Month: June 2023

Pie Chart

by Kim Magowan


My ex-husband calls me out of the blue, freaking out. He’s just discovered his wife, the woman he left me for, is cheating on him. If he confronts Daphne, he’s afraid she’ll leave him for this co-worker dude. What if he doesn’t confront her?

It’s not like confronting my ex-husband about Daphne saved our marriage. I clearly remember his face when I did—20% horrified, 80% relieved, is how I’d have depicted his expression on a pie chart. That’s how I knew we’d split up. Because his relief so visibly outweighed his horror.

I’m tempted to say something harsh. I say, “Wow, I’m so sorry.”

In a sense, that’s true: I genuinely pity him. But it’s also false, because I don’t see his loss of Daphne as regrettable. I could never understand what he saw in her, why he preferred her to me. Daphne can’t even finish her sentences; talking to her is a chore. That’s why it took me forever to realize my ex-husband was in love with Daphne, because I found his infatuation so baffling. Even knowing, I still felt like saying “Really?”

If fifteen years ago my ex-husband had never met Daphne at the Po’ Boy food truck at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, we might still be married. I can’t say I wish for that outcome, that I would rewind time and intercept him. In that case, I wouldn’t currently be toasting pine nuts, which my ex-husband hated. I wouldn’t now be married to Oliver. Our kids with Oliver’s hazel eyes would not exist. I picture that Back to the Future scene where Marty and his siblings disappear from the photograph.

But if I could time travel, here’s what I would tell my twenty-eight-year-old husband, marching to the food truck where Daphne waits: the perfect partner does not exist. Reset your expectations. If you’re happy with your partner 51% of the time, shut the hell up.

Tonight the kids are at sleepovers. Oliver and I will watch Succession with bowls of pesto linguine in our laps.

“What should I do?” my ex-husband says. He lays out the pros and cons of confronting Daphne. If he pretends he doesn’t know, he thinks it’s “highly possible” Daphne will grow disillusioned with the new dude. “He isn’t worthy of her,” my ex-husband says. “She’ll realize that, right?”

I keep this thought to myself: You never did.


Kim Magowan is the author of the short story collection How Far I’ve Come (2022), published by Gold Wake Press; the novel The Light Source (2019), published by 7.13 Books; and the short story collection Undoing (2018), which won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Colorado Review, Craft Literary, The Gettysburg Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. www.kimmagowan.com


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

My father once told me that if you’re happy with 70% of your job, you should count yourself lucky. I remember at the time (I was in my early 20’s) thinking 70% didn’t sound so great; barely a C-, after all, in a test. But I often think of my father’s satisfaction assessment now. When I was younger, I had much more inflexible, idealistic, and, I now think, unrealistic standards for what kind of profession, or accomplishment, or relationship was “worth” investing in and maintaining. I’m using all the monetization language deliberately, because the image that generated this story was the pie chart. I liked the concept of using something as corporate, mathematical, and (literally) flat as a pie chart to characterize something as nuanced as a betraying partner’s expression, or as amorphous and squishy as marital happiness. The narrator is older and wiser now. She’s feeling a bunch of things during this phone call with her ex: sympathy mixed with serves-you-right vindication, regret mixed with relief. But she’s learned discipline. She keeps her crueler thoughts to herself—well, we get to hear them, but her ex-husband is spared.

Neighbor Girl

by Kate Michaelson


Meet me at the corner, between the tall hedge and the pasture where the fuzz-tipped grasses ripple like a sea. My bike sparkly red, yours powder blue, tires popping tar like gum bubbles. I got my jelly shoes, jelly bracelets, pastel plastic bright as gold. Pedal past Joe and Wilkie’s place, their algae pond, past where we saw the snake. Hard past Burt and Clary’s where the hound dogs strain and bay. The unh unh unh that rattles bones over tracks that mark halfway. Past the factories’ loud blasts of heat and noise. Give it all we’ve got, standing for the hill. Hit the crest and down—just a streak of color past the house where box springs rust. Past ditches overgrown with phlox and chicory—their names a spell to us—through air spun thick as snow with cottonseed. Then slow, jump off with me, and sink your bike into the pillowed green. We’ll disappear into the sweet-dark berry patch, hosts of tiger lilies nodding, drowsy-hot these days as full as lives.


Kate Michaelson is a writer and educator living in Toledo, Ohio. Her poetry and prose have appeared in publications such as Free Verse, The Laurel Review, and River Teeth (Beautiful Things series). Her debut novel, Hidden Rooms, will be published in Spring 2024. You can connect with Kate and find more of her writing at www.katemichaelson.com.


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

I wrote Neighbor Girl on a summer day when I was feeling nostalgic for adventures with one of my childhood friends. She and I lived in the country, where it seemed like we were the only girls anywhere near the same age for miles. One summer break, our moms agreed that we could meet at the corner on our bikes and ride around together from there. I remember thinking that this was major–that I was really grown up now, which was funny because I was probably nine at the most. But I felt this new sense of freedom that, for the first time, I could explore the world on my own, and that my friend and I could go anywhere our bikes could take us

oyster pearls and betta fish

by Courtney McDermott


The betta fish is missing. At first she thinks it died and her husband flushed it down the toilet. But when she asks her husband about the fish, he merely shakes his head. “Did we have a fish? I don’t remember getting one.” Then she thinks of her two-year-old, Bertie, and how he has taken to hiding things around the house. At first it was harmless: action figures between sofa cushions, dead batteries in his father’s water bottle, her gold hoop earrings in the dog’s food bowl.

Then his hiding became more precarious. Toy cars behind the radiator, burning the tips of his marshmallow fingers. He hides his mother’s time. She looks at the clock, and 15 minutes are gone, slipped into an electric socket. His father rides the exercise bike and nightmares caught between the spokes screech as the wheels spin.

But each time Bertie forgets what he’s hidden, running off to chase the dog, to climb the ottoman, leaping onto the floor. “Jump!” he yells.

She asks him about the betta fish, kneeling down so she is eye-level with him.

“Uh oh. Where go?” Bertie asks, his eyes wide and white like oyster pearls. Yes, his mother thinks, he’s like an oyster trapping treasure.

She checks all of Bertie’s usual hiding places: the crack between the bed and the wall, the toilet, the trashcan, his father’s shoes. When Bertie’s mother leans down to wipe snot from his nose, she sees a flicker of blue in his ear. She claps his face between her hands, holding him still.

Sure enough, a fin wiggles out of his ear.

She drags him into the emergency room. “There’s a fish in his ear!”

Other mothers in the waiting room overhear, their children with scrapes, allergic reactions, broken toes. They raise their eyebrows at each other. She shields Bertie’s ear from them with her body.

The doctor frowns, but this is her resting face. “Yes, it’s a betta,” she says.

“Of course it is. I told you that.”

“We’ll get it out in no time.”

Bertie screams when he sees the tweezers, but in a matter of seconds, the betta is lifeless on the examination table. The nurse wipes away fish scales and ear wax.

“I see something else,” the doctor says, looking into his ear again.

They drain Bertie’s ears next, and something falls out that she doesn’t recognize at first.

It’s thin and silvery and when held to the light looks like a rainbow.

“It’s mine,” the mother says automatically. Though she doesn’t recognize it, it feels familiar in her hands.

She tucks it into her purse for safekeeping. When she arrives home, Bertie races off to scatter toys about the house. His mother places the thin, silvery thing into the fish tank and watches it catch the light-filled water.

Years later, as she assembles a scrapbook for Bertie to take with him to college, she will look at an old photograph of herself holding baby Bertie in front of the fish tank. She will think she sees something thin and silvery trailing from the tips of her hair, leaking from her eyes. She knows that if she could only follow the strands it would lead her to the grotto containing everything she’s ever lost, but she will turn the page and the moment will pass.


Courtney McDermott (she/her) is the author of the short story collection, How They Spend Their Sundays (Whitepoint Press), which was nominated for both the PEN/Hemingway Award and The Story Prize. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Notre Dame. Her work has appeared in A3 Review, the Notre Dame Review, Lunch Ticket, Prism Magazine, and the Boston Globe, among others. Originally from Iowa, she lives in the greater Boston area with her husband and son.


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

I had a betta fish growing up that my two-year-old brother killed by over-feeding one day. Thinking about that unfortunate incident, I wondered how my toddler son would handle a betta fish. It occurred to me that he would probably hide it somewhere like he hides everything else.

For What It’s Worth

by S.E. Daniels


My legs bake. My feet glow red. I can’t bring myself to get up to adjust the umbrella. My book lies open on my lap like a shield.

“Here you go. Just what the doctor ordered.” He hands me the drink, condensation beading on the glass. It soaks my hand and runs down my arm. My toes start to smolder.

My mouth curls at the corners, but I don’t meet his eyes. It’s the best I can offer him. I slurp a mouthful of rum, mint, and lime. It electrifies my tastebuds and frees my vocal cords.

“This was a great idea,” I tell the sea as I set the drink on the table between us, its presence a waypost, an emblem of our loss.

He pats my hand before I can withdraw it, then leans back in his lounger.

“It’s been a tough year. There’s nothing more valuable than a little self-care, right?” His words dance away on the breeze. The glaring heat reaches my knees. My toes blacken and turn to coal. He drops his hat over his face and sighs.

“This is the life.”

I watch the Atlantic caress the white sand beach and wonder what it’s worth. One night in our room is the price of a stroller. Dinner is the equivalent of a car seat. Every drink is a pink ruffled dress, a pair of tiny shoes.

He lies beside me, a picture of repose, as I am consumed. I could save myself or reach out to him. Instead, I swelter and burn and turn to ash hoping to blow away.


S.E. Daniels is a veteran of the video game industry, and an author and illustrator living in MidCoast Maine. Her stories have appeared in various literary journals and in app stores around the world.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “For What It’s Worth”?

This piece took first place in its group in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2022 competition. The prompts drove me to sunlight and loss, and I instantly thought of Hemingway. “For What It’s Worth” is an homage to his infamous six-word story, blown out, and told from a feminine perspective.


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 again June 15, 2023. Submit here.


08/21 • Annie Marhefka
08/28 • Jamey Temple
09/04 • Joanna Acevedo
09/11 • Mykyta Ryzhykh
09/18 • Anna Pembroke
09/25 • Matt Barrett
10/02 • Tommy Dean
10/09 • Deborah Thompson
10/16 • Nicolette Jane