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Alex MacDonald & Amy Key

G e m i n i

Always do your best to be articulate. We often
career around truth, like cycling past manure.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the important
ones like “what is faith?” and “where is truth?”
have never been so celestially integral. If you
find out the answers, don’t boast about it. Saturn
hasn’t aligned just for you. Share an important
moment with someone you otherwise wouldn’t.

Beware the temptation to kiss yourself in a mirror.
Beware wishing wells and umbrellas. Your element
is forlorn. Mercury has some apologising to do.
If someone from your past asks ‘do you remember
that summer?’ know it is a trap, a trap
made of gurgling confessors. Kindness will come
by way of natural phenomena – think underground.
Call me to hear how to avoid yourself.

Your house of dreams and wishes
is magic today, Sadge. Some real impressive
rabbit out of the drain shit. A stranger
will offer you a night on the town,
but what part of town is unclear. Remember –
Mercury Retrograde is not just the name
of your future tattoo shop. The moon will be dim,
so your balcony dinner will suffer. You may call me.

Even if (as some doomy pessimists suspect)
the creator of the universe is a cliché, the cosmos
is not ashamed of its gifts. What can you learn
from this? Don’t dismiss your Venusian disposition.
I ought to add a caveat: something
and nothing are too easily mistaken for each other.
This may be an unusual weekend.
Call. I have great things to tell you.

Don’t deny yourself an ugly space,
even angler fish have hearts in their volcanic bodies.
It would be foolish to turn away the Gods of hatred,
especially as they have made the journey to you.
Get perspective. If you lived on Pluto, your saviour,
your shadow would last for 65 days.
But you wouldn’t be able to breathe, either.
This is a recorded message.

Dear Libra, you did not notice the tree
sprouting again, but you did notice
the leaves. It is never the sharpness of the bend,
it is the speed at which you take it.
I have an astro alert for you:
its time to remove the lid from the box.
Your eyes are like bacteria in petri dishes,
no one can see what you’re thinking.

Something lives in every part of the globe.
This should give you comfort this week,
when a well-known friend, or brother, breaks apart.
If a friend, it’s hot water at bedtime
and only one open window in the house.
If a brother, that’s less clear. What’s obvious is that
you’ll know it when it happens, a key change.
As in music. As in locks.

To give your life gripping excitement
of a pinless grenade, one needs to introduce a deadline.
What haven’t you started? If you were
to plant that magnolia seed now, you’d
need to wait 10 full years to see it bloom.
Is there still time? Request a full, personal
birth chart now. I can’t pinpoint when you came into
the world, rendering this reading useless.

Time to relax that broken head: pull the phone
out the wall, follow its cord through the house,
release dust and let it rest in a friendly way,
follow the phone line outside and, with purpose,
pull it down off the telegraph pole.
Actually today could be busy. Get an early night,
as they draw further away from us.
This number is currently unavailable.

Leave it to you to fall in love with an adversary.
Pleasure and disgust are often in cahoots,
like being enchanted by a blocked pore.
The handsome stranger’s pillow talk
is a hokey lecture. Leave the stranger in the strange land.
‘If everybody had an ocean’ sang The Beach Boys
in ‘Surfin’ USA’. Your outlook is money,
love and ocean. Don’t forget your cossie.

Today every move you make is a kiss
and everyone is on fire. Take precaution.
Don’t walk over three drains unless you have to.
Remember, if you are listening to this,
then no one is strange or perfect. It’s time to begin
something new. Imagine yourself as the house
you grew up in, suddenly this unfamiliar room
appears and the light begins to open.

Roses are blooming in your garden, Gemini,
but still your heart is an investment piece
you’re ‘saving for best’. Hello dustbag.
Yet again you look to me to provide
the answers. I do not have them. Remember
what Violet wrote to Vita: ‘I remain for a long time
leaning on the balustrade with dreaming eyes’.
Its time to wake up. Never call me again.

Alex MacDonald lives in London. His poetry has been published in Poetry London, Poetry Wales, 3:AM Magazine, The Quietus and Clinic. He is one of the editors of Poems In Which.

Amy‘s collection Luxe (Salt) was published in 2013. Her poems have appeared in POETRY, The Poetry Review, Poetry Wales and elsewhere. She co-edits Poems in Which and is editor of Best Friends Forever (The Emma Press) – an anthology of poems on women’s friendships.

Annie Katchinska

The Queen/Little birds and beasts (from Wonder & Smoke)

I functioned in my entitled world
I sat on the train with Tesco sushi, sucking ginger straight from the pouch
I watched the train weave through luxury developments
I learned an unblinking spite
I learned You should astonish, constantly
I saw a bread roll dropped and frightened on Kingsway
My heart whirled
I had haircuts
I had several good jobs one after the other
I sat on the F R A G I L E R O O F
I made eye contact with homeless people
I tripped over on Fleet Street
I continued to schedule meetings and type Kind regards
The stars popped and rolled above me
I bought heel grips
I bought a cube of air in a luxury development
I swayed inside it
I couldn’t count higher than such-and-such a number
I thought the brilliant tap water was trying to shout but I didn’t say so
I believed no one
I sat in the bar with a nasty drink
I drank with my King
We fell in love
My heart bucked
I heard him referred to as a lovely lovely man
His gums were very purple
He gave me the keys to the castle
He gave me a box of vitamin shakes
I was referred to as exquisite – however
I saw the white arrows all over the road and followed them
I continued to sculpt my inadequate hair
I learned a remarkable 98% of every espresso is water
The cab jumped up and my head jerked forward
I couldn’t stop
I became influential
I tripped over, famously
I said “How stupid!” and the little birds and beasts tapped HOW STUPID to each other
I went to an expensive clinic
I enjoyed blame of all kinds
I went to Malta
I went to my King and grabbed him by the hair
My internal judge said this and that
One day on the street I met this green-eyed bitch

Annie Katchinska was born in Moscow in 1990 and grew up in London. Her Faber New Poets pamphlet was published in 2010, and her poems have been included in various anthologies. After graduating from Cambridge University, she spent two years living and working in Sapporo, Japan, before returning to London in 2013.

Roisin Kiberd

Social Justice Mercenary

She looked down at the space between her thighs. The chair was covered in itchy blue wool, just like the seats on the Tube. Was weight gain already setting in? A sedentary office life, spent staring into screens. Was it really all that different to before?

She didn’t used to care about weight, had made a point of not thinking about it. Back in heady times, played out in scrolling timelines. It had felt radical, though the number of eyes her writing reached then was nothing compared to now. One-girl-riot.tumblr.com, later renamed LadyRageBender. Up all night typing replies, drunk on the glow of the screen in the dark.

She had been hired only two months before, but it felt like a past life. A grubbier, messier one. Coffee gone stale when she was too tired to drink it. A cheap flat with low ceilings. That dismal feeling that the only friends she had left were those wanking over her DMs. But she had loved the extremity of it, the sense of a postgraduate precipice.

The set-up was decent though, she would give them that. Open-plan, with little food stations built into the walls. Everyone liked the granola bars, free from a new client. “FlapJaxxed”, marketed at men, and baked with whey protein isolate. The campaign had bodybuilders in y-fronts, on the sides of London buses. Bulked-up bodies, hairless as was the fashion that year.

AdWeek had declared 2021 ‘the year of the SmartGrain baked good’. Carbs were back in fashion, as long as they were augmented with actionable health benefits. Campaigns for BrainBran and SexRice were already in the pipeline.

She was recruited through social media, right when her Twitter reached the ten thousand mark. They said they were looking for new voices, “socially conscious” and “sassy.” The money was good. She had thought arts degrees were unemployable.

She thought a lot, between the meetings and timesheets, about what had happened to her friends. Those who had something to protest about. One, she knew, was imprisoned. Another had suddenly disappeared. One was rumoured to have been recruited by the Singaporean government, who offered to pay her way through an Ivy League university in return for work as a spy.

The followers didn’t notice when she fell silent. A life lived online, however radical, was easy to compartmentalize and forget.

It was lunch time. She wanted to go to McDonalds down the road because it was usually empty, though she also wondered if buying chips would make her a part of the problem.

She chose the new Spring Season HealthFries, low fat and sprinkled with a proprietary blend of Vitamin C, echinacea and antihistamines. She took out her notebook to try to make sense of the week. Monday: Skype VR with the BrainBran people. Tuesday: copy for a campaign about euthanasia. Wednesday was busier: writing terms and conditions for a fitness app (she was known already in the agency for her marvelously innocuous Terms and Conditions. A past life spent debating with Reddit MRAs about consent had equipped her well).

Then after lunch she would be shown a new campaign for a beauty industry client.

She wrote a lot of copy and a lot of Terms and Conditions, but what she did most was offer approval. Keeping her in the dark till the last minute, they’d send over finished campaigns and ask for her reaction. She’d tell them if the work was socially sensitive, or might trigger outrage online. It earned her the title of “Campaign Arbitrator”: she saw herself as their reality check.

And they got it so wrong, sometimes. They objectified women, made off-colour jokes and senseless blunders. That print ad for calorie-controlled follow-on milk. The campaign where a man’s aerosol deodorant was so seductive he had to fight women off, literally, with a baseball bat. Every day was exhausting and disheartening and strange. She had to explain things, patiently and thoroughly. But they seemed sincere. They wanted to know, so that they could change.

Familiar voices in the next booth.

“I know this works because I’m a digital professional. Who converts. Big time.”
“We can’t prove it will sell. I don’t know who told them to jump on this bandwagon…”
“Ariana Grande is doing it, in her new video.”
“Yes, but Ariana Grande does a lot of things.”
“Suri Cruise..”
“Has she even hit puberty?”
“She’s a hottie. ‘All grown up,’ the Mail said. Look, it doesn’t matter if it’s a trend or not, women are still going to buy it. We just get a good campaign going, make them run scared…”
“What’s the copy again?”
“Let’s see. ‘Hey girls, feminism is the new sexy’ Or we have ‘Men love a feminist’ We’re going to A/B test it. Then, ‘Craving luscious hairy pits but patchy after years of waxing? Grow those babies back, with Talisse for underarms’.

Over the background music, bloated with HungerTech binaural beats, she noticed that her ears were ringing. She had not felt like herself lately. The fries tasted acidic. Were they potato, or one of the new SmartStarches?

“That blogger girl they hired, this one’s going to give her a nervous breakdown.”
She had never thought of herself as a blogger. More as a political activist.
“It’s going to do so well. Jezebel, Buzzfeed… especially if we get ‘called out’, you know? Like somebody famous takes issue with it.”
“Ok look, if that blogger girl.. what’s her name again?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ok, if she says it’s offensive, maybe turn it up a bit more, ok? Let’s run with this.”
“Brilliant. ‘Women, think for yourself, grow it back at only £29.99 for a month’s supply.’”

She was beginning to feel ill. She wondered why they weren’t in a proper restaurant that served wine with lunch deals for a tenner, like at Nando’s Plus. Gourmet lad food. They could afford it.
They were creative directors.

The ringing in her ears was stronger now. Still she could hear their voices, the laughter. She had made a huge mistake. She barely noticed as the table rose to meet her head, as she passed out face-down in her chips.

Roisin Kiberd writes about the internet, among other things, for Motherboard, Vice and occasionally others like The Guardian. She has also worked on and off in social media, including a year spent on Twitter as a brand of cheese. This is the first time her fiction has been published.

@RoisinTheMirror & roisinkiberd.tumblr.com

A. K. Blakemore

gregor

I.

i attempt to conceal my disgust as you draw your hard, squat body up to the dish of milk.
why? out of politeness?

the same reasons you’d roll from on top of me when the cat came into the bedroom.
hovering, i half expect you to lower a soft black tongue, or even a needle, but instead

you immerse your whole bulbous head. it looks inexact, and messy. i forget sometimes
we’re both new to this.

you lift away and point yourself at me – dark-eyed/somehow accusatory.

II.

i lead you to the bed with a trail of rotting lettuce leaves and hold my body
against your hardened forewings.

you’d laugh if you could see me a quivering believer
draped across the stone of unction
feeling for the word – a lay line –

some way to make things right with Him.

III.

complaints:
the silence of your over-wintering / anxiety makes your legs bleed /
this bedroom smells of dead leaves.

i cannot sleep on these mattress springs –
deferential to the purring

of your many dormant hearts.

A. K. Blakemore‘s first full-length collection, Humbert Summer, was released by Eyewear in 2015. She currently lives and works in South-East London.

Helen McClory

What Can Be Endured May Yet Be Unbearable

Here is the main boulevard, tree-lined and still, and in the elegant residential buildings lining the boulevard the thoughtless are asleep, the news having come yesterday to no riots, no sound of objection at all. But in the fourteenth building, up on the fourth floor, third window along, I have not forgotten it. The cup of coffee on my desk is six days stale, so then, what. A great deal of the universe has grown cold. In the kitchen there is a little blood on the tiled floor and my dog is missing, having snuck out by the door left ajar. Someone knocks. Delivery! Pizza and roses! He says, with a tight flourish, producing both from behind his back. I take them and walk back inside. He has an unusual accent and dank, long hair that looks like a wig. He sways but is not drunk. Ma Donna, he says, still standing there. We gape a while at one another. I have plum-scented votives burning on a wooden chopping board. At the sight of these he claps his hands. I invite him in because it’s very possible he is Death.

We sit on the sofa and he pulls all the topping off his pizza slice before eating it. I decide from this irrefutable proof that he must be Death. He rolls up the dough as small as it will go and laughs and pushes it into his mouth. His face is lumpy. Outside I begin to hear sounds of distress from down in the street. Death stands and presses his greasy hands against the window. I look around. There’s the cream fleecy blanket. That will do. I pull it around my body like rolling a map, no – a burrito. You don’t have to make plans or a future with a burrito. I remove the needle and thread out from their hiding place. x stitches caterpillar up the sides of the casing. Soon I’m clasped safe, with only my head left to the elements, though that won’t be for long. Death has opened the window. The fires have come, probably, and all the lost dogs are dancing on their hind legs. Hai doggies, Death calls down to the street. But here in my room in my blanket there is quiet, smelling of melted cheese and oregano. Death looks back at me and waves his ineffectual royal wave as I close myself up entirely.

Helen McClory is a writer from Scotland. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and an MA in Creative Writing from UNSW, Australia. Her first flash fiction collection, On the Edges of Vision, was published by Queen’s Ferry Press in August 2015. Her debut novel, Flesh of the Peach, will be published by Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2016. She can be found @HelenMcClory.

Anna D’Alton

Night Session

In this room where
low-hung bulbs
and speaker thuds
shape the smoke

We sit and sip bottles,
my legs pulled
over yours in a
timid limb bridge

Your hand
rounds the dips
in my kneecap,
tracing down the bone,
calf held between
your thumb and fingers

Words tripping lightly
out over our limbs,
light chat to the others,
as if we did this every night
without thinking

My eyes held low
and fixed to my hand
where the cigarette glows
with each breath

Anna lives in Dublin, is in her fourth year studying English (literature), has had the odd thing published at home and abroad (Belleville Park Pages, Icarus, TCD Rant&Rave) and is PR officer for the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation (T-JoLT).

Dylan Brennan

Emigrant Haiku (i)

open tooth-yanked mouth
propped against a wall of heat
gumming at the stars

crumpled and bloodsoaked
recommendation letter
in left-hand pocket

ring finger hacked off
two fists tightened—
nightchilled/incomplete

those pleas for mercy
whisperscreamed repeatedly—
littered around corpse

Currently based in Mexico, Dylan Brennan‘s poetry, essays and memoirs have been published in a range of international journals, in English and Spanish. His debut poetry collection, Blood Oranges, for which he received the runner-up prize in the Patrick Kavanagh Award, is available now from The Dreadful Press.

Hugh O’Conor

IMG_0969

IMG_0971

Hugh was born in Dublin in 1975. He studied drama at Trinity College, Dublin, and film at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. He has exhibited at the RHA, Dublin, the RUA in Belfast, and was shortlisted for the inaugural Hennessy Portrait Prize in 2014 with one of the attached images, ‘Beckah, Dublin Airport’.

hughoconor.com

twitter/hughoconor

Sebastian Castillo

Clown Suite. (excerpt)

“You turn into a clown because you feel more and more like putting on a clown suit.”
– Chelsey Minnis

“There ought to be clowns.”
– Stephen Sondheim

“No…no…no…no…no…”
– from “Clown Torture” (Bruce Nauman, 1987)

CLOWN #1: And what do we think about sex?
CLOWN #2: God, please, let’s not.
CLOWN #1: And men in shorts?
CLOWN #2: We should send them to a country. Greenland.
CLOWN #1: And lollipops?
CLOWN #2: I’m in pain.
CLOWN #1: We’re both in pain. How could we not be in pain?
CLOWN #2: When are you going to come by the house and check out the trampoline?
CLOWN #1: Our face practically says it: “We are clowns. We are pain.”
CLOWN #2: All four of my grandparents were clowns.
CLOWN #1: I went to college for it.
CLOWN #2: All eight of my great-grandparents were clowns.
CLOWN #1: My parents were dentists.
CLOWN #2: My whole life, I’ve only seen one kind of shoe.
CLOWN #1: Clown shoes.
CLOWN #2: We just called them shoes.

CLOWN #1: The number of people I’ve spoken to increases every day.
CLOWN #2: Clowns don’t speak. We think about speaking.
CLOWN #1: I smile at babies. I feel like the president.
CLOWN #2: We’re the presidents of laughter.
CLOWN #1: No, we’re the presidents of something else, but not laughter.
CLOWN #2: We’re the mayor of an abandoned town in the middle of the desert.
CLOWN #1: Yes. Okay.
CLOWN #2: We run the amusement park.
CLOWN #1: Yes. Even if no one comes: there it is.
CLOWN #2: There it is. The amusement park. Someone should make a movie about us.
CLOWN #1: Yes, a movie.
CLOWN #2: A movie that makes lovers stroke each other’s necks.
CLOWN #1: Or strangle each other.
CLOWN #2: No kissing.
CLOWN #1: Never kissing.
CLOWN #2: We only kiss pies and pie product.
CLOWN #1: We ask very little of the world.
CLOWN #2: The smallest amount one could ask for.

Sebastian Castillo lives in Philadelphia, PA. He makes pop music at tigerinmytank.bandcamp.com. @bartlebytaco.

Rebecca Gimblett

Wildehearts

i

The glass is stuck to the bath
and the glass is coming loose,
water coming through,
we need to fix it.

The glass is stuck to the bath
and the glass is coming loose.
Water coming through.
We need to fix it.

I hope my cancer turns me
into something beautiful
Mutant
Bones smoking hot
Under all that new baby skin
Carrying everything important
in one loose pocket
Empowered by a world
predicted by film
Where quitting isn’t possible,
delayed hair growth means nothing
Time measured
in dusky porches
barefoot
crabs in my stomach
the only dinner bell
v [meanwhile]

ding.
the grid came down, the power went out. we entered the new terrorist society. Now became even more normal to fear death. Kids looked at phones as dead pets, buried them in the ground or carried them around, moulding, where their parents couldn’t see The rest of us back in the past tried to forget thousands dead and deaf to sensibility we fed on them. Food was everywhere, then nothing, then everywhere again we relearned what we forgot, why had we stopped eating some things. Women lost everything earned, the strong ones died first The weak died or became stiff then died. Clothes to rags then rags were clothes, or towels wrapping ragged bodies left out in the rain. The youth peppered. Prospered. Adapted. Old soldiers died fast, tired of the big nothing of everything changing, or didn’t die, became something else they had never imagined, something not so real. The only emails left we had opened the useless ones, bills and deals.
Things always seem important until
ii

It’s late
I want to taste 6.30am
from the dangerous side
so much putrid nutrients
I stay up all night
it exists perilously sharp.
I pinch my four corners and stretch,
pinning butterfly-like to
The Universe, it’s out there
in leaves, growing grass
it’s making eggs and bacon
for the war effort, is mending scraps.
Quit now before
you know better
what comes later
Why nothing worth quitting can be done
Not the hook nor the rod nor the bait or
nothing makes a fisherman from a sailor

you leave here with bad habits
or not at all
vi [meanwhile]

I have lined the pockets of my green trench coat with two-bit coins to buy small things with
when the time comes, I have three cameras to take it all in, a cigarette freckle near the orion belt
on my wrist, I am pulled before television screens to watch things and feel unreal and closer
closer we come
to true evil. Around me dance mad butterflies sent from the bush of The Universe. to be dealt with
madly because storms rage, later in time than where they really are, towards me. I have given it
the good college try
Lately I have been wondering about the origin of sayings. I spare my neologies. I choose harder partners
iii

The glass is stuck to the bath
and the glass is coming loose,
water coming through,
we need to fix it.
Girls who
opened up for love
don’t let their muscles cool too long
they have very little choice but to become
scouts, reconnaissance, pioneers, trough feeders.
Sex. All we can do is teach lessons
with weapons they call weaknesses.
where I suck the peach bone clean
til the poison sinks into me, anaesthetizing
evolving These women breed new seeds,
spartanned at birth Hardened
by fuckwind, mountain crush, rainspit
solid fruit removed of juice,
salted being worthy warriors. They’ll do.
iv

The glass will break and block
the hole eventually, water seeps and slops,
seconds on a clock, down down
the abandoned home not abandoned, paid for.

It’s late. for i
Picked a mad woman’s brains.
I hope her answers turn me
into something beautiful
a lieutenant
tones smoking hot
flirting from my tongue
freak and free
with strips of fluid
cooling me masculine and woman
making me ok
When she was young
her mother said her mother said
The wage of love is dying
The wage of dying is love

Rebecca Gimblett is a writer-poet. She is working on her first book which gets more complicated the more she writes it and thus she falls more in love everyday. She doesn’t expect to ever really finish it. But poems keep sneaking out. Poems are funny like that.

Kristin Leclaire

Acclimating

It’s Saturday morning, and hurricane clouds unravel in the fish tank next to my kitchen sink. Briny musk grows on the tank’s glass walls as I wait for the phone in my pocket to ring.
I never asked for a fish. Their bulging eyes wonder how they got stuck in such a plastic place, and our two cats circle the tank like sharks, rubbing their arched spines along the glass and leaving tufts of hair on my white kitchen counter. But this fish was a gift. My volleyball girls thought it would be the perfect present for their 27-year-old coach. So here we are in our gated community: Fishy, my two cats, my fiance Jason, my silent phone, and me.
I stare at the cloudy water, trying to block out my sister Stephanie’s message from this morning. She has been calling me for three days, but I’ve been ignoring my cell phone, as I always do. I hate the phone. I finally listened to her voicemail a few minutes ago, and her voice, normally as gentle as palms, felt like knuckles grinding into my chest.
“If you’d pick up your phone, you’d know that Mom’s cancer is back. It’s in her lungs and her brain, and she’s probably going to die.”
Since Stephanie is a doctor, I know that if she says Mom is going to die, then Mom is going to die. She always tells me the facts of my mom’s breast cancer without drama.
Usually, Stephanie’s medical facts are comforting. When I was a little girl and my Barbie’s arm had broken off, Stephanie wrapped it neatly to Barbie’s rock-like boobs with a sling made of Kleenex and Scotch tape. When my Cabbage Patch doll had crooked invisible teeth, Stephanie straightened a paperclip to make her a retainer. And when Mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer a year and a half ago, Stephanie explained to me that she had a 99% chance of living a normal, cancer-free life.
But lately, Mom’s thick voice has thinned over the phone, interrupted by wispy coughing. Less than a month ago, she collapsed from a headache and nausea, landing herself in an isolated hospital room where everything crinkled like plastic when she rolled over, tubes and wires tugging at her body, silver circles tracking her heartbeat where her left breast used to be. Apparently, she falls into the unlucky 1%.
When I tried calling Stephanie back a few minutes ago, she didn’t pick up. I dialed Mom and Dad, too, but all I got was their voicemail, Mom’s voice still rooted in a time where she was away from the phone for a golf tournament or a dinner party. I didn’t know how to leave a message.
I turn my attention now to Fishy, who stares with his big, depressed eyes at a plastic tree. It’s time to clean the tank.
The tank sloshes as I lug it to the sink. According to Wikihow.com, you’re supposed to leave half the dirty water in the tank each time you clean it. This way, the fish doesn’t feel quite so uprooted, I suppose. I slowly tip the tank while Fishy swims to the bottom, letting the top half of the murky water trickle down the kitchen drain.
A gold flash streams out of the tank and down the black drain. There’s an almost weightless thud and a frantic flapping against the still blades of the disposal.
“Shit!” I have just poured Fishy down the sink. “Jason! Shit! Help!”
Jason runs in, sliding to a halt with socked feet on the linoleum floor. He surveys the scene: an almost empty fishtank with pebbles scattered up its dewey sides, a miniature plastic tree uprooted like a tiny hurricane has ripped right through there, me grasping the cold edges of the kitchen sink and trying to peer down the drain. “What happened?” he asks.
“I was trying to clean the fish tank, and you’re supposed to leave some of the dirty water in there to help them acclimate–” I pointed to half-empty tank, “–and he just went down the drain. He didn’t even hit the sink first, I swear, he just went straight down–”
Jason rushes to the sink. Putting our heads together, we try to see through the rubbery black triangles guarding the drain. I can see a shimmer of Fishy’s golden scales.
Jason tries to shove his hand down the drain and tells me not to panic. When his hand doesn’t fit, I try mine.
“Too big,” Jason says. “There’s gotta be another way.” He opens the junk drawer and sifts through cards, batteries, rubber bands, leftover keys. He pulls out a skinny flashlight and shines a dull circle of light into the drain.
“Hold this and try to keep it steady on the drain,” he tells me, like a doctor handing a scalpel to his nurse. Whenever my dad, a heart surgeon, tried to command my mom to add bread to tonight’s dinner or to use more garlic, she’d reply, “I’m not your scrub nurse, Jerry.” Then she’d add some bread or garlic to the meal with a little smile.
Jason opens up the kitchen drawer next, the one where we keep the long spoons and the rubber spatulas. Breathing heavily, he pulls out a silver serving spoon. “We’ll just slip this right under and scoop him.”
I hold the flashlight steady while the spoon clangs against the outer rim of the disposal. “Too big.” He drops the spoon on the counter and shuffles his hand through the drawer until he pulls out the turkey baster.
“If we can just squeeze his tail in here, we can kind of airlift him out, you know?” He gently inserts the baster while I strain to see the scene I’m spotlighting with the flashlight.
“You’re squishing his tail, Jason. Be careful!” I splash some water down the sink to encourage Fishy to hold on.
Jason, keeping his eyes on the drain, asks, “Would you rather have a dead fish or a fish with no tail?”
I pause. “Neither.”
Jason drops the turkey baster next to the spoon, opening the kitchen drawer that holds the things we never use. He pulls out a black wooden box with a Chinese symbol on it, opening it to reveal two silver chopsticks. Perching the chopsticks between his fingers, he looks like he’s about to eat his orange chicken at the Hunan Lion. Instead, he slides them into the drain.
“I got him!” He slowly draws the chopsticks from the sink. But then his wrist jerks as the chopsticks chime together. “Dammit!” He rests his hand next to mine on the side of the sink. “I almost had him.”
The scene repeats three more times. The chopsticks soon join the spoon and turkey baster and the dark cell phone on the sidelines with me.
I whisper down the drain, “Hold on, Fishy, okay?”
“Hey!” Jason suddenly runs outside to the grill. When he returns, he has a long pair of tongs in his hand.
“Come on, little guy, quit moving,” he murmurs as he maneuvers in the darkness of the drain. With a gasp, he pulls out the tongs, and Fishy is hanging upside down like an overcooked noodle.
We admire him silently for a moment.
I flip on the faucet and stick the hurricane-torn tank under it. Jason releases Fishy, who falls into the fresh water with a soft plunk. He swims to the bottom and stays there, panting and glass-eyed.
I drop in a few flakes to reward him for his bravery, but he stays put. His fins move in shredded, skinny strips, and his scales are dull. The pale flakes clump together at the top.
“Give him some time.” Jason rubs the back of my arm. He traces his fingers along the white counter as he ambles out of the kitchen, looking back a few times not at Fishy, but at me.
I say, “We’ll need to watch him carefully for signs of brain damage.”
Jason, halfway up the stairs, chuckles. “And what exactly would we do if we thought he had brain damage?”
Nothing, I realize. There would be nothing we could do. I couldn’t make him a sling out of Kleenex, or a paper clip retainer. All I could do was watch.
Leaving Fishy to his fate, I take my phone and nestle into the cold leather of our couch, waiting for it to warm against my bare legs. Waiting for someone to call me back. Waiting to hear how far my mom’s cancer has spread, with the terrible lightness of knowing that there is nothing to be done about it.
I remember Stephanie’s fingers carefully fixing my broken dolls, and the thickness of mom’s voice when she could laugh without coughing, the click-clack of her footsteps when she could still wear high heels, the warmth of her left breast when she hugged me goodbye.

Kristin Leclaire is an English teacher in Littleton, Colorado. She recently won the Denver Stories on Stage flash fiction contest, and her nonfiction appeared in Literary Mama last May. One of her essays made the Masters Review shortlist last June and was selected as a finalist for the Bellingham Review’s Annie Dillard Prize for nonfiction. Two of her essays will appear in print anthologies next fall, and her writing has been featured at readings sponsored by Lighthouse Writers and Making the Mountain in Denver.

Oscar Bruno d’Artois

going for a walk alone by the river on a sunny/rainy day

land is like the bottom of the ocean
but for the sky

i thought, while i was crossing a bridge
so i could go for a walk alone by the river
on a sunny/rainy day

i saw a guy sitting outside a restaurant eating an extra large pizza by himself
it was 930 am
i thought, ‘my guy’

then i pictured my life as a chorus of simultaneously occurring alternative realities
several new versions of which would come into being every time i made a decision
but many of which would also lead to my
untimely demise

‘a cool game u can play with desire is
try saying u want a thing
u think u want
out loud
then watch as
the opposite becomes true’

is a recurring thought i also thought
while i was walking alone by the river
on a sunny/rainy day

since like most people i am privately convinced
that deep down i am right about everything

for instance, i know the idea
that harry & louis are dating
is Completely Ridiculous but
part of me still wants to believe

its just that i need a new thing to fall in love w/
so i can finish this book of poetry

its just that i need a new thing to
[?]

not that i’m saying it isn’t wonderful
to walk alone by the river
on a sunny/rainy day

especially when u’ve just been given
a brand new purple anorak

& u haven’t decided
wat to name it yet

its just best to ensure u r always
in some type of chemically-altered state

so u can continue to believe
that the calmer, truer version of the u
You Used To Be
is something u can always go back to

later, while i was walking alone by the river
on a sunny/rainy day

i realized that there were hundreds of tiny tree frogs on the path
& that i was crushing them
& that they were trying to escape
& that i couldn’t do anything about it

it seemed like a good metaphor for
stepping on hundreds of tiny tree frogs
& not being able to do anything about it

o well, i thought
who isn’t irreversibly stuck
in the middle of their lives, anyway

Oscar Bruno d’Artois (1989–?) is an American poet from Paris, France. His first book, TEEN SURF GOTH, comes out from Metatron Press this fall. You can follow him on twitter @brunoartois

Hannah Mamalis

Curses and Kisses

Having experienced the majority of her short life devoid of any semblance of feeling, Valentina spent her time watching her mother closely, to see if they were in fact related. Sometimes she’d think she’d caught something in the agitated flick of her ankle or the pinched way she sucked her lips in duress. But ultimately, her desperate trial to tread some trace of familiarity was in vain. A void existed too vast, too wrought with disappointment in a life that was never fulfilled, for Valentina to understand. One day when she came home from school to find the house empty, she knew that their paths had diverged for good. But as she hoisted herself up on the kitchen counter, nibbling thoughtfully on the end of a gherkin, something caught her eye. Sitting on the table was a blackish, lumpy rock her mother had once told her had fallen from the sky to curse their family and underneath it, a note that simply said, ‘I’m Sorry’.

Everyone in Valentina’s class knew that Jonathon Stubbs kept his scabs in a little wooden box. They knew that every day when he came in with a fresh cut it would be added to his queue of clotted clumps, grown, picked and stowed. His skin was a freckly field he wished could be fallow. Valentina found him one day behind the school sheds, bent in conspiracy. She watched as he took out his bits of curled flesh and laid them carefully on the ground. He granted each the same muttered, hated name and then one by one, he burned them, he watched them shrivel up and he cried. On that fateful day in her kitchen, as Valentina held the rock now insurmountably tied to her fate, she knew there was only one person who would know what to do.

Later that evening they stood in her back garden and took off their clothes. Jonathon took a litre of milk from of his bag and between them; they emptied its contents over their heads. Then he took the rock gently in his calloused hands, held it to his ear and closed his eyes. As the light caught his skin, it shone with the milky stains that covered his field of scars and she thought he looked beautiful. He placed the rock in front of her and told her they had to bury it, that that was the only way the curse could be broken. As they began to dig her tongue, framed by her lips caught a dribble of sticky milk as it streaked through her mulchy hair and he thought she looked mad. Their fingernails moved in tandem, a sacred scraping motion. Shallow breaths in a shallow grave as pulses quickened, work deepened, gaining ground and grit and gulping air until gasping suddenly, she stopped and withdrew a bleeding hand. They peered into the hole, finding the source of her injury to be the jagged femur of a long dead family pet. She laughed, it sounded odd colliding with the still air and he kissed her to save the silence. Fierce and lowered, they lay, new bones on old bones, forgetting.

Hannah is a small, often disorientated woman-child who occasionally acts and occasionally writes. The rest of her time is spent staring into the gaping, senseless void and being weird on twitter at @Hantmam.

Mike Nagel

There Is No Standing Up Straight

My stomach had been hurting for two days. A slice of pizza I couldn’t pass. I was worried that an organ had burst. I asked my wife where my appendix was again. I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up the pain was gone but still no luck taking a shit. I looked at myself sideways in the bathroom mirror. Outlined the shape of my bloating stomach like I’d seen pregnant women do in TV commercials for I can’t remember what. My top half the shape of an S. I told myself to stand up straight and I stood up straight but then I slouched back down again because it’s impossible to force yourself to stand up straight for very long.

By Saturday night I had been sitting on my couch for two days. Not out of pain but out of boredom. Torpor. I finished season 3 of House of Cards and Emmanuel Carrère’s Liminov. My legs fell off. I felt a burning in my chest. Sorry, my legs fell asleep. (I wanted to tell you they fell off — does that mean something to you?) I stood up and stretched out and felt some of my bones snap into place and the pizza-slice-turned-rock settle deeper into my stomach.

I thought that since I wasn’t doing anything I might as well take the train downtown to see what Dallas looked like after dark. It had been a while since I’d seen Dallas after dark. I poured some whisky into a flask and found the pack of cigarettes we hide on top of the cupboards. J and I hide the cigarettes even though we’re the only ones who live here. I put a battery in my camera.

At the DART station a girl apologized for blowing smoke in my face. I lit a cigarette to prove it didn’t bother me. She said she was surprised I smoked. I looked too hippy to smoke. I said hippies smoke. She said not cigarettes. She asked how old I was and I said twenty-eight. She said I looked younger than twenty-eight. I asked her how old she was and she said thirty. I said she looked younger than thirty. I said girls want to look younger than they are and guys want to look older. She said maybe that was true.

It was hot. Probably ninety-two degrees.
She said she and her fiancé had just broken up. She kept doing bad things. Her driver’s license was suspended. Now she was back in Dallas living with her grandma working for her stepfather’s real estate company. She had a tattoo of a star on her left wrist.
The truth is, she said, I’m an artist.

I got off the train at Pearl Station and walked to Main Street which is the only place anything happens at night. All the clubs that are dark during the day light up at night. The inverse of the city as I know it. I’d thought these buildings were abandoned but they’re just on the flip shift. I got out my camera and took a few pictures but felt gross because taking pictures is gross so I stuffed my camera down deep in my bag and didn’t take it out again all night. I thought about throwing it away.

During the day people walk through downtown alone or maybe with a co-worker but at night they walk through downtown in herds of equal parts guys and girls. The girls wear dresses that are too short and that they constantly have to tug down. The guys wear suits but not ties and spin their car keys around their index fingers. I stepped into an alley and drank some whisky. You could say I was on a kind of Zapoi, a drunken Russian walkabout that I learned about from Emmanuel Carrère’s Liminov. In a real Zapoi you spend days drunk and when you wake up you probably don’t know where you are. I am still under the belief (a belief I don’t actually believe in but that I still choose to believe) that truth is more accessible through inebriation.

I walked past all the bars and clubs and found a courtyard at the foot of the skyscraper that’s outlined in neon green. The neon was changing colors. Green to blue to pink to white to green again. The past few years all the buildings downtown have been changing their lights to multicolored lights. It started with the Omni hotel and now all of downtown Dallas glows like late night television.

I lit a cigarette and thought about an illustration my Sunday school teachers used to explain good and evil. They would close the blinds and turn out the lights and we would sit in the dark for a while and then they would strike a match. See how the darkness runs away?, they would say. See how the darkness is powerless? Which also reminds me of a Bukowski poem. A poem I only know from a Levi’s commercial. There is light somewhere/it may not be much light/but it beats the darkness. I thought about that while I lit a cigarette and a man sat down on the opposite side of the courtyard and started shouting things I couldn’t understand.

And the thing I was thinking about re: darkness and light is that the metaphor still felt true but most of the things I thought of as darkness and light had changed. In most cases flip flopped. A few years ago my moral compass started spinning. I think I am passing to the opposite side of something.

I drank more whisky. Zapoi! Across the courtyard the man was still yelling and the only word I could hear was diarrhea. He stood up and walked around and rolled on the ground. Diarrhea! Diarrhea! I watched him while I smoked. The tip of the cigarette glowed and dimmed. Darkness and light. Something dislodged inside my stomach. If the man had walked over to me I would have looked him in the eyes.

Mike Nagel’s essays have been published by The Awl, Apt, Curbside Splendor, Switchback, The Crab Creek Review and elsewhere. He and his wife live in Dallas.

Twitter: @misternagel

Anna Walsh

Alone with Nobody

 

 

this is a bone house
it is painted all white
every wall and floorboard
the ceilings and shelves, sharp corners
sanded down
every point blunted and varnished.
we do not own any cutlery
any glass smashed is swallowed immediately

nobody breaks vases off doors in this house
nobody gets drunk and vomits
nobody throws declarations of love like punches,
the flesh of the bone is too near to us to touch

we have all given up smoking and staying up late
and looking for the one.

 

 

Anna Walsh is from Mullingar. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from UCD and has been published in the Bohemyth, Losslit, the Belleville Park Pages, Headstuff and Maudlin House. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry. You tweets at @annaw999.