of air.
Humans are stardust:
hydrogen and carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.
Knowledge flares like napalm.
Wrapped in anxieties, we fester or effervesce.
Remember, try to remember,
a time you walked unmasked.

Prophesies remain unimaginable. Relax,
tip an ear to spherical hum,
music of lei-lines swells like summer cicadas.
The world seems upside down,
but don’t submit to pricking of your thumbs:
what comes is neither wicked nor benign;
it’s inevitable as yesterday. 

Author Bio: Ann Howells edited Illya’s Honey for eighteen years. Her books include: Under a Lone Star (Village Books Press, 2016), Cattlemen & Cadillacs as editor (Dallas Poets Community, 2016), So Long As We Speak Their Names (Kelsay Books, 2019) about Chesapeake Bay watermen, and Painting the Pinwheel Sky (Assure Press, 2020) persona poems in voices of Van Gogh and his contemporaries. Her chapbooks include: Black Crow in Flight, published through Main Street Rag’s 2007 competition and Softly Beating Wings, 2017 William D. Barney Competition winner (Blackbead Books). Ann’s work appears in many small press and university journals.

The future of generations- Robert S. King

The future of generations- Robert S. King

In our subdivision, we’d never break
a fresh loaf of bread together.
At night, we keep the blinds closed
so that our private lights never touch,
denying that the light of day
exposes us both.

We are more strangers than neighbors,
you a property owner in his right mind,
I a deed holder on your left.

Could we ever be brothers
instead of bothers, each worried
about the other’s age, health, hardening
of the arteries and of the heart?

One side of a fence seldom feels the other.
No, we can’t straddle a wall and mend it,
nor can trust return to tear it down.

Perhaps one day our children
could play together.

Robert S. King lives in Athens, GA, where he serves on the board of FutureCycle Press. His poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, including Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Chariton Review, Hollins Critic, Kenyon Review, Main Street Rag, Midwest Quarterly, Negative Capability, Southern Poetry Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review. He has published eight poetry collections, most recently Diary of the Last Person on Earth (Sybaritic Press 2014), Developing a Photograph of God (Glass Lyre Press, 2014), and Messages from Multiverses (Duck Lake Books, 2020) His personal website is www.robertsking.info.

Mourning by Zebulon Huset

Mourning by Zebulon Huset

The freezer is stuffed with empty boxes.

I would throw them away, but,

the trashcan is full, and the dumpster’s so damned far.

It’s late. The TV is static.

I never paid the cable bill,

so after awhile, all the channels

were snowed in like the Tioga Pass in January.

I prefer the static’s zs to silence’s buzzing.

Similar, but I’ve learned to tell the difference.

Last night I left the Frosted Flakes open

when I passed out off the remnants of

all the ‘almost gone’ bottles in the apartment,

so they’re stale now, too soft to enjoy, yet,

I eat some anyway, dry.

Milk goes bad too fast.

Tomorrow I may have to drink the Vermouth straight.

I’m not looking forward to it.

Maybe I’ll put in some applications,

or beg Sean to let me work at Sears again,

or at least donate some plasma.

The first is only two weeks away.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day,

but the Great Library of Alexandria burned

in one afternoon.

When I tell people that, they say

I’m avoiding the issue, but I say no, no, listen…

It takes a long time to build something great,

but only moments to reduce it to ruins.

Author Bio: Zebulon Huset is a teacher, writer and photographer living in San Diego. He won the Gulf Stream 2020 Summer Poetry Contest and his writing has appeared in Meridian, The Southern Review, Fence, Atlanta Review & Texas Review among others. He publishes the writing blog Notebooking Daily, edits the journals Coastal Shelf and Sparked, and recommends literary journals at TheSubmissionWizard.com.