Molly stood at the window
and looked down at the ghostly
street. Flowered gossamer swirled
around her legs—that had barely
seen a newborn sun for ages.
Here and there a solitary walker, but no
crowds waiting at lights, no city traffic.
She lit a menthol cigarette
with regular matches,
the windows closed. Scents
of mint and sulphur—
reminders of nearby parks
and working class yards
behind the buildings stinging her
An ice cream truck parked
in a driveway for little kids
climbing on jungle gyms after
school, and union men on break;
no rule says you have to be under
the age of eight to like a cone.
None of this climbed up to Molly—
just mint, sulphur, and memory.
She was a people painter, believed
grace required the breath of humans.
—a couple peeked down from the terrace
across the way and she knew
she could paint. With one motion
she stubbed the cigarette, set up her easel,
closed her eyes. Molly wouldn’t paint
this couple she’d met casually,
she just needed them. His tapered writer’s
hands, her witty brilliance, their living.
Molly’d saved her heart, her time, her canvas,
painted all the absences this couple could bear.
Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was published by Cholla Needles Press. “Symmetry: earth and sky” was just published by Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).
You should never rip off your shirt at a picnic, exposing your breasts
to your second cousin’s children, unless, of course, this is your only
recourse for twenty-seven years of raw-turkey Thanksgivings and rejection.
But if you do, ignore the cloud in your head, clouds everywhere,
in the basket with the mustard and plastic forks. Ignore the sounds around
the cloud, the yells and shouts, the sudden blanket on your shoulders.
You are holding a jar of cornichons, the ones that were supposed to remind
you of France, Paris, the house in the suburbs where the mother-in-law
sent jars and jars to the family whose house you lived in. You ate them all.
You’ve carried each day since then, a beacon beating home, home, home.
But Paris isn’t home. Home isn’t home. You shrug off the blanket,
grab your shirt, struggle to make sense of sleeves and buttons.
What is the point? There’s nothing in your pocket but regret, sorrow
that has stolen your nights. People you thought were part of your heart
threw every last moon at you, leaving only stars to navigate back to yourself,
which you are not now, not at this picnic with all this past and history.
You wish you weren’t waiting for someone to call out as you walk down the hill,
to the lake, out on the path, buoyed, pushed to who knows where. You don’t
know, but you are going, listening to the gulls, holding the cloud, the cornichons,
the blanket, letting go of the past, the old beacon, finding the right direction
that is light, dazzling, seamless, at least for now. You skimmer, go.
Jessica Barksdale’s fifteenth novel, The Play’s the Thing, is forthcoming from TouchPoint Press in 2021. Her poetry collection When We Almost Drowned was published in March 2019 by Finishing Line Press. A Pushcart Prize and Best-of-the-Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Review, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches novel writing online for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University.
The first time she was touched was in the dark. At a school assembly, the lights in the auditorium off so that they could see the video about drunk driving play on the projector screen above the stage. A hand was on her thigh and then between her legs. She tensed but didn’t dare look at the boy the hand belonged to. She concentrated on the girl crying in the video, mascara running down her face, saying she wished she could take it back. Make it better again.
She’d only spoken to the boy in class. They had English and Bio together. Now, his hand crept up her thigh so slowly it was barely moving. She didn’t flinch. His fingers followed the inside seam of her jeans. His knuckles pressed hard.
There, in squeaky seats, she chewed her lip until it stung, the hurt of it. She wanted him to press harder, harder. They didn’t look at each other. A mother cried on screen, asked why, why, why. Mascara ran down her puffy face. His thumb dug in and she sucked in air. She could hear the whole school breathing, in and out. Something unfamiliar stirred in her. Someone whispered and a teacher shushed them.
Erika Nichols-Frazer has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She won Noir Nation’s 2020 Golden Fedora Fiction Prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her stories, essays, and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Red Tree Review, HuffPost, Lunate, Literary Orphans, Noir Nation, OC87 Recovery Diaries, and elsewhere. You can find her work and blog at nicholsfrazer.com.