Night in a Crumbling City

Toss… turn… kick at the blanket… flop on the belly… bury the head in the pillow. Henry’s arm pokes out from under the covers. He pats the mattress, feeling for his phone somewhere along the edge of the bed. His hand finds it, drags it under the pillow. Henry opens one sluggish eye, peeks at the time. Four thirty-eight. He’s been in bed since eleven. Tossing and turning, flipping and flopping. For the dozenth time, he yells to his brain, Sleep, godammit!

Henry flops onto his back, straightens his legs, props a pillow under his knees. With one hand on his chest and the other on his stomach, he slows his breathing, counts his breaths. In through the nose… out through the mouth. Inhale… exhale… The exhales last longer than the inhales.

Soon the breathing is pushed into the background, and Henry is sketching buildings and bridges—a whole city—in his mind. The practice has often calmed him, given him peace. Now he colors in the buildings, adds some landscaping, draws the happy people he imagines would be living in his designs.

But it’s not working. And this is his third try. He must be trying too hard.

Relax…

He stops the construction in his mind and opens his eyes. Stares at the ceiling. Once again, Henry tries to slow his breathing. Please… he begs his brain. He checks the time: five twenty-one. Please, please… Instead, the more he pleads, the more his breathing quickens, shallow and short-winded, until great tremors quake in his chest.

A wounded animal howls; Henry is taken aback by the strangeness of his voice. The quaking has dislodged something, and now the solid mass fissures, releasing an anguish that has clung to the bedrock of his soul, refusing to yield. Now it tears toward the ceiling of his chest and trembles at the surface until it finally escapes the barriers of his body. For a moment it hovers over Henry’s face, soggy with tears. And then, it vanishes.

Henry’s breathing slows into deep, protracted sobs heaved from an unfathomable well through difficult passages. The strange sphere of hardened mass had held all his heaviness, and now he longs for it, so used to its chain; chained to little Henry, with his rosy cherub cheeks, five years old, playing with his sister. Playing with his father’s shiny pistol while his sister laughed and tossed her halo of curls before the deafening sound of the world ending.

The first glimmer of dawn creeps through the edges of the curtains. Henry dozes off at last, grateful to forget.

 

M. Ocampo McIvor

M. Ocampo McIvor was born in the Philippines, raised in Toronto, Canada, and currently lives in Seattle. After a career in technology, Ocampo McIvor has returned to her roots to follow her calling in literature. Her work has been featured in The Bangalore Review, Conclave Journal, and Storgy Magazine. She is the author of Ugly Things We Hide (uglythingswehide.com).

Maddy Wilson Resigns

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Greg Wilson, Wilson Family

(555) 555-5555

gwilson @ wilsonent.com

 

 

WILSON FAMILY’S MADDY WILSON RESIGNS;

FAMILY SEEKS NEW WIFE AND MOTHER

CHARLOTTESVILLE (May 18, 2019)— The Wilsons announced today that Madeline “Maddy” Wilson, wife and mother has left the family to pursue other interests. A search for a replacement will launch, effective immediately.

“We can’t underestimate the value Maddy brought to our family,” said Greg Wilson, husband of Maddy and father to the couple’s four children. “She is so good at doing the dishes, making sure we have groceries, making dinner every night, getting the kids to do their homework, and, really, taking care of all of us. I don’t have any idea how we will manage without her.”

Maddy Wilson began her long relationship with the Wilson family when she married Greg in 2005. In 2006, the couple had their first child, Elton. A year later, the family welcomed a second child, Hannah, then in 2008, the twins, Brent and Ellen were born. Overwhelmed by childcare needs and household tasks, Maddy at first reduced her hours as a public relations professional and added freelance writing to her workload. Eventually, Maddy came to the understanding that her family needed to come before any outside work.

During Maddy Wilson’s tenure, the Wilson family saw 14 cases of strep throat, one case of appendicitis (Brent), eight midnight runs to the store to buy posterboard for a project due the next day, 16 bake sales, six months of colic (Hannah), one shopping mall loss prevention negotiation after a shoplifting incident (Hannah, again), and an eight-month layoff (Greg) in which Maddy was the sole supporter of the family. Maddy drove the children, or ran errands on behalf of the children and her husband for a total of 20,864 miles, did 1,300 loads of laundry, and prepared, from scratch, 5,011 dinners.

“We are so grateful to Maddy for everything she did for our family,” said Greg Wilson. “The kids and I are looking forward to lots of takeout, ‘pajama days,’ and lazy weekends. At the same time, I’m continuing my workouts at the gym and am eager to attract a great candidate to this unique role.”

Greg Wilson’s profile can be found on Match.com, Bumble, OKCupid, and Tinder.

 

Marijean Oldham

Marijean Oldham is a public relations consultant and writer. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, The Lindenwood Review, and Burningword Literary Journal. An essay is forthcoming in the spring, 2021 edition of the Maine Review. In 2018, Marijean authored the book 100 Things to Do in Charlottesville Before You Die, Second Edition (2018 Reedy Press). In her spare time, Marijean bakes pies competitively.

 

 

 

Fiction

What It Is

The world watched the man grow increasingly detached from society, as if while the world progressed, he remained fossilized in a time of his own. Everyone recognized that he was ensnared in antiquated ways — everything from reading tangible newspapers to retaining nearly long-expired principles about society. Hence, everyone abandoned him at some point, leaving him alone in his rambling Victorian mansion somewhere out west, or maybe down south, or perhaps somewhere in between. He, too, soon forgot where exactly he was or what time it was, as he spent his days on his armchair, besotted with the paper and a glass of scotch or whiskey containing ice that rattled each time he picked the drink up or placed it down. That rattle was the only thing that signaled to his maid, a pretty indigenous woman with a forced sense of humor and an inauthentic approving countenance, that the man was still alive. Because otherwise he was a recluse in his armchair, reading the paper, only sometimes muttering phrases to himself like “devilish dissidents” or “my beloved Union.” The maid stayed separate, minding her own business except when she popped in every two hours to make sure the man hadn’t misplaced his hearing aid, for he had a tendency to take it out, claiming the cruel device inflamed his butterfly-like earlobes to the point of bleeding. But he knew the actual reason, and so did the maid: he had no one to hear, or rather, no one to whom he wanted to listen, so his hearing was rendered useless. This went on for days, months, years, until at some point (the man knew not the date), protests pushed towards the mansion after a young black boy was killed at the playground, between the swing set and the monkey bars, and then another one on the sidewalk by the Chinese grocery store, and then a third one in an apartment and a fourth one on the stairwell, unless the third was on the stairwell and the fourth was in the apartment. And it was only then that the white man and the maid had their first real dialogue since forever, and it was simply the maid resigning, still bothering to reassure him that the problem surely did not lie in his character but in the nature of the outside circumstances. Yet the girl herself gladly joined the chanting crowd outside, while the man was anchored on the inside, laughing to himself at their efforts without a flinch of consternation. He spent his days in the rocking chair, the ice cubes no longer making a sound because no one could hear them, until one evening a masked gentleman flung a Molotov cocktail through an upstairs window, setting the room afire. The man did not hear it, of course, but eventually as he went upstairs to turn down the heater, it was then that he saw the flames besieging him, but still, his reaction was nothing, not much: “It is what it is.”

 

Alex Lee

Alex Lee is a writer from New York who has won several awards and received much recognition for his fiction and critical essays, including from The New York Times. When he is not writing, Alex can be found reading plays or watching whatever is on PBS.

Haiku Dream

Noriko sits on her knees in a gold and black kimono, wide sleeves holding fragile arms, palms on her lap, thumbs hidden. With white hair pulled back, cheekbones rise under eyes deep in memory of Manzanar. In Block 25, she lived with her mother and father next to an ancient apple orchard he pruned and tended, picking yellow fruit and storing baskets in a cellar the other men built for the skin to turn red and sweet. Being the oldest Issei man, younger than his daughter is today, he was given no work, left to himself while his wife made rounds as a dietician, using rations to plan menus for those suffering illness, and Noriko learned how to diagram English sentences, sticking words on limbs. The Sierras ten thousand feet above, her father hiked the creeks, no one believing an old man could escape the wire. He brought home branches of myrtle. Noriko would watch him sit for hours, carving boughs into lamps and table legs. Once a night heron emerged from his hands, short neck and short legs. Her father placed him at the edge of the steps. Alone to wait for the rising moon.

Chella Courington

Chella Courington (she/they) is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y Magazine, and New World Writing. With three chapbooks of flash fiction and six of poetry, she recently published a novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), featured at Vancouver Flash Fiction. A Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net Nominee, Courington now lives in California.

Magpies

That girl’s come again, the one called Jewel. She likes to correct me, says her name is Julie. I know. She’s my youngest granddaughter. That’s what she says. Like the others, she visits, like the others she says goodbye. Jewel comes often enough, I’m starting to expect her, and maybe it’s not just to say goodbye. She asks after my sleep, the food. It’s mud, I tell her. Jewel, who wants to be Julie, looks toward the window. For a change, it’s broken clouds, some blue sky, the snow gone elsewhere today. Nobody has to shovel. You must be glad you have a window. I like to look out. That chair makes it easy to watch the birds. Jewel walks over to the chair, presses a hand against the cushion, waits for it to push back. Very supportive. Go ahead, try it. No, Grandpa, it’s yours. Always like this. Yours. Mine. Theirs. Hard to know what to make of it. I’ll join you in a moment. Go ahead and open the window. Probably not supposed to. Only way to hear the birds. Jewel, who has black curls of hair pulled into a messy bunch, says, I can see them. Magpies? Perhaps. Well, you can’t hear what they are saying. What are they doing? Pecking between the cracks. Always looking for sunflower seeds, crumbs, stupid bugs. There’s one who has no tail. That’s Squirt. He steals whatever anybody leaves out there. Sometimes people don’t even realize they lost something. He took my watch and a ring I used to have on this here finger. Awful snug that ring. Not sure how he got it off. I rub and twist both sides of my finger. You can still see the mark it left. I swing my legs off the bed. Not as easy as it used to be. No faking that. Let me show you.

 

Connie Wieneke

Connie Wieneke’s prose and poetry most recently has appeared or is forthcoming in Weber, Talking River Review, Split Rock Review, Camas, Stand, and other journals. Her work also has appeared or is forthcoming in anthologies, including The Artists Field Guide to Yellowstone and Orison Anthology. Since 1983 she has lived in Wyoming.

How Many Mad Scientists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

The question twisted my guts, triggering an uncontrollable urge to pee.

10,000 applicants for one scholarship to the world’s most prestigious university.  If not me, a life mining coal like dad, both granddads, four great granddads.  Grades made the first cut.  Board scores the second.  Extra-curriculars the third.  Interview, the fourth.  Now the essay.  100 finalists.  One winner.  No runners up, no honorable mentions.  99 losers.  Other scholarships?  Too much coal dust under my fingernails, in my lungs, in my DNA.

My bladder felt like a pressure cooker without a safety valve.

Found an answer online: One to map the bulb to Euclidian space, one to compute the covariant.  99 other laptops glowed with the same answer.  Fiendish, allowing us to use our laptops.  I wracked my brain.

None because we don’t have electricity.  Too third worldish.

My bladder felt volcanic, lava ready to spew forth.

An infinite number to debate whether light bulbs existed.  Too philosophical.

I hailed the proctor.  I begged.

No bathroom breaks.

I cursed.

Four, one to propose to change the bulb, one to obstruct the change, two to debate whether it needed changing.  Too Congressional.

I Googled Edison.  Light bulb jokes hadn’t been invented yet.

Two, one to change the bulb, one to replace it with the original bulb for reasons of editorial clarity.  Too New Yorkerish.

I squeezed my legs together, squirming in agony.

A dude closed his laptop, handed in his blue book, departed with middle finger raised in triumph.

Two, one to change the bulb, one to write a song of nostalgia about the original bulb.  Too folklorish.

A second person, a third, a dozen, the room emptied.  My bladder wished it could as well.  I loosened my belt to lessen the pressure.  A minute or two of relief.

Buridan’s Ass, the philosophy anecdote from college days.  Unable to decide whether to change the bulb or not, the mule stood paralyzed in the dark.  Too paradoxical.

I was alone with the proctor who tapped his wristwatch with impatience.  My underpants dampened.  In pain, I scrawled words in my blue book, hurled it at the proctor, raced to the men’s room, my pee arcing into the distant urinal, a perfect one color rainbow.

None, I had scribbled.  Light bulbs don’t wear diapers.

I won the scholarship.

 

Frederic Liss

Liss whose first novel was published in July, 2020 is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, a nominee for the storySouth Million Writers Award, and a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize sponsored by University of Georgia Press, the St. Lawrence Book Award sponsored by Black Lawrence Press, and the Bakeless Prize sponsored by Breadloaf Writers’ Conference and Middlebury College. He has published more than 50 short stories. He has received numerous awards and other forms of recognition for individual short stories including The Florida Review Editor’s Award for Fiction; James Still Prize for Short Fiction sponsored by Wind; Midnight Sun Award for Fiction sponsored by Permafrost; Third prize in the Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction; Finalist for the Raymond Carver Award for Short Fiction sponsored by Carve Magazine; and Honorable Mention in the New Letters Literary Award for Fiction and the Glimmer Train June, 2014 Fiction Open. Liss has also been published in The Saturday Evening Post, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Dogwood, The Worcester Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal. He earned a BA from Amherst College, Amherst, MA; a JD from Columbia University School of Law, New York, NY; and an MFA from Emerson College, Boston, MA. He was the recipient of a Grant-in-Aid in Literature from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, Boston, MA where he leads a workshop in writing fiction.

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