She sensed when he’d show up. She’d turn her head and look out the window. There he’d be 3 floors down in the parking lot. The man in the hat.
Tall, almost lanky. Black hat – she wasn’t sure the term – Boiler? Brimmed? Felt? Always. Sometimes with a vest. Sometimes a leather jacket. White guy. Indiscriminate age, maybe 28 or 43. Not as old as she was. Not young enough to be self-conscious.
On him the hat worked. For her. There was something about his gait. Self-assured. Never in a rush. Going somewhere. He looked like he could time travel, be comfortable anywhere. The kind of guy who could wear an “I heart my cat” shirt without an ounce of irony or stroll to a piano bar in a dusty western town. He’d need a wider brimmed hat for that.
She wondered where he worked. She realized she was unaware of what the other companies in the building were or did.
She never saw him at the food trucks. She hated the elevator; he struck her as a take-the-stairs guy. She liked the familiarity of the mystery of him a few times a week. Possibility in the guise of routine.
One day she was walking down the stairwell. There he was – she had been right. Up close, she still liked his face. Light eyes. Pale. Maybe intelligent. Short dark hair, at least what she could see around the hat. Could be a banker if he swapped jeans for a suit.
“I like your hat.”
Nice smile, “thanks.”
“Goes with anything; in this climate, you could wear it in any season.”
He agreed then described his summer hat. Made eye contact. Then held the door.
She paused. Almost held out her hand. Introduced herself.
Maybe it would have been what her former father‑in‑law used to call “the Greatest Love Story of All Time.”
Maybe she would have made a new friend.
Maybe they would have grabbed a cup of coffee or a beer.
Maybe they would have talked about cats.
Or ended up naked and sweaty tangled in bed sheets.
Maybe, naked, he would’ve let her try on that hat.
Most likely none of that would happen.
She had good American life by any standard; in her routine she didn’t have was much that was interesting.
And the man in the hat, he was something to ponder.
What if under that hat was a wispy, greying, middle-aged comb-over? What if the intelligence in his eyes was anxiety? What if he was just another IT cog who played golf, drank too much on the weekends, and watched sitcoms after work?
She liked speculating about the man in the hat.
She did not hold out her hand or ask his name.
Instead, she walked through the open door, cold reality making way for fantasy: “thank you. Good night.”
She did not wait for his response, for him to catch up, share details about his life, and maybe walk with her to her car.
Tara Hun-Dorris, a West Virginia native, lives in Raleigh, NC.
Feral iris bloom peach and blue and cream, and sweet-tempered purple violas, and a busy chipmunk digdigdigs up the mint and basil and thyme, little bastard. He skitter-pops on quick feet over the mulch while the sun rises through one soft smoky exhale.
In the house, the man and the boy sleep, and maybe dream.
All over town, along every street, spiky white daisies to braid a crown.
Occupy the blank hollows between clockticks not considering his obituary, or eulogy, or anything words at all—instead, chipmunks and herbs and irises and smoke.
At the Farmers’ Market, booths blush with the pinks and reds of April and May. Eat strawberries by the fistful dirt and all red-mouthed and sweet-tounged while children and dogs swarm your knees—a little bit of thunder, or the echo of a phone call in your head. A woman rhapsodizes spring asparagus, somewhere to your immediate left. Radishes taste best with butter.
Eat. Eating after a death is a mitzvah, after all.
If walking is hard, aimless onefootinfrontoftheother up the stairs and down the stairs and to the stove to fill the teakettle to the cupboard a box of stale crackers the bathroom a Kleenex from one bright window to another to another, then stand. If standing is hard, in the empty kitchen empty bedroom empty living room, sit. The faded green chair by the north-facing window, the window with the bird feeder. Chickadees and goldfinches and starlings and robins perform a mitzvah.
You are an empty teacup.
Molasses-sticky feet cling damp to linoleum—a light and brief hand on a wall a caesura, stopped in place for a minute or an hour, a week, a year.
Grief plans an extended visit, but neglects to call ahead.
Grief chain smokes Lucky Strikes on the porch and watches that goddamn chipmunk eat the mojito mint, Grief swarms around your feet with red-mouthed kids and barking dogs in the hot street discusses asparagus with the woman to your immediate left. Grief picks blue irises and white daisies to make you a crown and stands on your front step with both hands flowerfull until you consent to let it in.
Suzanne Cody’s (MFA, Nonfiction Writing, University of Iowa) recent publications include poetry in Gambling the Aisle, Crack the Spine, and Storm Cellar, essay in Queen Mob’s Tea House and Pithead Chapel, and flash fiction in Blink Ink. Suzanne served on the editorial committee for the Seneca Review anthology We Might as Well Call It the Lyric Essay, and is currently Nonfiction Editor for Crack the Spine.
I have waking-nightmares of you falling out of the sky.
NASA rings me. I think it’s spam, but they know I trust NORAD, so they have me call the mountain nearby and ask for some general by name to confirm. A private jet flies me to the Kennedy Space Center where all the loved-ones of a secret mission and recently compromised space-vessel have been collected. There, Mission Control puts us all in headsets wired straight to our crew members in the sky – in the cold black that is quickly becoming lighter as the ship plummets back to earth at the speed of any respectable falling-star.
I’ve written you a poem. You talk to God. I watch the screen to help me time my last words to you, and see the ship make impact. Crash into the earth. Explode in the dirt and air with the space and humanity still all over it.
Around the room, people double-over with grief. They wail. In some scenarios I do, too. In others, I silently keel to the floor and vomit. Someone like you – sane and composed in crisis – drapes a windbreaker embroidered with your name and the mission’s insignia over my hunched shoulders.
All correspondence with the ship is recorded, so in the following days I listen back to our conversation. So do the officials and, in some versions, pieces are given to the media for the sake of public morale. Your poem becomes a cultural landmark. In others, the whole voyage is kept under wraps and none of the families are allowed copies of their astronauts’ final sounds.
Sometimes you try to give me custody of your nephew (since your brother is in jail and your father is aging). In all of them, you ask me to tell your sister’s daughter and your namesake that you love her and that her laugh is your favorite sound in the whole universe. You remind me that your second-favorite sound is mine.
My last words to you are, “See you soon”. This is because you’ve seen how much God always loved you and because you and I always end things upbeat and because you and I are never finished.
Delaney Kochan is a mountain-raised writer who has has essays published in Under the Gum Tree, Chaleur, Ruminate, and multiple collegiate literary magazines; she guest-writes for outdoor adventure and regional magazines. She started a lifestyle brand and magazine with her friends in college and now is a reader for Newfound Publisher. She loves language even over story, and on the weekends she works as a floral interpreter. Full list of work can be found at www.delaneykochan.com
Every time I check the mail, I see the name of a martyr that France has wept since most of us stood united in early 2015 behind a sentence that started with “Je suis.” His name in proper spelling, with its final T, printed on a white rectangular label made by the co-op some decades ago. Before his name is his widow’s (more commonly referred to as the upstairs neighbor), the two names hyphenated together. I moved into the building less than a month before the attack, had never met him or her. I wasn’t even aware that they had been living for years in what has now become my building. It took me some time to understand why all these people were appearing in the staircase with a look I had never seen before on anyone’s face. I remember being surprised by what they were bringing her—care packages of necessities, including multiple copies of the daily, weekly, and monthly papers.
Time has passed by but we still occasionally meet in the staircase. She once asked me if I knew who she was. I don’t remember what I answered. We talk for a while or maybe a little every time we meet. She doesn’t know how to pronounce my name. I have never bothered to correct her. The other neighbors mispronounce it as well, yet in a different way.
The first time she cried in front of me I didn’t know what to do. Truth is, I don’t remember meeting her on the stairs without seeing her cry. When we meet on the street or uninterestingly enough at the hair salon, she manages to hold it together. But within the confinement of our building, there’s no way for her to hold her tears inside. She will be standing there with groceries, hesitating to climb the stairs to her floor or to stay in between floors with me discussing how life is going these days. It’s easy to see that she has been happy in her life. Her happiness has not worn off year after year. You can still see traces of it on her classically featured, sweet face. It is as if her muscles still remember what it is like to stand still with no negative thoughts. Once she told me she was sure I was raised in a house that read his newspaper. I lied. Truth is, we never bought it. We didn’t like the way the drawings looked.
One night after going to the movies, I picked up the mail from my mailbox. Number nine. I did so in a way that was almost burdensome. The mailboxes are further down in the courtyard, after the door of the part of the building I live in. It always feels unnatural for some reason to go all the way to those mailboxes. As I robotically crossed the courtyard back to my building and typed the code to the front door, I stumbled upon an envelope with a name different than mine. There it is, I thought. There he is. Black letters on white paper. His full name—not the one used when they mention him on TV. The power of reading his actual civilian name. His first name I had heard no one use but her. It was a rather thin envelope, those long shaped ones. There was probably just one page of A4 horizontally folded in three inside. Short of breath and with my eyes focused on those few letters, I turned around to put it in the correct mailbox. Hers. Number eight. I did so in a weird rush, my heart pounding as if I had just run to catch the bus, but with an additional hint of embarrassment. It was as if I had stolen something in order to find out a secret that was not mine to discover. When I got to my apartment seconds later, it took me a minute to calm down. I remember not taking my coat off right away as if I had something else to do, or would maybe need to go out again. Eventually, I got over myself and went to bed. I wondered afterwards why I hadn’t given it to her directly. I very well could have slid it under her door. His mail.
Haydée Touitou is a writer from Paris, France working mainly in English. Haydée has been published in different independent publications including Apartamento magazine for which she is today one of the contributing editors. Her non-fiction writing has also been presented in Double magazine or Kennedy magazine among others. She works as an editorial consultant for brands and agencies, with a range of missions going from producing editorial content for both internal and external communication, as well as overseeing the making, editing, and publishing of books. In 2017, Haydée co-founded The Skirt Chronicles, a collaborative publication that aims at reflecting a feminine voice without excluding anyone from the conversation. Haydée is currently working on her first book, a collection of four short stories entitled Name in Full as well as other projects including a book in translation and a children’s book.
You kiss Ryan Gosling at El Cid on one of those smoking terraces that overlook the canyon below Sunset Boulevard. You have both been catcalling the flamenco dancers and sharing cigarettes like you and your best friend used to on the patio of the coffee shop in Los Gatos, a life so distant from where you have come that you wonder whether you have made it up so that your character has backstory.
Contrary to what you will tell others later, the kiss is closed-mouthed and lopsided. You are so drunk it is not possible to know who leaned in towards whom, but it is likely that you perpetrated. You, desperate, starved for love, so deprived of the validation that you exist in this fetishized dystopia of self-willed kamikazes. There is some theatrical fondling of the shirt collar and its forced awkwardness. Still. In a small, lopsided way, you are confirmed.
The next morning, ebbing your way out of gin-induced oblivion, you manage to stumble into him. You are perusing the ’zines in Skylight Books, dressed in the same lace jumper you wore the night before, and he is handling a book on California poetry near the greeting card carousel. You should be wearing sunglasses. Or a mask. He is wearing a fedora; you, the glass beret you bought while backpacking through Brittany. Both of you are escaping the Los Feliz heat and its baking sheet sidewalks.
There is a blip. Unrecognition. A hiccup in reality—which is really a trademark experience since your unbecoming into one of many, many free radicals. Your grip on the black and white vanity print tightens. Your damp fingers smudge the script. But that’s okay. You will buy it anyway. As a memento of reformation. The smile is microscopic and barely hurdles the rampart of books and greeting cards, but by god, it is a smile. It is a laser to the brain. To his left, a wispy brunette spins the card carousel, unaware that you have conquered fantasy.
Ryan holds your gaze just long enough.
He licks his lips.
He sets the book down on an untouched stack of LA Weeklys.
Exits frame left. Fades to white.
Holy shit, you think. I’m finally real.
Tara Stillions Whitehead
Tara Stillions Whitehead’s writing has appeared in Fiction International, Red Rock Review, Chicago Review, Sleipnir, New Orleans Review, Texas Review, and elsewhere. She has received a Glimmer Train Award for New Writers and Pushcart Prize and AWP Intro Journal Awards nominations. A former assistant director for television and film, she now teaches film and writing in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
My mother said, “It’s ok to say no.”
I needed a cup from my grandmother’s cupboard, but I was four, unable to reach. My aunt grabbed me by the waist, cupping my bottom the way a swing set holds the body of small children. She hoisted me up to reach the cup, but I wouldn’t grab one. When she set me down I mumbled, don’t touch my private parts. Her laugh was defensive. She confronted my mother and said I was disrespectful. My mother said, “She governs her own body.”
In middle school an older female teacher sometimes walked behind students and laid her hands on them. Everyone joked about how inappropriate it was. As a class, we decided we would stand up and voice our discomfort. One day, she rested her hands on my shoulders. I jumped up. Don’t touch me, I shouted. The room was silent. I was sent to the principals’ office and eventually transferred to another teacher. My mother was proud of me, although I’m ashamed of myself now for those moments of pain etched in my teacher’s face after I’d shouted at her.
That was my mother’s gift to me. While other parents taught their children to say yes, to their teachers and their elders and their peers, my mother was adamant I learn to speak for my body.
Recently I went to get a massage from a cheap parlor; a type of place where you don’t undress. I signed a form stating I wanted a stranger’s hands on my body, to pull and push it into submission.
In a communal room, my masseuse told me, in broken and heavily accented English, to flip onto my stomach. Without speaking, he removed my arms from the shoulder straps of my dress. I assisted him. My stomach burned. He tugged at the dress, mumbling something as he pulled hard against my waist. I was waiting for him to stop. Stop beneath my shoulder blades. Stop there, at the lowest rib. My body became a list he checked off with ticks. He unsnapped my bra.
When the dress was pulled to my hips, just below the two dimples along my lower back, I told him that was far enough, the only words I was able to utter. The breath from his laugh hit my naked back and stung.
Later I learned I’d unknowingly consented to a massage, body unclothed. The masseuse was not a predator. But during that hour, I was a woman, silent.
Afterward he tried to snap my bra back on for me. I removed his hands and attempted it myself. My hands shook; I couldn’t hook the clips of my bra. He laughed again as I took the bra off completely and, still face down, slithered back into my dress. I shoved a crinkled five-dollar bill into his hand, fled.
In the car I fixed smudged mascara, my frizzled hair. My lip was swollen from where I’d bit it to keep from screaming.
by Briana Loveall
In 2018 Briana Loveall was a finalist for the Beacon Street Prize and the winner of the Peninsula Pulse Hal Award. In 2017 she was a finalist for the Montana Book Festival Award and the Annie Dillard Award. Her worth has appeared, or is forthcoming, with The Rumpus, The Forge, Under the Gum Tree, Crab Orchard Review, and others.