Done with Crazy by L.D. Zane

Look at him. He comes in here on almost a daily basis for breakfast, takes the same seat, in the same booth, and places the same order. He always faces the door—he says it’s a lingering habit from Vietnam. And I always wait on him. He’s a good tipper and not demanding; he minds his own business. All he wants is to eat, read a book, literary journal, or some short stories in peace—maybe even scribble notes for a story he wants to write. And now this happens.

Suzanne and Janice are sisters and some-time lunch customers. They love drama, and are not quiet about it. Today they made their breakfast debut. We were busy, and the hostess had no choice but to sit them in the booth directly in front of Ian, with Suzanne facing him. Seeing this, I thought, He is not going to be happy. I hope this doesn’t affect my tip.

Much to my surprise, Ian didn’t seem to mind. He just went about his routine. I refilled his coffee and was about to take the ladies’ orders, but they had already started with their drama du jour. I knew better than to interrupt; I just brought them their usual coffee and water for starters. They didn’t acknowledge me.

“What’s the problem with Kyle this time, Suzanne?” asked Janice.

“Same as always. He’s so anal. God forbid I move one thing out of place, I get the rolling eyes and “why can’t you be more careful” look.

Sounds like Ian. He gives me the same look if I don’t deposit his plates at precisely the correct spot on his table, or refill his coffee when it reaches the prescribed level in his cup. But I don’t take it personally.

“Why do you get so upset, Suzanne? You’ve been seeing him for over a year, and it’s not like you haven’t noticed this before. I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons you two don’t live together?”

Suzanne broke into tears. Not uncommon with either one, but more so with Suzanne. Janice played the role of big sister and handed Suzanne her napkin. “What’s the real problem, Suzy?”

Suzanne answered between sniffles, “He asked me for the key to his apartment—said it’s not working for him anymore.”

“And what caused that?” Janice asked matter-of-factly. “Something else must have happened for him to take such a dramatic step.” She knew Suzanne.

“Well…I wasn’t happy with his eye rolling incident last Friday, but didn’t say anything. He asked me Saturday morning, before I left for work, if everything was okay.”

“And you said what?”

“I told him nothing was wrong. But I sensed Kyle wasn’t buying it, because he remained silent. So to convince him, I said I would be over Sunday morning and we would meet our friends for breakfast. He seemed good with that response. We kissed and I left for work.”

“And did you see him Sunday?”

“No. I texted him Sunday morning and said I had to clean the cat boxes and do some vacuuming around my place.”

“YOU’RE SHITTING ME,” Janice said, and quickly covered her mouth. The owner came over and asked Janice to keep her voice down, especially if she was going to use profanity, as there were children seated near them—not to mention Ian, who slammed shut the book he was reading. He was clearly annoyed.

Janice apologized and continued in a lower voice, but not low enough. My sole counter customer was a good eight feet away, and he was able to follow the conversation.

“How did he respond?” Janice asked.

“He immediately called me and asked if that meant I wasn’t coming over at all that day. I told him I would try, but didn’t think it would happen.”

“And he said what?”

“He said he would go to breakfast without me, and that he was sure he could find something to do for the balance of the day, and hung up. Just hung up, without waiting for a response!”

"And then what happened?”

“I texted him back about twenty minutes later and said I would finish up changing the kitty litter, take a quick shower, and come over. Kyle wasted no time in texting me saying he had already made plans to meet up with other friends after breakfast, and wouldn’t be available for the rest of the day. Can you believe it, Janice?”

“Yes, I can. And you can’t blame him for that, sis. After all, you did blow him off. But how did you respond?”

There was dead silence which—to me, the other customers within earshot, and most especially Ian—was a relief.

Suzanne raised her head, and in a dismissive tone stated, “I sent him a text.”

“And what did you say in this text?” Janice asked apprehensively.

All of us held our breath. I even saw Ian look up ever so slightly.

“Fuck you!”

Janice about choked on her coffee. The counter customer put a napkin to his mouth to catch the food he was spitting up, and Ian dropped his fork, closed his eyes, and bowed his head shaking it back and forth. I had to walk away. I can only imagine what Ian was thinking. He had been through a number of breakups. In fact, I’ve lost track of how many women had sat across from him. But that was then, and this is now. I’m sure the conversation he was hearing was nothing he hadn’t heard before. He had been on both ends of that discussion.

“Christ, Suzy. No wonder he asked for the key back. Wouldn’t you?”

Suzanne didn’t respond directly to Janice’s question. That didn’t surprise me. “Well…I called several times Monday to apologize, but he wouldn’t pick up and didn’t respond to my voicemails. I sent him a text that night and asked if this meant ‘keep in touch.’”

Janice waved me over to ask for more napkins.    

“And how did he respond?”

“The next day he sent me the text asking for the key.”

I suppose that was the “keep in touch.”

“I called again, and asked him to call me at work. He sent another text saying no more conversation was necessary, and that I should mail the key back that day—and he emphasized ‘today.’”

“And did you…mail the key back?”

“Yes. I figured there was no sense prolonging the inevitable.”Janice nodded in agreement. She asked, “Does he now have the key?”

“Yes, and he sent a text thanking me.”

Janice hesitated asking the next question, but asked it anyway: “You didn’t make a copy… did you, Suzy?”

Suzanne fired back, “No. I’m not a fucking stalker,” and reached for the pile of napkins I had placed at the end of their table. There was a pause as she cried into the napkin and blew her nose. She continued, “Why can’t I keep a guy, Janice?”

My counter customer mouthed to me, “I can’t believe she just asked that question.”

“I’m forty, and have never been engaged, let alone married. I mean, you and Scott are happy.”

“Yeah, we are. But remember, he’s number three.”

Ian had been there, but only once… and that lasted thirty years.

Janice excused herself to use the restroom. I’m not sure if she really needed to use it. Perhaps all of this was too much even for her.

Ian was finished as well. As he was collecting his belongings, he happened to look up and crossed Suzanne’s gaze. She stopped drying her eyes, glared and asked indignantly, “What are you looking at?”

Knowing Ian could be quite sarcastic, I’m sure he wanted to respond with “Nothing,” but restrained himself. I was relieved. Thank you, Ian. Instead, he just stammered, “I’m sorry. I’m…” Then stopped. Guess I’ll never know what he was going to say. Perhaps he didn’t either.

Suzanne gave him an unforgiving stare, which Ian ignored. He had been there before, too.

I manned the cash register, and Ian paid his check. All he said was, “Trisha, I am so…done… with crazy.” His quiet, resolute tone reassured me. I nodded.

He left me a bigger-than-usual tip.





L.D. Zane served seven years in the Navy, which included a combat tour in Vietnam on river boats, and five years aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. At 65, his life is quieter now. He lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is a member of The Bold Writers. His short stories have been published in, among others: Red Fez, Indiana Voice Journal, Remarkable Doorways Online Literary Magazine, The Writing Disorder, The Furious Gazelle, Slippery Elm, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Drunk Monkeys, Pour Vida Zine, and here, in Potluck Mag. His website is: 


Suppressed Escapades by Hannah Aronoff


It’s a concoction of sorts—her first drink. A mix of everything the two girls could dredge up from a mini-fridge in the garage. It wasn’t Corinne’s idea but Cleo’s. Cleo was the savvy one of the duo; she dressed in bold prints (lions and tigers and sequins, oh my), flaunted manicured acrylics, and had already beaten a cigarette addiction. On opportune evenings, the insurgent pair shimmies through the window of Cleo’s bedroom, clinging to the shingles as they crawl across the roof, a sloppily twisted joint illuminated by the mix of pale moonlight and streetlamps. But tonight they are somewhere warmer. Skin tanned, hair streaked with amber tones—stinking of the lemons, which Corinne discovered to be a natural elixir for the dowdiness of their Jewess tresses. Cleo masterfully infuses Jack with Jose with Adams with Beam—a true American orgy—in a crystal chalice. The two girls fervently gulp down the suggestive combination, another metaphor of eroticism upended. In hushed tones they discuss their next move: one, “I feel sick,” the other, “lets go to the pool!” Corinne is intoxicated and it’s not just the booze, her skin prickles as Cleo strips down completely, sans one imperative seal: the slim knotted tail of womanhood dances between her legs (Cleo was an avid tampon user since the first emergence of her period). Corrine, bashfully, follows suit. Her nipples harden as she chases after Cleo, sprinting across the dewy grass, she convinces herself to fault the twilight chill. Engulfed in water, the inhibition takes hold. They writhe against one another, taking turns squealing as they press against a faltering jet. Now watch as Corinne valiantly dives into the deep end, splattering water against Cleo’s flushed cheeks as her friend wraps her legs around her. Abruptly their laughter turns to the incoherent acknowledgement of what’s to come, Corinne gently places Cleo on the ledge. Her friend is half her size, more nimble, and Corinne appreciates this as she watches Cleo contort around her shoulders. She draws her in. A sharp intake of breath, a gush of water, the taste of pennies—Corinne vomits the next morning outside the screen door, an exquisite array of vices marks the porch, she swears they were the color of the sea.


Early morning light pierces through the shades; the house is filled with the bloated silence of vacancy. Corinne is stirred awake by a faint, persistent pattering somewhere in the distance. She woozily thrusts herself from bed; graduation and her impending uprooting had ignited a festering anorexia within her—leaving her perpetually wearied and agitated. As she draws closer to the front door the disturbance escalates to a pummeling, she peers at the vibrating wood intently, anticipating it’s splintering. It isn’t until she recognizes the inaudible groaning of Otto that she remembers it had been exactly two weeks since she’d last heard from him. She snatches at the doors handle and flings it open, his gaping eyes welcoming her. “Baby”—this is what he initiates his onslaught of rhetoric with. She finds herself trapped between the spite in his intonation and the void tranquility of his face—a juxtaposition further punctuated by words that speed past her like bullets. Struggling to obtain lucidity, she strings together the following: “kill,” “your father,” and the rhythmic “I watch you watch.” Someone promptly smacks him across the face—neither of them coherent enough to realize it had been her. Her breath is ragged; she vaults past him in attempt to flee his threats. Otto remains stagnant, ceaselessly reiterating his plot while unearthing a machete from the sheath of his coat—in hindsight these two factors in particular are the most confounding: the winter coat amidst the sweltering July and the 22 inch crocodile-hunter glinting under the suburban sun.


His chest heaves as he swallows his words, they emerge garbled between stale tears, “I--can’t do this anymore.” Corinne’s jaw drops, her heart attached to an anchor that sinks her below the depths of his drab apartment, she settles in under the Hudson. Dirt and sand pile around her, a grainy cage. She screams, “FUCK.” Levi, that’s his name, merely continues violently trembling. His hands tighten into fists and she wonders if he is going to do her the courtesy of heaping the final mound of soil into her fabricated grave. Levi pounds at his chest, the way the Jews at temple did on Yom Kippur—vidui—, which they had observed with stifled grins. He raps at his head in a grave attempt to spawn more words but Corinne has heard enough. She seizes Levi’s wrists and pins him down, mutely demanding answers through the tears cascading down her face. He brushes her off, assuming the mature role he crafted for himself over their yearlong stint. “I tried to cut myself, Corinne,” this is his plea. As any decent lawyer would do, he provides evidence, peeling down his sleeves to reveal delicate scabs prickled with dried blood. Her mind is elsewhere—it has drifted off above shore to The Night. The rundown: a weeklong break ended by a lofty proposition, pathetically she concurred, Levi and his fellow attorney-at- law, drinks at a dingy bar—crudeness whispered in her ear, back to hers, a bottle of tequila divided among three mugs, her body divided between two. The defendant walked to the stand, ready to make his motion, he requests the prosecutor’s permission—not the girls—receives a warrant from neither. He thrusts, the girl sobs, the prosecutor sees her inaction as compliance and rests his case. In this moment she acknowledges his conceit, studying the rusty stains on his shirt—Corinne’s conscience snaps awake. It had been languidly pestering her for months, arising in moments of brief clarity such as at three in the morning when she awoke in a sweat and marveled at the figure curled around her. She assumed it had been infatuation. But then why had her heart persistently clenched when he pressed himself inside of her? “I have been agonizing,” Levi begins, preparing to launch into his brief—this sends her into ecstatic anguish. Her stomach lurches; she chokes up seawater in the form of laughter. Levi gazes at her quizzically, “We will be happier after this.” She sputters, “Surely.”



Hannah Aronoff is a senior at Tisch School of the Arts and an aspiring adult. She writes to work out the dichotomies of her ethos.


Three Poems by Taylor Portela

Call Me Claire  

“The pope is visiting. 
Federal workers should treat it like
three snow days, 
the government

But I’m from Michigan: when you
tell me about snow days you should include a trigger
war—I mean content warning—
because snow came in feet, not

He’s obviously gonna let me down, and I can’t take it. 
It’s my inner bottom yelping to be fucked
by the Pope, because I only bottom for hung, holy communists,
and there hasn’t been play like this since
Jesus and I had a one-night-stand in Hell. 
Something about crucifixion and cleansing made it

and even I bet Kim Davis doesn’t count my (ex)Mormonism
as Protestantism, but I’m planning to remain unmarried—
she’ll have nothing to protest. 
She really does know how to make an entrance, or exit, 
and the pope should take

I hope the pope comes dressed in Moschino.  
I hope the three days aren’t filled with plagues or earthquakes or darkness . . . 
or maybe the world will heal itself. The pope’s really into that. 
If I became the earth, I’d get his love;
I doubt he’d care for me much now, fucking
my work from home days in the ass,
calling out his name, “Francis! O, 






Gravitational Wave

Writing to sepia-toned platforms
is like traveling through time, 
and only data
at the
of light.
And what does light even do anymore? 
Trapped to this car, remade from Tokyo’s fumes to Paris’s ruins, 
a brave new hope
shuffles underground,
networks upon networks, meaning
nothing. No passenger, 
arriving in
13 minutes.






In defense of dissonance

The only time my sight
singing class ever paid off
was when we opened our mouths to say goodbye.
Lips touched, teeth vibrated; 
You sang a noise and I matched it flat. 
The waves crashed around us
as all else fell away; descending chromatically,
I was already out to sea, 

                                         and, look! here you were,
alone on the shore, indestructible, enveloped by bitter sounds
you could no longer register.






Taylor Portela is a poet and executive assistant who spends their time dancing their way through Washington, D.C.

Empty Passenger Seat by Robert DiDonna


Five minutes down the road, I got that feeling. I know I didn’t leave anything behind; I had all I could possibly take. My small Honda couldn't hold anymore than what I needed, and sometimes that made my trips more enjoyable; not having everything helped my already sky-rocketed blood pressure. There was satisfaction in the simple. But that simplicity came with a price: not always being prepared for what might happen. First aids kits are for schmucks. Seatbelt cutters are useless if you’re already knocked unconscious. Snacks, though, are vital, making the journey just a bit quicker.

My seat dug into the small of my back, but nothing was going to stop me from getting to Asheville. I drove and drove and drove. My back hurt and hurt and hurt. Little rocks skipped up into the air when I’d drive closely behind slow drivers and hit my windshield. Do 90’s Honda’s come with hurricane-proof windshields? Or at least pebble-proof windshields? I thought to myself, as the rocks experimented with the durability of my old Japanese car. Driving out of Florida was a flatland hell—but life changed when I reached the Florida-Georgia line; mountains sprawled up to meet me where I drove. The wind bowed to my passing, shaking hands with the edges of my sideview mirrors and greeting the space between my bumper and hood. My gas gauge sighed slowly, but steadily. I disregarded the rising gas prices, which told me to stay in Florida for the fall, and I told them to fuck themselves with some of the tips I was making at two restaurants I worked at. The tips didn't come readily while waiting tables at Waffle House, but at Chilis, there was a stigma that these waiters worked harder and in a classier manner than those at Waffle House or Denny’s or any other corporate restaurant with no respect for their own food, feeding those with no respect for themselves. My Chili’s tips paid my way from Orlando to a city in western South Carolina named Greenville. I don't know why, but I was expecting those old-fashioned gas stations from old movies that would ding loudly then have a dude in overalls running toward your car with a pump of gas. It wasn't like that.

My car was unfortunately too small to sleep in, so I stopped at one of the millions of motels in Greenville for the night. Yelping motels was always a bad idea; nobody wants to know whether their stay is going to consist of bedbugs or piss-stained sheets. It’s more of a dirty surprise. I found a motel named The Tired Traveler. It’s me, I thought. I’m tired. I’m traveling.

“We only have double queen rooms,” the asshole of a receptionist told me sternly, his brown mustache curling into his chapped lips.

“So, I have to pay extra for your tiny occupancy?”

“You want a room or not?”

I didn’t. I rolled my eyes almost completely out of the socket as I placed my credit card into his greedy sausage fingers.

“Thanks. Room’s down the hall.”

I scoffed and headed towards my room. This must’ve been one of the only motels left that used rusty keys to open their doors rather than a clean card. Just before I reached my door, I remembered that I forgot all of my clothes at home. My feet stopped and I took a long sigh before walking right back down from where I came from, knowing that I’d have to once again Mr. No Single Room.

“Do you guys have shirts?” I asked. What a dumb question to ask a motel receptionist.

“Yeah. On my chest. Want it?” he said. He snarled at me stupidly, as if he’d made the joke of the century.

“Sure! But it’s odd that it doesn't say something cheesy like The Tired Traveler. That’s the only way I’d buy it.”

His grin faded and he reached behind the counter and pulled out a shirt, without even asking for my size. Right before he handed it to me, I asked, “Do you guys carry any underwear too?”

“Of course. Lemme just open up our lingerie section for y—.”

“Okay. I get it. You guys don't have underwear. Just give me the shirt.”

The showers were just as cold as I imagined at a cheap motel and the sheets were perfectly dirty. I switched from the bed closest to the door to the one closest to the hand-printed window in hopes that the sheets would be slightly cleaner and I could rest without worrying about some sort of disease that would come about from sleeping atop cockroaches and puddles of piss. Both of the beds were dirty—I contemplated sleeping on the floor. Anything would've been more comforting and cleaner than the yellow stained sheets I was forced to sleep in. The one thing that I’ll give that hotel is that they have good tiny bottles of liquor and they can get to your head pretty easily.




A mix of a hard-hitting headache and sunlight seeping through the blinds of the window woke me up and pulled me out of bed. Still half-drunk and without my glasses, the room seemed so beautiful. I imagined I was staying in some classy five star hotel in England and took another swig of whatever was at the bottom of the bottle I didn't finish the night before to ease the headache, and danced around the room in my smelly underwear. My two big toes hit almost every corner of everything in the room, but after the first strike against the bed frame, my toes were completely numb and the alcohol cut through the nerve endings from my toes to my brain. I fell against the bed closest to the door and lay there for a few minutes. My big nose rested against the foot of the sheets and I wondered how many feet have touched the sheets my mouth was now rubbing against. I reached for my thick glasses that sat on the table between the beds; I stretched for them, but I knew I’d have to get up to actually reach them. I looked up at the pillow from my spot at the foot of the bed and could've sworn there was a crease in the pillow I hadn't been sleeping on. I jumped up to grab my glasses and swiped them over my face—there was no crease in the pillow anymore. Must be the cheap alcohol messing with my head.

My car had trouble starting, almost as if to tell me, “Stop. Just don’t go to Asheville.” But my car didn't understand that I had plans. The thought of how beautiful Asheville is clouded the troubles that persisted on me before I got there. After crossing the Georgia-North Carolina line, I could almost taste the thick Asheville air in the back of my throat. The journey proceeded on and on and on. People—usually people without any experience in traveling—told me that the journey is always greater than the destination or some bullshit along those lines. I say no. The journey really didn't tickle my fancy. The destination is the whole point of a journey, isn't it? Why would anyone enjoy going somewhere rather than being ther—

My glove compartment suddenly opened and slammed against the hinges, interrupting these thoughts I had. I glanced over. Napkins from various fast-food restaurants flooded the passenger seat carpet; I always made sure to steal as many napkins as I could hold whenever I ate at restaurants with free napkins because you never know; nobody ever does. I reached over to gather the loose napkins, and just then, the steering wheel turned toward the way I leaned. I looked up and a car whizzed past my door—that car was in my lane coming toward me. The sound of screeching came from my tires and my natural reflexes shut my eyes.

Nothing came back. You know in all of those dramatic movies when the character is experiencing something that smells of death and they start to think about all those wonderful times they've had and even see their kids smiling while rays of morning sunshine are striking the tips of their bony cheeks and maybe see their wife running through the backyard in a long red sundress chasing those kids, looking as merry as the day you married her? That didn't happen. Nothing came back. No kids ran through my mind; no wife. My mind blocked out the family that kicked me out of their house when I was growing up, and I’m so glad it did. The last thing I wanted to see, while my car was barrel rolling over the guardrail that was supposed to protect these sorts of things from happening, was the face of the only girl I ever loved; my mind and soul were broken. I thought of these things because I didn't have a happy flashback. I thought of these things because I wanted to have a happy flashback, but I knew that these were the only things I could have in the jail cell that was my life. I was always imagined how my life would end and how special those last few seconds would be. Those few seconds hurt the most; more than the way the seatbelt cut into the skin below my collarbone, more than the way my neck snapped against the steering wheel when the car would hit the ground every time it rolled, more than when I realized that the radio was still working and playing some shitty AM station that South Carolinians must’ve been fond of.

When the rolling came close to a stop, I was relieved.

I’m going to make it out alive. I’m going to start my life all over again. Life is going to be different now; I’m a changed man with a story to tell.    

But the airbags deployed. Gunpowder stung my eyelids and my chest felt like it had collapsed. The outside had stopped rolling, and stopped moving too. My Honda was now wrapped against a tree in defeat. The tree was upside down. My body lay disoriented against the roof of the car.

At least the radio is dead.

With my body sprawled across whatever I could sprawl across, I used my somehow functional hand to reach into my pocket to grab my phone, which I felt had shattered and stabbed its glass into my upper thigh.


I put the phone down somewhere. It kind of just left my hand. I closed my eyes in an attempt to save some energy that I might need if somehow the three numbers I just dialed weren't the right numbers. Right before my eyes shut, I noticed that my passenger seat was still empty. There was no one there to look me in the eyes and breathe their last breath into my mouth as they bled out of the hole in their abdomen. No one. But the airbag deployed on my passenger seat side.

Did my car malfunction? Is it just old wiring?

I stared blankly into the passenger seat. I imagined my mom sitting there, scrunched against the seat, telling me that I should’ve gotten a job. I imagined my sister there, blood dripping out of the corner of her mouth, telling me that I was never good enough and death was the only way to stop the shit show that was my life. I imagined my dad sitting there with his hands pushed against the airbag, scrambling to find the cocaine that must’ve jumped out of his pocket in the crash, telling me that he’s going to be fucked if the cops find his stash.

That airbag was beautiful. It’s fully round shape reminded me that, even in death, loneliness isn't all that bad. It gives you time to think about how grateful you are to not have someone whining about the meaninglessness of their own life, and gives you time to think about the meaninglessness of your own. An axe beat through the glass of my already cracked window and a long arm grabbed my shoulder.




Robert DiDonna is on Instagram (@therobdidonna), Twitter (@therobdidonna), and Wordpress ( 


Short Story Long by Robyn Schindeldecker

The circle was never quite a circle. Every morning, as soon as the psychiatric aides arranged the motley collection of couches and chairs in a loose approximation of a ring, the patients would drift into the lounge and reposition the furniture in a way that minimized accidental eye contact.

Once situated, we each pursued our own method of enduring the mandatory group sessions. Toby played connect the dots with the self-inflicted cigarette burns that mottled his arms. Lois crowned herself with cornrows. Jorge silently prayed the Rosary. I filled in The New York Times crossword puzzle with derivatives of my favorite four-letter words.

In turn, we would share our progress since the last session, and since our physical confinement didn’t exactly inspire the confidence to perform an emotional striptease for a roomful of strangers, our reports were perfunctory, deviating little from day to day.

The psychiatric aides responded with equally as rehashed euphemisms and platitudes. A “high level of care” was code for involuntary commitment, while electroshock therapy masqueraded as part of the “stabilization process.” Echoes of “everyone has a cross to bear” amplified the fact that we had all collapsed under the weight of our respective worlds.

To avert potentially triggering subjects and defuse tense situations, the psych aides would interpose a question of the day that more often than not had the unintended consequence of further emphasizing the disparity between our world and the world beyond the psych ward’s double-locked doors. If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Jim Beam, straight up. Where would you go on your dream vacation? Anywhere I can lie on the beach and watch the sun set over my existential crisis. If your house was on fire and you could only save one thing, what would it be? My house.

The day he was admitted to the psych ward, Lorne breathed new life into our listless group. With the bravado of a two-bit hustler and the rapid-fire delivery of an auctioneer, he had the ability to take any statement—ranging from white lie to tall tale—and bully it into fact through the force of his voice. And the louder his voice became, the less the psychiatric aides seemed to care, notice, or care to notice his departure from the truth. A cursory glance at their notepads revealed that they transcribed his words into stars, spirals, and what appeared to be detailed escape routes.

Lorne’s grandly orchestrated, mordantly comical saga bridged fact and fantasy, the gulf between them disappearing as he fused together elements of both. Filtering stories through the distorted lens of his pain, he led us on a vertiginous tour of misadventures and misfortunes: from addiction’s siren song pulling him down to rock bottom to familial and financial fallout burying him below rock bottom.

And while his emotional honesty often ran afoul of the truth, his pain was as real as anything. Every embroidered scene and bloated caricature was rooted in genuine hurt and heart and tears and laughter. The group responded with reluctant acknowledgement, pitying Lorne even as we avoided making eye contact with him.

After being granted his first day pass, Lorne failed to report back at the designated time and still hadn’t returned by lights out. As I passed the front desk on the way to my room for the night, I watched the nurse cradle a phone in the crook of her neck while she struggled to direct a pair of psych aides using spastic hand gestures. When the confused aides were unable to interpret her gesticulation—let alone translate it into concrete action—her movements became increasingly frantic, as though she were conducting an orchestra of desperate futility.

When I walked into group the next morning, Lorne was already settled in his chair. Once the other patients had shuffled in and assumed their usual positions, a psych aide signaled the beginning of group by clearing her throat.

“Hello everyone. How are we feeling this morning?”

If we had any feelings, we had swallowed them down with our medication. No one spoke.

“Well, Lorne, you had an interesting day yesterday, didn’t you? Why don’t you tell us about it?”

He responded with a shrug that carried no pretense of equivocation and tore into his latest picaresque debacle.

“So, after my brother signs me out of this hellhole, we head back to my house to make sure my daughter hasn’t burned it down yet. As we’re getting out of the car, we hear a loud howling that sounds a little too close for comfort. I make my way around the house to investigate, and what do you think I see, glaring at me from my own backyard?

“A bobcat. A goddamn bobcat. He—or she, I’m no expert—is squeezed in a cage with a few bars missing and I’m thinking, hey, this animal could break loose and slaughter me in a heartbeat.”

Toby fingered a scab until a drop of blood appeared.

“Just then my daughter comes out of the house, hooting and hollering at her chowderhead of a boyfriend, who comes out hooting and hollering back at her. It turns out he lost a bet to some other chowderhead and got saddled with this bobcat. Naturally, they bring the brute to my house, making it my problem. As if my life isn't problematic enough, right?

“So after I give my daughter an earful about her lack of common sense—she get’s that from her mother—I go inside to fix myself something to eat. I can’t handle this bullshit on an empty stomach, you know? I needed to fill my gut so I can clear my head.”

Lois chewed on the end of a braid.

“I walk into what looks more like a war zone than a kitchen. The garbage is overflowing onto the floor. The dirty dishes in the sink are spilling onto the counter. My empty refrigerator is practically taunting me. It appears that while my daughter excels at eating me out of house and home, she hasn’t quite mastered the art of cleanliness—she gets that from her mother, too. Given my limited options, I decide to make a mayonnaise sandwich—the Jan Brady of food. You guys aren’t laughing. How the hell do you not laugh at that? It’s priceless.

“Anyway, I have no idea where my brother went. If I had to guess, I’d say he hightailed it to the bar when he saw what was going on. Can’t say I blame him, really. Then I hear my daughter’s car peeling out of the driveway. Boom. It’s like she’s begging to be written out of the will.

“Meanwhile, I’m just about to bite into my sandwich when I hear knocking on the door. It’s the cops. Well, I don’t want any trouble, so I let them in and they ask me if I know anything about the bobcat. I say no, but apparently to them, ’no’ means ‘yes’ and and ‘yes’ means ‘this guy looks like he could use a breather in the back of our squad car.’”

Ten across. Six-letter word for “Shows poor judgement.” F-U-C-K-E-D.

“A few neighbors wander over to see what all the commotion is about. Then a few more squad cars pull up. A respectable crowd has gathered and I try to slump down in my seat, but it’s no use—I’m on display for everyone to see. By the time animal control has hauled the bobcat away, practically the whole neighborhood is standing in front of my house. I guess you could call it payback from the time I trimmed their wind chimes with my chainsaw. Karma neutral.

“The cops finally realize that they’ve got nothing on me, so they let me go. I call my brother. No answer. I call my daughter. Straight to voicemail. I call on divine intervention. My phone dies.”

En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.

“Without a way back to this madhouse, I decide to hike the one, two, what was probably about five miles over to the interstate to try to hitch a ride. After standing on the shoulder with my thumb out for about fifteen, twenty minutes—it might have closer to an hour, I don’t have a watch—someone finally pulls over and offers me a lift. So here I am, hitching a ride with a guy whose Ford Festiva is plastered with bumper stickers. Coexist. Follow Your BlissChicago Bears. I mean, does he think he can change my entire belief system with his car or something? Good luck with that, buddy.

“So, long story short”—too late—“here I am, back in this godforsaken place. It’s crazy to think that a bobcat almost landed me on the evening news, huh?”

The psych aide scribbled some notes that quickly devolved into a downward spiral.

Lorne didn’t wrap his latest mess in a convenient didactic package. Instead, after unraveling the illusion of a fixed reality, he left the loose ends of his story dangling, ready to be picked up and woven back into his ongoing narrative another time.

The aide nodded once she was convinced that Lorne had finished talking and said, “Well then, let’s move on to the question of the day: If you were an animal, what animal would you be? Who wants to start?”

Lois stopped braiding her hair and looked at the aide. “The kind of animal that attacks people who ask stupid hypothetical questions.”

“Excuse me?”

“A bobcat. I'd be a bobcat.”



Robyn Schindeldecker is a Minneapolis-based writer with a penchant for probing and prodding life's absurdities. When she's not making a mess in the wordsmiths forge, she can be found looking for a silver lining where none exists.


My Mississippi River Boat by Jeffrey Penn May

           After two weeks in 1969 floating a scrap wood and oil drum buoyant raft on the rainbow toxic Mississippi and smearing antibiotic cream on skin lesions, I sold the raft at Memphis but wanted New Orleans so I worked hard at part-time jobs and bought a john-boat and welded on iron bars and rigged steering and then rode the receding waters of the 1973 flood all the way to the big easy and my Dad hauled me and my small flat-bottom boat back to St. Louis where I went water skiing north of Alton, my small boat pulled by the ski rope sideways and the 1920-Mark-30 Mercury motor whining like it was about to shear another pin, and the surging wake of a towboat swallowed my boat capsizing, swimming to shore in the turbulent muddy water while gripping the gunwales. After college in 1976, I wanted to sell the boat so I could pay first month’s rent on a run-down suburban apartment near the airport; I was broke and for all I knew so was my Dad but my Dad gave me money because he liked to fish the big river even though we almost crashed into a rich man’s yacht when the steering cable unraveled and I wound it back the wrong way but forgot to tell him and he turned right and the boat went left. We headed upriver toward a line of black clouds over the Our Lady of the Rivers statue at Portage des Sioux and stopped mid-channel, yellow anchor rope stretched tight and our glinting clear fishing lines angling against the heavy current, and we popped open beer while watching the smooth river reflecting blue behind us but upriver black clouds lingering as if we’d never feel the coming rain or catch any fish. We drank while watching the blackness and Dad told me Mom was worried and I only understand now because I have my own kids, and if my son were a college graduate with a low paying part-time restaurant job, I might also be troubled. But everything was under control and I told him so even though I ate peanut butter for dinner and lightning skipped across the dark water crack! and the fish came one after the other – sleek shiny fish – each with a large round lump on its forehead, Dad ripping out hooks and tossing fish behind him and baiting again, reloading and casting back into the mighty river now flexing her muscles with waves slapping in tune with the fish flailing against the bottom of my john-boat and piling around us and my Dad casting madly, white caps rushing toward us, and suddenly the frenzied river calmed… eerily quiet – except for tail fins thumping, the slap slap of dying fish as my Dad whacked them on the head with his knife, then picked one up and carved into its forehead digging the knife into the flesh and carving out cartilage like a skipping stone covered in fish slime and blood, turning it over in his hands and then handing it to me as the temperature plummeted and suddenly warm again as waves attacked our boat with lightning flashing eerily red through dark green clouds. I yanked the motor alive and my Dad sat next to me, fish carcasses levitating at our feet as I steered slamming into whitecaps – Dad must have known this was our last battle on the river together.




Jeffrey Penn May’s creative nonfiction received a Pushcart nomination and his novel was praised in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Please visit his website and Facebook page

Three Poems by Stacey Teague

my little windmill

"two souls clasped there on the bed   
with their mortal boundaries

visible around them like lines on a map.   
I saw the lines harden" - anne carson


there is all this poetry

in the pulse of your neck

you write out your grief

like writing out lines in detention

you are ambition-less

as unimportant as weather

you write like a

flightless bird near extinction

dreamy and desperate

you write like there are spears at your back

you feel the lines of your body begin to disappear

what can tear us from our outline

we are almost always deranged with feeling

you cling to those ancient parts of yourself

those immovable thorns

how can we ever know ourselves

you once said, spinning around in a swivel chair

it's like someone pierced a hole in the idea of you

sucking all of the air out

here, the narrative goes slack

the body gives way, the lines harden

you count your losses like 5 cent pieces

fling them into the sea

at every new moment we are changed forever







it's the weight of a takeaway coffee cup 

when you thought there was a little more

or like sea water stuck in your ears

like a flower with the petals picked out

like putting your shoes on to leave

or whispering words into the roof lit up by phone light

the small sad things we keep

or the bigger ones that stay

they are like the tide ebbed to reveal deep pools

threatening obsidian clouds 

and what comes afterwards

yours is a suit of armour filled with holes

or it's like holding you in the rough ocean, like a baby in that weightless sea

like walking to your house late on a saturday night

the pulsing of music from different houses, the clearness of mind

like a dog licking your knees

movement of a body of water

like sitting on your front steps

like a cold apple

it's like empty beer bottles in your backyard

or a myna bird fluffing up its feathers

not every thing that i like is good

not every thing good is true







it opens as the heavenly body

comes gradually into view

the little dog watches from the shore

they sit at the kitchen table

reading out their horoscopes

aries: let your lover know how much you care

by giving them a beautiful gift

and watch out for bank fraud

pan out to reveal a road overgrown by trees

where you will kiss their river mouth

it is like a doorway

love can be sneezed out of you

you only want the abstract

the flesh or the content

different kinds of bravery

you are real, actual, actually, really

the main part of anything

their name under your breath

a body of men rushes towards you

each calling you baby

you break them like the foaming

crest of a wave

in the final scene 

there’s a house with an earth floor

facebook open in the background

featuring the world's atrocities

the passive ending






Stacey Teague is a NZ writer living in Sydney, Australia. She has a poetry collection called Takahe (Scrambler Books, 2014), and can be found online at

So Long by Beatrice Helman

This is one of the stories I didn’t want to tell you when we were living together. You asked over and over. You had ideas about what had happened there, before I met you and found some answers. You had ideas that were so defined, so clear in your mind but still, question after question. Did I have any friends? Did they make you go to church every day? Did I want to? They didn’t and I didn’t want to but yes I did anyways. Did you believe in God then? What did you do every day? What’s it like, living without cable? You would have never been able to see me there, at church and eating cereal in my underwear so I didn’t sweat all over the kitchen and never watching television because it’s hard to get service out there. I tried to explain that it wasn’t the kind of sand colored rolling hills desert you see in pictures. There was no oasis just beyond the horizon. It was flat and white and there were some bushes low to the ground. It looked like a huge parking lot that went on for miles. People lived in their trailers or small tin houses, some with thatched up roofs and flags waving with the likeness of Jesus. You asked a hundred questions about that. How hot was it? Did you wear sunscreen? Did you have a flag? Hot hot and no, no. I tried to explain the heat to you and it made less and less sense the more I talked about it. After a while of trying I realized that if it was unbelievable to me, it would be impossible for you. I thought that if I did tell you, the more I told the more you you would start to feel like you didn’t know me at all or where I had been and eventually one of us would move out.


There were only about a hundred people that lived in Sue. I was there because my grandmother was there and I couldn’t call my parents and tell them where I had ended up until I had the money to move, and I wasn’t really sure that would ever happen. My grandmother was always reading and washing my pillows. Her new teeth were usually in the drawer next to her bed but sometimes I found them on the kitchen counter or in the drawer where kept our shirts. She ate too many water and orange juice popsicles and would lie in bed at night, imagining what would happen with her ashes when she died. I would lie on my fresh pillows in the room next door and imagine what heartbreak would feel like and if it would be easy or hard. We both stayed up too late and sometimes one of us would call out that we should get burgers, but then it was three hours away and neither of us would move. I forgot all the time that she was old. 


I wore the same thing every day, and did pretty much the same thing. Which is why this story is so great, because it’s short and not that complicated. This was about when I discovered that orange American cheese that you can buy in strips. It’s not important you were just always asking me about it and I know I told you my mom used to use it but really I found it there, at the grocery store. I say grocery store but it was really a small shack and someone would stock it about once a week. Cheerios, salsa, iced tea in bottles, some fruit, bread, the orange cheese. There weren’t enough people to need a real grocery store and people were constantly leaving and coming back and leaving again, so you could always get real good food the next time you left. It was so hot there that the film would stick to the cheese, so you had to slide your nail between the two unless you wanted to eat the wax paper. Which you can, it’s edible. 


Everyone there thought I was my mother, and I never bothered to correct them. It seemed hard to explain that I looked like her and acted just like her but was not actually her. I looked older than my age and they had never seen her. I say everyone but there was really only one person who talked to me at all, and that was Fletcher. I’m not sure if that was his first name or his last name, but that’s what I called him. I knew him because he used to sit on top of his trailer in a metal beach chair, face and belly to the sun, narrating baseball games out loud, for himself mostly I think and his own entertainment. He had no television and the paper didn’t get delivered as far out as we were. So I don’t think he actually had any of the facts right but he knew all his teams. The Dodgers, the Braves, the Marlins. He was talking to himself one day, a real heated game, or as heated as baseball can get. Whose playing, I yelled up to him. I hadn’t spoken to anyone in the town yet and I had meant to shout but my voice cracked. I stood there trembling inside my body, like when you ask out someone you really like and you’re standing there waiting. The White Sox, he shouted back, twisting over the side until he found me, right below him. 


I was working at the cactus farm on the highway, where people driving by could dig up their own plants for fifty cents a piece, and didn’t think they would miss me. They didn’t. The whole place was a sham anyways and they were basically letting people dig up the desert and pay them for it. All I did was sit in a plastic chair and make sure people dropped fifty cents in the bowl. Practically nobody drove by us and they never paid me so when Fletched invited me up, I went. I’ll never know how he knew all the names and none of the rules, but he knew none of the rules. He had been making them up the whole time. I don’t even know how he had chosen baseball. I had played softball in high school. I at least knew how many people were supposed to be on the field and where the mound went. That was how I got to know Fletcher. Come on, I said, I’ll draw it out for you. He was just baking up there like a sausage on that roof, his chair whining and creaking all the time. I could see that he had braided his grey hair into all these crazy little braids but he was bald down the middle so he looked pretty wild. No shirt, just old cargo shorts and a perfectly round half dome stomach. It looked like he had been putting oil on his skin for twenty years. It had started to crack and parch, like a salt flat but on a human being. I never went inside but the roof of his trailer was dusty and had another chair just like his, the kind you take to the beach and that sinks into the sand. Before me, I had never seen anyone sit in it and I didn’t sit in it often. I mostly crouched next to him, drawing out plays on leftover paper. Softball, he said, didn’t sound like baseball but he would trust me on this one because I looked like I knew what I was doing. 


We started playing, every other day. There were no bats or balls out there so we made pretend. I marked out the edges of the field with sticks and smudges in the ground. Some things made sense to him, like that there are edges to the field. Some didn’t. He didn’t understand why you had to run from one base to another. It would be more fun, he said, and efficient, if you could run through the middle and criss cross, just as long as you had to hit each base once. I told him that would be a different game. Even though it didn’t sound half bad to me.


Fletcher went to church every Sunday, but we did not speak there. The Jesus Christ Life Center was held up on stints and had a sloping railway for wheelchairs. It was the only building around that could fit more than five people at once. Nobody I knew used a wheelchair or would have even known where to obtain one but still, everyone walked up the ramp, hand in hand and in twos or threes. The building was tin but was painted light blue with dark blue trim at the windows. It looked like a popsicle house to me, the two ends leaning in different directions. The sign was medium size but the type was huge and bold. You couldn’t miss it driving by. I believed in God but not Jesus then, so it didn’t feel like a complete lie. I guessed that he might have lived but I very much doubted he walked on water. I had never seen such a thing. Nobody had walked on water for me just yet. Thinking about water there was funny, since it hadn’t rained the entire time I had lived there and most of church was spent wondering out loud about when and if it would rain again. Everyone went on Sundays, even the little kids who spent the whole time petting their own hair and crossing their eyes down at their noses. I remember one day the priest got up there and talked for forty minutes about mandarin oranges. He was obsessed with them, the little slices that they stick in sugar water and can so that they last forever. The whole time he was talking all I could think was that yeah, those things were pretty good but they were a twenty minutes talk at most, and also if he was going to talk this much about food he should probably provide a snack or two. Even though it’s hard to get hungry in that kind of heat but sugar is sugar. Baseball didn’t exist The Life Center, so I spoke to nobody except my grandmother, who thought the priest was a genius and also loved those little oranges. The priest was actually the man who braided all those thatched roofs and fed all the dogs in the whole place.  


On the days when we played, we practiced for hours. It was amazing watching him, swinging at nothing and jumping out of his skin when he hit a home run, screaming his joy into the desert. He would warm up just like I showed him, touching his toes and pulling his arms across his body to stretch out the shoulder muscles. He would pace and mutter before his first hit, waggling that bat in the air. Just like I had drawn out for him, the squiggly lines of the way a bat moves. Our air was muggy and extra thick but he wiggled away anyways. I would pitch, a slow wind up and perfectly down the middle every time. My hands would blister between the fingers. He was a cautious runner, always choosing to stay on base instead of risk it and make a run for third. But when the ball would soar and sink out past the outfield, he would sail through, carrying on without a doubt. 


I was very competitive and I yelled at him all the time. Go faster, I would scream, pounding the ground with my feet. What are you, an old man, I would bellow. Come on! That was straight down the goddam middle! If he missed the ball I would scowl and pout. I was a mean coach, it turned out. Tough. The kind with big expectations and no patience. And he listened to everything I said, an old man running bases because I told him too. I bet that’s hard for you to believe now, someone doing something because I said so. But he did. If he wasn’t sure about if he was on base or not, he would look at me. It’s better than nothing I would say if he hit a foul ball. That’s not how they do it in the big leagues, I would mutter at him when he struck out. There were good days and bad days. Some days he would miss every ball and look like he was about to cry. He would throw his bat on the ground and walk off the field in shame, head down, sweat running off his bare shoulders. There were days that were glorious, when he sent every ball soaring. The sky would look huge on days like that. Some days we gave up on batting entirely and ran bases all day. Some days he would trudge along under the sun and I would stand on the mound, pacing and spitting and grinding the ball into my glove. Both our feet were bruised and covered in small cuts. 


Time balanced on baseball practice. In the morning I would wake up, stretch first thing with my hands reaching above my head. Then I would pull on my shorts and go into the kitchen, grab a banana, fill up my water bottle. Protein and hydration, the building blocks of energy. Gotta stay healthy when you’re in training. I would kiss my grandmother on the cheek and leave. It was all very unlike me. Running over to the field I would do a few intervals and some jumping jacks, but not too many because it was a hundred degrees and I wasn’t the one in training anyways, I was the coach. On the days we didn't practice, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would wake up and sit at the kitchen table and then go sit at the cactus farm. I didn’t speak out loud those days. So every day that wasn’t a practice day was a waiting day. 


Once, he missed every ball except the second to last. I was so happy or relieved or something that I burst out dancing in the middle of the diamond, like someone set me on fire. He stood and watched me, didn’t even run it out or anything just watched me shake my entire body and scream. It was the kind of day where it’s so hot and hazy that everything seems completely hopeless and all you can do is lie on your bed and wait for it to be done. It felt very, very far away from everything. I shook out one arm then the other then a leg and jumped up and down, my knees creaking and kicking up dust. When I calmed down I pitched one more to see if it would happen again. It didn’t but we didn’t care, the one seemed like enough for the day.  


I was there for seven months. After that I moved to Los Angeles and then here. I don’t think you would have stayed anyways if I had told you all about it. It wasn’t the story you wanted it to be or even the story I suggested it could be. There’s no real pinnacle or point to it. But it might have been worth a shot. You seem very happy now and I remember you asked about a baseball game once, going to one or watching it on the television or something. 


I told Fletcher to keep playing, keep practicing his swing. He nodded that he would but he wouldn’t. Baseball season was over. We just stood a foot apart staring at each other


He pinched my nipple through my shirt, really hard. Thin shirt. 


It turned out that heartbreak was really hard and we gave my grandmother’s ashes to one of her artist friends, who mixed them in with her paint and then went about her business. 




Beatrice Helman is from Boston, and was a Creative Writing major at Barnard. She lives in Brooklyn, and spends most of her time making zines about what it’s like to be a young girl in her 20’s, and she spends a lot of my nights taking workshops at Sackett Street Writers Workshop and Catapult/Electric Literature. She also takes pictures, has a pink rug and grows plants. She only does Instagram because she doesn't fully understand Twitter, and its @beahelman.

Rejoice! by Carter Schwonke

At ten p.m., Betty told her foster children to make oatmeal for their supper again, and then she stumbled back to bed.  Monica was only four, but Nick was nine, and he knew they'd have to eat a lot of oatmeal to outrun Betty.  So, once he'd untangled his sister's barrettes and fixed her hair, he cooked dinner and encouraged her to eat by singing songs and sharing elaborate escape routes he'd planned.  Where Nick learned to write songs and make plans was unclear, but he'd hidden them carefully in stolen notebooks. 

"Try to eat," he told Monica.  "We have to eat. 

She gagged. 

"I'll find something better tomorrow, I promise."

Years later, when Nick was thirty, he stood on a dark wet corner.  He was waiting for his bus and worrying about Monica's new boyfriend when a dealer approached.  "Hey, I have too many hits today," the dealer said.  "Help me out, bro."  

Nick checked his watch.  If his damn bus didn't hurry, he'd risk being late again for his part-time job polishing floors at Mel's Gym.  A full-time job was opening soon, Mel promised, and every small promotion helped towards his bigger goal of becoming a personal trainer in a better gym.  But certification courses weren't free.

"Come on," the dealer said, not knowing Nick had already decided to seize the opportunity to save for those courses.  "Take 'em, bro.  Fifty-fifty." 

Only a nod, under a broken streetlight, and Nick held a plastic bag.  It wasn't the first time he'd dabbled in drug sales so he was long past any moral questions; he only hesitated because he was on parole.  Anyway, cocaine was his drug of choice, and he was ready to use or sell when opportunity knocked.  Also, Mel would have jerked him around for being late, and he definitely didn't need that. 

"Yeah, okay," Nick said, "fifty-fifty."

The dealer sprinted off as Nick pocketed the drugs and headed towards a recently abandoned grade school.  There, Nick approached a buyer, but a screeching, throbbing siren came so close suddenly that his feet froze.  Too stunned to run, he looked directly into headlights.  Did I walk into a set-up?  A sting? 

Yes, Nick had walked into a sting and he was on his way to prison.  He was a three-striker.

Five years later—Nick was not sober.  Drugs and alcohol were decent options in prison.  Whenever they lifted restrictions on sugar, he made pruno from cafeteria fruit and traded it for other contraband.  Still very goal-driven and entrepreneurial, Nick believed he'd run a nightclub when he got out.  In fact, on a cold foggy day, while sipping a prison-made cocktail, he leaned against a wall in West Block's janitorial unit editing his extensive nightclub notes.  His rule was to never edit or reread his notebooks further back than a month or two because his older goals seemed young and stupid.  

He wrote quickly, mop handle jammed in his armpit, watching for a correctional officer.  As he concentrated, his ears went dead to human sounds, though he was aware of a foghorn repeating through the afternoon.  It sounded mellow, infiltrating cement in a haunting, soothing way and he thought of jazz, saxophones, cocktails, sassy hips, and dozens of songs he'd written while in prison.  Famous musicians would pay top dollar for Nick's songs when he got out.  Another way he planned to bankroll his nightclub.  

The music traveled through razor wire so smoothly he felt like Sonny Rollins, lulling ships from danger.  And like a ship, Nick drifted too.  In minutes he'd let his guard down, wishing he could share his magical drink, his plans, and his soulful music with the whole world to make it feel better.

Pow!  "What the…."  Nick spun around; he never saw it coming. 

A correctional officer who thought violence was the answer to everything hit him a second time in the face and shouted, "What's in the cup, Anderson?"

Nick had bulked up to survive in prison, but when he swung his mop, he slipped away from himself, tumbled a great distance and he was gone.

  After that, Nick had sight in only one eye, but he found Jesus in the infirmary.  Where forgiveness was once out of reach and unconvincing, he'd discovered a clear path, a path he couldn't believe he'd ever doubted.  His regrets were biting, blinding, but his relief grew palpable as his hopes grew stronger that he, together with Monica, would soon walk a right road.  Rejoice! 

The extent of his relief surprised him every day, especially in the hole, after another alcohol infraction.  The very idea of joining Team Jesus, sharing his burden, talking to a pure spirit in both bright and dark hours and getting answers back, made him sit with his bible sometimes and stare in wonder at the page. 

Just six months after joining Team Jesus, on a sunny January morning, he pulled out his neglected notebooks to think constructively about his future again.  There was a strong possibility he'd become a minister when he got out, rather than a personal trainer or nightclub owner, and it was important to put it in writing.  First, he questioned the weed in his hand.  Light it or not?  Fight his addictions or not?  He hadn't seriously considered sobriety as a goal since juvenile hall when he was caught for stealing food again. 

After losing his right eye, Nick questioned everything; it seemed he could see more clearly.  Still, sobriety had to wait another day.  For one thing, Nick's cellie rarely showered or washed his clothes.  So, when it was safe, Nick lit up.  Weed deadened the smell of Carlos and helped Nick enjoy old photos of Monica's fourth kid.  

Two years later, Pastor Lenny grabbed his shoulder as he left chapel.  "Nick, you're smart, I'd like to see you get your GED."  

"Come on Lenny, I'm thirty-seven years old.  Why now?" 

"You're different, you'll do big things.  Besides, the world won't adjust to you Nick, it works the other way around.  You need to prepare."

Prepare?  Nick was well prepared.  He'd kept notebooks full of preparation.  Besides, he'd been screwed-over since day one and he'd done his time.  Shouldn't the world adjust to him?  Not that he was bitter or angry; faith in Jesus had tempered his rage, but he'd expected to sit back and let Jesus do the heavy lifting.  What an unpleasant surprise. 

In truth, Nick's all-seeing, dead-eye knew his faith was flagging.  No miracles had come his way and none were on the horizon.  Nick's straight penciled lines and carefully organized priorities detailed in his notebooks seemed more reliable than anything Pastor Lenny had to offer, and with a bit of updating, they'd nudge him towards a better life.  Get my GED, too? 

"Yeah," an inmate assured Nick at chow.  "The classes are good.  I mean, I sweat the essays, and they always give the books out too late, but it's okay.  Look, the parole board is all over that stuff these days, just do it." 

True, but Nick was confused, rather ashamed, because he'd avoided his biggest priority for decades.  Before school, he had to tackle Narcotics Anonymous.  

Nick liked the meetings.  He went three times a week because it turned out he enjoyed self-analysis and group discussions.  He got lessons he never imagined existed and other inmates actually forgave and supported him!  He felt lighter, he smiled more, and in only one year, Nick seriously considered the possibility of becoming a drug counselor and attending those meetings sober.         

He'd figured out that using drugs blocked his other goals.  And though it was very slow going, his panic attacks and near blackouts finally ended after three weeks.  The physical price for sobriety was huge, but it was nothing compared to the emotional cost.  Nick's original fascination with self-analysis?  Well, digging deep turned out to be a double-edged sword.  Knowing who you were, and why, proved to be dark shit. 

Continued sobriety meant peeling back more dark dramas with Monica, like watching her throw up oatmeal and beans in Betty's backyard.  Dark violent Betty and the dark men who haunted her house--where was Nick then?  What the hell did he do to help and protect?  He was in and out of jail, where he'd done nothing. 

Maintaining sobriety was so discouraging for Nick, he avoided his ridiculous, hopeless notebooks.  And on one prison night, when he wasn't active on Team Jesus anymore or stoned or hyperventilating from withdrawal, he simply stopped pretending he'd ever achieve anything in life.  Just like that, he gave up every goal.  All he wanted, more than any goal he'd ever set, was a sharp knife.

Carlos was in the infirmary with a bleeding ulcer, a mixed blessing, because Nick was left alone to consider his long standing bad habits.  After three nights of agonizing regret, he felt hacked.  If he kept it up, those self-inflicted, psychic, bloody cuts he'd made would finish him off.  If only he had a real knife, he'd plunge right through to the bottom of all his lies in one swift action.  Cleanly and surgically, he'd slash his way to freedom. 

Such a knife was not available so he was stuck.  He had to face the fact that he was a junkie who'd thrown his sister to the wolves, constantly robbed broke, alcoholic Betty, sold drugs to twelve year olds and many, many worse things he periodically got caught for. 

With his lies untangled, Nick was nothing but a sleaze and a bum.  Like every other inmate, he'd failed in all aspects of his life.  How was it possible he'd wear a cap and gown and stand in line to receive his high school equivalency diploma next month?  Could a monster earn his GED, leave prison, take college courses, find a real job, get married, and make amends?  Family and visitors must have thought so; they'd sit on plastic chairs in the chapel to watch graduation.  Monica wrote once that she forgave Nick, though she wouldn't attend his graduation.  Thankfully, Nick's teachers and Pastor Lenny promised to cheer him on. 

"In thirty years," Pastor Lenny once told Nick, "I've never seen an inmate grow more than you have.  Be proud of yourself for getting sober and smarter, empathetic, and prepared for the possibility of early release.  What's it been?—four years since your last alcohol infraction.  The parole board's going to see that."  

A sense of achievement, however, was not what Nick felt because there were so many changes all at once.  They'd occurred over years, not months, but the gulf between who he'd been, who he'd become, and who he might be was suddenly frightening.  He'd drown, if he kept questioning his future.  So he jumped decisively from his bunk to clear his head and stood in his underwear in a chilly, dimly lit cell, where the fundamental lies that brought him to prison cracked wide open.  Nick heard them pull apart.  The fog had lifted, but his life-long system of lies and self-deception made a racket when they crashed on shore.   

  He rotated his neck, stretched his arms overhead, bent his knees, and hummed out-loud to silence the sounds of awareness.  All the changes, all the possibilities brought back panic he thought he'd tamed months ago. 

"What's going on, Anderson?"

Nick turned towards the correctional officer's voice; his fight or flight instincts were so conditioned he almost took a swing.  But time in the hole was hardly worth the half-swing he'd get off before more guards came running to subdue him. 

"Just taking a piss," he said.

"Well, do it."

He went through the motions and returned to his bunk, where growing doubts that he actually had a chance of living a normal life amplified his anxiety to the highest levels ever.  Fortunately, Nick had anticipated this attack.  Earlier, at chow, he'd made arrangements.  Quietly, he reached for his net bag where he kept photos, a bible, his notebooks, lawyer papers, and so on.  At the end of the unit, someone coughed or cried as Nick located a tiny hiding place in his paperback thriller.  That's where the pills were. 

Lies were a comfortable way of life, and Nick felt off balance without them: a one-eyed, diabetic, balding man who owned no clothes.  He swallowed just in time for the pills to halt the progress of that terrifying, swallowing gulf.  The extent of his relief surprised him; it was a smooth easy ride back to the old Nick, and he enjoyed the familiar sensation immensely.  When he fell asleep, he smiled all night because he'd convinced himself the decision to get high was not the decision of an addict. 

It was true.  Years of meetings and GED courses had made Nick so self-aware that he was capable of making good decisions based on evidence and understanding, not on impulse or desperate dark needs.  He appreciated consequences now, knew how to avoid most anxiety triggers, and he'd been deeply in touch with his lifelong rage.  He could do algebra, conjugate verbs, and rattle off the exact height of Mt. Everest.  The accomplishments he'd made were endless; math and Jesus had brought him miles, but sometimes he miscalculated how many miles he had yet to go.  So, occasionally, no big deal, he drifted in illusions that seemed like goals, only breezier.     

The next morning, Nick dragged his discouragement, fear, and shame to the chapel where Pastor Lenny was consoling a pleading inmate.  He saw Nick and winked.  Nick waited a few seats away for Lenny to join him. 

"What's going on, Nick?" 

"Nothing, I just..."

 "You've earned this, Nick.  Come on now, most inmates dream of early release."  

Nick studied Lenny's dark weary eyes and questioned his overburdened spirit.  By noon, he'd probably say the same thing to ten other losers.

"Don't worry so much, Nick, one spark and you'll be taking strong, certain steps out of here.  Your purpose will shine."

Nick's hangover raged.

"Listen, I'll guarantee you that a prayer, a word, a song, even a bird in the yard will light a spark and you'll walk away forever."  

Occasionally, yes, Nick still believed in forever.  But not that day, not when Lenny's same old prayers-or-bird-speech seemed particularly tired, hollow, scripted, and impersonal.    

"Don't you see?"  Lenny insisted.  "Your willingness to be honest with your worst self brought you full circle; you'll live right this time."   

Exasperated, Nick gestured with a sweep of his hand across the altar to razor wire outside.  "Lenny, that's bull, I'm not different.  We all have the same sad story, the same baggage, and the same shot when we get out—most of us fail.  Are you kidding me?  Old gangsters are coming and going at such a rate, politicians and journalists can't keep up.  I'm not a kid anymore, Lenny, and I understand the odds.  I don't even know what's realistic.  What can I hope for?  Should I get my PhD or drive a racecar?  Maybe I'll work in a coalmine or become a movie star.  I need real answers."

"I just gave you a real answer.  Be your best self." 

"But, Lenny, I don't know how.  All the odds are against me." 

"Who's talking about odds?  I've spent decades in this prison, Nick, and years with you.  We've questioned everything from why women are angry to how long a criminal justice system can lock up its best young leaders.  And this is how far we've come?  You're going with the odds?"

"Say the truth, Lenny, every poor slob deserves the truth.  How do we get past our fantasies?  What are the steps?  Who pays the rent, who feeds me while I figure out my best self?  Geez, Lenny, thanks for nothing."

"Okay, Nick, one more time.  You will figure it out.  Just take your best self right on out of here.  I know you like goals, Nick, so that's your goal."  

Around the baseball field, fog pulled from the coast and barn swallows swooped from nests in cement cracks.  Nick headed back towards West Block slumped and worried about his early release.  What the heck, he thought, remembering Lenny's words.  I'll take a chance and prove him wrong.  Sure, until a correctional officer moves me along, I'll listen to the birds.

He felt like a fool, but when he tilted his ear, in a flurry of wings, Nick actually overheard something— the swallows were complaining: 

"Those nests again, hell, where does the time go?"

"Me?  I'm gonna put my feet up, skip the whole thing. 

"Yeah, why bother?  Same damn thing next year." 

No kidding, Nick thought, utterly defeated.  Then a different group of swallows, with no time to waste, swooshed past the grumblers and over Nick's head.  They sang, rejoiced, assembled their pieces, and Nick didn't feel so low.  Louder, louder, they sang beautifully about their fine intent and other things, worthy things, immediately recognizable because they were the very same things he'd struggled to organize into stolen notebooks.  Was this Lenny's idea of a full circle moment? 

Music always pulled from Nick's past.  Now birdsongs carried him to his earliest notebooks where he'd written songs for Monica when she was four.  Weak as he was with early-release blues, memories of those songs should have overwhelmed Nick, but he'd learned to dig deep.  So he took stabilizing breaths, stopped in the prison yard, and slowly turned towards places that had made him strong: the chapel, classroom trailers, a baseball field, and the solitary housing unit.  He waited, because after all those years of work and change, he expected a flood of something. 

"Keep moving," the officer shouted.  "Now."

Steadily, Nick pushed past old familiar anxieties to possibilities ahead.  He couldn't name them yet, he needed time to find words for what he'd never felt.  But not then, the officer's expression was menacing and he had to move on.  Ready or not, after so many long, long years, Nick had to move on.  So he settled for a quick wave and a silent goodbye to Betty's kitchen.



Carter Schwonke is a graduate of Syracuse University and University College London.  Her work has appeared in Blueline, Pif Magazine, Snake Nation, Stirring, Calliope, the Underground Voices 2013 print anthology, Bird's Thumb, and Evening Street Review.  She is a literacy volunteer at a California State Prison.   

Three Poems by Nina Kamooei

of those birds

from across the top of the roof
of a mildewing 18-story complex
they winged
their ways away
i saw blue with a black pulse

i part me
to see what they see
i unmount a bloated skull
to follow
an aggregation of rovers 

tidal parliaments racing
litters of whales
scurrying flickers
and figures

must believe when i tell you
there was a spring so clear on herrenberg
my delusion could not drink its waters 

must be counterfeit
like the arranged rectilinear dunes of our cities
gasping elements hammered into
compounds haunted by force

strange it all is

though still i do turtle strokes
in the air in my sleep





take her

for you here
lost is being

it is for them the traveling more
an unraveling of their materials
a mirror mirroring other
a loop of seething
dissimilar encounters

eyes peeking from behind shells
like pistachios,
beg for a sowing

like an unterminating arrival
like a taking root, being dug out
until the arms have waned 

and imagine, maybe you are there
still your head,
but the rest of you dipped in fog

“take me with you”
“i don’t know where i live”
says the german lady
carrying katayoun in my belly
grocery bags fissure my palms

i truly hesitate






the ripples in the white walls make structures mind has
divined into realization
appear like the last of the pioneers 

forgetting paper
the pencil weaves fingers into mittens used
for petting the goneby 

a drought of chemical autonomy that manifests
itself in a masquerade that hides
behind axonal tweaks of yous

but Rumi maybe Rum maybe Ruminant
between the fingertip-whirls will tell you
the answer to what has near-dawned fluorescent 

allotment of units of this life for the gathering
of a meal that does not satiate stomach pangs
but rather a square 

what is thought of you is acquisition
what is your make-up is the new harvest
to undress sheath for sheath might be 

at night it is still still outside
it is black without defined coordinates
perhaps that is what will orient us

an unknown a net of comfort




Nina Kamooei is a writer unrooted in the space in-between. She is an Iranian German-born with US citizenship. She has a Master's degree in European Literature, but does not know if she should do her PhD or something else, like Computer Science. She has been published before. 

Sitting In a Tin Can by Matthew A. Stirnaman

The moon hung low in the sky, large, almost taunting her with its magnetic presence. She took another sip of wine, her intention started with one glass, she was now flirting with the idea of a fifth. The lack of lights this far outside of the city allowed her to witness the true majesty of the night sky, no urban veil to hide the countless stars from view. A glass of wine, a soft breeze in the air, the temptation to sit under the stars all night. Her friends told her to be courageous, though undoubtedly they did not mean this, she gave the sky a second more of consideration and then walked back inside the house toward the front door.

            Toward the man.

            She sat the empty glass on the table, fussed with her hair in the mirror, and opened the door.

            “Hello, I was starting to think I was at the wrong house, or that maybe you changed your mind,” said the man.

            “No, right house, no change of mind,” she said. “Please come in.”

            She stepped aside and held the door, the scent of too much cologne enveloped her as he walked by.

            “Nice house.”

            “Thank you, make yourself at home, care for a drink?”

            “Sure, have any beer?”

            “I’m afraid not, just wine and some liquor.”

            “Oh, I’ll just have whatever you’re having then.”

            She ducked into the kitchen and took a deep breath. She grabbed a dish towel, dried her sweaty hands, and laughed at her behavior. Get it together, she thought, this wasn’t the first time that a man had come to her door. Not exactly a man though, she thought, grabbing another wine glass from the cabinet. He was in his early twenties, not a single wrinkle on his face, with the human equivalent of the new car smell. Just enjoy this, she thought.

            She found him looking at pictures on the mantle.

            “These your kids?” he asked, taking the glass from her.

            “Yep, that’s them, my pride and joy, they’re at a sleepover. Things too weird now? You want to leave?”

            “Oh, no, of course not, I think it’s real cool that you’re a mom, you just look too young to have kids that age, what are you? Like thirty?”

            “Not a polite question to ask a lady, but sure, let’s go with thirty.”

            “Sorry about that, a bit nervous I guess,” he said, taking a sip.

            “Don’t worry about it, truth be told, I am too. How do you like the wine?”

            “Umm, it’s different.”

            “Not what you normally drink?” she asked.

            “I don’t drink wine too much, just Boone’s Farm sometimes, ever had that? It’s pretty good.”

            She couldn’t hold back the laughter, it was loud, and not short, he looked hurt.

            “I’m going to go,” he said.

            “No, wait, I’m sorry.” She grabbed his arm and he stopped, their bodies almost touching, this was the closest they had ever been. “I don’t do this every day, I’m nervous, and if we’re being honest, probably a little drunk. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” The cologne wasn’t as strong now, or she was getting used to it, she found that she liked the way he smelled. She liked a lot of things about him, and couldn’t help but take them all in.

            “Alright, I’ll stay,” he said, taking her hand off of his arm and holding it.

            “Good, I’m glad. What do you say we both shut up and head to the couch?”        

            The couch was just a launch pad for the bedroom. Several more glasses of wine, tequila, and the shedding of inhibitions made them prime for takeoff. Their love making was nothing spectacular, a sweaty, drunken dance. They quickly passed out when it was over, their backs to each other, the moonlight pouring through the window, a blue hue on their debauchery.

Turn on the TV now.

            She didn’t have to find the right channel, they all had the same thing on. Reporters looking sorrowful, people frantically running in and out of a familiar looking building, pictures and names of the dead. Her world went numb as she read the scrolling ticker, tragic accident aboard the international space station, four astronauts confirmed dead.

            Her husband’s picture filled the screen, her phone buzzed in her hand, the man stirred in their bed.




Mathew A. Stirnaman is a former technical writer, now a student of creative writing in Orlando, Florida. When not writing, he is usually studying, spending time with his beloved wife and dog, or being way too forgiving about bad movies.


Three Poems by Spenser Smith


I inhaled
a sheet
of bubble wrap
my stomach popped
like text messages
I aimed my nose
over cut-glass
and captured
plastic dioxide fizz
called it
sugar free soda






When you escape a scientology treatment center
and start smoking bath salts every day
you don’t blame L. Ron Hubbard
you become him

Cult-master of atoms
my chemistry melted
into nothingness







We roast marshmallows
on pencil crayon skewers
over floor registers


We roast our brains
on chalky synthetics
over burnt tinfoil


We roast coffee beans
on a cloudless Tuesday
(are we) over what happened






Spenser Smith is a poet, photographer, and journalist studying Creative Writing and Journalism toward a BA at Vancouver Island University. He is a poetry editor for Portal, a contributor to The Navigator and Clip Through, and his work has appeared in text Litmag and SKY Magazine.

Marry, Fuck, Kill by Sasha Landau

You’re walking down the street hugging a bag of oranges to your chest when you see your doppelgänger walk out of a movie theatre. You stop and look at them. Your doppelgänger is alone and has just walked out of a 5 o'clock showing of Furious 7. Why Furious 7? That’s a good question. Maybe the cars remind them of Sundays with their dad, sitting on the hood as he listened to The Grateful Dead and pretended to know how to fix the car radio. Maybe they were stood up on a date and were too embarrassed to ask for a ticket refund. Or maybe they have a thing for Vin Diesel’s bald head and sat in the back of the theatre surreptitiously touching themselves whenever he was on screen. You’re never going to know. In any case the theatre they walked out of was an AMC, which means that they paid 16 fucking dollars to watch cars fall out of planes for 2+ hours. That’s embarrassing as fuck. Why would your doppelgänger ever do this? No, better question; why would your doppelgänger ever do this to YOU?


Your doppelgänger sees you staring at them. They stop walking and stare back at you. In the handful of seconds that follow you are forced to make one of three decisions:


ONE. You fight your doppelgänger to the death.


Fighting your doppelgänger to the death could be hard physically, since you’re the exact same size and strength, but emotionally it would probably be satisfying. Most identical twins have terrible relationships for this same reason; there’s too much temptation to deck yourself for therapeutic purposes. If you fought your doppelgänger to the death you’d probably be able to work out all those anger issues your therapist keeps talking about. Imagine that: the knowledge that you’ve killed off some part of you. The ability to start over. Unfortunately you don’t have any weapons but your oranges, and it would probably take a while to bludgeon someone with an orange, especially if you did it one by one. But you always have your hands. You’d have to go for the eyes first, so they’d be too disoriented to fight you off, but you haven’t cut your nails recently so that’s probably okay. You aren’t really dressed for a public murder, and people will definitely be able to identify you if they want to, but you don’t think anyone will. In all likelihood any witnesses will have been too overwhelmed by the theatrics of Furious 7 to be fazed by the blood bath that you’re preparing. And even if they did notice, well, they’d probably understand. Yeah, fighting your doppelgänger to the death sounds like a good option.


TWO. You fuck your doppelgänger.


That’s right, you cross the street, grab a handful of that sweet identical ass and just straight up fuck your doppelgänger right there in front of the number 4 ticket window of the AMC. I’m talking straight balls to the wall furious fucking. (Though not Furious 7 fucking because that’s beneath you.) The kind that would make the old couples straggling out of Furious 7 weep with envy. Or maybe remorse. On one hand it would probably be the best sex of your life. On the other hand you’d have to look at yourself from a whole new angle and realize that thing that you do with your lip that you think is so sexy is actually awful and you hate it. And then later when you ran into your doppelgänger at a party you would be forced to avoid them the whole time. When people tried to point out the resemblance you’d have to say, “Yeah that’s my doppelgänger but I don’t want to talk to them because we fucked once in the street in front of an AMC theatre,” and people would ask, “Did you see a movie together?” and you’d have to explain how you feel about Furious 7 probably for the third time that night which would really just be excessive. So better not fuck your doppelgänger.


THREE. Walk away.


You’re always allowed to walk away and pretend you never saw them. You can turn around and act like none of this has ever happened. Pretend that you didn’t see yourself there in the street wearing clothes that you secretly think are cute but know better than to wear in public, looking tragic and awkward and a little bit sad. Pretend that there is no version of you out there that would un-ironically spend 16 dollars on a ticket for a movie where a car gets driven out of a plane and somehow this makes sense as a plot device. Pretend that actually there is no Furious 7 at all. People got over the whole thing after Tokyo Drift and moved on to bigger and shittier franchises. Right now you have the chance to turn around and forget that part of you is standing there alone on the street corner, embarrassing just to look at because they’re so unaware of what people must think. You could drop your bag and let the oranges tip over and spill into the street. One of them might roll across the road and onto the feet of your doppelgänger, but you’d never even have to know if they picked it up or not.


Your seconds have passed. You have to make a decision. Across the street, your doppelgänger takes a half step closer to you. The bag of oranges in your hands wobbles dangerously.


Upon closer inspection it isn’t your doppelgänger at all. The nose is totally wrong and they aren’t even the same height as you. And look, behind them, someone is coming out to join them on the street. They’re apologizing for taking so long in the bathroom. They hadn’t seen the movie alone after all. The person who is in no way your doppelgänger turns away from you.


You hope they enjoyed the movie. When they turn back to look at you, you give them a friendly wave. You settle your oranges and move on.




Sasha Landau is a queer California-based writer, though she originally hails from the mountains of North Carolina. She is currently attending UC Santa Cruz, where she’s studying to get her BA in Literature and Film Studies. If you’re interested in finding her elsewhere, you can try the FBI Most Wanted list or her art and writing blog,

A Moment in the Street by Rachel Eager

She said the only right thing to do was to wait, so we waited together. The sky was clear and bright even in the dark and I stared up at it like I was drunk. I hadn’t had anything. The whole world—her—illuminated under the trees rustling. My nose’s skin was cold and slightly damp and I thought of the wetness of freshly-cut grass.

Why are we waiting, I said to myself. I didn’t think she had heard me and really, she hadn’t. She just stood there, rubbing her shirt in between her fingers, nervously (for her). I wondered what was up. I hadn’t come to hang out with her just so she could ignore my questions, even if I had been talking to only myself. I wished we were in a city, near a highway, somewhere with just a little noise. The quiet was suffocating me. I took a giant breath in, exhaled sweat and dew. Illumination, illumination.

Her breathing quickened. I noticed this with my highly attuned social skills. I looked at her from the corner of my eye and she just ignored me. Looked away. I moved closer. Suddenly I felt drunk. All the images in my head coming together, making something entirely non-visual. I only felt things. Big things were consuming me, pounding inside my chest, making every hair on my arm prickle with an intensity and an energy that filled me up to my fullest.

I hadn’t come here to act drunk with her. I noticed that she herself happened to be drunk and it made me want to pray to some entity that was likely nonexistent, just sitting there up in the sky, probably illuminated him(her?)self, waiting for me to pray and then laugh and not answer my questions either. A rhetorical device I liked to use with her was ask a ridiculous question and when she ignored me which was almost ninety-nine percent of the time see how long it took her to realize I had spoken. In that moment, I realized something was wrong. She had been paying attention, perhaps a little too much. Too much closeness—there was a distinct intimacy in the way she was looking away from me.

I looked to where she was staring. There was a black hole in the pavement and it captivated me. She couldn’t seem to, or didn’t want to, stop staring at the hole, so we stared together. I tried to direct the energy from my questions toward the hole but it didn’t seem to want to listen either. Entities who want to listen tend to absorb. The hole sat there in its place, drilled or cut into the ground, perhaps dug out, not completely round but not exactly squareish either, just a hole in the pavement that she couldn’t take her eyes away from. Suddenly I was annoyed because my chest ached unimaginably and she didn’t even know. I was alone in the street and she would never realize.

The blackness crept up on me and started to devour me. It made me a part of the night, made me move further and further away. She stood almost completely still, sometimes swaying with the light breeze while she stared at the ground. Her eyes were transfixed and I wish she would stop. JUST STOP ALREADY, I said. She suddenly looked straight at me. My eyes almost closed in surprise because I thought she might hit me.

I want to go home with you, she said. Where?, I asked. To anyplace we can call home, I dunno, she replied. The earth was spinning with us on it. My feet seemed particularly unstable. I felt my body harden and form into something non-human. I might have been becoming a hole; I could feel myself start to move toward the ground, slowly at first. Then I crumpled faster and faster, until I was very close to the ground. She reacted violently and melodramatically, touching my face to her palms. I felt completely calm and rather like nothing.

I wanted to throw something heavy onto her foot. Her face looked all screwed up like that, so close to mine. It made me mad how she never listened. I had fallen onto the ground for her and now look. Nothing was right. My fingernails wanted to scratch new black holes in the pavement.

You never hear a word I say, I said. She didn’t reply. I started pulsating against the ground with my fingertips.

I wonder where our home is, like home together, she said absently.

I turned onto my back and looked straight up into the sky. The world couldn’t seem to change with or without her—it didn’t really matter if she moved or listened or not. The world would continue to spin and suck me downwards while she became more illuminated. That’s the price of not caring about anything. You just start to glow.



Rachel Eager is a queer woman from NYC. She is also a college student taking a break from college to work for an environmental nonprofit organization based in Midtown Manhattan. She is not at all new to writing but she is an absolute newborn in terms of being published in online lit magazines. She loves trying to figure out why she's lonely and how to write about it. She blogs here.

Three Poems by Isaac Williams

Coordinates of Wednesday

Wednesdays move slowly even when
you wake up at three. They’re a day

of routine, of maintenance. I scan self-help
books for the problem of the day. I am a car

to fix. This is what Wednesdays are for: identifying,
ruminating, puzzling. Thinking of what I always think of

when asked What’s your biggest secret?
in party games. Like it can be only one thing.

Amateurs. The W in Wednesday stands for
wondering. Enough to fill a balloon.







Apartment hunting is lonely without
you. The apartments in the city are
boxy and cement-facing. Basement
units with Mexican tile. 

I assume I’ll move
into an empty unit, no furniture
but a matted mattress and pillars of poetry.

You and I were supposed to live together,
bundled in the forest like twin matches.
When I saw you last, we followed a dirt path
through the shadowy woods, passing laughing couples
and children. The loss of wandering, following a path,
is the surest sign that you're on your own.

I flew home, promising I’d never return to
San Francisco, but was back in six months.
I worry I’ll never find somewhere else
I love or hate so much. 

I wonder what I’m always wondering: 
why I’m here and not there. 
I wring my hands and neck wondering why.
The streams run like mud here. 
There are no deer.
Sirens like confetti all night.

The men in LA are like the apartments:
expensive, beautiful, empty.
I want something that could eat me alive
but won’t. Leering over a newspaper at me.
Licking his lips. Folding his shadow
into the imprint of a blade.






An annual credit report

My mother brings me
to her new apartment after
a Sunday matinee.
Overlooking a freeway
overlooking the water, the hallways
are wrapped in modern white light,
a firm gauze invading the air.

As she steps inside, she tells me
about her new play. She’s been working
with a guy named George who she says
looks really queer but you can never really tell
in theater these days—

She crosses the carpet, her legs two knitting needles,
and opens the shades. Light tumbles onto the sofa, 
the television set, a blown glass vase she bought
from a street festival she coordinated
from a bank’s top floor office, the object
strung as if glass could have bones,

and I remember that Wells Fargo used
to mail things other than credit card bills. 
I imagine the ensuing highway robberies, 
envelopes spilling onto Californian sand
while men’s heels kick up
blood and debris. 
Messages from aunts and grandmothers, 
fascinators, co-conspirators, American regionalists
tear and muddy
under the feet of riflemen. 

Some bruising, the birth and expulsion
of skin that will swell and burst,
a real war of a situation, all over
the presumed value of pressed paper.

As my mother looks my way, 
I squeeze the movie ticket in my pocket
and remember the way the projection’s glow slipped
over her features
and the way those frames scrap with the ones
a friend drowns in developer
only a few miles away
in a photo lab near Lake Merced.

When she clears the blinds, my mother breaks
everything—the light blanks the filaments of glass ornaments
and clips the edges of objects until images lose
the thin black lines
that separate some of everything from the rest;

in the desert, a man sneezes before drawing
his gun; another ducks before the big bang
of it all—

in a relief of brightness
the shape of my mother’s own body
goes just as quickly.





Isaac Williams studies English at UCLA. His poetry can be found in Punchnel's, The Nervous Breakdown, Poetry Quarterly, and elsewhere. 

Steam Room by Kelly Kusumoto

The man stood in front of his locker and undressed. He looked in the mirror at his weathered body and was unimpressed. He remembered when it wasn’t so and frowned, while his eyes fell to the floor. His feet were wrinkled and tattered with corns. His arms were gray and splattered with liver spots. His hands were frail and shaky. His eyes were watered and worn.

The locker creaked when it shut. He turned the dial on the combination lock and wrapped a towel around his waist. He slipped on some flip flops. They slapped his feet with each step he took. The glass door was so clean that if it weren’t for the handlebar he would’ve walked right into it. He turned the timer on and immediately steam began to fill the room. He walked in and took a seat in the far corner of the room. His back and knees ached and felt like the creaky joints of a rusted gate. The steam room always brought solace to his deteriorating body. Every week on Sunday at the “Y” was marked down on his mental calendar. He looked forward to it; the peace and quiet, the soothing steam on his joints and aching skin, the respite from the world’s problems.

As the room started to fill with a slightly mentholated odor, the man closed his eyes and pictured a scene from another life. It was when he was nimble and sure-footed, climbing up the face of Waianae Range. He had spent the remainder of his savings on a one-way ticket to Hawaii after a successful friend had told him to follow his dreams. The friend had spent his last one-hundred dollars on a real estate class, then received his certificate and sold his first house within a week. He went on to sell many more, starting subsidiary companies–all which were successful, since they fed off each other–all while making a killing, starting a family, and vacationing six months out of the year.

The man had asked his friend how he did it? The friend replied, whether intentionally or not, much like many of the motivational speakers would; with vagueness and puzzling answers not even a cryptologist could decipher. He told the man to follow his dreams and never give up. The man said to his friend that he always wanted to rock climb and the friend told him to do it, and go all the way, one-hundred percent.

So he bought a ticket to the Big Island and roomed with a fisherman he met at a bar one night. The man showed the fisherman a lucky orange carabiner his father had given to him. They got to talking about rock climbing and with luck seemingly on his side, the fisherman knew a couple who ran a business. The man started working in the shop as a retail salesman while he practiced climbing on the weekends. He met a girl vacationing from California. She ended up staying. She had dreams too. They involved living in paradise by any means possible. The man was more than willing to have her live with him, which she did. She was beautiful in that California way. She was also irresistible in that California way. He stopped climbing on the weekends so he could spend more time with her, an avid non-climber. But even when it became a chore and hard on the finances, the man just could not resist her.

Then after a year of working behind the counter, a year out of practice, and a year of showing no signs of progress or even promise, the store owners fired him. When he asked them why, they gave him the runaround and told him they had to cut back on expenses. After three months of unsuccessfully searching for a job, the man and his California girl were kicked out of the apartment, forced to buy a tent with the fifteen dollars he had to his name, and find a plot on the beach. He begged. To social services, to churches, to shelters. He didn’t qualify for any help. How? Why not? One excuse after another was given to him and after a while he quit begging the establishment and started begging the people. Ironic, he thought, that the people were the only ones that would help. He got just enough to feed himself and his California queen.

One day he met a well-to-do that offered him a job. The man’s eyes welled and his heart pounded and the unfamiliar feeling of a smile formed upon his face. He rushed back to the beach and saw the tent rustling. The sounds of sex projected outward; an unfamiliar deep moan and a very familiar high-pitched yell. The man’s eyes welled and his heart pounded again and he remembered, there in the steam room, how completely different two identical actions felt.

Distancing himself from the tent, the man took a long walk and came upon a crag. He climbed up it and peered across the Pacific Ocean while the sun set and the breeze taunted him to jump. He didn’t jump. He climbed back down and walked back to his tent in the dark. The girl from California was gone and so were their belongings. At least she had the decency to leave the tent. He crawled in and zipped up the flaps of the door. The darkness surrounded him as the sound of crashing waves created a rhythm for his ears.

The man opened his eyes. The room was filled with steam. He couldn’t see a thing. A slight panic enveloped him as he tried to reorient himself. Suddenly he heard a cough and realized he wasn’t alone. At first, this calmed him, but then the steam would not let up. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. Deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, but the menthol-lined steam was thick and constricting. It was harder to breath. He felt the strangle-hold of claustrophobia contract around his airways. He stood up and was greeted with light-headedness and vertigo. Color patterns inhibited his vision. He felt like he was drowning. He instinctively took a step towards where he remembered the glass door being but slipped and fell backward, hitting the back of his head against the floor.

When the man woke up there was a needle in his arm and he was strapped to a gurney. He could tell his head was bandaged up and his neck was in a sling. He tried to lift his head and was met with instant pain and nausea. The lights in the ambulance were offensively bright and made the man’s head ache even more. There was a figure hovering over him, silhouetted by the absurd brightness of the lights. Her hair dangled in his face and tickled as she listened to his heartbeat through the stethoscope. Her voice was disguised by years of cigarettes, but he recognized it instantly. His eyes widened, his heart pounded. She told him to calm down and that everything was going to be okay. He looked to the side and saw the orange carabiner hanging from her belt loop with jangling keys attached to it. He reached out his arm and grabbed it, ripping her pants down the seams. He held it to his chest and with the only strength left in him, he whispered, “You bitch.” A fog enveloped him and swallowed him up in darkness.

He woke up and found himself in the steam room. There was no needle, there was no neck sling, and no carabiner to speak of in his grasp. He exhaled while his body went limp with relief. He was dripping and his heart was pounding. He stood up, left the room, and walked toward the pool. The water was refreshing and with every stroke, washed his memories away. By the time he reached the other end he already felt much better.




Kelly Kusumoto is a graduate and valedictorian of Full Sail University’s Creative Writing for Entertainment BFA program. He is a writer of literary fiction, flash fiction, and short stories, with experience in content writing for websites and marketing materials, short film screenplays, and video game writing. He is also a graphic designer, marketing specialist, musician, and ice hockey defenseman.

Four Poems by Miles Preston-Clark



Suicide Poem

cells atrophy right in front
of our eyes and I think, no
I decide to kill myself
while I am sitting on my couch
watching Jimmy Kimmel Live
tonight’s guest is Christina Applegate
and I am just about to retrieve something
to construct a noose with
when she tells a story
about kissing Paul McCartney
when she finishes the entire audience
launches into a righteous laughter
I am so amused
so affected by this anecdote
that I get distracted
I finish the episode
and go to bed




Even Heroes Have Slump Days

lawns are a symbol of the patriarchy
in the same way that biting your nails short is
I am saying that my anxiety is systematic
or that I can never get a manicure again
Love is only a competition if you say so





Digital Intimacy

something about sports
something about celebrity gossip
something about summer travel destinations
something about the weather where you are
if it is raining text me
I will stand in the shower
and feel it with you if you let me
something about school
something about your sister in Tampa
something about a new movie I’ll never see
I will talk around this for as long as possible
when I speak softer into the telephone listen closely
there is something else out there
an apparatus to divide my love by
a green dot telling me you are online
and glowing just beyond my reach





Ellen Degeneres Poem

Today while I am at work

my cubicle mate is watching Ellen Degeneres
in the break room while eating ramen noodles

I try to get a soda from the vending machine
but the can gets stuck on the way down

On the TV,
Ellen is giving a record deal to the deaf child with a beautiful voice
She is sending the war stricken Nigerian family a Mazda Minivan

the crowd is fucking loving it, they’re eating it all up,
they’re screaming and crying and going home
with complimentary gift bags worth more than my rent

And I am sitting down here
Below the harsh glow of the television screen

With a pocket full of change
feeding a machine that doesn’t work

For a moment I think Ellen can see it all
like she’s some sort of God

the answer to every problem that plagues me
and my eyes begin to water

Then my cubicle mate takes a loud slurp of his ramen noodles
And I snap out of it

I bang my knee against the vending machine
And finally my can of Sprite falls out

I go back to work





Miles Preston-Clark is a writer and student living in Chicago. His writing has been published in Hobart, Spork Press, Pioneertown, Reality Hands, Wu-Wei Magazine and elsewhere. He is currently writing a short story about being the last black person on earth.

Words and Negative Space by Adam Gianforcaro


At first he thought it a typo, a period superseding a word mid-sentence. But in the decisecond it took his brain to comprehend something off, the period slipped behind the last letter of the word just read. He figured a gnat, an insect the size of a clogged pore, one that landed on his reading material and quickly fluttered away. 

The following morning, Gary Bicknell noticed movement in the negative space between the V-component of the letter Y. The word was crunchy, printed in blue squiggly letters on a box of cereal. The man rubbed at his temples. He rested there at the kitchen table for some time, the palms of his hands over his closed eyes. In the darkness of cupped hands, he blamed the aberration on exhaustion and working late the night before.

A week or so later, Gary was on the beach reading the latest issue of a popular science magazine. Light reading compared to the previous weeks of grading papers from his summer classes. And it was on the beach he saw it again, quickly blaming it on the sun’s glare or a grain of sand that could have picked up in the wind and rolled across the magazine. That was until the glare was gone and sand could no longer get through. Gary placed a towel over his head and the publication, still able to read from the orange light shining through the threads. And when he thought he saw it again, he rubbed his eyes and grabbed for a pair of sunglasses resting on top of the beach bag. Then he rubbed at the glossy paper as an artist would to smear and shadow graphite.

When Gary’s friend David came in from the water, he told David about the miniscule disturbances in his reading. And when Gary saw his eye doctor the following Tuesday, the goateed man determined them floaters. Shadows in the retina, more or less. Very common for people his age. But Gary knew floaters. He’s had them ever since his laser-eye surgery a decade prior. This was something different, he knew, but Gary wasn't going to disagree with the white-coat professional in that little exam room. So they shook hands and wished each other a good day.


Some years later, when Gary Bicknell—a professor now at Whaley University Department of Physics—submitted his article on the Letter People to the various scientific publications well read in his field of study, single-sentence rejection letters trickled into his university email. Those mailed back to him via the self-addressed stamped envelope that he sent paperclipped to the submitted articles were slipped into the plastic bin hanging next to his office door by way of the department secretary, Cindy Ferrera. More robust rejections were sent in response to his requests for filling calls for abstracts, posters, symposia. These at least thanked him for submitting. These at least provided words of encouragement, even if they were template responses.

One response came in late the afternoon Cindy Ferrera was out of the office with a migraine. The following morning, a dismal one in August, Cindy was feeling well rested and migraine-free, despite the weather. After sorting through the previous day’s mail and placing envelopes in the bins of the first three offices, she poked her head into the fourth office door in a passing effort to be friendly. 

Be extra nice to weirdoes, her husband used to say. 

But for Cindy that morning, it was more genuine than this. It may have been muted reds and yellows in the fog on the way to work that morning, or it could have been the blank-canvas feeling the beginning of the semester brought the faculty. Either way, Cindy was particular light on her feet, gliding through the hallway.

Poking her head through the fourth door on the left, she saw Gary Bicknell sitting crisscross applesauce, as Cindy liked to call it, with scads of papers fluttered around the small room. She originally planned to hand off Dr. Bicknell’s mail with a closed-mouthed smile, but instead, decided against it with his back turned to her. She took note of the heaviness in the room that overpowered the feathery warmth pouring in from the open blinds—the sun poking its effervescent head through the clouds now. And so likewise, Cindy poked her head out of the room unnoticed, feeling her three p.m. gaiety trickle away.


Even before Dr. Gary Bicknell’s obsession with the Letter People, his colleagues thought him a bit off-kilter, all the more strange being outcasted by the quirky physicists of the university. What originally got him in the door were two highly successful theses on dark matter detection. When his application for a professorship made its way to the dean of Whaley’s School of Science, Liza Grishin, and after narrowing down the opening to four candidates, the dean read through these two works, two of several cited in Dr. Bicknell’s CV, primarily because these were the two that were available for free online. Fifty minutes faded as she read the two works in their entireties, following lines and graphs with the stub of a pencil and nodding her head. 

Upon hire, Gary Bicknell was warmly welcomed, but it didn’t take the veteran professors long to find Dr. Bicknell a bit too overbearing for their liking. This left Gary out of impromptu happy hours, weekend barbecues and the biannual Star Trek marathons hosted by Professor Moore. And for the two secretaries, Cindy Ferrera and the young redhead, Ashley McDonough, they teased Dr. Bicknell behind his back, primarily in reference to his strange demeanor and look of constant contempt. Eventually Dean Grishin took a disliking to Gary, too. 

It started with a passing intuition, some out-of-this-world instinct. A hunch. Nothing specific exactly, just a newly formed feeling. For a physicist, she knew there was no concrete reason to feel that way. No facts. No data. But before scientist, she was human, and in an effort to ease her mind, the dean scheduled an impromptu one-on-one with Gary Bicknell to clear the air.

And she was hoping to prove her intuitions wrong. 

Just as Liza Grishin began wrapping up their conversation, Gary Bicknell began rambling about a piece he was working on. For some time, he said. Said it had been submitted a handful of times, too, but he just kept revising it, and adding still. An ever-progressing incoherence, Liza thought. Something so far-fetch she figured it a joke at first. Microscopic entities residing in printed text? It sounded like bad sci-fi. But, of course, it wasn’t a joke. Gary was not one to joke she had learned. 

Later that evening, Liza met with Dr. Ronald Ballas, her unspoken favorite professor of the bunch, and the one who might actually know what the hell was going on with Gary. 

Oh, the Letter People, he said, laughing. This the first time you’re hearing this? Oh boy, he said.


In fits of depression, after digging through his scribbled notes on the Letter People, Dr. Gary Bicknell contemplated life led behind the inky bars of text. Serif fonts and the climbing of print as one would a rock wall. He imagined falling off the crossbar of a lowercase T as a young man could hanging lights from the roof, just as he had done in his early twenties. Broke three ribs while the sun was setting and everyone else was shopping.

He depicted the dark after the closing of a novel. The Letter People chewing their tiny fingernails until the reader opened the work again. He thought how light could leak through a page to the one behind it, offering a dim luminosity for the Letter People on neighboring pages, while the others were left stumbling blind, feeling around individual characters as a guide to get to wherever they needed to be. 

To Gary, the Letter People were cognizant beings. They resided in physical printed pieces, and not, for instance, digital materials or blank stationery. The world in which they lived was a three-dimensional world like Gary’s, where they could move about in an sliver of space existing between typeset letters and the physical piece of paper. He used an analogy of architectural foundations and the spaces between walls that house wires and plumbing and such. A microscopic crevice, to use his choice of words.

He fantasized he was a Letter Person at times. A sort of morbid fantasy. For instance, when he fell over his niece's diorama one night visiting his brother, he thought of tripping over a semicolon or some other trivial symbol. When he slipped off a curb at the university, spilling coffee on his shirt, he envisioned stumbling off a sentence fragment or a word cut short.

He thinks: Can they travel between pages? To other nearby works? Does the opening of a book cause a temporary blinding of white? Do they build shelters behind each letter? If so, from what are they sheltering themselves? Do they have neighborhoods? Is each Letter Person expected to contribute to their twelve-point societies? By writing these notes, am I mothering more of these peoples? Are we all creators of sorts? Are we gods?


In the fall the following year, Sigh:Hence, a magazine of scientific mockery and satire, published a small article on the Letter People after Dr. Bicknell’s work was sent to them from an outgoing editor of one of the journals to which Dr. Bicknell had submitted his studies. The angle Sigh:Hence chose was insinuating the microscopic Letter People compared directly the microscopic manhood of the researcher. A frivolous Freudian joke and an angle not uncommon for the publication.

Despite her shaking-of-the-head reaction to the poor taste in which Sigh:Hence referenced Dr. Gary Bicknell, the School of Science dean was forced to take the matter seriously, for she was worried about the manic state her colleague was in, but also the fact that the satirical publication specifically mentioned Whaley University by name.

Between the release of this publication and the follow-up issue in the fall, Dr. Bicknell was put on administrative leave from the university. Some time later, at the suggestion of his mom and brother, he joined the Lakeberry Center, a private psychiatric facility. He willingly accepted the schedule of an unconfirmed amount of six-hour outpatient visits inclusive of various therapies and classes, while he spent his nights at home, unbeknownst to his care team, studying each piece of printed collateral he could get his hands on. 

In the follow-up edition of Sigh:Hence, there was a letter to the editor from an unnamed colleague of Dr. Bicknell. Many assumed the dean herself after gossip traveled from the rumor mill president Cindy Ferrera to the physics professors, this being after Cindy stumbled in on a snotty-nosed and teary-eyed Liza Grishin in the women's restroom just hours after she heard about the whole Sigh:Hence scandal from Ashley McDonough, who heard it from Professor Tittle in Mathematics of all people. And in the poor humor of Sigh:Hence, the publication redacted a majority of the letter and left only a few characters uncensored. By linking these scattered details in sequence, readers quickly found the puzzle to read “phallic fail.” 

Even this piece of material, this manipulated letter to the editor, was observed by Dr. Bicknell in search of more Letter People, wondering how they—the letter people—felt behind black bars of censorship. The actual writer of the letter, Dr. Ronald Ballas, spit at this computer screen after Liza Grishin emailed him a link to the digital version. And in a Greek accent that only came out in fits of drinking or anger, Ronald sputtered a single swear word and made the sign of the cross.


Gary Bicknell was discharged from the Lakeberry Center after just five six-hour visits. The psychiatrist in charge of his care, Peter Knox, thought the man of sound mind albeit an adamant belief in the Letter People, and in no danger to himself or others.

It’s not like I’m trying to prove the existence of the sasquatch, Gary said in his exit interview at the Center. I’m basically trying to prove the existence of a more structured, intelligent microbe. I don’t get why so many people think I’m such a nut over this.

The reason for Dr. Bicknell’s relaxed state during his time there was in part due to the clonazepam he began taking several times a day until he ran out of them not too long after. He found them in his cupboard that week, forgetting he had them. And although they expired a year prior, they worked just fine.

Okay, said the psychiatrist. I hope you prove everyone wrong.

Me too, Gary said.

On the way out, Gary felt particularly observant. He studied various license plates in the Lakeberry parking lot to see if he could see movement around the embossed letters. He stood just a few feet away from a stop sign and stared for almost ten minutes. Then he picked up a shopping list that had blown from a nearby shopping complex, took this to his car, where he sat with the keys on his lap, and unwrinkled the list. He studied it, watched the stillness of each letter, until a mark the size of a pinhead sprinted lengthwise across the paper and disappeared behind an entry for tissues.


Since that time, Liza Grishin’s waistline grew two pant sizes. The gray hair peppered around her ears was dyed dark. Her crow’s feet lengthened with deep divots. And on a evening with the moon fierce and full, she sat in bed with her longtime girlfriend, Bethany Park, with their backs against the headboard watching the final episode of Investigative Journalism before calling it a night. 

During the one-hour finale, the focus was on Gary Bicknell, a man she hadn't seen in person for over a decade. He talked to the pewter-haired host about his early retirement from Whaley, his move to a studio forty miles south of campus, and the faithful focus on his studies. He said that each day he blogged from the local library on his thoughts and findings, slowly gathering a small but loyal following that deemed themselves the Observers. 

From donations of his followers, Dr. Gary Bicknell told the host he purchased four high-resolution video cameras that documented single pages of text for twenty-four-hour increments. At this point in the segment, footage was shown of the live stream—though not live at the time in which it was aired—where Dr. Bicknell clarified that ever since the launch of the live stream, each second has been, and continues to be, recorded and catalogued. In order to never miss a moment of footage, loyal Observers watch—No…study, he corrected himself—the text on the screen for prescheduled amounts of time, wherein the Observers, from various locations in the world, search for minuscule movements on or around the text being recorded. 

At one point, they showed footage the host called revealing. It was slowed down, zoomed in, and a bit blurry. All across the country people watched, although the ratings were particularly low for this program. But those watching were firsthand viewers of this so-called phenomenon. A smear of black that appeared and vanished behind a serif-set character printed on a yellowed piece of paper. And despite the evidence proving the tape was untampered, many found it underwhelming and unconvincing. 

At the closing of the show, the host asked the audience to consider this: For as much speculation there is about the Letter People, scientists have yet to disprove the theory. Sure, many view it as outstandingly dubious, but imagine: every bit of text one reads harbors a society of freethinking beings. Imagine—

 Jesus Christ, Liza Grishin said, flicking off the T.V. 

Don’t let him get to you, Bethany said, and she gave Liza a light kiss before turning on her stomach. 

Liza fidgeted and scooted herself further under the covers. She lay on her side and rubbed her fingertips across the spine of a paperback she bought earlier in the week. Words and Negative Space it was called, written by a Dr. Gerald Bradley, a pseudonym for a man she once knew. 

Liza then looked over her shoulder to find Bethany on her cellphone, both in their own heads for the night. 

Before turning off the bedside lamp, Liza casually rotated the book on the nightstand so the words on the spine faced the doorway. She then placed a torn piece of cardboard from her nightstand drawer on top on the book. Not a single letter in view. Even the piles of laundry had their tags tucked in. But as for the book, only the off-white of the three-hundred some odd pages could stare at Liza through the night, perfectly level, perfectly plain.





Adam Gianforcaro is the author of the poetry collection Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out and children’s picture book Uma the Umbrella. His poems and prose can be found in The Brasilia Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Kentucky Review, The Los Angeles Review, Sundog Lit, and others. 

I Do by Aaron Grayum

“What did I do, baby?” he asked.

“You know,” she answered.

“Just tell me,” he said.


But he didn’t. That was the problem. And she wasn’t offering any spoilers today.

“I grabbed the papers on the way out,” he said.

“I know,” she said.

“They’re in my briefcase behind your seat.”

“I believe you.”

“And the airline tickets of course.”


“Then what is it? Am I driving too fast or something?”


“You want to change the station?”

“No, I like this song. You should know that.”

He was squeezing the steering wheel and realized his fingers were numb. He flipped through the rolodex of stupid shit he’d done in the past few weeks, but every suggestion he made fell short.

“Turn’s coming up soon,” she said. “You’ll have to take the next left onto Brody.”


“After that, you remember which building?”

“I’ll have to see.”


“That one up ahead?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Wait, which side of the street am I looking at?”

“I knew you wouldn’t remember.”

“Are you mad about me not knowing where it is?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now. It’s there on the right,” she said.

I see it. Ah yes, I remember now,” he said.

“No you don’t even. You’re just trying to cover for yourself. Now park close, I don’t want to have to walk far in these shoes.”

Truth is, he WAS covering for himself. He didn’t know this place any better than he knew his way around Taiwan. It looked like any other dull building in any other office park. He turned into the parking lot and pulled into a space near the front. The fender scraped along the yellow parking bumper.

“Wait, don’t turn the car off yet,” she said. “I like this song, too.”

“You actually LIKE this song?” he asked.

“Fuck you. Forget it. Turn it off and let’s go get this over with.”

“We can stay and listen, it’s okay.”

“No. Dammit, why can’t you just tell me you’re sorry? Why can’t you ever tell me that?” she asked.

“I still don’t know what I should be sorry for,” he said.

“Of course you don’t.”

“I don’t know what you want from me.”

“I want you to apologize.”

“But you’re not going to tell me what I did?” he asked.

“Forget it. Doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t really be sorry,” she said.

“Not if you don’t tell me what you’re mad at.”

She sat and didn’t move. He arms were crossed tightly, tucked under her arms, her shoulders forward. She looked like she was trying to break her own ribs. Then she got out of the car and he grabbed his briefcase and followed.

“C’mere. I’ve gotta fix that stupid tie of yours.”

“What’s wrong with my tie?”

“It’s a mess. You should’ve rented a clip-on.”

“Clip-ons are tacky.”

“There. Now it’s better. How’s my makeup?”

“It’s perfect. You look beautiful.”

“I don’t believe you. I’ll check it myself inside,” she said.

“Fine. After you,” he said.

He held the door open for her, and they walked inside the building. The lobby was large and quiet, except for the sound of a small waterfall in the fountain behind the unmanned security desk. Her heels echoed off the marble floors.

“You know where we’re going?” he asked.

“Room 304, don’t you remember? Elevator’s this way,” she said.

“Okay. Memory’s vague. I was picturing some place over on 3rd,” he said.

“The Driver’s License Place?”

“I figured this kind of stuff would all be in the same building.”

“This isn’t at all just STUFF,” she said.

The elevator door opened. He didn’t remember if he’d even hit the button. They stepped inside.

“Okay. Which floor?” he asked.

“Think about which floor THREE-OH-FOUR might be on, Einstein.”

“Right. You ever push all the elevator buttons when you were a kid?” he asked.

“Of course not. What would be the point?” she asked.

“I don’t really know. Just something we did.”

“Seems mean. No surprise there, I suppose.”

“Oh, can you just tell me why you’re mad at me?”

“I don’t want to do this right now,” she said.

“You really want to be mad at me today?” he asked.

“It’s not the end of the world. People can be mad at people,” she said.

“I know. But the doors will be opening in a second. Maybe a hint?”

“Forget it.”

“Then make out with me instead!” he said.

“No!” she laughed.

“Would that be so bad? Then we could just forget about all this.”

“You’re such a jerk.”

“But I can still make you smile.”

“Yes. Sometimes.”

The elevator door opened and they stepped out. Her heels brought the top of her head almost in line with the bottom of his chin. For the first time all day she seemed relaxed. Well, her version of relaxed.

“There, it’s down the hall on the left,” she said.

“Oh. I remember now,” he said.


“Isn’t this where we signed the license?”

“Yes. Well, one room over. This is his personal office.”

“Whose? The judge’s?”

“Who else?”

“I didn’t know judges had personal offices.”

“Well this one does.”

“Apparently,” he said.

“We’re here,” she said.

She stepped closer to him and stood on her toes, her face close to his. She sniffed his cheek.

“You smell nice.” she said.

“Thanks,” he said.

She smiled.



“I didn’t pick up the flowers.”

She stepped back. “I know.”

“That’s the thing, isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you for saying that.”

“You’re not going to have a bouquet.”

“It’s okay.”

“No it’s not. Wait here and –“

“There’s no time. He leaves at two and it’s a quarter till.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay. It’s not like there will be photos,” she said.


“And flowers just die, anyway.”

“I got it.”

“Your hand feels really nice,” she said.

“Yours does too,” he said.

“We’re doing this, right?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Till death?” she asked.

“At least!” he said.

“Okay then. Open the door.






Aaron Grayum’s work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and The Colored Lens. He writes and makes art in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and family. His website can be found here.

Three Poems by Laura Buccieri


the dishwasher takes
one hour and forty-five minutes
from start to finish
i am a responsible person
load and unload
dishes and in-between
i stay home and make lunch
i drink all the milk out
of my cereal bowl
i wish it was still morning
but it is tuesday afternoon
and i am alone with these
clean chipped dishes
i know where every one goes
as a kid i was taught about
heaven and hell
and to be a good girl
the dishes had to be fully dry
before i put them away
a ritual
is a process
with meaning
the sign of the cross
is no loading and unloading but
if i can make my responsibility
a ritual a process a purpose
then i am doing
meaning everyday and that is good
but my mind is uneven
and it is capable
of love and sadness
at the exact same time
i don’t know how that is possible
it is three
and the dishwasher is clean
and that is sad
in a final sort of way






i shave away the unnecessary
hair on my legs
i no longer rely on my body
manufactured jeans
that can protect me better
than my body
is something
like history
like the first model
of childhood
hairs moving with the breeze
it is hard to use my body
in the way it is made
to function





Green Screen

sometimes i want to see a polished person
and i feel dirty for wanting that 

a good woman wants to see her
reality depicted 

but i see a made up
done up
kristen stewart
standing there
i feel myself wanting
scared because
she’s nothing
like me and 

i am capable of worship 

not on purpose but
i can’t help but be
i am born out of ritual
in    and    out    and    in    and 

i come out
of something physically
smaller than a closet
but a closet nonetheless
i tell my mother 

i am the only thing i will carry 

because my jeans
my jeans
are boys
are baggy
and sometimes
i want tighter
because the fad
the kristen stewart
fad i cannot help 

but see 

the girl on my tv
as more ideal than
i cannot get over the wanting
that comes from these beings
shot for the screen




Laura Buccieri is getting her MFA at the New School. She has most recently been published in FORTH magazine.