Month: February 2019

Like Magic

by Sue Mell

It seemed delightful at first, the magician making the rounds on the 6th floor of the rehabilitation center where my mom was recovering from a fall. Then it grew to be a bit much—his acting as though this were his own personal stage, and not a room shared by four elderly women on Medicare. He liked making a big fuss with the privacy curtains: whoosh, whoosh, alakazam, and all that. But Mrs. Uriga complained, claiming this stirred up the dust, despite the floor being waxed and polished, the surfaces wiped down with pungent cleansers, at inconvenient times nearly every day. Miss Cho was the one in need of a nebulizer for congestion in her lungs, and it didn’t bother her—though, like the rest of us, Mrs. Uriga’s loud and constant complaining did.

“Too bad he can’t make her disappear,” I muttered the hundredth time The Amazing Rodney, as he called himself, was pulling Ensure pudding cups out of a ratty—and seemingly bottomless—top hat. Rodney was his middle name, he confessed to me apropos of nothing, and when I next looked up Mrs. Uriga wasn’t there, just a slight dent in the cotton blanket where she’d lain. “Put her back,” I said, appalled. “And stay away from my mom, you little freak.”

“What’s that?” said my mom, stirring from the nap allotted by a dose of Percocet.

“Nothing,” I said, leaning forward slightly to block her view. “You just rest.” She closed her eyes and I widened mine, pointed across the room, and mouthed the words, Put. Her. Back.

With a suit-yourself shrug, The Amazing drew the curtain around Mrs. Uriga’s bed and a moment later her nasal carping resumed.

“This used to be a nice place—I was here years ago, visiting my friend—but now it’s all gone to shit, you know what I’m saying? Can you watch what you’re doing with that wand? Slowly—Jesus! You’ll stir up the dust.”

He swept the curtain aside and took a deep bow, one last pudding cup plopping from his hat to the floor.

“Aw, crap,” he said, as I gave him a waggish round of applause.

“What is that?” said Mrs. Uriga. “Is that mustard? Mustard on the floor?”

I tipped my chair back. “Butterscotch, I believe.”



She tugged at the tails of the magician’s tux. “What’d she say? She broke her watch?”

The Amazing did not look at either of us, though I thought I heard the smallest sigh as he used an unending string of colorful scarves to mop pudding from the floor.


Sue Mell holds an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and several of her stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Like Magic”?

Last January, my 88-year-old mom fell down the stairs in her home and spent 3 1/2 months in a skilled nursing facility recovering from multiple fractures. I spent 4-5 days a week there, keeping her company and boosting her often failing morale. In early Feb, I took a terrific online flash fiction workshop with Kathy Fish. After the workshop ended, I recycled the prompts to generate more new work. The one that led to “Like Magic” called for writing a less than 500-word piece in which you took a commonplace setting—a bar, a restaurant, a hospital room—and inserted an unexpected detail. At the time, my mom was fairly depressed and still in a lot of pain. When one of her 3 quiet roommates was sent back to the hospital, her bed was filled with a woman who was extremely hard of hearing but had no hearing aid and, because of what I now understand to be mid-stage dementia, was unbearably loud, repetitive, and crass—often to the point of lewdness. Sad for 200, as a social worker I know says. I wanted—I needed—to make something at least a little bit funny out of all of that.

The Housecoat

by Kevin McLellan

Younger, in the photo, her almond-eyes
and Venus flytrap eyelashes—now older
her thinning skin, the scabs on her arms
she picks, some just come off, others bleed,
and she dabs them with a Kleenex,
puts it in her pockets with the others.

Kevin McLellan is the author of Hemispheres (Fact-Simile Editions, forthcoming), Ornitheology (The Word Works), [box] (Letter [r] Press), Tributary (Barrow Street), and Round Trip (Seven Kitchens). He won Gival Press’ Oscar Wilde Award and the Third Coast Poetry Prize, and his writing appears in numerous journals. Kevin lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Housecoat”?

The poem, “The Housecoat” combines two non-fictions to create a fiction. I noticed a young woman in a drugstore chain with the longest eyelashes I had ever seen, seemingly real, which were accentuated with mascara and they looked like venus flytrap hairs. The older woman in the poem is my fraternal grandmother who, near the end of her life, attempted to use guilt to emotionally trap me for not visiting her often enough. She always wore a housecoat with used Kleenex in the pockets—an inescapable image, at least for me.


by Jennifer Wortman

She played in front of their little house with the basement where her dad made bullets with a levered press he let her pull when her mom wasn’t home. The day before, her mom had taken her to Columbus to buy her sandals the color of soft pretzels, their soles like caramel, sweet pieces of the mall strapped to her feet. She waded them through the clover-flecked grass.

This was life: her feet sunk in green, the sun’s hand on her back, her mom inside, humming. Then: Toe. Pain. Bee.

The neighbor woman came running and scooped her up, delivering her at the door into her mom’s arms. This, too, was life: pain comes, and people who love you act fast and lift you.

Her mom removed the stinger and applied paste to the welt. Together they sat in the big brown chair, her mom stroking her hair as light drained from the walls.

Her dad came home. He’d bought another gun. Her mom stood, yelling, her lips twisting like pipe cleaners. Her dad poked his finger at her mom’s face. The louder her mom got the softer he spoke. But his eyes shot hate.

The sting still hurt and her whole foot felt strange. Who could she tell? This also was life: the flight to her room, the long wait for calm. But now she had the throb of her foot, the redness, the burn. New friends. Even after her foot healed, the feeling stuck with her: the shocking betrayal of everything good, the wound aflame, a warmth she’d return to, and summon, for the rest of her days.

Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in spring of 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, The Collapsar, Juked, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Bee”?

I took a class from the great Steve Almond, who suggested we list moments in our life we couldn’t forget and write from there. My first bee sting made the top of the list. I also vividly remember my second bee sting, my third, and my fourth. I hate bees with a passion, which is another way of saying they scare me. When I hear reports that they are dying out, despite my understanding of the terrible implications, a part of me cheers.

“Bee,” while not strictly autobiographical, is more autobiographical than most of what I write. I used to help my dad make bullets in our basement. And my mother hated guns as much as my father loved them, so lots of family fun ensued. 

CNF: Spinning

by Paul Crenshaw

We were sitting on the front porch drinking wine when the couple came sneaking down the street. They were a young couple, mid-20s maybe, and they were both looking around and laughing a little, at each other, and at, I would later realize, what they were doing.

Our neighbors across the street were moving, and they had set some of their stuff on the curb for people to pick through. I would say this is a Midwestern sensibility except I’ve seen it everywhere: the hope someone will take what we can no longer keep, the recycling of household items we can’t bring ourselves to throw away. I had recently moved, and given away most of my things, or left them on the curb for someone else to have: my daughters’ way-too-small-now bicycles, a bonsai tree I had trained for 10 years, a guitar I had outgrown. Bookshelves that had once housed my own work, the desk at which I had written more words than I know what do with, the couch where my ex-wife and I watched movies until we were too tired to go to bed. The bunk beds we bought for our tiny daughters when we moved into that house, the books and games we’d collected over the years, the houseplants and clothes hangers, the mementos and memories. I never thought my marriage would end, and giving away everything seemed like giving away the last 20 years, so I wanted, in the way we all want to have a use in the world, for someone else to find value in what I had once owned.

The couple, it seemed, had spied a set of hula-hoops there on the curb, and were coming back—as night set in and the wine started to do its work and the world seemed fine—to get them. They passed through the shadows of the trees and the man waded through the containers of kitchenware and boxes of paperback books, and grabbed the hoops.

Beside me, J. took my hand. We haven’t lived together long. We’re middle-aged now, and sit on the porch some nights drinking wine and watching the world through the windows of our eyes, but I first met her in third grade. We graduated high school, then lost each other for 25 years, but had come together again after both our lives had fallen apart. She lost her husband, and I had divorced, and somehow we ended up together watching a couple much younger than we were taking hula-hoops from a house where people were moving, headed on to the next part of their lives.

They were still laughing, and the dark was coming down like it sometimes does, so I said, in the still air of Midwest America on a fine summer evening, “Let’s see it,” and the couple started hula-hooping right there on the sidewalk. The man made two rotations. The woman made maybe four. Neither of them knew what they were doing, the same as all of us, all of the time, but we clapped and cheered and the man made a thumbs up and the woman bowed, and they went on into the coming night.

As they went, I imagined them passing the hula-hoops down to their children. Or maybe they only wanted to be reminded what it was like to be children again, to find joy in spinning, in seeing themselves back at the same spot after rotating so long they weren’t sure where they would end up. A small celebration that life is a circle. What we give away, we keep.

Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, and Brevity, among others.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Spinning”?

A friend of mine—shout out to Kirsten Clodfelter—posted on social media about her daughter calling a hula hoop a “hoop doop,” and I responded with the story of seeing a young couple grabbing two hula hoops from the curb. Kirsten is a kind and encouraging writer, and asked if I were going to write an essay about it, which, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun, got the story spinning. So I owe lots of gratitude to Kirsten and her daughter’s “hoop doop,” which still makes me smile.


Congrats to the Best Small Fictions nominations from Matter Press for Compressed Creative Arts: Sara Backer’s “Oh, What a Night”; Dan Crawley’s “Powers”; Jill Talbot’s “Malahat Highway on Boxing Day”; Christopher Allen’s “Falling Man;” and Kathy Fish’s “Five Micros.”


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. Check out our new category triptychs! The submission period opens March 15, 2019; submit here.


02/13 • Sue Mell
02/18 • Emanuele Pettener
02/20 • Marge Simon
02/25 • Jeff Friedman
02/27 • Heather Bourbeau
03/04 • Dennis Mombauer
03/06 • Robin Moss
03/11 • Jacqueline Doyle
03/13 • Dawn Vogel
03/18 • Tamara Gane
03/20 • Tiff Holland
03/25 • Sara Crowley
03/27 • Hannah van Didden
04/01 • Ian Mahler
04/08 • Cindy Hunter Morgan
04/15 • Mason Binkley