Month: August 2023

CNF: Hardball

by Jamey Temple


I watch behind home plate, behind a fence, the links diamond-shaped. Every time a little league player runs, dust kicks up, blows across the field like brown smoke. Parents cheer. Fuss at their kids to run faster, swing harder, play like the professionals they’re not. I, too, played ball, but softball. We played mostly at night, under the lights, the bugs swarming and smacking the bulbs.

I pause to film my son who steps up to bat, his coach showing him where to stand in the box. His hands choke the bat high. He is six, the size of a four-year-old, so the infield moves closer. I hold my breath and the camera steady as he swings the bat, driving up the middle. He runs. Makes it to first, then second. Safe.

Baseball is all about timing. Watching. Faking chances. Sometimes you make a hit and move forward. Sometimes no matter how bad you want something or how hard you try, you walk back to the bench, out. Voices carry here. Get that ball! Infield, be ready. Good try. Let’s go, Nathan! Remember what we talked about. Get ready! Foul ball!

In a month when the sun is closer and the air hotter, this field will be quiet. No who’s next or keep your eye on it, just need to make contact! The chalk dust lines will be long gone, the grass will begin to swallow the dirt, the scoreboard will stay dark.

How many of us have stepped into the batter’s box, stepped onto a base or plate, swatted away gnats in the outfield, had our legs stick to the metal bleachers, sucked the salt out of sunflower seeds, spitting out empty shells?

We all want to win at something.

I remember when the softball field was built so girls could play, too. We had a new option other than cheerleading, dance, and pageants. I don’t remember every game I played, but I remember my dad bragging that I didn’t throw like a girl, and the batters I struck out, their fans complaining about my strikeouts. I remember double plays, line drives to my head that I caught without thinking. I remember raw, red skin on my left thigh from sliding. I remember my dad telling me to stop saying sorry when I threw a ball hard and the other girl couldn’t catch it.

But softball sounds soft, doesn’t it?

For the first time, we could wear pants and kick up dirt like the boys. We could surprise our fathers and brothers when we swung with such force the ball tinged off the bat and landed in outfield, players chasing after it, toward the shadows.


Jamey Temple is a writer and professor who teaches English at University of the Cumberlands in Eastern Kentucky. Her poetry and prose have been included in several publications such as Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Rattle, and Appalachian Review. She has been named a finalist for Newfound Journal’s Prose Prize, Fourth Genre’s Multimedia Essay Prize, and Wavelengths Chapbook Contest. She is the recipient of an Artist Enrichment grant from Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Excellence in Teaching award from University of the Cumberlands. You can read more of her published work through her website (jameytemple.com).


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

As the opening indicates, I wrote this piece while a game was in progress. Because there was so much time between games or when our son was on the field or in the batter’s box, I carried a book of poems and a notebook for freewriting to pass the time. Story ideas are everywhere–you never know when you’ll be inspired.

CNF: To the woman in the waiting room with the feverish child

by Annie Marhefka


I pretend not to see you, not to notice, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, spare you a look of pity, pretend you are invisible.

But I see you. I want to tell you that I see you, that I’ve been you.

I see how your eyelids flutter as your child’s limbs shake like tree branches about to detach from the torso, his tattered blanket haphazardly wrapped around him. I imagine you probably grabbed it instinctively as you rushed out the door, panicking about what else you may have forgotten. I see the way your hair is matted to scalp, that new wrinkle under your eye, the way you haven’t slept in days. I see the dark stain just below the neckline of your shirt, maybe milk, or oatmeal, or the stickiness of a dose of grape-flavored medicine spat back out at you. I see the way your own hands tremble as you rub his feet, the way you tuck his hair behind his ear, as if that will quell his shivering aches. I see the way you whisper to him that it’s going to be okay, the way you try and convince yourself. I see the way you’re holding back, the way your body looks like it might splinter into pieces from the weight of it all.

I bet that you have learned how to cry without making a sound in the deepest, loneliest pit of night, opened your mouth into the shape of a roar, jaws spread like birthing hips, silently fed your pain to the darkness.


Annie Marhefka is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland whose writing has been published by Lunch Ticket, Fatal Flaw Lit, Literary Mama, The Citron Review, and others, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Annie is the Executive Director at Yellow Arrow Publishing, a Baltimore-based nonprofit supporting and empowering women-identifying writers. She has a degree in creative writing from Washington College. Follow Annie on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie, and at anniemarhefka.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “To the woman in the waiting room with the feverish child”?

I drafted notes for this piece on the notes app of my phone while in a pediatrician’s waiting room. There was a woman across the room from me, and her child was sicker than mine, and I just felt for her so deeply. These past few years have been so tough on mothers and I think there is a bit of camaraderie felt in all that we have survived and are surviving together, even though we don’t know each other. This piece is part of a collection of essays I’ve written to strangers over the last year, all centering around holding compassion for the stories we hold inside ourselves.

Stupid Motorist Law

by Michelle Ross


Every monsoon season, people here drown. They hike canyon beds, they hike river washes, not appreciating how quickly these mountains can turn a little water into a lot. Water funnels off the mountains into washes, a system of usually dry desert riverbeds that become raging rivers. The currents uproot trees and dislodge sofas and grocery carts and other junk people discard when the washes are dry. It’s like the currents are hosing the place down, getting into all the nooks and crannies. Here and there, these washes bisect roads, and the city puts up barricades that warn: Do Not Enter When Flooded. Vehicles get carried away. There is, in fact, a law people here call the stupid motorist law: if you become stranded in flood waters because you ignored a warning, you will be charged the cost of your rescue.

It’s this law my friend Leah invokes when I say of my husband, all relationships have their challenges, when I say patience is a virtue, when I say nothing worth doing is easy. She says, you’re like those people who drive around the barricades.

I am, in fact, one of those people, though I don’t tell Leah. The city puts the barricades up as soon as the washes begin to fill, and they leave them up long after the water subsides to a trickle. Therefore, sometimes, ignoring barricades is perfectly safe. Sometimes you’d be stupider to take a twenty-minute detour.

Still, every time, I white-knuckle the steering wheel. I hold my breath. The water is always muddy, impossible to see through. There could be anything in there—boulders, potholes, barbed wire. Or the road itself could have washed away. There could be nothing at all.


Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award (2021); and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (2022). Her work is included in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50, and the Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. It’s received special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is Editor of 100 Word Story.


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

I’ve tried to use Arizona’s stupid motorist law in a story for some years now, but I kept cutting it out. It’s a darling I kept having to kill. Those other stories were better off without it. The metaphor overwhelmed, competed too much with other story elements. Finally, I realized that the problem was that this metaphor accomplishes so much on its own that it needs little else to support it, hence this bare bones microfiction.


by Avital Gad-Cykman


I dream of a secret romance with a language. Clandestine outings, loops of words wrapped around my body when we spend long nights in a loft looking over a city and send words like a whip across the sky. I bend over the banister and bare my soul. The words taste cool and moist like dew as they slide off my tongue.

After the sexy times, we get serious. My language births words for the brain so it can wrap itself around contemporary monsters. My fear hides in the gaps and holes between words, where unnamed wars are about to break out. Named, even monsters lose their shadowy presence and let us caress their sinewy backs.

As we open up, my language gifts me with broken words and limping sentences that got lost over the generations, and seek a new mouth to pronounce them. These words are loaded, heavy with history. Ours. They melt on my tongue, then I solidify them into bearable shapes. It is possible to make toys out of ruins.

I take my language for a date at a restaurant. We are three: I, my language and a man. The language comes between us, as if I need a protector, but the man’s lips project rhymes: dandy, candy, candy cane. I get him, his words. Ours. We are alone with the language, even lonely, but we’re safe with language between us. No one can reach our core.


Avital Gad-Cykman is the author of Light Reflection Over Blues (Ravenna Press) and Life In, Life Out (Matter Press). She is the winner of Margaret Atwood Studies Magazine Prize and The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, twice a finalist for the Iowa Fiction Award and a six-time nominee for the Pushcart. Her stories appear in The Dr. Eckleburg Review, Iron Horse, Prairie Schooner, Ambit, McSweeney’s Quarterly and Michigan Quarterly, twice in Best Short Fictions, W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International anthology and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in English Literature, focused on minorities, gender and trauma, and lives in Brazil.


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

Languages are untamed beasts. I love their words, for their beauty and many meanings. They help me communicate and absorb, but their limitation is clear. The proof of the limit is that each language gives a slightly different shape to what rises from the same person. Perhaps we’d better know all words and languages, to improve the precision and subtlety, or maybe, this will not be enough either. If I sound like a frustrated lover, then I managed to convey the origin of this flash.


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