Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books and six chapbooks. Her most recent chapbook of short fiction is Orchard City, a collection published by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2017. Browning’s work has appeared in Four Way Review, Newfound, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Watershed Review, The Stillwater Review, and elsewhere.
_____“If I have to live with him like this, I think I’ll go nuts. I feel like a trapped animal, like I might have to chew my leg off to escape.”
_____That was Eileen, describing her marriage to Marvin, a misanthrope about twenty years older than she was. He’d lost interest in sex. She hadn’t.
_____We were in the same therapy group that met every month, only we called it a writers’ group, and some of us really were there for the writing. Patricia was writing a series of stories about zombies. Jenny wrote poems about her mom and about nature. I was farting around with a movie script about a woman who goes off the grid.
_____I was between jobs. Somehow I’d gotten stuck in the technical writing line of work. It started when I worked for an electrical firm, writing their codes and procedures, then a software firm that did computer games, and after that an insurance agency, methods and standards. Even when I tried to bust out of the mold – ad writing, promo work, speechwriting, anything – they always looked at my resume and told me I was a technical writer and that’s the kind of job I should be looking for.
_____“I told him, I said, ‘Mitch, I want to have sex,’ and he said, ‘Well, then go have sex, Eileen. I’m not stopping you.’”
_____“So are you going to have sex?” I asked her.
_____Eileen rolled her eyes. “That’s what my novel’s about, Karen,” she said.
_____Before the next monthly meeting I got a new job – technical writing for a company that makes microwave ovens and other appliances. Troubleshooting, assembly instructions. So I stopped coming to therapy. One day, several months later, at noon, when I was going out for lunch, who do I run into on Presidents Street? Eileen.
_____“How’s your novel coming?” I asked her. I explained about my new job, said I hadn’t been able to work on my script, so I’d stopped coming to the writers group.
_____“Me too,” she said. “I stopped writing on my book and moved out to my own apartment.”
_____I didn’t ask her if she was having sex. The question seemed too personal.
_____“You know ‘evil’ is ‘live’ spelled backwards,” the boy announced to his father from the doorway.
_____Ogden looked up from his laptop computer. He was sitting at the dining table reading the online version of the New York Times. The boy was just starting to deal with pimples, he noticed again. Always a distressing time of life.
_____“You’re right,” Ogden replied after a moment, since Jeremy seemed to be expecting some kind of response.
_____“You just don’t get it, do you?” his son muttered, disgusted, and he turned to leave the room.
_____What was this all about? Ogden had a brief terrified thought that his son was suicidal. “Jeremy!” he called, but his son ignored him, and Ogden heard the heavy tread of his boots on the stairs, heading for his room. After a moment, Ogden turned back to his laptop.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Me and Sal Paradise, was published last year by FutureCycle Press. Two full-length collections appeared in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee, from Kelsay Books.
I recently visited my buddy in Santa Clarita for his fiftieth birthday. It’s a treat, in a way, knowing all the things that might have killed you haven’t killed you–you can ease up on yourself a bit. It’s nice, too, seeing a good friend emerge from middle age. He likes his kids. He likes his wife. I like them, too. The dog, though. Gigi, a poodle. Gigi is so old, she’s gone bald on her back, and what’s left of her fur has turned a strange type of purple, as if the purple had been applied by a generic brand of cosmetic powder. Gigi. Even the name is purple. On top of it all, Gigi is deaf and blind. She roams the house like Roomba, but joyless, seeking neither heat nor affection, bouncing from kitchen cabinet to garbage can, to the fridge, then back to the living room sofa and coffee table. Outside, Gigi roams from one side of the yard to the other. Fence to fence. Lately, however, a pack of coyotes have caught wind of Gigi. The coyotes live in the patch of wilderness that separates my buddy’s neighborhood from the next. Keen to Gigi’s disabilities, the coyotes have altered their game, abandoning the tactic of feigning gimp or playful, hoping to lure the dog into their grips. Instead, the coyotes have begun baiting the back of their yard with strips of jackrabbit.
During the birthday weekend, I found myself standing in their backyard staring at the patch of desert, sipping a cup of coffee or a Knob Creek, depending on the time of day. I started wondering why a dog like Gigi would even be worth their trouble. By the time the coyotes ripped her apart, how much meat would any of the coyotes even get–just enough to make it to the next meal? Hardly worth the caloric effort or even a fair return on their investments. On the last evening of the trip, though, just before the drive back to LAX, my eyes somehow penetrated the tangle of sagebrush, I spotted one of the coyotes hanging about. The thing had been looking at me the whole time. Probably tracking movements, counting my drinks. He was thinking way past that rabbit.
Tim Fitts is the author of two short story collections, Hypothermia (MadHat Press 2017) and Go Home and Cry for Yourselves (Xavier Review Press). HIs work has been published by journals such as New South, The Gettysburg Review, Boulevard, Granta, Shenandoah, among many others.
The Angry Man
There is only one angry man in this house but there are many ways to see him. I like to think I am a girl on the verge of becoming something else; a monster, a beast, a worthy opponent. Girlhood; an entity so lost to me is one I will continue to seek despite the overbearing knowing that such an entity only exists in places rid of angry men. Or this is what I believed.
There is only one angry man in this house but there are many ways to see him. I see him in the boys I have kissed at my ex’s party, in the ever-growing concave pools under my mother’s eyes, in the snide undertones of words exchanged in this household. I see him in my sister, taunting and mocking, begging to be challenged. I see him in my love language; the honey-sweet nothings that bask in my words of adoration, the cheap and rusted colognes I offer as gifts. I see him in my pitiful vanity mirror from which I have watched myself wane into a forced advancement of bigger breasts and everything else considered the embodiment of modern beauty. “You and I are the same,” the angry man silently taunts. No, we’re not. No, we’re not. Oh, but we are. We are of the same vile essence. We are the products of a barbaric augend and addend. We are the politicians, the riots, the abused and the abusive, the orphans, the killers and the dreamers. We are everything that passionately desires change. In that sense, then yes we are the same. I am the angry man and he is I.
There is only one angry man in this house but there are many ways to see him. I, with a heart that holds enough vastness for two planets, am one of them. She, with her silent potency that leaks from her unstitched wounds, is one of them. They, with their foolish promise of a better land or a harmonious world, is one of them. He, who swears to his high-school love the stars, the moon, this life and the next to follow, is one of them. As you see, I have been gifted with the curse-like ability to perceive the angry man in everyone and everywhere but perhaps this isn’t true. Or maybe it is, I am terribly uncertain. But last week in my Philosophy lecture, Mr. Saunders said that everything returns. “Everything returns, everything finds its way back,” he said. And with that, I come to ask: Why in this form? Because of Hera, Eris and Medusa; because of the brave and important women who fought against men. “Thank you” I say. Thank you. But you see I am not you, I am not mighty nor powerful. Between the small crevices of life, between death and death, between this life and the next- what I will always be is just one of the many ways to see the angry man in this house.
Elisha Osorio is a student at The Winchester School, Dubai. She (unrealistically) aims to pursue journalism and creative writing in her undergraduate years. “The Angry Man” first appeared, with the title “What I am,” in The Bitchin’ Kitsch.
_____“Who left dirty dishes in the sink?”
_____She wanted to shout it. But in the cool, gray air of dawn, her voice would have carried, and her daughter was still sleeping.
_____Anyway, she knew who did it. He was still sleeping too, snoring lightly in the bed she had just left. Probably rolled over to take the heat from her still lingering in the sheets.
_____Running her hand along the sink’s smooth edge, she appraised the aftermath: the once rubbery noodles baked hard to the pan; the smear of red sauce across the plate; the half eaten meatball speared with a fork.
_____Her mother knew lazy men. “Look at those hands,” she had commanded. “They’re soft like your father’s. He won’t lift those fingers to help you.”
_____Yeah. But he had done other things with those fingers. Like hold her tight and stroke her in lovely ways.
_____Even last night when he came to bed after his shift. He ran his hand along her arm just right. He had smelled nice too, all freshly soaped and showered. She had nuzzled her body into his, smelling his nice smell through the haze of near sleep.
_____She wondered too though. Wondered if she should come up through the haze and ask him if he had cleaned up. But after a moment, she dropped her suspicions, choosing to hold on to that little joy in the dark.
_____As far as marital crimes went, it was a small one. Just a minor misdemeanor.
_____But it wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last no matter what she said.
_____How many small crimes added up to a big one? How many dirty dishes in the sink, how many times being late for pick-ups, how many toilet seats left up amounted to a felonious assault on their being together?
_____If she couldn’t trust him with the small stuff, how could she trust him with the big stuff? The stuff that mattered. Like continuing to care enough about her to keep touching her in lovely ways.
_____She picked at the dried cheese with the knife.
_____It was lighter now in the kitchen, and she recognized the time that had passed. Looking at the clock, “Damn, damn!” She couldn’t be late again.
_____As she ran to her bus, she noticed she still had the knife. She wondered what she should do with it.
_____Joyce stood by the stove and rubbed the patch on her arm through her nightshirt. Its roses, once so red, had faded with a million washings.
_____“Rub it.” That’s what Carol at work had said. “When those cravings get bad, rub it hard. That releases the nicotine faster. Uh-huh,” she had said.
_____Joyce still wasn’t sure. Carol had a lot of goofy theories she felt free to share. This morning, Joyce didn’t care. Goofy idea or not, the cravings were bad. So she rubbed.
_____Crazy Carol. And Yolanda. She was a real winner too. With those nails. So long and bright and always matched to her lipstick.
_____Carol and some of the other girls would laugh about Yolanda behind her back. “Who did she think she was getting all fabulous just for office work?”
_____Joyce laughed too.
_____But maybe not as hard. Those nails were kind of something. And long as they were, Yolanda could type. Clickety-clackety. One even had a little diamond in it. Not a real diamond, Joyce knew. She wasn’t stupid. Not real, but it sparkled like maybe it could be real.
_____Goddamn this water was taking so long. The flames on these dinky stoves were so pale and tiny.
_____She looked out the window over the sink. Beyond the roof of the house next door, she could see the sky. No clouds and already bright enough to make her blink. There was just too much sun in this town sometimes.
_____A lady singing about how much she loved her honey floated from the clock radio next to the open sleeper sofa.
_____That’d be nice, Joyce thought. A stray thought for one more stray morning.
_____The water in the pan bubbled, and Joyce poured it into the cup. She watched the deep brown crystals turn muddy.
_____The screen door banged behind Joyce as she stepped onto the stoop.
_____Across the courtyard, Mr. Ruiz was cleaning his grill. That guy was always grilling. Loved feeding all those kids and grandkids of his. Always coming and going and making such a racket. Laughing and yelling. Laughing mostly.
_____Joyce took a sip and then shaded her eyes. So bright. Even this early.
_____Mr. Ruiz looked up and smiled.
_____Joyce went to rub her arm, but waved instead. She paused and then smiled a bit too. She would ask Yolanda where she got her nails done. Sure she would, she told herself as she went back inside to get dressed for work.
John Brady is a writer based in Portland, OR, whose fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in various outlets, including Exposition Review, the Los Angeles Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mother Jones, Punk Planet, the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and on National Public Radio.
_____Wayne liked the African stamps best of all. One rainy day his mother bought him a starter kit–a bag of miscellaneous stamps from the hobby store and a book in which to affix the stamps, by country. The European stamps were compelling, especially the lithe Italian images and the German stamps, each featuring that dictator or post-war mop-up image attempting to project positivity–factories, women working, a family gazing off into the future. Nothing wrong with trying to stay upbeat.
_____But the African stamps were colorful and featured animals and were not always little boring corrugated squares–some were triangles, others were trapezoids. The African stamps depicted colorful action shots of animals, not tedious gray statues or bewigged politicians from the 1700s. It was birds, elephants, monkeys, warthogs, giraffes, gazelles. Some stamps depicted animals for which he lacked a name. This sent Wayne to the Britannica set in the basement. And the countries–he could figure out Sud Afrika and everybody knew about Egypt and Nigeria. But Namibia? Ifni? Rhodesia? Zambia? Back to the Britannica set. He learned more from his stamp set than he did from his geography class.
_____Wayne’s father didn’t care for the hobby.
_____“Why are you wasting your time cluttering up the house?”
_____Wayne’s mother cocked her head, unsure what to say. Caught in the middle.
_____“I’m not cluttering–”
_____“It’s stuff. The more you collect and hoard the more we have to pick up. The more your mother has to deal with these things, dusting. Cleaning up behind you all the livelong day.”
_____Wayne said nothing. He scratched his chin. He was fifteen years old. He fantasized about driving away, just as fast and straight as he could. But he couldn’t do a thing.
_____His mother tried to explain.
_____“It’s a pansy hobby,” Wayne’s father said. Looking at all of these little images from 1932 or whatever, he explained. That is not what the man of the future does, how he operates. “We are forward looking here,” his father explained. “Not backward.”
_____In this picture Wayne sits staring out the window into darkness. Someday he will be able to do something. Someday he will be able to make his decisions. One day Wayne woke up and his stamp collection was gone. Nobody could say where it went. Later Wayne found one triangular shaped stamp on the rug, next to his bed. It was from Republique Centrafricaine and featured a striped, maroon and black beetle of some sort. Wayne stuck a pin through it and affixed the stamp to his small cork bulletin board. It was perfect.
Nathan Leslie won the 2019 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for fiction for his satirical collection of short stories, Hurry Up and Relax. Nathan’s nine previous books of fiction include Three Men, Root and Shoot, Sibs, and The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice. He is also the author of a collection of poems, Night Sweat. Nathan is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions, the founder and organizer of the Reston Reading Series in Reston, Virginia, and the publisher and editor of Maryland Literary Review. Previously he was series editor for Best of the Web and fiction editor for Pedestal Magazine. His fiction has been published in hundreds of literary magazines such as Shenandoah, North American Review, Boulevard, Hotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan’s nonfiction has been published in The Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and Orlando Sentinel. Nathan lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Julie.
_____“Coffee, Sugar?” the waitress asked in passing.
_____Warren looked up from his book and nodded. A cup and saucer appeared. Coffee was poured.
_____“Anything else, Sugar?”
_____“Eggs over easy and rye toast, please.”
_____She wrote something on a notepad, tore off the top sheet, and placed it beside the saucer.
_____“Do I pay now?”
_____“Whenever you like, Sugar.”
_____“I was going to order oatmeal, but it’s not on the menu.”
_____“We only have the packets.”
_____The waitress tore off another sheet and handed it to the cook through a little window. The cook said something that made the waitress laugh. Warren tried to think of something funny to say. He added creamer to his coffee. He turned over the bill. There was the dollar amount and a name he didn’t read.
_____The eggs arrived. Warren ripped off a corner of rye toast, dipped it in the tiny tub of grape jelly, and used it to break open a yolk.
_____“Want me to warm that up, Sugar?”
_____“Please.” Warren thought of something. “Is there a pay phone?”
_____“You passed it on your way in, Sugar.”
_____There was a phone book attached to a wire. Warren thought about the alphabet. He hummed the song. He found the page with the name and went down the list with a finger until he came to the full name. He dropped a quarter in the slot and listened to it fall, hitting a little bell somewhere along the way. The dial tone was a dead person in a hospital. He stared at the book and dialed a number. He stared some more and dialed another number. He lost his place. He started over. He made it to the end. Someone answered on the second ring.
_____“You said I could call.”
_____“And you did.”
_____“Is this a bad time?”
_____“No, I’m interested in what you have to say.”
_____“I found the place. It looks good.”
_____“I was a little worried.”
_____“There’s no bed, but I saw a lunar eclipse.”
_____“I slept in a chair that smells like cat.”
_____“Is there a cat?”
_____“You have a phone?”
_____“I’m in a restaurant.”
_____“Are you having breakfast?”
_____“They only have the packets.”
_____“It sounds like you’re okay.”
_____“That’s why I called. To let you know.”
_____“Are you okay?”
Dan Nielsen is a part-time standup comic. His least favorite flavor of jelly is petroleum. Recent FLASH in: Connotation Press, Jellyfish Review, (mic)ro(mac), Necessary Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, and Cheap Pop. Dan has a website: Preponderous, you can follow him @DanNielsenFIVES. He and Georgia Bellas are the post-minimalist art/folk band Sugar Whiskey.
Mexican Wedding Cake
Carlos puts the .45 automatic in the glove box, then waves as he pulls away from the Morelia cathedral in his 1957 Desoto sedan. for the banditos! he says, just married. Dolores of the river sits on his lap, head veil flowing. the rear window plastered “amor de corazon” in lime paint, they drive off to lake Patzcuaro swerving left for the little white fish and their love, as the fireworks castle ignites, and everyone eats hand-machine-peeled oranges.
Watching a play, Miguel reflects, it is watching a play, but not the Cherry Orchard. Chekhov hides the bandits, and the women are old, old maids, or married already. the violence is the purse not the pistol, testaments from a house servant. estates to be protected, land not wives. peasants starved, but not enough. the manse to be sold, the servants to go, the orchard cut down for development.
Whack! whack! whack! ax felling cherry trees. who will nurture the land? who serve the tea?
Lorca? what has he to do with this?
He wants to speak.
Green. green. green. verde, verde, como te quiero verde. the land must be saved. it is dry, always dry, lost Spanish land, before and after the conquistadores. feed the land, if nothing else feed the land, it must be green.
My little piece of earth, already it has shade and birds, it carries the green on its shoulders, in high wind and low…
There are no bandits anymore, the brides are for nothing, and the servants have gone. but the earth still wants manure.
Mike Lewis-Beck writes from Iowa City. He has pieces in American Journal of Poetry, Alexandria Quarterly, Apalachee Review, Big Windows Review, Blue Collar Review, Cortland Review, Chariton Review, Guesthouse, Heavy Feather Review, Pure Slush, and Wapsipinicon Almanac, among other venues. He has a book of poems, Rural Routes, with Alexandria Quarterly Press.
Lenny (circa ’60)
He is sitting alone at the counter of a downtown diner somewhere along the middle of the evening, late in November. Kind Of Blue is playing. People pass by outside the window, their features distorted by the rain streaming on the glass. He smokes a cigarette. He keeps a cup of coffee and a notebook in front of him at all times. He is ready. When it comes, he’s gonna be ready. He’s wearing an open necked white shirt under a corduroy jacket. With patches.
_____Towards midnight a cab will pull up to the kerb, spraying gritty, icy water over the sidewalk, and someone will not get out but will roll the window part way down and peer for a moment into the diner’s interior before pulling away again in the direction of the train station while he lights another cigarette and does not turn around. Later, the rain will turn to snow and the chilly streets will fall silent, swollen with mystery and longing.
Mark Cassidy writes, “I was born in the UK and emigrated to Canada once my schooling was finished. I have worked all round the world and now live in Texas.”
I see thousands of me standing on the sidewalks, riding the subway, lying in the grass and walking on the beach.
Who is teaching us not to trust?
The lady next to me at Muddy Waters coffee house on Valencia Street got up from her seat and walked outside to talk to someone on her cell phone. She left her laptop sitting out on the table, along with her wallet, open, with a credit card sticking out of it.
About fifteen minutes later she came back in. Everything was still sitting there exactly as she had left it. She looked at me and laughed and said, “I must be pretty trusting!”
“Why shouldn’t you be?” I asked.
What, just because this is an economically depressed neighborhood in a large American city? Just because there are desperate, homeless people asleep in almost every doorway? Just because every morning the business owners around here spend half an hour washing the urine and human feces and vomit off the sidewalk in front of their cafes and shops? What’s any of that got to do with trust?
What she didn’t know was that while she was outside talking on her phone, I counted eight people who came in off the street, ordered at the counter and left again, walking right past her stuff. One was a trembling, disheveled man in a filthy coat. He shuffled up to the counter and stared longingly at the Iranian woman who owns the cafe. She smiled at him, reached into her tip jar, pulled out some change and handed it to the man. The gentle creases around her smiling eyes as she handed him the money looked to me like sun rays lighting up the room with love.
How many other laptops and credit cards resting on vacant tables had this man walked past on his way here?
I’m not an idealist. I am only speaking from my own experience. Most people will not steal from you, even if they have the chance.
Most people will not hurt you, even if you deserve it.
Most people are ready to share whatever they have with whoever truly needs it.
Most people love each other without hesitating.
There are no enemies, only collaborators in the creation of moments, all waiting to find out what we’re going to do together next.
Phillip Barcio is a fiction author, arts journalist, and host of the Apocalypse Mixtape radio show. His writing has appeared in Western Humanities Review, Michigan Quarterly Review online, Space Squid, The Swamp Ape Review, and various other fine publications. He can be stalked at philbarcio.com, or around Evanston, Illinois.