There’s been another shooting, and now the birds call for revolution, refusing to fly and walking everywhere, causing traffic jams. Their shit fills the streets instead of decorating rooftops, cars, and people’s heads. Squirrels shut down Brooklyn Bridge in protest. Rats congregate on the White House lawn to plot the best points of entry. We’re tired of being your fucking metaphors, they shriek. Read more Pidgeonholes
She smells of olives and honey every time she passes me in the temple, her long fingers lightly grazing mine. Like crushing on the cool girl, I’m not allowed to speak to her or even look her in the eye. She calls me servant in public but once, by the river, mouthed lover when she saw me—a virgin acolyte serving a virgin goddess. You play by house rules. Seventh-grade rules, which change depending on who has the best Instagram. When the sea god tells me to hold still and runs his hand through my hair, I obey. His other hand parts my knees and slowly spiderwalks up the length of bare leg until I whisper her name, like a curse, and run. Read more at Sundog Lit
“She’ll take you, Señor. She’ll take you and make your forget, just like she took your wife,” the abuelo says to him, his face crinkled like old cabbage. He gestures to Gil to withdraw his gaze from the two faint lights in the horizon. “We are in Carnival now,” the old man continues, taking Gil by the arm back to chaos of the city streets. “Venga. See the dancers.” Skeletons shimmy their way around bodies barely covered in bright tops, short skirts, loose shorts. He watches, fascinated by the rhythmic jounce of those bodies thrusting in and out in perfect time to the drummers. It had been the same scene when his wife disappeared a year ago.
They had camped out in the desert that night, away from the din of the city, he and his wife and the guides they had paid to show them the giant dunes of the Sechura Desert. “I’m going for a walk,” she had said, one hand holding her hair up while she wiped away a trickle of sweat from the curve of her neck, her deep-green dress clinging lightly to her thighs. Let me come with you, he had thought but not said. It was too soon for romantic walks. And so he had let her go — to gaze at the stars, to wonder why they had come to this desert when his firm was busy and she was still recovering; to weep a little where he could not see, where he could not wipe away her tears the moment they began to course down her cheeks — he let her go, with only a flashlight and compass should she lose her way among the dunes. Read more at Bourbon Penn
She has been planning this date with the beautiful boy for a week. There would be wine, then brie glazed with brown sugar and Kahlua, served with water crackers. His hand would graze her knee. She would try to read his palm, running her finger along lines that seemed too short. He would tell her how his mother used to walk around the house naked. She would talk about her grandfather and a peach room and the butterscotch candies she received afterwards. They would try for intense eye contact during this part of the conversation and fail. His hand would slide up to her thigh by the time they ordered lattes. She would know his middle name before the check arrived. They would bump into each other as he walked her home. She would sneak a sideways glance, wondering what truths could be discovered within the shape of his jaw. Read more at Literary Orphans
Charlotte, North Carolina, 1977: I am being baptized in the PTL swimming pool while Mom is fucking a cop in the Shoney’s bathroom. The giant Big Boy in front of the restaurant smiles, holds his hamburger up high into the clouds. Pastor Tom talks about how they will soon be breaking ground for the new studio site. My mother is already cracked open, body backed up against the wall, legs bent and twisted around some thick-waisted uniform, her glasses placed on the hand dryer so they won’t fall off. Without them she’s blind, can know the world only if it’s inside her.
Pastor Tom tells Dad how big PTL will be someday, going forth to baptize the nations. I feel no different after being baptized, but Tom’s wife bends down to say hello and praise Jesus, aren’t you glad your dad works for the Lord? Her eyelashes are thick like Tammy Faye’s, big blinking spiders. First published in Prick of the Spindle. Reprinted in Gargoyle #64
Forty miles south of Las Vegas lies a vast depression of sand and scrub brush called the Pit. Not quite a valley, nor do any of the surrounding stone outcrops count as true mesas. It will turn into a landfill soon enough; for now, there’s nothing but stone, dirt, and sky—and the cavernous trenches created by excavation equipment. We’ve been here three weeks, and in two more, we’ll be gone. Then the reporters will come, to gape with awe at what earth and art will show them.
Mr. Bianchi. One of the foremen runs up to me, sweat beading on his broad forehead and dripping freely down his cheeks. He mops his brow and tries to catch his breath, then shouts above the din of the bobcats and excavators, We’ve hit something. One more swipe of the brow with his shirt sleeve. We’re not sure… Listen to the rest here or get the print version at Gargoyle #69
Not upturned like a cat’s to bat at the men and women you meet, nor wide and innocent like Eve’s before she bit the apple. No, your gaze is unwavering, brow hovering so close that people ask if you’re angry or sad when you’re not, and I wonder what you’re plotting, whether to set your brother on fire or do the dishes like I asked. They’re not hooded enough that we’ll have to heavily shadow your lids to make your eyes “pop,” neither are they large enough to stare me down when I question all the unsavory choices you’ll make. Some days you wear red just to see if wolves exist. Read more at Sundog Lit
“What’s it like?” she asks, and he knows better than to tell her but she nudges him in the arm again. They had instructed him to tell her stories. Help her get through the pain, they whispered as they wheeled him into her room. The first thing he saw was a moonscaped little face, deep pock marks and shiny red folds of skin crisscrossed over where her nose should be. Don’t ask her what happened, just spin her one of those fantastic tales of yours…
“Tell me, please.” They are eye to eye — he in the chair, she in the bed. Her arms are crossed now to show him she is getting impatient. He smiles, knowing what she wants; the little imp. He knows neither of them could get very far in this state, even if they had help.
“First off, the sun’s too bright where I’m from.” He spits on the floor. “Can’t see a thing when you’re that far up. Damn ground glitters like diamonds, especially after a fresh snow. All the white surrounding you, except for the trees….”
Her brown eyes widen. They’re so dark he can’t tell where the iris begins and the pupil ends — she’s an alien being, just like him, caught in this sterile little hellhole (you’re not an alien, Nurse X keeps telling him. You had a skiing accident). Read more at Bourbon Penn
She wasn’t the kind of girl you went looking for, or were particularly glad to find. People thought her secretive, with those hazel bedroom eyes and dark hair that fell halfway across her face. She could look straight into you, that one, with something akin to brazenness. But they were always soon to find out that she never had the kind of secrets they wanted. Because in the South, things happen. Cypress trees weep Spanish moss. The birds speak in tongues. There’s a room in every house the family leaves alone because of the ghosts it keeps.
Her mother was the kind of crazy that never showed itself in the daylight, not at the elementary school where she worked as a teacher’s aide or while baking cupcakes for her younger sister’s class. Her mother’s crazy waited until the entire house was asleep except for her, the seventh grade insomniac who had nightmares about unfinished homework and how she would have to get up at the ass crack of dawn to complete it. Some nights she’d hear the creak of her mother’s footsteps as she inched towards her bed. Other times, she would awaken to her mother’s face inches from her one. Come on, her mother would say not bothering to whisper since her sisters could sleep through anything, even the second coming, Read more at A capella Zoo
There could have been a barn that day, with giant haystacks and a pitchfork that somehow always got lost. It could have been a one bedroom apartment in Jersey City. There could have been a baby pig so small the mama pig forgot all about it. Or an old pit bull that pissed on the carpet because it couldn’t make it outside in time. Either way, the dad wanted to kill it.
There was probably a little girl who wanted to save the pig or the pit bull. That kid had street smarts, could work the county fair or Atlantic City and bought her adopted pet a few extra months of life with the dad. The Jersey father might have worked seventy hours a week and had no patience for an invalid pet and headstrong child. They both knew how to hide in a corner, blend into the shadows so the father might not see them. The farmer probably had his own concerns, but daily he eyed the scrawny runt who ate the scraps and yet never grew fast enough. And the daughter saw it. She saw many things, that girl. Some real, some imagined. Who’s to say the spider in the old barn didn’t spin glorious webs into words illuminated by the morning dew? Or it could have been a brown recluse whose ragged weavings she imagined would save her pig from her father’s ax. Either way, there was a spider. Read more at Flapperhouse
We learn to live underground, in whatever tunnels can be etched out. My father and I are at Mesa Verde, the Green Table. The tour guide, whose badge tells us in big printed letters that her name is AMY, explains how the Anasazi disappeared mysteriously in 1300. This baffles archaeologists, as well as my father, who want answers—signs of a massacre or famine or migration. Amy continues to rattle off astonishing facts none of us will remember while Dad mumbles something about me needing to find a place to stay for Christmas.
No matter, I say. I’ll probably be too busy skiing to want to come home. This is a lie. I loathe skiing—the heights, the cold, the possibility of falling. Read more at Prime Number
When Jane graduated college, her father gave her a man’s gold watch and a gun.
“Where are the bullets?” she asked.
“Already loaded,” he said.
Jane noticed the safety wasn’t on.
“Don’t get any ideas,” he warned. Jane’s father had warned her of many things: to keep her legs closed because boys were scum (unless they bought her dinner first); to keep a look out for the water towers because they were really alien ships soon to launch. Read the rest at Cheap Pop
There’s been another accident. John barely heard the words that came after that. Greenhouse 12. Two workers. Masks removed. Reasons unknown.
John closed his eyes. ‘Any sign of a struggle?’
Not that we can tell. He laid down the cell phone. Greenhouse 12 was his creation, but there were protocols in place to keep everyone safe within the giant stalks of engineered crops. Some called his work monstrous. John shook his head as he walked down the hallway to his lab…Monstrous was what his father had experienced working the salt mine at Avery Island from dawn till dusk, until he stumbled home to slake his thirst on the cheapest beer available. “Everythin’s too white,” he used to slur. “White walls, white floor, white ceiling. It’s like livin’ in a g-d dam snow globe.” Read more at Corvus. First published by Denver Art Museum
Nancy Anne was thirteen when her father died. Luck was with the family though, since both her parents had bought their coffins one year earlier at a side-walk sale. The local funeral home was going out of business and had lined up casket after casket right outside their store with big neon yellow and orange signs (the kind you see on car lots) showing the original price with a line through it and then the sale price. The coffins themselves were extraordinarily beautiful so that her parents (who were relentless bargain shoppers) could not resist buying two on the spot.Read More at Up the Staircase Quarterly
Gil had no use for the rust colored suede jacket, the one with a fringe all along the backside and down the arms, the one that smelled faintly of mothballs since it belonged to his ex-girlfriend’s grandfather. Why the grandfather had bequeathed the jacket to Gil in his will remained a mystery to both Gil and his ex, who, while on semi-friendly terms, had been taking a break from all communication.
It was the first time Gil had ever stayed long enough in a relationship to meet not only his girlfriend’s parents, but also her grandparents on more than one occasion. Not enough occasions, according to both Gil and his ex, to warrant any kind of inheritance. But there it was, in the bag, and Gil couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of sign. He liked to believe in signs almost as much as he liked to collect things—it really didn’t matter what the sign might have been trying to signify. After all, it was the transaction that mattered, the sudden appearance of an object or person who—just moments before—Gil hadn’t realize he wanted. The same principle applied to his collections—of statues, stamps, scarves (one could never have too many scarves in New York City), and at one point in his life, keychains. None of these acquisitions required much thought beyond a kind of loose intentionality. (Read the rest or listen to audio here at Five:2:One)
We were on our third date, not that I was counting or held much stock in the power of numbers. Not like Christ rose on the third day or after two plane crashes there’s always that extra one to look out for. Not like I trudged through New York City sleet, transferring three trains just to make the pilgrimage from Brooklyn to Washington Heights on a Sunday night in hopes of a decent movie date. Not like there were twelve of them in his apartment. Does the exact number matter of Buddhas matter? Well, maybe not twelve, but in a 900 foot square apartment ten smiling Buddhas can feel like more. Like one too many. Not like the first two I saw crouched by the love seat were grinning at me like gremlins. Not like the fourth on the TV cabinet had its eyes wide open as if scared to close them Read more at Thrice Fiction
Songs of My Youth (creative nonfiction)
Facebook has had one of those circulating memes, the ones that ask you to make lists that somehow make you feel nostalgic for a life you’re not sure you ever really had. The latest: list ten albums that influenced you as a teenager. Then: list ten albums that influenced you before you were a teenager. I do not make a list. Instead, I read your list, the choices that betrayed your rebellion or geekiness or prescient cool factor. I want to make my own list, but your list is better. I want to make my own list, but my throat catches as I hum songs I once took great pains to forget, songs that betray a disjointed yet emotionally accurate soundtrack.
Beatrix Kiddo, aka Black Mamba, attempts to break though the coffin where she’s been left to die. Her captor left her a flashlight before nailing shut the lid, though a flashlight does little good so far underground. But now Beatrix can see the narrow walls, the low roof. She remembers Pai Mei’s warning that one must be able to hit an enemy only three inches away. Her knuckles are already torn and bloody after three tries.
You’re diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder and put on medication to reroute your brain from the killing machine that it is. You go to therapy, give up alcohol, and exercise daily. Still, your plants wither and die. The turtle you’re petsitting has disappeared. Read more at Ghost Parachute