Month: April 2021


by Niles Reddick


Sara was like a Learjet, fast and focused with a smooth and graceful landing after a daily journey, and she’d loved Mike since kindergarten at the Episcopal day school. He’d given her a cut-out red heart Valentine and a small box of candies stamped with messages back then that read “Be Mine Forever,” “Everlasting Love,” “Your Valentine.” On the back were chubby Cupids shooting arrows. Neither of them even knew what the messages meant.

After high school, both went to Virginia, and he majored in pre-med and stayed for medical school. She majored in Education and taught grade school. They married right after graduation at Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson had lived, though their ancestors would not have approved the location since they had connections back to Adams. His place had been rented for two months in advance. She was pregnant with the first of three girls, and Mike worked long hours, partly to meet the rising patient demand, partly to support them, and partly to stay away from all the hormones and drama, though his body language and comments never revealed which.

When Sara’s life got busy with the girls, teaching, and the PTO liaison and Mike got busy with the practice, experiences of holding hands and skating to Sinatra’s “Moon River” under the strobe light or early Sunday mornings listening to a Sinatra album and her dancing in a gown and Mike in pj’s to “All of Me” in the kitchen became distant memories.

One Monday, Sara came to school, shuffled papers in the lounge by the mailboxes, paced the halls scanning the tile floors and baseboards, and grabbed random students by lockers to see if they’d seen her keys. She went into the office and asked the school administrative assistant and told another teacher to watch her homeroom while she searched outside. Finally, the principal walked out and asked her if she’d left them in her station wagon. She smirked at him, told him she hadn’t lost it but was close, and they walked closer to check. Sara was mortified her station wagon was still running, keys in the ignition.

“Is everything all right, Sara?”

“It will be fine,” she smiled.

That night, she reminded Mike of their shared past, their family, and the life they’d built together, and she told them if he wanted to give it all up for his nurse, he could, but he’d better think long and hard about how he’d start over with nothing, how he’d have to explain his mistakes to the medical board that she’d helped him cover, how he pushed drugs that didn’t work for vacations in the islands, and how he’d put real estate in his underaged daughters’ names with elderly parents as co-signers to avoid the capital gains taxes.

On Tuesday evening, Mike brought home a heart shaped box of chocolates, a card, some fresh flowers, and put in a CD of Sinatra in the player on the counter, and they slow danced and he told Sara he was sorry. She patted his back like she was burping a baby and told him it would be all right, that they would work it out.


Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two collections, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine.


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

The idea behind “Keys” originated from a faculty member I worked with who “lost her keys” and discovered them in her car’s ignition with the car still running. I had no idea why she’d done this, but I know she didn’t appreciate my laughing about it.

CNF: The Art of Lying

by Nancy Connors


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


My father was a world-class liar. He was a master of the fun lie, the breezy lie, the casual lie that blew right into you because you wanted so much to believe it. Most of his lies were about his childhood: he was a rich little boy; his grandfather owned a collar factory in Troy, NY; he owned a pony; he had an IQ of 186; he was invited to be on a kids’ quiz show that broadcast nationwide on the radio, but his parents wouldn’t let him…and on and on. Nothing provable, all insubstantial as air. My two sisters and I were both charmed and envious. We believed everything, even when our mother would interrupt with a weary, “Oh, John, stop.”

Much later, I understood that my father lied to create a better childhood for himself. The real one had been dismal, filled with loss and casual cruelty. So his grandfather, a train engineer, became a captian of industry. His mother, who worked as a secretary, was transformed into a newspaper illustrator. In truth, he was – as they used to say in the tight Irish community of Albany – a bastard, born to his mother out of wedlock, a boy who didn’t know until he was 11 that the old man they used to visit on Sundays was his father.

When I was about ten, my father began lying about all sorts of other things: where he disappeared to on the nights he didn’t come home; where the money went; why he suddenly got fired. When I got to be 11 or so, I saw that almost none of what our father told us was true. I felt unsettled, listening to him, like I was being played for a fool. Later, I became cynical, disbelieving everything, so that when he did tell the truth, I shrugged it off.

Still, it was seductive, all that lying. When I was in high school, I tried it out for myself. And I loved it. I loved the rush of getting away with it and the pleasure of creating a new, more exciting past for myself. A lot of my lies revolved around Florida, where we had lived until we moved to staid, grey Chicago. My lies centered on that other, better life: I knew how to surf and had had a near miss with a shark; we had owned two horses; I’d won ribbons for my riding, but they got lost in the move. My lies gathered people around me, and I became addicted to building these air castles and to being – if only for a few moments – the center of attention.

Later I found out that lying could also let me do what I wanted to do, even when I knew it was wrong. In high school, this meant lying about going to the public library night after night when I was really sunk deep in a red booth at the local diner with my boyfriend or lying on the floor in my friend Amanda’s bedroom, smoking pot and listening to the White Album.

I finally gave up my lying ways when I got to college. Suddenly I was focused on the future, not the past, and on who I was going to become, not who I was. I did try lying a couple of times at parties until one night an older student, having listened to some airy nonsense from me, simply raised one eyebrow and said, “Oh, really?” and I was shamed enough to leave the party.

We’ve just lived through an era of the big lie, the gale-force lie that many people wanted so badly to believe: that only one man (hugely successful in business, all-seeing, a master strategist) could save us from American Carnage: the suppurating evil that lurks among us (immigrants, the radical left, or – and I still marvel at this one – an international ring of baby eaters). It was a lie that convinced nearly half of U.S. voters, up until January 6. The storming of the Capitol blew in a wind cold enough and strong enough to knock down the creaking remnants of his administration. People saw the pictures. They saw the videos. And they stopped believing. Enough people, anyhow. Within 48 hours, the platforms for his lies were yanked from under him, and his lies (and he himself) simply blew out of our lives. Or nearly. Because that’s the problem with lies: even when they appear to be gone, they’re still there, in the air, whispered around, luring us yet again into doubting the truth, and driving us to live in a weird, dissociative state of perpetual uncertainty.

My father never stopped lying, even – especially — to himself. After decades of drinking, smoking and putting on weight, he convinced himself he was still in Marine Corps shape, as fit as he’d been at 21. One day, after months of inactivity, he played an intense tennis match and suffered a massive heart attack on the court. He was 47. In the end, his lying killed him.


Nancy Connors is a poet and fiction and non-fiction writer whose work has appeared in Stonecoast Review, failbetter, Midwest Poetry Review and Passager, among others. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.


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

Several months ago my sisters and I were remembering and laughing about what a liar my father had been, and how, as children, we’d all believed his lies because they fed something in us. I said, “Just like Trump’s followers believe him.” I started making lists of all the lies our father told us when we were growing up, and that exercise led me to memories of my own career of falsehoods. Writing about my own lies made me deeply uncomfortable, ashamed, even, and that’s when I knew I was on to something.


by Dominic Viti


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


My artist friend lived in a studio above a rough bar. Because of the excessive noise, rent was very low, and over the years he grew accustomed to, even dependent on, the shouting and fighting to fall asleep. Recently the bar closed due to the pandemic, and to compensate for lost income, the landlord raised the rent far beyond the budget of a fledgling painter. However, my friend told me he was relieved to have been evicted. The silence of the empty bar kept him up for weeks. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t create. The light rustling of vagrants outside, the scratching of mice in the walls and ceiling, magnified a threat far greater than the knife brawls and pool cue melees. Reliant on human violence, and unable to find a new studio of complementary terror, my friend attacked his landlord with the For Sale sign. The artist has since been in prison, producing the best work of his career and finally, at long last, getting a decent night’s sleep.


Dominic Viti’s short stories appear in Harvard Review, The Penn Review, Lifelines, Beloit Fiction Journal, and Chorus, a collection published by Simon & Schuster. He works in advertising and lives in Portland, Oregon.


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

“Sleep” is inspired by my inability to sleep in quiet places. Having lived in major cities most of my adult life, I rely on outside noise for inner peace.

The Ones We Call _ (1 of 5)

by Martins Deep

[Editor’s Note: Click on the image below to view it at full size.]



Martins Deep (he/him) is a budding African poet, photographer/artist, & currently a student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works deeply explores the African experience. His creative works have appeared, or are forthcoming on FIYAH, The Roadrunner Review, Barren Magazine, Cream City Review, Eunoia Review, Agbowó Magazine, Surburban Review, Twyckenham Notes, FERAL, Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World, Lemonsprouting, & elsewhere. He loves jazz, adores Amanda Cook, and fantasizes reincarnating as an owl. He tweets @martinsdeep1


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

These art pieces, as with the several of my works I have had published, come from my heart for the African child. It is my own little attempt at storytelling. They are not just made from a place of empathy, but also, what I love to call, self portraits of myself. They are stories put out there for my African brothers to experience that feeling of belonging.

Amazingly, all works here were digitally created with mobile phone. They are drawn from that longing of being a voice in the wilderness. I hope that each work come alive with the truths emptied into them.


by Noa Covo


The matchmaker likes to tell God what she thinks would fit together.

The house over the hill would like a woman to sing inside of it, and the abandoned car on the street dreams of eloping with a crowd of reckless teenagers.

The matchmaker knows that not everything lives in harmony. In order to bring two things together, there has to be a bond, a reason. She mulls over each pair before offering them skywards.

The old books on the curb want someone to read them. The cicadas would like a saucer of wine to sip when they grow weary of chirping. The sky would be happy with round china plates.

She has had her own share of unsuccessful matches. But the weddings, oh, the weddings, when they happen, are beautiful. The matchmaker wears her best dress and watches the bride and groom kiss. Sometimes she sees the children born of it. Sometimes she hears of a nasty divorce. It is to be expected, after all, all these people divorcing, matches unmatching, but it drives her to distraction anyway.

Why try to bring things together if they fall apart?

The matchmaker asks God. She doesn’t think he minds the questions. He is a matchmaker himself, of course, although as the creator he also separates, dark from light and sky from sea.

The red shoes in the shop need a pair of feet to wear them. There was a lonely swan in the pond yesterday, let it find its mate.

They say that swans mate forever. She hopes it’s true. She hears about a particularly harsh divorce, one where there was shouting, a couple who she had brought together, so bright on their wedding day. Not everything stays together, but there was beauty, she thinks, in how they looked at each other all those years ago. How they stared into each other’s eyes.

She takes the plates from the kitchen. She tosses them upwards, and they spin, almost stars. She turns away before they fall, splinter, white shards in the grass.


Noa Covo’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Passages North, Waxwing, and Hayden’s Ferry Review online. Her micro-chapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.


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

This micro was inspired by Jewish matchmaking (shidduch). While writing, I thought about what it must be like to bring people together for a living. That led me to think about other things that I felt belonged together in some way or another, such as cicadas and wine. In a way I think that this micro is me trying my hand at being a matchmaker.

We’re Tired

of perceiving an assaulted woman’s trauma
Through the sheen of a hand-held device.
To scrutinize global divide, through some-

Thing you put away to the side. Never to
allow your mind to drift there again –
because you were there for a long time.

You’re conscious that this has been going on
forever with your kind, but they didn’t
listen then. Now they have listened anew,

and again want us to do something.
But we are spent – compelling you see what
Was there, which you snubbed or perhaps

didn’t see. We’ve finally unraveled systems
and kingpins before our eyes. We will put
our phone to the side and write now. Not of

misfortune, nor of the prejudice or the misogyny.
But of parables which came before the hue of
our skins came alive.

by Neha Maqsood


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


Neha Maqsood is a Pakistani multi-media journalist and poet. Her poetry has been featured in numerous literary journals and magazines, including Ambit, Kenyon Review, Strange Horizons, Aleph Review and Gutter Magazine. Her debut poetry book, ‘Vulnerability’ was awarded the 2019-2020 Hellebore Poetry Scholarship Award and will be published by Hellebore Press in 2021.

You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ItsNehaMaqsood.


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

I wrote the first draft of the poem towards the end of 2020 and I don’t really believe that I wrote it; I think that the words essentially sought refuge from my mind and spilled out onto a Word Document on my computer. My frustration about the pandemic revealing the different gaps between communities – healthcare access or sexism within family settings and the workplace – and the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter, make up the essence of the piece. 

The poem also captures a personal sadness and an exhaustion about being a writer of colour. Us writers have stories beyond the colour of our skin; of love, life, loss, ambition and rejection, but we’re only ever considered within certain boundaries and labels society has seemingly imposed on us. I like to believe that this poem will be the last time I ever write about race or it’s implications within global society, but unfortunately, I don’t think it will.

The Fifty-Minute Hour

by Karen Schauber


[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]


She arrives early, hands comported neatly on her lap, waiting, silent, thoughtful. Her olive-green chenille skirt hovering just above the knee while seated, slides down some inches to a more respectable length when she stands, as the door opens for the fifty-minute hour. She will make the most of it today. Sitting on the edge of the buttery-soft tufted leather divan, she draws the Kleenex box within arms’ reach.

Dr. Watzlawick-Pohl inhabits the matte black Eames lounge chair, across from her, his knees pressed together in slate-grey nubby wool slacks, hands neatly comported atop a slender clipboard with notepad, Montblanc pen poised. And says nothing.

It is the same lament. She has taken a pair of jewel-encrusted earrings, this time from her friend Yung Li, at Yung Li’s home, during a dinner party. She excused herself to attend the ladies’ room but withdrew to scout for something to pinch. Again, she cannot explain her behaviour, and she cannot stop.

She has become far too good at this game—stealthy in keeping hidden, while bemoaning the transgression, yet betraying friends and colleagues. Today she confesses she lifted an Isaac Sellam leather jacket at work. When the email circulated inquiring if anyone had seen it, she hid in the ladies’ room and was sick.

This is the fourth therapist she has seen.

She does not speak about being wrenched from her biological parents as an infant in the dead of night, abandoned in the cold on the stoop outside the police station, left alone for hours, to live or die, found dehydrated and sickly, shipped off to an overcrowded orphanage, fought to keep hold of the one rice milk bottle given her each morning, and abruptly displaced from her new caregivers, country, language and culture, when she was adopted by her Western Asian parents, who insisted they save face, vowing never to tell her, their only daughter, or anyone else, the secret. This she does not speak about. Because this she does not know.

Her body knows. And her preverbal self knows. But she does not remember. Instead, she is compelled to repeat over and over again, searching for what she has lost.

Soon she will move on to the next therapist who will also not know what questions to ask.


Karen Schauber’s work appears in sixty international literary magazines, journals and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New World Writing, Spelk Fiction; and a ‘Best Microfiction’ nomination. ‘The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings’ (Heritage House, 2019), her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology, achieved ‘Silver’ in 2020 in The Miramichi Reader’s ‘Very Best Book Award” for Short Fiction. Schauber curates Vancouver Flash Fiction, an online resource hub, and Miramichi Flash, a monthly flash fiction column. In her spare time, she is a seasoned family therapist.


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

This piece was borne in a Smokelong workshop exercise designed to excavate secrets; looking at what is withheld and who is withholding. It was a fun challenge laying down these layers of betrayal, concealment, suppression, and confession, and setting them in a context I am familiar with – psychotherapy. As a therapist I sometimes fear I may never access these threads that wind themselves through complex behaviour patterns. And so, may never know what consequential questions to ask.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.


Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The reading period for standard submissions closes June 15, 2021. Topical Thursdays’ submissions are open year-round. Submit here.


04/08 • Dominic Viti
04/10 • Nancy Connors
04/12 • Niles Reddick
04/14 • Martins Deep
04/15 • Anastasia Jill
04/17 • Joanne Lozar Glenn
04/19 • Robin Neidorf
04/21 • Martins Deep
04/22 • Autumn Bettinger
04/26 • TBD
04/28 • Martins Deep
05/03 • TBD
O5/05 • Martins Deep
05/10 • TBD
05/17 • TBD
05/24 • TBD
05/31 • TBD