‘Spring Picture’ by Emma Wells

The Cornish Sea laps, coating the daffodil-hued shoreline. Movements are as gentle and cyclical as the turn of each season – one wave spills into the next as dominoes set to fall in a predictably-fashioned line. 

Spring is a verdant season: abundant and full of the potential that surfs its way to the surface as a toppled surfer. Buds and new shoots spring from spongy holds, piercing the air with sage tendrils which reach up, and outwards, to the sun. They grow peacefully, navigating causeways as ships upon oceans. Their growth and progression is steady, but determined. They hope to find a safe harbour away from the building winds to come during autumn and winter, that notoriously travel inland, after roaring upon open seas. 

For now, they are perfectly safe.

Her forming landscape tumbles with springlike notions as a collage where each newspaper clipping holds a semblance of meaning. This is what she hopes to achieve painting Clythe Cliff and its snuggled cove beneath the rocky ledges. 

Seabirds glide above as they buoy on uplifts, easing their shifting paths to washy swells. She watches the depth of their flight as they fully elongate their wingtips, expanding to full splendour. They breathe in heady, awakening gusts as they seek small fish to luncheon upon as they hover above the glistening sparkles of the sea’s calm edges. 

Children frolic as their parents relax on stripy blankets upon the warming sands. Cries of enjoyment and hilarity, as they play with the spilling surf, rise frequently to the artist’s alerted ears. For it is Easter-time and children are enjoying two weeks where they are freed of the confines of school bells. 

One particular toddler catches her interest as he stretches his curious, chubby toes into the billowing white foam that unravels upon the sand. He jumps in glee, running back and forth between his watchful parents and the shore, excitingly anticipating the silly surf each time he returns. This game will keep him occupied for hours. His parents turn their bodies slightly towards each other, as they lounge, enjoying a few moments of ‘adult time’. The mother shields herself from the pivotal sun with a straw hat; it has purple flowers entwined along the rim. Her oversized Bridget Bardot sunglasses cover her eyes as she flirts, smiles daintily, as her husband leans in, whispering niceties and playful promises. 

The artist shuffles her feet, having stood statically for many hours as she captured the colourful markings of the bay upon her impregnated canvas. A tartan blanket is laid beneath her easel, poised above a gentle clifftop overlooking the expansive Cornish Sea. She places her paintbrush, dipped in cerulean blue to capture the hues of the sea, as she sits to take a stretch and a break from painting, upon the easel’s ledge. She opens a small wicker hamper and unpacks a silver thermos of hot coffee. Its dark and decadent liquid reanimates her senses as its pungent aroma lifts in the breeze as she takes steady sips from a bamboo travel cup, floral patterns adorning the outer surface. Her eyes remain fixed upon the shoreline activities and the hubbub of an unusually warm and pleasant April day. No showers – not yet anyway. The sky is clear, as untainted as white, untrodden snow.  

As she unravels her lunch of Cornish cheddar, crackers and chilli jam, she breathes in deeply, suckling the salty sea air. Her fingers are flecked with debris of paint. Yellow ribbons streak her fingers and flecks of primary colours coat her fingernails: shadows of the rocks, cliffs, seagulls and day-trippers that she has translated from sight into coloured semblances upon the canvas face. She ignores the metallic tang of the paint that clings to her fingers as she tucks hungrily into a well-layered cheese cracker, having built a healthy appetite. Sips of her filter coffee punctuate her mouthfuls of comforting cheese, and the tangy chilli notes from the jammy relish, as she enjoys the enriching view. 

Abruptly, unseen and very unexpectedly, the weather takes a dramatic turn for the worst. The aquamarine skies and the skittish yelps of children at play are snuffed out as a candle flame on a windy heathland. The change is swift, as quick and lethal as lightning bolts. Large pelts of rain dash upon her head and smear the still-drying paint. The breeze, no longer gentle, achieves a much firmer hold, displacing her water jar and held paintbrushes that have been left to soak, releasing their coloured bands as a depleted rainbow. 

Without further delay, she haphazardly bundles all of her artistry belongings together, repacking them as best as she can at speed. The canvas is wet, damaged perhaps irreparably unless it it protected soon. In a flurry, she unzips her plum-coloured Peter Storm jacket and wraps it around her artwork, as a lover stood out in the cold. She pats down the rising coat, billowing in the gusts, praying that the work is not damaged beyond repair and the touch of her brushwork – she hopes to be able to rekindle its tenacity and springlike hues if needed. 

Her eyes gaze down upon the quickly cleared beach, now that she has a moment to breathe, having secured her work. In the corner of her right eye, she spies a figure. The moving shadow is clad in heavy black, as ebony as night itself, with an entrapped child under their cloak. The child is forced, overwhelmed by the stranger or so it appears, allowing his small-self to be eclipsed. His white face is drained of colour, now pallid as white-washed alabaster. 

Suddenly, she makes the connection between the toddling boy in the frolic of the waves at the shoreline only half an hour before, and this terrified face. It is the same child. 

He must have been taken or misplaced by his parents somehow. 

The artist shouts down to the ominously cloaked figure whom has disguised themselves by a raised hood, submerging their face into inky darkness. She can make out no noticeable facial features or items of clothing at all beyond the façade of the dripping black fabric that encircles the stranger, rising in turrets with the uplifts of the gale. 

“Stop. Stop, I say. That is not your child. Let him go at once,” bellows her voice, more steely than she actually feels.

The hooded enigma swiftly continues in the opposite direction from the artist, hurrying a little. To her it appears as if he or she is making for the other end of the cove. The child inside the cloak moves awkwardly and clumsily having not his eyesight to guide him or the will to be guided by a stranger. 

“I’m calling the police,” she proclaims as she hastily taps 999 into her iPhone 9. Wet drips paint the surface in translucent globules, obscuring the numbers as she blearily types. “Police please.” 

A few moments pass. 

“A child has been stolen at Clythe Cliff. A hooded figure has a male toddler hidden under their cloak and is making their way along the sandy cove. The child is calling out for its mother. Help. Help. Send someone and quickly,” she stammers. 

“Of course. Stay on the line, madam, while I report this through to the police. I will keep on the line with you until a police officer arrives,” a calm female voice announces, endeavouring to reassure and soften her spiky angst. 

Minutes tick by as the folds of the charcoal cloak begin to obscure and diminish from the artist’s view. Thickened, duplicitous fog has settled upon the shore, muddying further her view of the stranger and the guileless child within the smudgy depths of the stranger’s hold. 

“Madam, five minutes. I’ve sent the nearest based team to you,” the operator’s voice assures. “Can you confirm if you can still see the child?”

As the artist looks up, she sees that the sea air has brewed into an even deeper and more penetrating fog – a well of moody stupor. In despair, she scans the stretch of the sands, seeing no movement or person at all. Beads of perspiration begin to drip down her back and forehead as her level of panic rises – plummeting to sky-high plains. She can feel the tormented thuds of her heart as her panicked thoughts stumble over one another, tripping in their frenzy. 

Thud. Thud. Thud. 

As she grabs onto the easel to steady her nerves, the beach is now just a cloudy haze. She looks to her artwork and sees that her coat has fallen from the canvas, not surprisingly in the ferocity of the building sea wind. 

She eyes the canvas – the self-same one that has wholly occupied each, and every, thought for the vast majority of the day. 

Shock.

Despair.

Alarm. 

No longer are the etched brushstrokes, floral and spring-like, visible upon the surface. No longer do the images reflect the joyous scenes of the morning’s merriment upon the sands. No longer is the artwork her own. It has been erased, completely tampered with by some unknown, malevolent force. 

For upon the canvas, her paintwork has been wholly obliterated from existence. Instead, there are two words, scoured in the deepest black as the hue of a crow’s wing at midnight: He’s mine. 

Meet the Author

Emma Wells is a mother and English teacher. Her poetry has been published in: The World’s Greatest Anthology, The League of Poets, The Lake, The Beckindale Poetry Journal, Dreich Magazine, Drunken Pen Writing, Porridge Magazine, Visual Verse, Littoral Magazine, The Pangolin Review, Derailleur Press, Giving Room Magazine, Chronogram and for the Ledbury Poetry Festival. She also has published a number of short stories and her first novel, Shelley’s Sisterhood, is due to be published shortly.

‘How Henrietta Lost Her Groove’ by Constance Mello

1.

I decided to name the car Henrietta the day me and Espi were driving it to San Jose for the Ariana Grande concert. I do this thing where I don’t think before I act, and so I was anxious and stressed about going to the show. I’d purchased the tickets over six months in advance, amidst all the excitement around thank u, next, and now that the excitement had passed the show seemed more chore than fun. I remember driving up the 17 and being terrified of Espi’s driving, zig-zagging over the mountain at a speed that’s much too fast, like every California driver. Always 10-20 miles over the speed limit. 

(A while later, Dane told me Californians got away with this because you’re less likely to get pulled over here than in other states, where ticketing is an important monetary resource for the police departments. Here, we just pay higher taxes.)

It felt special, somehow, that he’d loaned us the car to go. We’d only really been friends for a few weeks, and more than friends for just over ten days, but he seemed sincere in his offer, and so I accepted. I hated the bus. 

Henrietta was only a few years younger than me, having been made in 2003. She was old enough that the black was faded, and her plasticky nature showed through to the point where sometimes, in the right light, you’d think she was purple. She was also always covered in dust and leaves, from being parked in the church parking lot under a big tree. I hated that her windshield wipers never worked, and so the view was never as good as it could have been. 

I connected through the weird bluetooth plug Dane had, and played country music loud enough for us to hear even when we were going fast. Old cars do this thing where the faster you’re going, the less you can hear inside, and that’s another thing that drove me crazy. 

But I’m loyal to a fault, and so even though she had many things to dislike about her, I loved Henrietta. More for what she represented than what she really was, but still. She was my boyfriend’s car, and I loved watching him drive it, and so I loved it as well. For a long time, she was also the only car I’ve ever driven, and Dane had been the only one who’s ever taught me how to drive. 

When we got to San Jose and tried to find parking, Espi almost killed us when she turned the wrong way and we almost got hit by another car straight on. But Henrietta was quick, and when Espi turned the wheel sharply to the right, Henrietta didn’t even screech before coming to a halt on the sidewalk. “We almost just died”, Espi was out of breath when she turned to me. I was laughing at that point, already texting Dane about the quarrels we were putting Henrietta through. 

Henrietta’s parking brake also almost killed us. The car had a habit of driving even with it on, and you wouldn’t realize it unless you had to go uphill and almost floor it to hit a solid 45. Me and Espi were already on the road by the time we realized the parking brake was still on, and then when we pressed the button and pushed it down the car shot forward a little too haphazardly, making our seatbelts work a little bit harder. 

On our way back after the concert, we both had to shine our flashlights at the shifter because the lights on it didn’t work, and so we couldn’t see what gear we were shifting into. And even if the lights had worked, the letters on it were so faded that you might not have been able to see them regardless. And so we drove off, shining my flashlight at the shifter. 

When we got back to Santa Cruz, we stopped at Safeway. We didn’t often have the luxury of having a car to go grocery shopping with, and so me and Espi stocked up on things for the apartment that would usually be too annoying to bring on the bus – toilet paper, paper towels, canned goods. The Safeway was the only thing open past midnight in Santa Cruz besides the Donut store, and the roads were quiet. I grabbed the Earth Balance butter Dane liked, because I knew he was out. 

Espi dropped me off on the curb of Porter College, where Dane’s apartment was. She drove off in Henrietta and I said it was okay, that I’d walk over the hill to College Nine in the morning. 

Me and Dane drove to San Jose many times over the course of those couple of months, but that first drive with Espi stuck with me. I haven’t spoken to her since, and that was kind of the last thing we did together before parting ways for summer. I ended up spending more time in that car than in my own apartment over spring, even when summer was coming around and making her interiors hot enough to burn the bottom of my thighs. 

2. 

Three weeks into our relationship, Dane had to travel down to San Diego to look at the school he later ended up transferring to. He asks me to come with him. It’s an 8 hour drive, and we’d have to spend at least one night at his parents’ house, an hour and a half away from our final destination. 

Dane is stressed, and his TMJ starts acting up before we even get to King City, a location mostly used for truck drivers to pull into and rest. We pull in and Henrietta, being the tiny Toyota Matrix that she is, looks like an insect next to the imposing and positively American looking trucks surrounding her. We go into the convenience store, buy me a banana and him some Tylenol, but I know it’s only a temporary measure. Every time his phone rings during the drive it’s his mother calling, and his jaw locks again. 

The drive is long and warm, and if you’ve ever taken the 5 up or down you know that a large part of it is just desolate farmland. Henrietta treks on, her air-conditioning just slightly too weak to really make any difference. In my black jeans, I feel the heat of the black seat transfer into my thighs and butt, just like I feel the heat from the ceiling transfer into my head. We listen to Dane’s playlist, and there’s something about Henrietta that will always be pop-punk to me. As in Blink-182 pop-punk, the stuff that’s old and somehow timeless, bright and sunny San Diego days and checkered Vans. 

By the time we pull into Temecula – the city closest to where Dane’s family lives –, it’s cloudy and almost dark out. It’s also the first time I get dressed inside Henrietta, pulling on a new pair of jeans and fresh shirt, changing my sweater out for my jean jacket. Anyone who’s ever had to put on jeans in the back of a small car will know what a feat that is, especially in a crowded mall parking lot on a Friday night. I joked that Henrietta is the first car to see me naked since adulthood, and it was true, at the time. And even though there have been other cars since, you never forget your first. 

When we make our way to his parents’ house, another forty-five minutes away, we drive by the neons one more time, and I like to watch the morphed reflection of them on Henrietta’s hood. She smells like fifty different smells after the all day drive, but I’m already so attached that sitting down into the passenger seat after Dane is muscle memory. It’s my reaction to his action. 

Before we get there, in the middle of nowhere at 3000 feet altitude, he pulls over onto a patch of dirt, and we can overlook the mountains on both sides. The stars are bright and clear, and I look up at them through the window. He tells me it’s the last cell service spot, and it’s still 5 miles away from his house, so he texts his mom and then turns off the engine.

We climb out of the car, and I lean on my door, still looking up at the brilliant sky, uninterrupted by light pollution. He comes over and, against the car door, presses up against me, and we kiss. I can’t help but think that this is something from a movie, but then again, I don’t think Henrietta lives up to the part of the sexy car that the love interest drives. 

When we get to his house, the dirt road there leaves us in a cloud of dust around me when I step out to open the gate. The car is noisy on the gravel up the driveway, and I’m nervous. When cars make that much noise arriving, that means whoever’s inside knows you’ve arrived. The first time I see his house’s bright yellow front door is through Henrietta’s windshield. 

I can tell that Dane is nervous but determined to get it over with, so we step inside and take off our shoes, and sit with his family in the living room. He’d told me that his dog, Charley, would bark at me, but he doesn’t. He sits on my lap while I talk to his mom and dad and sister, and after a little while we go to bed, being careful not to make any noises that would imply sex, because Dane is still getting used to the idea of having a girlfriend over at his childhood home, and it’s all fine by me. 

The next morning we’re up by six, and on the road by seven, to see the school. It’s pouring rain, which is unusual, and it’s the first heavy rain I’ve experienced inside of a car in California. It feels comfortable, like I could fall asleep, but it’s loud because of the water on the road and Henrietta’s poor insulation. Still I lean my head against the seatbelt, trying to find a comfortable position, and Dane has his hand on my thigh. He only ever drives one handed, and any concerns I have for my safety aren’t enough to make me let go of his right hand. 

Dane decides he wants to drive back that same day, and the drive is chaotic and a little tense, with me making sure to never fall asleep and keep him talking, keep him awake. In hindsight, we should’ve waited until Sunday to drive back, but he was adamant he wanted to be back before then. We listen to Avicii on back roads that the GPS sends us through, and at one point Dane says it feels like he’s dead. 

“Slap me,” he asks. 

“Where?”

“On the face.”

I do, and for a moment he wakes up. 

“It still feels like I’m dead, though. Like time isn’t real.” 

I know exactly what he means. We were both exhausted and borderline hallucinating, and when I think back to that drive, Henrietta the only car on the road for miles on end, it’s a little scary that we did it. The music loud and the base rattling the plastic speakers, no longer fit to play music at any volume at all. 

Dane is playing a song for kids, about the moon. 

Moon, moon, moon, shining bright. Moon, moon, moon, my night light. 

When we finally get back to his apartment, carrying our backpacks and hoodies and trash and the blanket, I don’t think we even took a shower. Just changed into pj’s and slipped into bed, exhausted and borderline delirious, cramping ourselves into the twin bed that we slept on that whole quarter. Dane’s open mouthed breathing was like a soothing white noise machine, and falling asleep felt like slipping from one dream into another. 

3. 

I wasn’t really bothered to go into quarantine. I was actually pretty relieved. 

Because of our particular situation it had gotten quite awkward to still be staying with Dane and his roommates on campus, and going back to his parents’ sounded like a great way to get some space that was just ours, even if it was just his room. 

So we loaded up Henrietta, and I could tell Dane was feeling sad. The car was filled to the brim, with Dane’s guitar and bass hanging over my head on the passenger side, my backpack and computer on my lap, my other belongings in a box at my feet. I had two suitcases in the trunk, but mostly I packed light. Dane’s the over-packer between us and he’s bad at packing, so it definitely felt like we’d gathered all of our belongings to flee the zombie apocalypse. In a way, that’s what we were doing. 

A pandemic meant that a lot of the time we spent outside the house looked very different from before. Dane started Doordashing and I went with him, happy to be driving around, looking at the empty streets outside the window. When this all first started, it was still cold, and I remember feeling safe and warm, watching the world through tinted windows. It felt like an extension of the house that was just ours, even more private than Dane’s room, because no one could come in, because the doors didn’t open straight into the living room. 

Delivering food means you get to know a lot of restaurants, you get to form opinions about how long it takes them to get orders ready, you get to smell food in the car and be hungry, and you get to drive to people’s houses and put down bags at the door. Especially during a pandemic, you don’t really see anyone. Restaurants make sure to set the orders onto tables at the front, and customers make sure to select ‘contactless delivery’ when ordering. For the most part, it was just spending time with Dane, driving around in Henrietta, listening to music and watching the Great British Bake Off. 

(Or The Office, or Parks and Rec, or Psych, or Sherlock, or Chuck, or Scrubs.) 

We’ve been through most drive-thrus a suburban town like Temecula has to offer. You have the classics: McDonald’s, Steak n’ Shake, Wendy’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Raisin’ Cane’s. I am now expertly acquainted with most fast-food fries, I know exactly what my order is every time with the limited items that don’t contain meat or dairy – there’s not a lot of them. I can confirm that the best technical fries are from Five Guys, but that the most comforting ones are from McDonald’s. 

Then we had our more adventurous eats, from the restaurants we didn’t even know existed until we got an order from them. Chinese fried tofu and eggplant, coconut paneer curry, hawaiian teriyaki chicken. Endless poke bowls, with the house sauce. Crab stuffed dumplings dipped sweet n’ spicy. Heaps of garlic naan bread that we would pick up later at night, after our shift was done. New York style pizza, with garlic knots and the salad that had too many olives. The mixture of smells became familiar enough that I knew it had penetrated the surface. Henrietta would never smell the same. 

She will forever have the slightly oil smell of old fries, I think. As much as Dane tried to keep her clean, just having the bags in the car for too long meant the smell clung to the fabric seats, along with the smell that naturally occurs when two people spend a long time in an enclosed space together. Anyone who’s car-camped or had to spend a long time in their car would know what I’m talking about. 

Henrietta was instrumental in making sure both of us didn’t lose our minds while quarantining. Sometimes we would go on drives just around Aguanga, the town where Dane lives. There’s no one for miles at some points, but moving and rolling the windows down is more helpful than you’d think. A car may feel like an enclosed space, but at least it moves. I’ve come to appreciate that more than I ever thought I would, especially as someone who doesn’t drive. 

Quarantine was also when we said goodbye to Henrietta. Dane is an irresponsible car owner, and we once drove 2000 miles through Arizona mid-summer and not once considered changing her oil. When we brought her back, she sounded like an eighteen-wheeler, wheezing her way up the driveway. Dane’s dad, who makes a living off of cars, was upset. 

Dane decided to sell her this year and get a newer car, to last him the rest of his college years and beyond. The search was long and annoying, especially because, being out in the middle of nowhere, not having a car can be really isolating. The closest grocery store is over thirty minutes away. 

What was good about selling Henrietta is that Dane found her the perfect new owner, the exact same age that Dane was when he first got her. He made an Instagram post talking about how he’s happy that his first car became someone else’s first car. 

And that’s what I love about Dane. He sees poetry everywhere, even the most mundane of exchanges. He takes pictures, he makes an Instagram post, and ponders over the caption for hours. His first car wasn’t glamorous or even cool, but both of us loved it anyway. When I asked him about his choice, we said he wanted something to drive friends around in.

Now, when we Doordash, it’s in a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta. It’s sleek and silver and Dane hates the seats; turns out Germans don’t prioritize comfort over function. 

Meet the Author

Constance Mello (she/her) is a Brazilian scholar, writer, and teacher. She graduated with a degree in Cultural Studies and Gender Studies from the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, and is currently pursuing a dual Master’s Degree in English and Creative Writing. Her writing has been published in The Ilanot Review, Fearless She Wrote, and Latinx Lit Mag, and was a finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. 

‘What it Takes to Hang a Witch’ by Gabby Buchholz

Being sent to the principal’s office as a fully grown adult is its own kind of humiliation. 

I sigh, sitting back on the wooden bench, shifting to attempt comfort while I wait. But these empty minutes are filled more with the fear I will be fired rather than scripting an apology. Because I am not sorry. 

Being my first year in this district, I wanted to make my mark. I’m only a few years out of undergrad, my bachelor’s in education still shiny on the wall. I have been jumping around from school to school, never sticking more than a long-term substitute. One teacher gave birth and the other had surgery. So it goes. 

Finally, after enough rejected applications and savings made from substituting, I received an offer from the best school district in the county. I had had my eye on it, a step in the far-off future. Landing this sped up my five-year plan into about one and a half. 

Being assigned 11th grade English is a high honor for me. It was the year I had truly fallen in love with the subject, diving into every text and soaking up every word of analysis from my teacher. I wanted to be that teacher for my students. 

It isn’t enough to read literature. Without living in the time of writers, how are we to truly experience it? Pride and Prejudice has so many adaptations, but we’ll never know which is truly correct without Austen here to tell us, and without contemporary readers to back up that choice. Realizing this, my original lesson plans all had to be scrapped. To fully understand a piece, my students need to live it.

When I read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 11th grade English, I distinctly remember my classmates. They were more memorable than the text. (I’ve subsequently read it since and thoroughly enjoy it.) There was a group of nasty girls, the leader being Pam, and Pam just seemed to hate this mousy one. She was quiet and held great insight on the texts we read. She would have made a great English professor, not stuck at my current level teaching thick-headed children. Regardless, she never spoke up, and the lack of eye contact from her was perfect fodder for Pam and her cronies. They enjoyed making hell of this girl’s existence. Only for 50 minutes every week day, but it was enough. 

I only caught glimpses of the torment. They would “accidentally” run into her in the hallway just before the door, making a mess in front of everyone, stepping over her in degradation. Further, they would drop things in her hair: gum, bits of paper, pencil shavings. Sometimes she would doze in class, and the girls sat around her in the back of class. Their barrier hid their nature, the mouse coming out a fool every time. 

Their cruelty mirrored Miller’s work, and I recalled it heavily when I read it later in life. I knew my students needed that. Lessons from a text to apply to their lives. A real life simulation of mass hysteria, accusations from thin air, and someone at the end of a pointed finger to take all of the blame. 

Classes began in earnest, with days of going over syllabi and students’ favorite summer memories waning, and the real work began. I couldn’t start with my Crucible project right away. I first had to find the nasty girls, and then the mouse. 

The mouse was easiest to spot. Nearly like my own. A pale thing, she kept her head down and her bookbag on her back, even when stuffed into the narrow desks. Most eyes looked upon her with pity, and finding any malice was impossible. Where was the evil in these children? Children are wicked! Yet I see no evidence of it!

I realized then they simply needed encouragement. Through the paperwork I have access to as a faculty member, I was able to find the locker of a particularly bright, popular girl. She waved hello to everyone, smiled brightly, and always asked about the night’s reading (college syllabi will be her best friends). But I knew under that soft, homecoming queen exterior was wickedness waiting to be unleashed. She had the potential, she only needed a match. 

And so I gave her one. 

Alongside evil, romantic longing is just as easy to spy in students. Our bright star, our Abigail Williams, certainly wished to be closer to the football player. Who wouldn’t? He is our John Proctor: Abigail wants him, but he cannot love her back. This means he will be one hanged. 

I knew I couldn’t actually hang any students; think of the paperwork! And so I decided, in this cut-throat academic field, as a class to be noted on transcripts sent to colleges, I decided the tests would create the accusations. 

Our Abigail is academically driven, but to an unhealthy degree. The way her face falls when she receives a mark not to her standard. But what if our Goody Proctor scored better than her? And at the hands of cheating? What would she do then? 

The plot was simple. I gave tests as any teacher does, and ignored the grades to determine new ones for my scheme, as any teacher does. Abigail originally scored top of her class, which is so boring time and time again. I gave her an 83 percent. Goody Proctor scored just above at 85. This never happens. It’s enough to catch her eye.

The mouse’s score stayed the same. She has a different role. As Tituba, she will write notes to allude to the truth of how Proctor received his grades; thus creating the rumor, being the source of all of the trouble. I believe her will to be weak enough to agree that she wrote it (though she will not) and to name others if pressured (she will be). 

The first stage had exactly the reaction I had hoped for. Abigail’s face contorted in self-loathing and disappointment. Especially because she believes she understood the material. I make a point to place Proctor’s test face up, as he sits next to our fair maiden. She notes the grade, angers more. Though I am not in her head, I can picture the cogs turning, swearing to study harder, be better, and beat him out. Boys only want smart girls anyway. 

As the tests get easier, she will fail more.

With each one her grade fell lower and lower, and his grew higher and higher. Instead of a two percent difference, it eventually grew to twenty and even thirty percent. Her grade for the class plummeted, and I got several tear-stained emails begging to let her retake. I reminded her of the policy I stated at the beginning of the year: no retakes, and no cheating. Cheating will result in suspension, whereas retakes are only examples of a poor student. 

She stumbled into class most days angry, frustrated, full of self-hatred. She needed an outlet. I gave her one. 

In the mouse’s handwriting, I slipped a note in Abigail’s locker that does not give away all pieces to the puzzle, but enough for the clever girl to put it together. Another test comes and goes, another fail and pass for the star-crossed pair. But now she eyed him curiously, almost cat-like. She believed she was on to his secret. 

Another note is planted, this time in the locker of one of Abigail’s friends. It only takes a handful of bad grades and rumors on pink paper to get on the wrong end of teenage girls.

I had expected to have to force the hands of my students. I thought I passed Abigail, her friends in the know, and the mouse talking in a corner of the hall, but I believed it was about a rather confusing paper I assigned. I would not have been able to write it either, but teachers are there to make their students better. So if they can be smarter than me, then I have succeeded.  

One fateful day, after Abigail received a truly abhorrent grade–just above the threshold of failing–she exclaimed, “I’m tired of this! He’s been cheating this whole time!” 

The stunned silence of the class was immaculate. I was certain this would go on for weeks before anything happened; I was afraid all it would amount to was more weepy emails. Instead, Abigail stands, pointing fiercely at our Goody Proctor, her eyes like hellfire.

“It’s not fair!” one of her friends added. Other voices joined in. Questioning ones, angry ones, fearful ones, but one was missing.

“Do you have something to add?” I asked the mouse. She shook her head frightfully.

“Come on, you’re the one who told me,” Abigail said. Her friends chimed in the same.

“I– but I didn’t–”

“You told us in the hallway one day! Admit it! You know who’s cheating!”
“There are multiple cheaters in this class?” I asked. I couldn’t believe how far this had gone.

“She knows it. Tell them!” Abigail shouts, her voice stinging my ears. 

The mouse is silent, frozen. Abigail screams.

Her voice is barely comprehensible, anger and frustration and tears mixed. She screams of the unfairness of it all, her hard work, his lack of work, how the whole world is against her. The room erupts, and before I have a chance to introduce them to the classic that is The Crucible, the principal arrives.

“He’s ready to see you now,” the secretary tells me. I heave up, ready to face my punishment. It will be far beyond what I really deserve–a medal perhaps? A documentary about me–but I will take it diligently, as Goody Proctor does in the play.

“What the hell were you thinking?” he asks me even before I sit, spit flying from his chapped lips.

“Only what I felt was necessary.”

“Causing a psychotic break in one of your brightest students is hardly necessary.”
“We’re about to read The Crucible. Do you know it?”

“Witches and whatnot.”

“Baseless accusations, mass hysteria. That is what my students needed to understand.”

“You went too far. You went too far.”

“Alright,” I concede, throwing my hands up. “I’ll tone it down next time.”
His face is the picture of incredulousness. “There won’t be a next time! You’re fired!”

“Is this my exit interview?”
“You’re dismissed. Immediately.” Security was not far behind to escort me out.

As I walked to my car, I saw the faces of my students in the window. They stared at me wide-eyed, the mouse most of all. I had expected her to hang, but it is I walking to the gallows. And they are witnesses. 

Meet the Author

Gabby Buchholz is a Creative Writing student at Lindenwood University. When not writing, she is an avid reader and defender of young adult literature. This is her first publication, and she is excited to begin this journey. She would like to thank her cat, Percy, for his continued support. 

‘Let Me Tell You What Nathan Needs’ by Anika Carpenter

Just try, for a moment, to imagine he wasn’t hallucinating, dehydrated, disoriented, half-drowned. Accept that what he said wasn’t crazy. Admit that just because you can still see his tattoos doesn’t mean that the sea didn’t take them. He fell into the water with a sacred heart pierced with arrows, octopus tentacles wound around his forearms, his daughter’s name intertwined with stars across his chest, and now, trust me, they’re gone. He watched the ink pulled from his skin and into the raging water, where it reached for the backs of halibut and groped hopelessly for waving seaweed before sinking into sand destined to become shot glasses.

He won’t benefit from recalling, reliving being dragged onto a lifeboat, rolled on the heart-black tongue of the ocean. No good will come of him picturing himself through the salt-stung eyes of the rescue crew  ̶  forlorn, useless in the shell of a sodden jumper whimpering, ‘She was right there, my girl, my Lena. She was the size of a blue whale. She swam right under my boat. She wanted me in the water, to swallow me up.’ 

Explain to me the benefit of him conjuring an image of himself wrapped in a foil blanket, not for warmth but to make him a hauled treasure, the latest gewgaw for this place’s dear psychiatrist. 

I saw Lena once too, miles from shore, dancing on a spume of water forty-foot high. Should I be sedated too?  

Lena and I used to play darts in the Ship and Anchor, watched by locals sipping beer, boots stuck limpet-tight to the spilt-sticky floor. They rolled their eyes at the saltwater seeping from her shoes and the lighthouse flashes she cast across their weathered faces. Every one of them claims to have seen her walking into the sea, ‘steady as if she were walking down the aisle, keeping going until her head was covered, not sending up so much as a bubble.’ 

Lena wasn’t swallowed by a whale, like the nurses here joke she was, oh I’ve heard them, no she’s swimming through cetacean arteries, carving poetry into blubber, humming to the churning of passing ships. 

There’s no movement in this hospital. The steadiness of the floors upsets Nathan’s stomach. The food, I believe, is tasteless. You know he smothers it with salt. The consumption of crystals suffused with the spirits of rays and angler fish will only make things worse.

If you want to see some improvement, signs of recovery, let me empty bags of wet sand onto the dayroom floor. Enough for him sink his sock-free feet into to soak up new imagery  ̶  ghost crabs skittering up his legs, and across his back, settling on his shoulder blades among sea-smoothed glass and the rose-like casts of lugworms. This will help. This will make sense.      

Meet the Author

Anika Carpenter is a writer, artist, tutor and sucrologist.

‘Dreaming of Snow’ by William Thompson

All day the snow falls, dropping down in great white flakes that gather themselves into clinging crystalline shapes that vanish as they kiss the ground. The air is alive and thick with falling snow. He sits and watches the gathering whiteness. The snow falls and falls. It obliterates the green of pines and the brown of branches. He watches: the whiteness of the air; the whiteness of the ground. The whiteness of the whale? — summer days, reading Melville, far from now. The drift of snow at the edge of the yard is the breeching back of a white leviathan — exploding into the frozen air to swim this sea of snow.

Once, he opens the front door. The air smells clean and cold, the snow whispering as it jostles its way down, filling the air with clogging coldness. The light is already fading, but the brightness of the snow persists. He closes the door. He watches the rising level of whiteness. Soon he will drown, drown in snow and cold. It will rise to the level of the window, then it will bury the house — sooner or later, he will be entombed in snow. So he waits, watching  snowflakes clinging to the glass, forming patterns and frozen faces that peer in and take no account of the heat that for now still runs throbbing through his veins in a rhythmic pulse of denial.

Meet the Author

William Thompson’s essays and stories have appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Zone 3, COG Magazine, and Firewords. His essay “My cowboy cousin” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2020, and won an honorable mention in the 2021 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. He is totally blind and teaches children’s literature for MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. He considers coffee a food group, and he loves to walk and read, usually at the same time. 

‘Passing’ by Nick Young

Marla folded the last of the towels and slipped them inside a large plastic shopping bag she kept for her trips to the laundromat.  She was happy to be leaving.  The building, squat, gray cinderblock, was poorly lit, with constant noise from the machines and the smell of accumulated lint and fabric softener.  Inside her car, Marla sat with her eyes closed for a moment, relishing the quiet.  She really did hate the place.  She looked up at the sign with half its neon winking on and off.  The Suds-a-teria.  What kind of stupid name was that, anyway?  

On her way home, Marla stopped at  the Dollar Bonanza for a couple of frozen beef pot pies and a two-liter bottle of cola.  She bought the store brand.  It was thirty cents cheaper than Coke or Pepsi.  And there was a deal on the pot pies — buy one, second one for half price.  

“And a pack of Tareytons,” Marla told the cashier. “Toss in a book of matches, too.”

“Don’t give them out anymore,” the bored teenager with pink hair and lime green nail polish replied.

“No more matches?”

“Management says it’s too expensive.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Marla said disgustedly,  gathering her change and groceries.  

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” mumbled the girl.

“It’s hard to believe they’re that damned cheap,” Marla fumed,  getting back into her car and switching on the radio.  As she pulled out of the parking lot onto North Auburn Avenue, a song by Blondie started playing, so she turned it up began to sing along:

“The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on.”

Yeah, by my fingernails.

At thirty-seven, Marla Sloan’s life had shrunk in on itself, curling and contracting until its lines demarcated very little beyond the city limits of Emmitsburg, Illinois, population 1,100.  Divorced for two years, she had an on again-off again boyfriend,  a job at a local plant stamping out parts for small engines, and she had her mother.  It wasn’t disappointment that she felt.  Her dreams had never really exceeded her grasp.  Rather, it was resignation, no different than many of her girlfriends.

In the driveway of the tiny two-bedroom frame house she shared with her mother, Marla took her groceries and bag of laundry, slid out of the car and nudged the door closed with her hip.  A light rain had just begun falling, so she hurried up the front porch steps and into the house.

“‘Bout time, where have ya been?” called a shrill voice from across the living room.

“And a very good evening to you, too, Lois.”

“You’re late.”  Lois Sloan, at the age of sixty-six, was the picture of a woman who had stopped caring years before and let herself go.  She was obese, her legs swollen and barely useful.  Her face was round and severe, framed by stringy yellowed-gray hair.  Her rheumy blue eyes, too small for her face, were puffy with fat.  She was reclining on the sofa, the TV blasting at top volume.  The coffee table next to the couch was cluttered with an array of prescription bottles, inhalers and a half-filled ashtray.

“I had to finish the clothes and stop at the store.”

“You bring me my cigarettes?”

“Yes, Lois.”

“And what about pot pies?”

“Yes, Lois,” her voice rising above the din.  “I got your pot pies.  If you’ll give me two seconds, I’ll put them in the oven.”

“Good, because I am star-ving,” Lois replied, taking the fresh pack of cigarettes from her daughter.  Marla eyed the blaring television with annoyance, picked up the remote and turned it down.

“Any reason you’ve got to have this up so loud half the county can hear it? Your hearing aids are on the table again.  Why aren’t they in your ears?”

“I don’t like them,” Lois said peevishly. “They feel like little bugs crawling around in there.”

“Oh, for God’s sake.”.

“Just take care of them pot pies.”  Marla rolled her eyes and walked away.

An hour later, she had her mother’s dinner ready, both of the pot pies and a large glass of cola on a wooden tray that she placed on her mother’s lap.  

“You forgot the Worcestershire sauce,” Lois complained, stubbing out a cigarette.

“Alright, sorry,” Marla said, restrieving a bottle from the refrigerator.  Dousing the pies was one of the peculiarities of her mother’s eating habits.  So after vigorously shaking out a puddle of the sauce, Lois took up her fork  and went to work.  She noticed that her daughter had changed into fresh clothes, let her hair down and added makeup.

“You ain’t having supper with me?” she asked between bites.

“Not tonight.  Jerry and I are going to grab a drink.”

“Thought you two were done.”  Marla sighed.

“No.  Just another lull in the action.”

“Well, I hope you won’t be late.  I may need help with an enema later.”

“I’ll be counting the minutes.”

Marla Sloan was an attractive woman.  The years had  not erased the best features of her angular face and smooth olive skin.  She prided herself on still being able to squeeze into size four jeans.  And her long chestnut hair had yet to show any grey.  Since the breakup of her marriage, she had dated sporadically, settling into what passed for a relationship with Jerry Dyer, who lived just outside Emmitsburg and delivered for FedEx.  He was forty, a good-looking man just beginning to sport the first signs of middle age.  The two had met on a blind date set up by one of Marla’s friends from the parts plant.  

They shared divorce in common, and for the most part they got along well.  They weren’t partiers,  preferring carry-out pizza and watching old movies to the bar scene.  The sex wasn’t always great, but it was good enough.  Jerry wanted a deeper commitment, but Marla wasn’t able to go there, and not because her heart wouldn’t let her.

“I can tell she was giving you a hard time again, wasn’t she?” he said as he and Marla nursed beers at Town’s Pub.

“No different today than any other, really, except I was tired.  A long week, you know?”

“Tell me about it.  Brownie was busting my chops over a couple of late deliveries.  Came pretty near to telling him to go fuck himself.”  They drank in silence for a long moment before Jerry began with some hesitancy.  “I’ve never asked, and you’ve never said how your mom ended like she has.”

“You mean being such a bitch?” Marla said with a smirk.  “Well, I guess it’s an old story, really.  She grew up here in Emmitsburg.  Not much to say about her early years  — she was an only child.  Decent parents, though I have no real memory of either one of them.  When she got a little older, in junior high I guess, she started singing in the chorus and that got her started dreaming.  Big dreams,  moving to Chicago and becoming a singer with a big band.  From what people who were around then say, she had real talent, a good voice and good looks to match.  But she never got the chance to leave .  When she was a senior, she started seeing this older guy, and no sooner had she graduated than she got pregnant with my brother.   So the big city and stardom went out the window.  She got a job in the old air compressor factory when it was here, and she settled with her husband.  Two years after John was born I came along.  A year  after that, the old man took off for parts unknown, and Lois was really stuck.  She had two raise two kids by herself — she never remarried — and life just ground her down.  A few years ago her health problems really started getting bad.  And so here we are.  A happy tale, isn’t it?”

“But why does she have to beat up on you?  I mean, you’re the one taking care of her.”

“Which means I’m the one who’s around.  Who else is she going to take it out on?”  

“What about your brother?”

“John?” Marla replied derisively. “He could care less.  Hasn’t spoken to her in years.  When she had her heart attack a year-and-a-half ago, I  called him.  He lives in Louisiana.  Works on an oil rig out in the Gulf.  Anyway, he asked why I was bothering him and told me he didn’t want to know any more about her.   Ever..

“Jesus, his own mother.”

“Well, yeah, his own mother, but she wasn’t much of one when he was a kid.  He was older.  He was the one she blamed for destroying her dreams, so he was in the bullseye, you know?”  Jerry reached across the table and took Marla’s hands in his, gently rubbing her knuckles.

“Look,” he said gently, “you could really use a break.  Why don’t we get something to eat and go back to my place, watch a movie?”  He winked at her. “Maybe you could stay late, and we could fool around.”  She smiled, but it quickly faded.

“I’d like to, Jerry, I really would, but I can’t tonight.”  She looked away for a moment.  “She may need my help later.  I don’t have to go into the gory details, but she’s got something going on with her digestive system.  ‘Nuff said.”  Now it was Jerry’s turn to seek out a deep corner of the bar with his eyes.  “I know it frustrates you,” Marla went on softly, squeezing his hands.  “I get that, but I’m all she’s got now.  I can’t turn my back no matter how much bitchiness she throws at me.  So let’s get some supper, and I’ll take a rain check on the rest.”

By the time Marla returned home it was a little after nine and the light rain had moved on.  As she reached the door, her annoyance returned immediately at the sound of the television going full blast.

“What did I say about the TV, Lois?” Marla shouted as she stepped inside.  Her mother, sitting in the same spot as when she left, said nothing, did not move.  Marla sensed something wasn’t right and quickly crossed to the sofa.  She seized the remote and shut the TV off.  “Lois?  Are you okay?”  But Marla knew her mother was in  trouble. She wasn’t moving, her eyes were glassy and the right side of her face drooped.   Marla called  9-1-1.

The EMT”s confirmed her suspicion:  Lois had had a stroke.  At the town’s hospital, the emergency room doctor ran a battery of tests then ordered a special medical helicopter flight to the nearest trauma center in Springfield.  It was an hour’s drive, so as soon as the chopper left, so did Marla.  By the time she arrived,  the ER team had evaluated Lois and moved her into the intensive care unit.  The news was not good.

“Your mother has had a massive stroke,” the examining neurologist told Marla.  “The next few hours are critical.  By morning, we should have a clearer picture of where this is going.”  

There was nothing to do but wait, so Marla  took the most comfortable chair she could find in the visitor’s lounge, curled up and dozed through the long night.

In the morning, nothing had changed.  The doctor treating Lois wasn’t due for another hour, enough time for Marla to get caffeine from the hospital cafeteria and try to clear her head.  She returned to the ICU lounge, sat and sipped her coffee.

This is it.  She is going to die.  She’s not coming out of this.  How am I supposed to feel?  Overwhelmed with grief?  Regret?  Guilt?

She did not have to struggle with the answers; they were clear, and she felt no shame.  

When the neurologist arrived, his evaluation was what Marla had been expecting:  there was no brainwave activity, no hope for recovery.  There was only one thing left to do.  Marla had power of attorney, so she instructed that her mother be removed from life support, and within an hour it was over.

Lois’ body was transported back to Emmitsburg, and Marla made the arrangements at Wannamaker’s Funeral Home.   Her mother would be cremated on Tuesday, with a brief service at the funeral home on Wednesday.

Marla went back to work at the start of the week.  She didn’t tell any of her co-workers Lois had died.  She asked her boss for Wednesday off and rquested that he keep the reason to himself.    Jerry was very sympathetic and did his best to be supportive.  He told Marla he would take the day of the funeral off.  She told him it wasn’t necessary.  She didn’t bother to call her brother.

Wednesday morning was bright and cloudless, pleasantly warm for early May.  Marla was at Wannamaker’s promptly at ten o’clock.  She was the only one who came.  There was no minister; neither Lois nor Marla had any religious inclinations.  So, with Lois’ ashes in a plain cedar box with a single lily in a cut-glass vase on a table by his side, Fred Wannamaker read a few words from a three-by-five csrd designed to soothe those who grieved, had there been any in the room. 

Within a few minutes it was done.  Marla thanked Fred, who seemed abashed by the bland pieties he had uttered.  He smiled wanly as he handed the urn to Marla and told her how much he appreciated being entrusted with the care of her mother’s remains..  She knew he was just trying to be nice so she refrained from reminding him that because his was the only funeral home in town, there was nowhere else to go.

So that was that.  Lois had been given a proper sendoff,  such as it was.  She had made no provision for her death — no cemetery plot, no headstone.  It wasn’t a subject she would even discuss, though Marla had tried a time of two..

Back home, Marla carried the urn  inside the house.  She glanced around, noting how quiet it was in the absence of the blaring television and how the smell of stale cigarettes and the sickly sweet-sour odor of her ailing, overweight mother had begun to dissipate.   She drew a deep breath, walked down the hallway to what had been  Lois’ bedroom.  There was a small closet.  She opened it, lifted the urn onto an overhead shelf, shut the door and walked out.

Meet the Author

Nick Young is a retired award-winning CBS News Correspondent.  His writing has appeared in the San Antonio Review, Samjoko Magazine, Short Story Town, Danse Macabre Magazine, Pigeon Review, CafeLit Magazine, the Green Silk Journal, Typeslash Review, The Potato Soup Journal, 50-Word Stories, Sein und Werden, Of Rust and Glass, Little Death Lit, Flyover Magazine,, Sandpiper, Fiery Scribe Review, The Chamber  Magazine and Vols. I and II of the Writer Shed Stories anthologies.

‘Stella’ by Daniel Schulz

I don’t like being served. Had you asked me that evening, if I wanted a cup of tea, I would have shuddered. Yet, here I was, paying up front for service. Coming toward me, she pulled my shorts down and put them on the chair. Usually, women like her don’t do anything like this. Usually, they wait for you to get undressed and ask you what you would like to do. But she… she touched me with a tenderness that I seldom felt before and kissed my shoulders, exactly where it hurt. I closed my eyes as if inhabiting a dream, as I couldn’t bear the reality: she was kind to me. I didn’t ask her to be that. Nonetheless she just was… Of course, you’re going to say something else afterwards, when you meet your friends. That you fucked her hard for one long round. That, after all, is what is expected of you. But I am not at all interested in fulfilling expectations. That has never been my thing. When women look me in the eye they become afraid, because they can see the loneliness inside of me. She sees its, too. That’s how she earns her money.

She was from the Shengen Area, she told me later in the hour, from Romania to be exact, but had lived in Albania before she came to Germany. – “Men treat women differently there,” she explained, “They beat them wholeheartedly. I once lived next to a man who killed his wife with a kitchen knife. Believe me, if I had stayed there, I would have gone crazy. I was afraid for my life. I mean, you don’t want to know what I read in the papers today.”

In her former resident country, as it turns out, a mad man wanted to blow himself up in a train station because his wife had left him. He wanted to hurt as many people as possible, especially women. The paper was the equivalent to the Daily Sun or Der Express. She, obviously, was glad to live in Germany. My eyes wandered up to her beautiful lashes. Something was hurting deep inside. I believe it was my heart, if, indeed, a heart feels like that. A heart beats, right? Like a fist, right? Something inside me was breaking. One of my hands was clenching the sheets, while the other slowly stroked the handsome unshaved fuzz of her thighs, while she smoked. Emotions were surfacing. But I remained still, as if I wasn’t feeling anything. If I remained still my feelings would perhaps ignore me.

– “How do you manage working here?” I asked.

Stella shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I just switch off. If I thought about what I’m doing here,” she confessed, “I’d just as likely go crazy. But I’m not going to stay here forever. In four years or so, I’m out.” – Stella, it seems, was determined to make her fortune here, in Germany. She wouldn’t be working in this locale forever. As soon as she had enough money, she was going to start her own business. – “I’ve got a great idea and the brains to make it work,” she smiled. I could feel my lips stretch, feel myself smiling back to her. Deep inside my heart, I knew that I wished her all the best.

Outside the night had become cold and lonely. I could see my own breath in front of me like a path that I would eventually have to follow. You think you know yourself? You don’t. Looking out into the darkness, I could feel something else catching up to me. I could hear my heart beating in my chest like a fist. Somewhere in the back of my head my mother was screaming. Somewhere in the back of my head my father was beating the shit out of her. Hands clenched. BREATHE. Such is the matter of memories… Maybe Stella was right. Women are treated better in this country… Hear the sirens howling in the background: An Audi at the crossing in front of me is honking at the car in front of – him? An ambulance is rushing past. Asking his friend, a man standing at the traffic light says: “What is up with that guy? Is he stupid? Why is he honking? Can’t he see an ambulance is passing?” – “No, look,” the other guy answers, “It’s a woman.’”–

While the sirens passed, I thought about the irony that in 2019 it is still a crime equivalent to manslaughter for a driver to pass by a car accident and ignore it, while it had been made law for ship captains in the Mediterranean not to save refugees drowning in the ocean. They weren’t supposed to get through the Schengen Area, after all. 

Only recently, a friend had called out against mere deportation of immigrants. She was talking about Freiburg, where a group of men, mostly immigrants but also some Germans, had raped a woman. She commented that deporting the rapists, as some people demanded should be done, would not make them vanish from the earth. Deportation wasn’t the answer she said. What about the girls and women in those other countries? And where was the justice in sending these criminals away instead of prison? – I looked through the shit storm she was confronted with, the many rape threats sent to her Twitter account precisely because she was concerned with actual justice. – “You’re right,” one of the agitators wrote, before he got censored “We should assimilate rapists and serial killers from other countries into our own. We, at least, could help them resocialize… we could train them in our brothels, let them rape all the Bulgarian and Romanian girls there, train them to loose their inhibitions. You could even offer yourself up to them, do your country a service.” – No one was thinking about the fact that they might be talking to someone who had once been raped. No one cared about who they were hurting or how they were hurting her. And if they did, it was all the more gruesome.

I tried to close my eyes that night, but that didn’t work. Every time I closed them shut, images surfaced, as if unlocked from within the depth of the dark surrounding me. And I could hear my heart beating from the bottom of that very depth. I could hear it beating. Him beating her. My mother screaming. He was kicking her stomach, when she was down on the floor. I thought of my friend, about how I held her in my arms, after she told me she had been raped. And I thought about Stella, brilliant, genius Stella… It wasn’t until my fist hit the wall that I realized it wasn’t just my heart beating. It wasn’t until my fist hit the wall that I realized that it wasn’t my mother screaming from the depth of her heart but me from the depth of an abyss within me. Something was breaking out. I could hear my neighbors pounding against the walls, asking me to be quiet, asking me to go back to sleep, asking me to see reason. But the more my demons howled at me, the harder my fists clenched themselves tight. Maybe women in this country are treated better. But maybe, just maybe better isn’t good enough. Sanity, after all, is nothing but a status quo.

Meet the Author

Daniel Schulz is a U.S.-German author based in Cologne. He is best known for his short story collection Schrei (Formidabel 2016) and his work as curator of the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne. In 2019 he co-organized and curated an exhibition for the Goethe Institute in Seattle for which he edited the book Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020). He also worked as co-editor of Gender Forum‘s special edition Kathy Acker: Portrait of an Eye/I (2019). His works have appeared in the journals Der Federkiel, Luftruinen, Die Novelle, The Transnational, Electronic Book Review, Mirage #5, Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Divanova, Kunst-Kultur-Literatur Magazin, Versification, Salut L‘absurde, Café Irreal and Cacti Fur as well as the anthologies Tin Soldier (Sarturia 2020), Corona -Schnee (Salon29 2021), Jahrbuch der Poesie 2021 (AG Literatur 2021) and Home (Fragmented Voices 2021).  Instagram: @danielschulzpoet

‘A Lot on One Plate’ by Moira Garland

This afternoon the golden retriever lies on its side, all four legs jutting out from the sagging settee so that Bridget cannot sit down. She stands at her kitchen window, next to the three-day old pile of dirty plates, cups, pans, knives forks. The plate on the top of the stack on the drainer has what she calls deep-blue-swirly patterns on a creamy background, dotted with a few small patches of dried soil, and what might be the remains of a slater.

She looks out at the handkerchief-sized garden fronting her ground floor flat. Through her grey net curtain she peers at local children in small groups passing near her window laughing, shouting, or running. Years ago she’d see the milkman coming for his money on a Tuesday. Yesterday, like so many days, two PCSOs strolled along their heads turning this way and that, their yellow chests like pumped up balloons.

Who would throw away a perfectly good plate and hide it at the base of her privet hedge? And why?

Ryan’s dad is a chef. Well, he was a chef thinks Ryan, but he still likes to practise. 

“I was actually a pâtissier.” Ryan’s dad says, more often than Ryan would like even though Ryan doesn’t live with him. He lives with his mum about half an hour away on the bus. Ryan’s nan lives near her son, Ryan’s dad, and keeps an eye on both of them from her third floor flat which she doesn’t often leave on account of her bad hip. She has 1348 Friends on Facebook.

On this cold Saturday morning Ryan is visiting his dad. His dad is galvanised, showing Ryan how he makes chocolate eclairs. It is nearly dinnertime by the time they are made and ready for Ryan to take to his nan. They are her favourite cakes, keep her healthy. 

“Your nan has always been dainty, Ryan.” 

His dad says this every time Ryan visits. Fourteen year old Ryan now believes that ‘dainty’ meana a woman who fills her recliner and has legs like elephant trunks. This morning ‘dainty’ heralds Ryan’s dad piling chocolate eclairs on a blue and cream plate, wrapped in foil to go to his nan’s. Ryan is hungry so on the way he sits on a backless bench by the playground and eats three of the eclairs. Ryan feels a right prat carefully holding the plate and eclairs. As he passes one of the flats he ditches the plate, stuffs it down between the hedge and the disintegrating fence. A splinter lodges in his middle finger, which is uncomfortable. He easily holds the foil-wrapped package in one hand. Anyone who sees him might think it is drugs. He meets no one. He smells burgers cooking through an open window.

Homes under the Hammer has finished when there’s a knock, knock, knock on the opaque glass of Pauline’s door. Ryan’s on his way with eclairs explained the text so she heaves her weight up with the metal stick the hospital gave her last year while she waits for the operation. Tap, thump, thump to unlock the door. You have to be careful these days who you open the door to says the email from the bobbies. There’s enough light coming through to show the familiar shape of Ryan.

“Don’t take your jacket off, get down the chippy. My usual and whatever you want. She hands over her card. Thirty from the machine, love. And bring me the change.”

Ryan must have slipped out when Pauline dozed off. They’d polished off the fish, chips, peas and butties. With cream oozing out of the squashed eclairs Pauline thought Chris should have wrapped them more carefully, him being a chef and all. Still they tasted good. 

Lodged back in her chair Pauline remembers when she was fourteen already living in this same flat with her mam, her dad long gone. Her mam was dead pleased to get on this new estate, out of the old back-to-backs they’d pulled down. Pauline was looking forward to leaving school the next year. She’d get a job in the cosmetics factory where her mum worked. Pauline wasn’t sure she liked that they called it Soapy Joes, but you could get discounts on things like shampoo if you worked there. Pauline’s best friend Irene started there with her. ‘Course Irene went downhill fast last year. She misses her. She misses laughing at Mrs Brown’s Boys with her, misses holding on to Irene’s arm when they walked to the bus stop and had a cup of tea in the caff near the bus station.

Next to the railway station in the city centre stands the Royal Hotel. The website reads: 

This magnificent Art Deco hotel, built in 1932 and was inspired by the glamour and elegance of high society, rising from the ‘29 crash. It boasted  all en-suite rooms, and a magnificent ballroom where guests could dance the night away to the sound of live jazz bands. 

Its distinctive building is now also fabled for a cuisine catering for a diversity of tastes, open to both guests and visitors alike. 

Pascal believed that a new chef should shake things up a bit. The salamanders were looking decidedly shabby, the sinks were gathering gunge around the plugholes. And he informed the maitre d’ that the crockery and cutlery must have been around when the original hotel was built in the 1800s. They looked at the catalogues together Pascal insisting that ‘modern is what our customers expect for what they pay’. The maitre d’s neatly cut black, short back and sides nodded in agreement. He was a lot less experienced than Pascal.

It wasn’t Chris’s job to pack away all the old crockery but like the rest of the staff he took the opportunity on his short break to dive into the basement where the kitchen boy was sorting and packing and allowing them to take away a portion of the lovely blue and cream plates, bowls, cups and saucers of various sizes. They were mostly in perfect condition. Paperwork was altered. The auctioneers wouldn’t know the difference. 

That was a while before Chris started with his hands shaking. He had known chefs who shouted and cursed of course. But Pascal would put his face right next to yours, and he expected everything to be done ‘yesterday’. “The management’s bottom line,” said Pascal, “is profit. Why else would they be running a hotel?” The day the Black Forest gateau was returned by several irate diners – regulars, insurance company directors – was the last straw. 

On the odd occasion Chris tells his mum or his son a joke he calls it the last cherry

Chris calls his mate Leroy ‘a godsend’ from his working life. Leroy is now the boss at the Caribbean café nearer town. It’s because of Leroy that Chris has the money to bake a few times a month. 

“I’ll come to you every other Saturday,” says Leroy. 

They sit down at the glass-topped coffee table while Chris shows Leroy his accounts – his budget pencilled in on graph paper that Leroy buys him. After a beer or two they go off to the bookies. Leroy makes sure Chris doesn’t go beyond the one pound stake. Today Chris has won £27 odd which goes into the bottom draw of the wardrobe in his bedroom so that he won’t be tempted to splash out all at once.

It’s flippin’ freezing the following Friday. His trainers will have to do. He’s off to the specialist shop in town to buy fondant icing and pastry cream. You can’t get that at the one-stop. By the time he gets home late afternoon his feet are sopping wet and cold. He reckons he can put the electric fire on for half an hour, and stuffs his trainers with unwanted leaflets.

This Saturday’s schedule is for Ryan to come and Chris thinks Ryan might be a pâtissier one day. Then there’s Chris’s mum. He tries to look after her, thinks she’d appreciate a nice plate as well as the éclairs. He’ll get the plate back when he gets over to see her, next week. It depresses him to see her too often, with her hip.

Bridget has given up wondering why there’s a plate in her garden. She’d only gone to put the bin out. The grass was pale and flattened which is how she saw it there, hiding like some sort of criminal. She’d checked, there was no suspicious package full of drugs or cash hidden behind it.

The washing up waits while she turns on the telly and gives the dog a shove so that her own skinny frame can sit right up next to it. 

“Go on,” she urges, “you soft lump, you Molly-coddled.” Bridget has this habit of adding to names, not shortening them. The dog is named after her mum, god rest her soul. 

Too much gore on one film, too many gunfights on the other channel. She turns it off with the remote. There’s notifications on her mobile. She swipes up the lost cat ones, the adverts for support stockings. On Marketplace she scrolls through all the freebies but she has no use for baby clothes. Her friend Louise has lived in Australia for nine years. Louise has posted a picture of her new grandchild who’s speaking to her from the UK on Skype. Behind her is an orange vase.

Molly raises her head when Bridget gets up again, then goes back to sleep. Bridget heads for the kitchen, runs the plate under the tap, gives it a wipe with the sponge, polishes it dry with the tea towel. She lays the plate on a chair. It makes a pleasing backdrop of black leather. “Yes!” she says. Molly opens one eye but she knows the phone does not signal dog biscuits. The image taken by the camera phone, altered with the app, is well worth putting on Facebook. Public setting. My fabulous new plate. Smiley face

Meet the Author

Moira Garland is a prize-winning prose writer and poet whose fiction has been appearing online and in print since 2004 including Strix, Tyto Alba (Comma Press), The Forgotten and the Fantastical #3 (Mothers Milk Press), Cake magazine (Lancaster University), Electrifying Women, TSS, Stories for Homes, Paragraph Planet, and www.commuterlit.com . She took 2nd prize in the 2021 Weaver Words/Frodsham Literature Festival flash fiction competition, and was also a runner-up. Radio Leeds has also broadcast her stories. Her poetry appears in many anthologies and in The North journal. She lives in West Yorkshire. Twitter/Instagram: @moiragauthor 

‘A Primer for the Women who Might Date My Ex-boyfriend’ by Megha Nayar

 What he says:

What he means:

I love that you have a spine.

You’re super sexy when you take others head-on. Others.

Why should you be ashamed of your past? 

My own shenanigans were far racier, so yours are forgiven. 

Until I met you, I had no hope of finding love again.

Six women had already dumped my sorry ass. Who’d be optimistic?

My parents are nasty ol’ buggers for refusing to give me more money. 

My parents know all about my train-wrecking ways. They’ve wised up. 

My siblings are pampered asshats who’ve profited at my expense. 

My siblings, just like my friends, have stopped indulging my nonsense. 

My friends are entitled asshats who’ve profited at my expense. 

My friends, just like my siblings, have stopped indulging my nonsense. 

How I use the money you gave me is none of your business.

I smoked it away. Send me some ASAP. Don’t ask me why. 

I won’t grovel for money. I hate grovelling.

How dare you ask me to account for how I used up your money? 

I should never have taken your money. 

You lent me money only so you could manipulate me.

We’ll rent a place and move in together.

I can’t wait to have sex with you.

Wear a crop top when we meet next time.

I can’t wait to have sex with you.

I miss you so badly.

I can’t wait to have sex with you.

I don’t drink on weekdays. 

My vices have standards.

I have never blanked out from drinking. 

My vices have standards.

I have never hit anybody in a drunken state. 

My vices have standards.

If it’s gonna make me mad, don’t say it.

I’m not a fan of the truth.

Why must you always make me mad?

I’m not a fan of the truth.

See how mad you made me!

I’m not a fan of the truth.

I’m not in this for the angst.

Stop pointing out my flaws.

Accept me as I am, else I can’t.

Stop pointing out my flaws.

You’re breaking me all over again.

Stop pointing out my flaws.

I’m smarter than your ex-boyfriends.

You’re a slut.

You need to raise your standards. 

You’re a slut.

Go back to that bloody dating app.

You’re a slut.

You will never find another like me.

(No comments)

***

He is right about that last one, though.

About the Author

Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020 and the New Asian Writing Short Story Prize 2020. More recently, one of her stories was showcased at India’s prestigious Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2021. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trampset, Variety Pack, Versification, Out of Print, Rejection Letters, Coven Editions, Burnt Breakfast, Brown Sugar, Marias at Sampaguitas, Cauldron Anthology, Harpy Hybrid Review, Potato Soup Journal, Postscript Mag, Ayaskala Mag and The Daily Drunk Mag, among others. She tweets at @meghasnatter.

‘The Broken Place’ by Mary Ann McGuigan

This story previously appeared in The Cortland Review in November 2015.

A black pick-up was parked haphazardly across three spaces in the store’s parking lot, the motor idling. The driver lingered at the wheel, very still, as if trying to gather himself. Dearnon, who’d been watching since the truck pulled in, put his newspaper down. The morning was cloudless, crisp, the kind of April day that can force a man to look up, to wonder about chances. He hadn’t had a customer all day, and he wished this one would either come in or leave already. The driver cut the engine but rested his arms across the top of the steering wheel, still not ready to get out. In the bed of the truck sat what appeared to be a huge telescope. Dearnon had never seen anything like it before. 

The driver’s door opened and the man stepped down. He was big, unsteady on his feet. He took small, heavy steps toward the entrance, as if uncertain whether the pavement would hold him. He wore a black shirt, black jeans, boots worn down from wandering. Thinning, strawberry blond hair was tied back in a ponytail. He opened the door of the shop without noticing Dearnon and looked toward the counter. Dearnon winced secretly at the paltry offerings: some stray beef jerkies in a display box, misshapen and gray; an empty rack meant for gum. The man’s shirt was darkened with sweat, even on this mild day. He made it to the counter, leaned his weight against it. Something was wrong.

“Can I help you, buddy?”

“Hope so.” He had a broad, friendly face, good looking. He placed his hands, palms down, on the counter. “In a bit of a fix.” He leaned forward heavily. Freckles mottled the white skin on the backs of his hands and his face was sickly pale. Dearnon worried he might be about to topple. The man tried to speak again but had trouble forming the words.  

“What’s up?” said Dearnon.

“Sweet.”

“What’s that?”

“Sweet. OJ?”

“Comin’ right up.”

Dearnon retreated to the back of the store, where he kept the drinks refrigerated. There was plenty of beer but only two bottles of orange juice left. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d placed a juice order. He took both bottles and headed back toward the counter, but there was no sign of the customer. He had a bad feeling about it, because he hadn’t heard the door so he was sure he hadn’t left. Hurrying to the front, he felt slightly out of breath. He was gaining weight. 

The big man had slid to the floor, sat leaning against the counter, knees up, head in his hands. 

“You okay, fella?” 

The man was barely able to raise his head. Dearnon opened the bottle of orange juice and leaned over him to offer it, but the man was too weak to hold the bottle so the storekeeper went down to the floor, braced the back of the man’s head in his hand and put the bottle to his lips. He took some in, although most of it dribbled onto his shirt. Dearnon pulled out a shirttail to wipe the man’s chin.

“Maybe I better call Dr. Randall. He’s not far from here.”

The man shook his head. 

“Want to come take a seat in the back?” Dearnon slept most nights there these days, not bothering to go home. The dog was gone now too.

“In a minute,” the man said. He closed his eyes and let himself relax into Dearnon’s arms. This caught him off guard, and he didn’t like it. Thoughts of the baby forced their way in, that raw vulnerability of the desperately ill. He shut his eyes to escape them, tried to focus on whether he’d placed the beer order, what he was going to tell the bank about the overdue payments, anything that would shut out the pink blankets and the crystal blue eyes. He’d never wanted the baby, made that plain right away. He and Irene were good together, fun. And they were barely twenty-five. He didn’t want to have a child before he had a life. The store needed his attention full time if he was going to make it work. When Irene went ahead and had it anyway, he didn’t complain, but he didn’t understand, and he didn’t talk much anymore. Their life became a different place, and he didn’t know the language. All that mattered was the regimen of feeding and caring, except he didn’t care, not the way he was supposed to, not until she was almost two, when she got sick. 

He looked down at his customer’s face, but felt wrong about witnessing a thing like this, when a man’s body betrays him. He settled himself down with him against the counter, tried to relax, but he was getting worried, wondered if he should get up and call a doctor. Then the big man stirred, raised his head, able to sip more of the juice as Dearnon held it for him. “I took some insulin. It’ll kick in.”

“Diabetes?” Dearnon said.

The man nodded and they sat quiet for a few minutes. 

“You give all your customers this kind of service?”

“Not a problem.” Dearnon saw they were about the same age, the sad side of thirty. 

“Is there anyone I can call for you?”

“Not a soul.” Dearnon thought he heard the customer chuckle.

They listened to the trucks on the road that fenced the strip mall, relentless, making their way south. Dearnon couldn’t remember the last time he’d just sat with someone, not without some expectation involved, some unspoken obligation.

 “I’m Ed. Ed O’Brien,” said the customer, offering his hand.

“Marty Dearnon.” He shook his hand. The man wore no wedding ring, and Dearnon wondered if he too was on his own. 

“Is that a telescope in the truck?” 

“Yup. That’s Girlfriend.” He took the bottle from Dearnon’s hand, put it to his lips.

“You an astronomer or something?”

“Eclipse chaser. I was up in Montana. It was a beaut.”

“You seen a lot of em?”

“My share.”

“I guess you travel all over the place?” 

“Yeah, you have to get on the road. I got hooked back in 1990. That summer was the first one I paid any real attention to, but I didn’t see the total, wasn’t in the right place. So I started to make it my business to get to whatever place had the best view.” 

Dearnon chuckled. “I knew a guy once who visited every major league baseball field in the country.”

“I’ve got some unbelievable pictures. Saw one in Siberia, one in Bucharest. That was the best one.”

“Why? Clear shot?”

“That, yeah. And I got to watch it with a woman I cared about.” O’Brien lifted the bottle and Dearnon watched the rest of the liquid empty out. 

“Feelin’ better?”

O’Brien nodded. “I ought to be used to these spells by now.”

“Maybe the docs need to adjust your meds.” Dearnon’s uncle had been diabetic, and he had asked him once if he could watch the injection. “Next time,” he said. But the man was dead by then. 

“Let’s just say I don’t always stick with the program.”

Dearnon heard the rebellion in O’Brien’s voice, the unwillingness to play by the rules. It was a dangerous way to go, but he couldn’t fault him for it.

“Every time things go haywire, I wonder if it’s curtains,” said O’Brien. “But things always settle down.”  

“Where you headed now? Home?”

“Not yet.” He put the bottle down.

“Where is home anyway?”

“Good question,” said O’Brien, with a bit of a laugh. “New Jersey, not far from Princeton.”

“I been on that turnpike. After the army.”

“Well, don’t let that fool you. New Jersey’s a pretty place really.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay. You own this place?” O’Brien looked at the shelves, and Dearnon wished he had a way to explain why they were mostly bare.

“The bank owns it really.”

“Still, it’s yours to run. That’s something.” His glance took the place in again. The lower shelves near where they sat held only a few boxes of Cheerios, one tipped on its side, and odd jars of relish and cans of peas. “Just open up?”

Dearnon grinned then, letting it in, the time that had passed already. “Eight years.” He looked around the store, wondering again if he should have bought those shelves at that auction when he had the chance. He had an urge to defend himself somehow, make it clear that things could have been different. Business had been good in the beginning. But a business like this takes time, energy. You have to want it. Before long all they wanted was a doctor who could tell them what was wrong. Dearnon said nothing, and O’Brien stopped the questions, as if he understood there would be no neat explanation for the state of things here, that the reasons were still too raw. 

“So where’s the next eclipse?”

“Japan.” 

“Is that woman going to watch it with you?’ O’Brien’s face changed, and Dearnon wished he could take back the question.  

“She’s not interested.” O’Brien took a deep breath, trying to sit up straighter, but it was a struggle. He looked out into the parking lot, as if frustrated, eager to move on. “Seems like things get pretty quiet here.”

“Business comes in spurts, I guess.” But it didn’t. It hardly came at all anymore. Some days he didn’t bother opening up. He had to sell the place, but he couldn’t seem to part with it. It had become his hideout. Customers were an intrusion. A year ago, he’d dismantled the bell that announced an entry.

O’Brien didn’t challenge him. 

“I’m thinking about selling.”

“Yeah, maybe a new location,” said O’Brien. “One of those little college towns, where you can get some run-off business.”

From where they were sitting, Dearnon could see the dust that had balled up under the lowest shelves, and he felt oddly embarrassed, as if it could still matter. When he first opened the place, he’d polished the wood floors on his knees. He was fanatical about offering special cheeses, breads you couldn’t find that easily. 

O’Brien gazed at the bottle in his hand, almost as if he expected to find some kind of answer in it. “It didn’t have to be this way,” he said, and for a crazy moment Dearnon wondered if the man was reading his mind.

He remembered the casseroles Irene left him in the fridge, how much that had angered him, as if feeding him made her any less gone. He left them out for the dog. “Yeah,” he told O’Brien. “I know what you mean,” but Dearnon never did figure out what he could have done differently, what would have been good enough, or even why he didn’t at least try to talk to her. He looked out through the glass of the front door into the parking lot. He could see the telescope in the truck, the huge metallic blue barrel reflecting the sunlight. He wondered what it would be like to be able to cart around the thing you needed most in the world. 

“So you gonna be there?” Dearnon said.

“Where? Japan?”

“Yeah.”

“Got nowhere else to be.”

“How long since you seen her?” Later, Dearnon wondered why he didn’t stop there, at a point where he would have understood nothing more about this man. Or about himself. 

“Two years,” said O’Brien.

Hardly enough time to forget what she smelled like. Dearnon didn’t need to know any more than that, because all endings were made of the same stuff. A silence too long. A bed too big. “Ever try to reach her?”

O’Brien looked at his watch. “Twenty minutes ago.”

“And?”

“She says it won’t work, not now.” Dearnon wondered if it was about his illness, but he waited for more, realizing he wanted a different answer, a different ending. A car pulled up outside, but then moved on, as if the driver saw she had arrived at the wrong place. Good, Dearnon thought. He didn’t want to get up.

“She had this odd thing she did.” Dearnon listened, not surprised that the things the man would remember would be the things he couldn’t make sense of. “After we had a fight, she’d call me to see if I got home okay. Every time. I completely forgot about that, till just recently.” Dearnon knew that letting shit like that back in wasn’t good. “I wasted all that time.” He understood then that O’Brien was probably very ill, and that he knew it. 

He opened the other bottle of juice, took a slug and passed it to O’Brien, who downed the rest and sat up straighter. “What do I owe you for these?”

Dearnon laughed. “On the house.” He sat up, but reluctantly. He didn’t want the man to leave. The last time he’d exchanged this many words with anyone he was explaining himself to a nurse from intensive care who wanted to see ID before she’d let him near his daughter. The child crying out for him made no difference to her. 

O’Brien got to his feet, still unsteady but better than before. He gathered his things and Dearnon was struck by how purposeful he seemed, checking his watch, asking how much time it was likely to take to get to Laramie. 

“Three hours, easy. You sure you don’t want to rest up, eat something?” But Dearnon could see the man was gone already, his mind on the road. 

O’Brien thanked him, said he’d be fine. He adjusted the straps of his heavy backpack, extended his hand. Dearnon shook it. There was no more to say. He watched him go out the door. A few steps before he reached the truck, he hesitated, and Dearnon thought he was going to turn around. But he kept going, opened the tailgate, searched for something. 

He wanted to call to him, but he stopped himself. He looked down at where they’d been sitting, let his thoughts go where they shouldn’t. He fought them off, concentrated instead on the stranger’s truck backing up, turning smoothly to protect its cargo, then moving with only the barest hesitation back onto the road. 

When there was no more to see, Dearnon locked the door, so he wouldn’t be disturbed. He walked to the back, moved the newspapers off his bunk and sat down, picked up the phone. The number came to him with no effort at all. The rings were insistent, shrill. He wished he could stifle the sounds, keep them from making so much out of this. The hello was small, tentative, as if she’d recognized the number. He didn’t speak, and she hung up.

He said the number aloud, as if testing it, and this time the sequence began playing tricks on him. Maybe that wasn’t the number. Maybe that wasn’t her.   

About the Author

Mary Ann McGuigan is a freelance editor, based in the USA. Her short stories—nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net—have appeared in The Sun, Image, North American Review, Prime Number, and other literary journals. PIECES,  her collection of short stories, was published in 2017. WHERE YOU BELONG, one of her YA novels, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and  she has served on the panel of judges for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The New York Public Library, the Junior Library Guild, and the Paterson Prize rank her YA novels among the best books for teens. More at http://www.maryannmcguigan.com