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CNF: Not All Words Taste Like Prayer

by Lynne Jensen Lampe

 

Split dry pods, remove seeds. Knife their hard covering & soak overnight. Set a watch o Lord. Moonflower vines scaffold the porch beam & railing. A backyard baptism, hot tub instead of the River Jordan. Hands push me under. Words flood in—Jesus, scotch & Mama. I keep my eyes closed, afraid to see God & remember shame. I am someone whose mother twice tried to drown her.

Buds unfurl at dusk. White blossoms glow—toxic, not deadly. Set a watch o Lord. I’m twelve, maybe younger. Mama & I stop washing dishes, twirl round & round, sing nonsense & giggle. Dad can’t see my happy. A month later, I pass through locked steel doors to bright tile & fluorescent lights & Mama chain-smoking menthols on a psych ward. Set a watch o Lord. Her roommate dies & Mama sleeps next to the corpse. No one finds the body till morning.

Scents of honey & vanilla tickle the air, fragrant as my inner wrist after caress. Blooms sweeten the night, spiral shut at dawn. In college I call Mama & we laugh so long I forget sorrow. Then she asks if I have sex, if I feel she pushes me. Men rush to answer. Hips unfurl—I scaffold other bodies while scared of my own, trade my happy for good. Set a watch o Lord. I use drugs to slip borders, realize only later my mind can push me under. I am someone whose mother twice tried to drown her.

 

Lynne Jensen Lampe’s debut collection, Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022), a 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award winner and finalist for the 8th Annual McMath Book Award, concerns motherhood and mental illness. Her poems appear in Stone Circle Review, Rise Up Review, THRUSH, Yemassee, and elsewhere. She edits academic writing, reads for Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and lives with her husband and two dogs in Columbia, MO. https://lynnejensenlampe.com or https://linktr.ee/lynnejensenlampe for socials.

 

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This poem started in July 2018 with a ramble about women and water. A few months later in a long-form class, I scavenged the free write, choosing lines about my baptism and my mother’s action for a multi-section poem, including Bible-verse fragments and something about water and Mama in each part. The next several years the poem cycled through feedback, revision, submission, and rejection. I dropped a section. Added the moonflower vine image, though in relation to my husband and not my mother. Tried a different title: “God Started the Conversation, Mama Ended It.” My sense is I couldn’t face the truths the poem needed to tell. Finally, in April 2024, it all clicked.

The Softness

by John Davies

 

While I’m stirring too much honey into the porridge, The Softness lulls: Don’t worry, give up, the time for senseless adventure is over. The post drops through the letterbox: mortgage interest on the rise; the bill for my father’s headstone; flyers for cut-price lawn equipment; Make your Will now and receive a free fountain pen; 3-for-2 offer on grout; Municipal Golf Course Seeks New Members: Your game won’t improve with rusty clubs.

A bumper day for The Softness. Deposit down on an Adriatic cruise – pay the balance in easy installments. The Softness coos at two hours’ free time in Venice or Trieste, souvenir opportunities, Segway rides for the thrill-seekers. Go on, The Softness urges, You only live once. Oats swell and the porridge bubbles, spitting milk.

Only believing in what they can taste, the cat and dog lick each other’s empty bowls, then sit and stare expectantly: What next? Are there enough unpainted fences and unmowed lawns to last your remaining years? A 45 minute Youtube tutorial on toilet cisterns beckons. That’s the stuff, The Softness moans. No longer feel a DIY failure – Like our channel and Subscribe.

But beneath the back garden decking, patio furniture, fire pit and netted trampoline,

the deep roots stir. An underground rumbling causes The Softness to whimper, to drop the latest Aldi brochure. Crows swivel necks to peer into the kitchen window where the porridge is beginning to burn. In their quickshot eye, you are archived with all prior residents. The crows speculate as to who will come next, change the colour of the fence to their taste, pebble-dash the walls, plant plum trees but never really make a dent.

Groggy children surface one-by-one, grumble at the ruined porridge, are bundled into uniform and pointed in the direction of school, careers, certain death. The Softness swells to room-size, restored by the numb joy of routine. Go out and make a living – Celebrity Surgical Disasters and a glass of discounted wine your reward. You’ve earned this.

Outside the living room windows, panes flickering ghost-characters of streamed box-sets, the roots of the ancient oak flex. The river has always made this sound. The standing stone in the far field absorbs the dying rays, eyes the encroaching moon, waits for the house to crumble, return to earth. As distraction, The Softness drills you for tomorrow’s job interview: What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five, ten years, in millennia? Name your favourite team-building exercise. What is music for?

You’ve got this. Floss, double Windsor your tie, act confident. Practice in the mirror. Between the leaking taps and toothpaste spatter, your lips twitch, try to remember. The Softness whispers into your ear: A fake smile’s as good for you as the real thing.

The toilet still refuses to flush, but The Softness knows an excellent plumber.

 

Born in Birkenhead, UK, John has lived in Navan, Ireland since 2013. A former winner of the Penguin Ireland Short Story Award, and the Letheon Poetry Prize, his work appears in journals including Vastarien, Banshee, Southword, Manchester Review, Maine Review, Apex, Pseudopod and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He co-runs The Bull’s Arse Creative Writing Group based in Navan (Twitter @Bulls_Arse).

 

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The Softness (A.K.A. The Softness of the Suburbs) was inspired by what dropped through the letterbox that day. By almost forgetting what Ray Bradbury said, that you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. A fight against the numbness of routine, this piece concerns someone artistically sobered up by mortgage rates, lulled by modern comforts, the falsehood that such sheltered existence is not temporary. The Softness takes almost a physical, doppelganger form, whispering in their ear, demeaning all creative impulse.
No actual porridge was harmed during the drafting of this poem.

Pretending Not to be Dangerous

by Amanda Chiado

 

My husband says the crabs he catches are filled with the souls of his dead. He leaves like a ghost before dawn, and his clothes are already stained with blood. I draw him near like a homecoming, or a memory I plan to keep. I like that I still feel like I am dreaming. Recently, he has taken to rubbing my legs and feet before he says goodbye and I can see how I am too, a soft animal made of desire. He comes back smelling of the far away, yet not Peter Pan, and his ship mates are chummy and tired and manly. They catch their own transgressed souls. He can’t kill the crabs right away since they are harboring messages on their hard shells, in their fur kissed mouths, in their pinchers. He treats them fairly, but their sadness is gut punch when you open the cooler. They lay on each other and look up at the sun. They pretend, like me, that they are not dangerous. My son wants to keep them but kept is not a wishing rock. It may be the winter that makes us so desperate. The thinning of the veil between here and there. Eventually my husband eats the messages, covered in butter to smooth the salvation, and his eyes swell up with the tears of the ocean, and we brace ourselves and buoy the dog. The house fills with wet memory. We ride out the rocking waves until Easter, and then my husband rises from the water, dripping, soft and wrinkled as a newborn.

 

Amanda Chiado is the author of Vitiligod: The Ascension of Michael Jackson (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has most recently appeared in Rhino, The Pinch Journal, and The Offing. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart & Best of the Net. She is the Director of Arts Education at the San Benito County Arts Council, is a California Poet in the Schools, and edits for Jersey Devil Press. www.amandachiado.com/em>

 

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The surprising aspect of this piece is that I don’t eat crab. The draft began with my husband Fabio returning from a fishing trip and my son, Gianluca babying the live crabs in the cooler. “Can we keep them?” he asked. The crabs seemed to call to me with their beady black eyes and dense claws. Astrolgically, I am the sign of cancer represented by the crab, so I often ponder my connection to the animal. In the draft, I began to create a personally necessary spiritual narrative around the catching, cooking, and eating of the crabs. In the final version of the piece, this experience offers my husband a method in which to transfigure his untended grief. Ultimately, there is a role reversal where my husband is softened, and I am dangerous which is emblematic of the crab’s physical form.

CNF: My Mother Says

by Claudio Perinot

I push the switch and the bulb bursts. A short circuit. My father says what happened?, what did I do? I tell him I wanted to switch on the light in the corridor and it burst. My father, in the dark, starts explaining why these things happen. He says there are candles in the kitchen. My mother sits in the dark. She doesn’t move, doesn’t say a thing. She waits for something to happen, for someone to explain. My father rambles on, about the candles to get in the kitchen. He tells me to wait for him to get the candles and gets up feeling his way towards where he thinks the kitchen is. My mother sits silently. I can just make out the greyish outline of her wig as I pull out my mobile and touch a key. The little screen lights up and I see my father moving around the long side of the table, ordering me to wait for the candles that he’ll just fetch from the kitchen. Apparently neither of them has seen the light. I find the mains switch and put it back up. The little flat lights up again. My mother smiles quietly. She’s still seated in the same way and looking in the same direction. My father is surprised, then collects and preaches that I should have waited for him, he was so close to getting the candles, after all.

My father wants me to take care of my mother after he’s gone. He wants me to promise. He wants me to declare. He wants me to swear. He wants me to put it down in black ink, in front of a notary. He wants it to be legally binding. He wants to be sure that my mother won’t be left alone, after he’s gone, wants to know that she’ll always have someone by her side. He wants to make sure. He wants me to promise. After all, I am the nearest son and it’s no use moving down to my brother’s, all that distance, and even though maybe he would have more space, my mother would not be able to cope with the new location and new habits and all. No, much better here. That’s why he wants me to promise. To declare. To swear.

My mother listens. Silently. At times she tries to get a word in sideways, but my father doesn’t seem to hear. At times, when I see she really wants to say something, I stop my father by pulling his arm and making him see my mother wants to say something. She usually begins confidently, then soon afterwards stumbles on a word or two she can’t remember, and stops to recollect things, trying hard to pinpoint the word, the meaning, the idea. That’s when she usually asks my father for help. My father, let in again, starts off on another run of ideas and principles and thoughts, forgetting her along the way. She retreats and sighs. She sits again, listening. He talks. He says he wants to make sure that my mother won’t suffer when he’s gone. I must promise.

She’s letting go. My mother. My mother’s letting go. Quietly. My father. My father’s hanging on. Desperately.

 

Claudio Perinot is a bilingual disabled teacher. He holds a degree in English and Spanish Language and Literature (Univ. of Venice). His poems have appeared in Eleven Bulls, Theviewfromhere, and Cricket Online Review. He was longlisted in the 2021 Briefly Write Poetry Prize. His research on the Eliot – Verdenal friendship has been published in Annali di Cà Foscari, ANQ and South Atlantic Review, and is often cited in studies on T.S. Eliot. He lives in Italy with his wife and two sons.

 

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That day had dogged me ever since. After a lifetime together, my father had told me flatly that he did not trust me and that he needed some kind of guarantee to convince him that I would take care of my mother. The accusation was a heavy burden. That thick, compressed clot of memory had increased the emotional pressure on me as I witnessed my parents’ slow descent into disease.

To relieve the tension, I turned to writing. As I recollected the scene, I discovered it was etched deep and clear. The sudden return of the lights in the flat had been like the flash of a powerful camera. Everything, even the smallest of details, had been fixed indelibly. I began to describe the experience. The flow started, sustained by my pent-up resentment. I wrote confidently and quickly, trying to keep up with the unleashed thoughts as they sped out, trying to miss nothing. In the end, the result was completely different from anything I had written before. It sprawled over the page, like prose. Yet, it had such a distinct emotional charge that I was certain it was the draft of a potential poem. I read it again and again, revising and improving. Excluding the removal of some unnecessary distractions, and a few minor corrections, it did not require extensive reworking. At every reading, however, it felt as if there was a hidden layer of meaning somewhere. To find it, I reread the poem repeatedly, to the point of reliving the scene.

As I listened to my father’s desperate voice again, the missing piece of the puzzle was right in front of me, staring at me. It was the real subject of the discussion. It was my mother, who sat quietly through the argument although it revolved around her. And when, at last, she wanted to say something, the words came out mixed up and incomprehensible. She was unable to convey the obscure reasoning of her deranged mind. I wondered what she thought, what her point of view was. Did she agree with my father? Was she more lenient? More optimistic? Her opinion counted more than anything else but it was unknown.

I could see it clearly now. The core of the matter was not what my father had said. It was what my mother had said, and that was lost forever. I finished the revision. I was painfully aware that it had been one of the darkest moments of my life. I wrote the title and sealed the final version of that day.

CNF: Hellgrammite

by Nancy Lord

 

For years, I tried to find her. Not determinedly but sporadically, inquisitively, wonderingly. Guiltily.

She’d been my best friend in fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade. She was the only girl I knew who loved nature the way I did. In the woods and creek behind her house we collected caterpillars and salamanders. We cut open galls that ballooned on the stems of plants to see what parasites lived inside. We made an art of tearing away the tissue of leaves to reveal the skeletal networks of veins.

One winter day, sledding at dusk, the snow-covered road was suddenly brightened by the lights of an on-coming car, and we turned into a hard-packed snowbank. When I landed on top of her, her arm swelled with a painful lump. Her father got mad, and it was two days before her mother snuck her to a doctor for an x-ray and cast.

Her father was both fun and difficult. He took the two of us fishing and was as interested as we were in what we found—once fly larvae with impressive pinchers, fluttery gills, and acrobatic moves. I learned these were called hellgrammites. I had also learned that my friend’s mother slept on a cot in their laundry room. If that seemed odd and a little sad, I didn’t think too much about it.

For eighth grade I transferred to a different school and our lives diverged. Later that same year, listening to the radio in my room, I heard a news announcer say her father’s name and “self-inflicted gunshot wound.” I told my parents and went back to my homework. Suicide seemed like something adults should deal with. I don’t know if my parents did anything. I didn’t ask; they didn’t say. Our mothers had been Girl Scout leaders together.

My friend, her mother, and her two sisters moved across town. I may have helped. I at least recall a truck piled with furniture, driving away. Not a moving van—a pickup truck and some young men, perhaps friends of the older daughter. I recall beaming faces, as though there was some joy in the occasion.

The other side of town seemed immeasurably far away. A couple of years went by and I heard that my friend had dropped out of school and had a child.

Years—many years—passed. I lived very far away. I thought about my friend every December on her birthday, wondering what might have become her life. When the internet arrived, I looked for her there. I found her father’s obituary, nothing about her or her mother or sisters.

Every few years, I typed in her name. Finally, there she was, birth name along with another. She’d been dead already for a year, dead at 67 “after a period of declining health.” She had lived all her life in the same town where we’d grown up. She had two sons. In six short paragraphs I read that she “loved nature and spent much of her time enjoying and photographing the flora and fauna around her home. She experimented with the cross-pollination of some of her plants and flowers. She also bred and raised quail, chickens, ducks, and geese. . . But her happiest pastime was fishing in a canoe on Lake Massabesic.”

I read this again now, years later still. I picture my friend floating on that lake on the edge of our town, casting a line, reeling in a brown-sided bass with large scales and sharp fins. Who is she with? Who does she tell about what makes her happy?

 

 

 

Nancy Lord, a former Alaska State Writer Laureate, is the author of three short story collections, five books of literary nonfiction, and the novel pH. Her narrative work, which focuses mainly on environmental and marine issues, has appeared widely in journals and anthologies and has been honored with fellowships and awards. She currently teaches science writing for Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Homer, Alaska. www.writernancylord.com

 

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I’d been thinking about my childhood friend for years and had made a couple of unsuccessful efforts to write about our relationship. I decided one day, after rereading her obituary, to compress my memories and grief into something very short, relying on just a few images. The day of fishing and examining hellgrammites with her father had always stayed with me. The piece I wrote was 700 words. I further compressed it to meet the word limit when I submitted it to your journal.

Thank You, Isaac

by Paul Beckman

 

Everyone’s getting ready for the party, mom and dad say there should be a reason for a party but neither remember the reason we start parties so we just go about our business and tonight our business is decorating, food, and, then I see it as the last sliver of sun goes behind the ghost hills to the north a tiny sliver of orange breaks through from the east and everyone stops and watches it and can taste the juicy orb, and then little by little it begins to segment like shooting stars, and the residents of Isaac Newtonville smile and jump up and down, not ready to talk or do anything but wait and mind taste the tangerine, when suddenly it segments and begins to fall with only the tangerine silk holding together, then the movie comes on an Issac Newton, founder of our town, laughs, and claps his hands, segments keep splitting into smaller ones until everyone has their taste of tangerine and they sit in crescents around the town bonfire and eat and slurp and smile so happy that tangerine season is upon us and they don’t look forward to the baby season and become morose fearful for the change of seasons.

 

Bio

 

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CNF: I Become My Younger Self

when I comb the Walmart clearance racks for a $2 t-shirt, when I eat three bowls of Reese’s Puffs because my parents only bought it for me as a wrapped gift on Christmas morning, when I apply for a writing workshop and instinctively click “yes” for the scholarship button and am reminded of the hours I spent as a teen hunched over the dining room table with piles of scholarship forms and pens, and before that the hand-me down sweaters and dusty sneakers, the special family nights when we shared the $5 burger deal at McDonald’s, and before that sneaking down the stairs in my faded Lion King nightgown watching my parents’ shadows argue about bills, and before that my dad telling us to trust God would provide, and before that my dad telling us he quit a job, and before that my dad telling us he quit a job, and before that my dad telling us he quit his one good job, and before that squealing while he tosses me into the air—

by Bethany Jarmul

 

Bethany Jarmul is an Appalachian writer and poet. She’s the author of two chapbooks and one poetry collection. Her work has been published in many magazines including Rattle, Brevity, Salamander, and One Art. Her writing was selected for Best Spiritual Literature 2023 and Best Small Fictions 2024, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The Best of the Net, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf Top 50. Connect with her at bethanyjarmul.com or on social media: @BethanyJarmul.

 

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I was applying to a writing workshop and instinctively checked the “scholarship” button, which triggered a series of memories and emotions for me— of a complicated childhood, that was not all good or all bad. I figured that this experience would make an effective micro piece, but more than that, I knew I needed to write about it, to try to process it. Writing is often how I make sense of my life and the world.

This piece was written all at once, and required very little editing after the first draft. Those are my favorite kind of pieces to write, when they come out all in one rush. What a thrill! If only all my writing arrived so easily!

CNF: Hüzün

by Sybil Baker

 

I’m in a body of water far from home. My brother, who lives here in Turkey, has found a spot of beach with white sand and trees for shade and a shallow entrance to the ocean that only the locals know about. The rocks underneath my feet are worn smooth, the water is clear and calm. Turkish families set up picnics, with couples and young people lounging on towels. I play with my seven-year-old nephew, the child of two empires, in the calm water of the Aegean Sea.

Somewhere, it is 1630 and my ancestor seven-year-old Jeffrey Baker is on the Mary and John headed to the British colonies, never to see his homeland again.

 

Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk writes of Istanbul, “Here amid the old stones and wooden houses, history made peace with its ruins; ruins nourished life and gave new life to history.” Pamuk calls this melancholy about Turkey’s lost greatness, “hüzün.” Surrounded by the crumbling ruins of its former empires, the Turks are surrounded by visual reminders of a past that will not return, even if their leaders want it to. It is, Pamuk says, a uniquely Turkish feeling.

Americans seem to be stuck in a restorative nostalgia Svetlana Boym writes of in The Future of Nostalgia that “manifests itself in the total reconstructions of monuments of the past,” while Pamuk’s hüzün as a reflective nostalgia that comfortably “lingers on the ruins, the patina of time and history, in the dreams of another place and another time.” With this reflective nostalgia, Americans could live in peace among the ruins instead of trying to re-construct them, allowing us to envision a future we cannot yet dream of.

 

My dad’s dream for us was not necessarily the American Dream of the next generation doing better financially than the last. That none of his three children followed the traditional corporate path that he himself had become disillusioned with pleased him. It pleased him that all three of us and our spouses earned advanced degrees. It pleased him that I lived in Korea and my youngest brother had moved to Turkey, even if he wished we were closer. It probably would have pleased him that our own marriages—to a Jew, Muslim, and White man from South Africa—and their progeny have diluted the Bakers’ White supremacist legacy.

It was my dad’s dream to pass on the desire to pursue knowledge and to always be curious of what life is about. As my dad said, “If there were no longer questions then there would be no hope, no dreams, no unknowns, no visions, no tomorrow, no future.”

We are living in my ancestors’ future; one they could never have imagined.

 

Soon I will be on a plane back to the States, leaving Turkey’s hüzün behind. Like Odysseus, I will return to my ancestral home. But unlike him, when I return I will not slay the suitors or hang the women servants for their acts of resistance. When I return, I will gather the threads of Penelope’s funeral shroud she weaves and unpicks every night. With my loom, I will weave the threads of stories into a shroud that will be large enough to bury and honor the dead so that we can begin life anew.

And like Odysseus, like my ancestors, I will dream of the sea, of leaving my homeland once again.

 

Sybil is the author of five works of fiction, which have won Eric Hoffer, Foreword, and IPPY awards. Her nonfiction work, Immigration Essays, was the 2018-2019 Read2Achieve selection for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and required reading for all first-year students. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Guernica, Electric Literature, Glimmer Train, and Critical Flame. She was awarded two MakeWork Artist Grants and a 2017 Individual Artist’s Fellowship in nonfiction from the Tennessee Arts Commission. She is a professor of English at the University of Tennessee and Chattanooga, Director of the Meacham Writer’s Workshop, and on faculty for the Yale Summer Writer’s Workshop.

 

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“Hüzün” is one of the final essays in a draft manuscript called Reconstructions of a Lost Cause, and was inspired by my most recent visit to Turkey (where my brother and his family live). I’m interested in the intersection of America’s nostalgia for a problematic past and Turkey’s hüzün, which Orhan Pamuk translates as a melancholy for a previous greatness. Another short piece inspired from that trip was published in Healing Visions last year.

Gretel and Me

by Beth Sherman

 

On day one, I heard a noise. Louder than my mice, Esmerelda and Dorothy. A murmuring really, like a brook splashing over rocks on a cloudy day. Words floating on water. I hadn’t heard words in 55 years. Trail breadcrumbs witch candy. It comes back to you, the listening, if you concentrate hard enough. They were dismantling my house, piece by piece. Taking things. My home is all I have. Without it, my body shrivels and fades. I put the boy in a cage. Don’t judge. I have my reasons.

On day two, Gretel and I played catch the gumdrops. Boysenberry, blueberry, cherry, gooseberry. We threw them in the air and they dissolved on our tongues. A lovely child – flaxen braids, curious lips, trusting eyes. She reminded me of me before.

On day six, we baked a plum cake. Talked about our favorite things. Hers was dancing between raindrops, mine was baking coconut cream pie and stuffing the entire thing in my mouth.

On day twelve, we baked Red Velvet cake. While measuring sugar and flour we shared our biggest fears. Hers was going hungry, mine was stepping foot outside the house.

On day nine, we baked Black Forest cake. After whipping cream for the icing, we discussed our hopes for the future. She said she wanted to grow up, meet a man, get married, and have four children. I said I wanted to be left alone.

On day sixteen, we baked upside down cake and traded secrets. She said she never liked her stepmother. I said I never got undressed till after dark.

On day twenty-three, I told her how I used to be pretty as a princess, cherished by all who knew me until one day walking alone in the woods a woodcutter happened by and grabbed me by the chin. We baked a gingerbread man and ate him, starting with his raisin eyes, ending with his crumbly toes.

On day twenty-nine, I decided to let them go. Gretel missed the boy. She’d been feeding him secretly. She loved him. There was that. I wanted them to taste my Mandel bread before they left. I opened the oven door, peered inside to check whether the bread had risen. Felt someone shove me in. Dying didn’t hurt. Had happened to me once before in the woods. That familiar pain. Shame. Flesh turning to bone. Blood in the ashes.

 

Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her stories have been published in Portland Review, Blue Mountain Review, Tangled Locks Journal, 100 Word Story, Fictive Dream, Flash Boulevard, Sou’wester and elsewhere. Her work will be featured in The Best Microfictions 2024. She’s also a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and multiple Best of the Net nominee. She can be reached at @bsherm36 or https://www.bethsherman.site/

 

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When I recently reread the story of “Hansel and Gretel” in An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, I noticed a few unusual things that didn’t jibe with my memories of the fairy tale. One was that the children were deliberately eating the witch’s house. “Hansel so liked the taste of the roof, he broke off a big chunk, and Gretel took out a whole windowpane and sat down on the ground to enjoy it.” I’d always envisioned the kids as innocent victims, preyed upon by a malevolent crone. But now I was beginning to see her differently – someone whose home was of the utmost importance, whose house was under attack, and who never ever left it. I asked myself why that might be. The other thing that caught my eye was that after the Witch locked Hansel in a cage, Gretel kept her company for four weeks. That’s an awfully long time. I wondered what kinds of things the two of them did together during that month. What did they say to one another? Could a bond have formed that neither expected? The ease and nonchalance with which they killed her haunted me. “How horribly the witch screeched as she burned to death.” Neither of the children felt remorseful about the murder. Indeed, right they pushed her into the oven, they looted the witch’s house, stealing boxes of pearls and precious stones (another detail I hadn’t remembered). Then they went home to live happily ever after without giving the witch another thought. For me, the Grimm’s origin story raised more questions than it answered. Chief among them was how the witch became the woman the children encountered when they began dismantling her house and whether or not, after all those years, she was capable of connecting to another human being, whether she felt worthy of love. I was attracted to the idea of telling a compressed version of the story because it seems to echo the witch herself, whose world has shrunk to the corners of her candy dwelling.

CNF: Come Back

by Robin Turner

 

It’s spring & I’m thinking of the things that come back—macrame & low-rise blue jeans, the scissortails & the ruby throats, wild primrose & thistle & thyme. I have seen them. Old gospel songs & Polaroids, the first & the last days of school, &—so they tell us—Jesus. I am waiting for the coming of some late summer rain, the return of the red resurrection flower, its strong-tender stem, its intricate blossom a year’s dark, deepening. I am waiting for my mother.

 

Robin Turner is the author of the chapbook bindweed & crow poison (Porkbelly Press). Her poems, prose poems, and flash fiction appear in DMQ Review, Rattle, Rust + Moth, The Texas Observer, Bracken Magazine, and in many other journals, anthologies, and community poetry projects. Her work has been honored with nominations for Best Spiritual Literature, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Currently a poetry reader for Sugared Water, she lives with her husband near White Rock Lake in Dallas, Texas.

 

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

I came upon a photograph my husband took of a brilliant red spider lily, common in Texas. They tend to appear after a heavy rain in late summer/early fall. The flower is also known by other names–among them “corpse flower” and “resurrection flower”. The poem gathered in me pretty quickly as I contemplated my mother’s late summer death last year, what returns and what does not, cannot–though something in us continues to call Come back.

The Woman in the Peach Dress

by Lu Chekowsky

 

The thicker my braid, the more fertile I will appear to the people who need to view me as fertile, which, by my estimation, is everyone. My braid is as thick as a Coke can. I don’t drink Coke. I do drink La Croix. My hair is the only thick thing about me. I am slim because I know the secret to eating; small plates, small bites, plenty of sips of ice water between swallows. My thick hair sprouts from the health I have accomplished via Pilates and squash. My wrists are small. I wear my bones like a necklace around my neck. My neck is tall but my posture takes work. My mother told me once to stand up straight if I wanted boys to like me. Of course I wanted boys to like me so I always imagine a pole in my back. I wish there was a doctor to put a pole in my back. It’s summer, so I dress from the summer closet. I wore this peach dress to a polo match once. Prince Charles was there; he winked at me. I ride horses, admire horses, own horses. I want my hair to shine like a well-groomed horse. I hold my arms like a Barbie, square at the corners. I’m always rushing somewhere, carrying something light; ready to model a new dress, a new bag, a new me. My lips curl up at the corners; glisten with pink gloss. I am the most gracious when seething. I ask the woman who works behind the counter about the taste of their pastry because I want to appear relaxed about pastry, but I am not relaxed about pastry. I hear women eat pastry, but I don’t know any personally. Another woman behind me – who has no business at all eating a burrito – is eating a burrito. I could definitely tell you how much all the women around me weigh. I always know how much smaller I am than everyone else. It’s helpful. I don’t want much, just to pretend to eat crustless egg salad sandwiches at parties, to dab my lips with a linen napkin. I want to provide my weekend houseguests with soft sheets, ice cold tea, a version of me that they can tell people about while smiling. I want to fluff pillows and to laugh effortlessly. I want to be thought of as effortless. I order a black coffee. It will erase my hunger. I leave, the bells on the door jingling, my braid swaying left to right, right to left as I trot. My mind is buzzing with to-do’s. I will volunteer at a banquet. I will carry a wicker basket with a ribbon laced in the handle. I will buy art at an auction; something modern – like me. I will delight in my bones. I will post a photo of myself smiling.

 

Chekowsky is an Emmy-winning writer and creative director who built a successful career in media through gut, intuition, and addiction to approval. Lu’s essays and poems have appeared in journals including: The Rumpus, Pigeon Pages, The Maine Review. Her work has been supported by Mass MoCA, Tin House, SPACE on Ryder Farm. She is a 2023 New York State Council on the Arts/New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Nonfiction Literature.

 

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

This story is inspired by a woman I saw at a coffee shop in Williamstown, MA in the summer of 2022. I was struck by her presence and immediately inspired by her effort to appear effortless. Every move appeared to me to be coordinated and strategic. I was in awe of the ways she portrayed being “good” at being a woman. This story was written as a way for me to try to inhabit her imagination and priorities, to try and see that moment we were in the same space together, but through her eyes.

You Sound Just Like Your Mother

by Benjamin Davis

 

My father took to killing mice about as well as can be expected. Especially after one got half-snapped in the middle of the night, he woke to the tick-tick-tick of a trap being dragged back and forth across the kitchen floor. It went on for hours, he said, I had to wait in my room with the fan on.

He took it so hard he went and panic-bought three buckets, six planks of wood, and a hundred dollars of peanut butter. They’re ethical traps, he told me. They climb in for the peanut butter, then you release them into the woods. Later, the exterminator would ask him if he’d thought to spray paint them before letting them go to make sure it wasn’t the same mice coming back for more. He hadn’t.

We had dinner together every Wednesday night. Just inside the door was a whiteboard he used for unmemorized phone numbers and reminders. This time, it only said: 11. The house shook when I shut the door, so my father called, Hello?! from his bedroom, as he always does, as if this time, surely, it’s someone here to murder him. I found three more today, he tells me, erasing the board. Next week, it read: 17, and the whole house smelled of peppermint. I found him in the basement, chucking cotton balls under the sofa. Mice hate peppermint.

When it got to 23, he gave up and called the exterminator. When he came, my father told him all about the peanut butter and buckets and peppermint while the exterminator made his spray paint joke. They both chuckled in that friendly way anyone might when trying not to ignore the adorable brutality of the situation.

I wanted to help the mice understand. He tried his best, I could tell them. If only they hadn’t chewed up the legs of one of the couches or scurried around keeping him awake at night. He’s not a killer, my father. I’d tell them that. He tried everything he could. Maybe I could say to them about how he needs his sleep because he struggles with mental health. Or somehow point out how much worse he could have been. He could have spray-painted them, after all. That even though they might have felt at war with some great big undefinable thing that it’s only my father. Maybe they’d find it in their hearts to forgive him—still as they may be.

 

Benjamin Davis (he/him) has stories and poems in several literary journals including Booth, Moon City Review, Wigleaf, and Slippery Elm Press. His poem collection, The King of FU (Nada Blank, 2018), was such a smashing success it shocked the indie press who printed it into an early grave. He is now writing his first six novels. Find him on Chill Subs.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “You Sound Just Like Your Mother”?

I started writing this shortly after it happened (nearly two years ago). Rewrote it. And again. And I kept trying to weave two ideas together as a prose poem. Then, recently, I was discussing prose poems and flash with my partner, and we got to talking how we love when a piece “turns”. It’s about something, then turns out to be about something else in a way that makes total sense. Like those Lindt chocolate balls where you start off thinking, this is pretty good chocolate! Then the shell breaks and you’re like, woah, f—k me. The next day, I picked this back up and all the pieces fell together in one go.

The Plumber’s Anger

by Jessica Purdy

 

The plumber woke up to find his anger fit in his pocket. His finger grazed it when he reached for his car key. His anger was too big to fall through the hole in the fabric. Last night his anger had been as big as a chunk of chainsawed tree trunk. This morning it was a nugget the size of a sickly green crabapple. It’s not hard to love anger, he thought, but when it feels so weighty and cumbersome you can’t haul it very far. Coming outside after a workday of forcing food and poop through stuck pipes he thought to raise his fist to the wind. It was making him cold. The wind was an affront. Birds kept landing around him. He didn’t notice a single one. The duck even slid into the river from the sky as if to call attention to its own drama. Some of the birds carried their colors as torches, but still he never saw. The plumber threw his anger into the wind as if that would dislodge respect. Anger that hard made a splash and left on his hand a residue of poison that mixed with the day’s grime. At home, he placed infected towels into an empty birdcage after drying his fingers. Filled the water dish. Put more food pellets in. By morning a curious toxic bird will love him with its little red nugget of a heart.

 

Jessica Purdy holds an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry from Emerson College. She teaches Poetry Workshops and Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University and through the EXCEL program in North Berwick Maine’s Middle and High Schools. Her poems have been nominated for Best New Poets and Best of the Net. Her poems, flash fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Radar, The Night Heron Barks, SoFloPoJo, Litro, Heavy Feather Review, Lily Poetry Review, One Art, Hole in the Head, and Museum of Americana, among others. Her books STARLAND and Sleep in a Strange House were both released by Nixes Mate Books consecutively, in 2017 and 2018. Sleep in a Strange House was a finalist for the NH Literary Award for poetry. Her poetry manuscript Lung Hours was a finalist in both the Codhill Press’ Guest Editor Poetry Series and The Dryden-Vreeland Prize in 2023. Her two recent chapbooks are: The Adorable Knife poems based on The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (Grey Book Press), and You’re Never the Same: Ekphrastic Poems (Seven Kitchens Press).

 

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

I conjured this plumber (who could really be anyone at all who is feeling a loss of control in their life) when someone I know came back from a particularly uncomfortable, bitterly cold and windy run. It made me think how fruitless anger can be when it’s directed at the most innocent and indifferent of elements. Writing this tiny story taught me how anger in particular, can poison all those it touches. I love birds and this story has free birds and a caged one.

Six Kilograms of Flour

by Rita Taryan

 

Marika, a widow, had two boyfriends. One was old, married and intelligent: Örzsy. The other was young, single and stupid: Egri. Of course she preferred the mature Örzsy. She could have a conversation with him, whereas with Egri (though he was in his thirties) it was like talking to a child. But it wasn’t just that. Örzsy was an incredible lover. He had a way of looking at her that made her feel undressed, even in an elevator or a restaurant. Marika was very fond of Örzsy, which is why she sat down and asked herself how she felt about the fact that Örzsy was not only having sex with her, but also with his wife and two other mistresses. Marika waited for an answer from herself. She waited several months while still seeing Örzsy every other weekend Sunday. This had been going on for a year. Was she alright with that? Was this normal? Well, she dug deep into her conscience and discovered something remarkable, which was that picturing Örzsy with his wife or with his other mistresses evoked in her the same feeling as looking at a six kilogram bag of flour on a supermarket shelf. In other words, she didn’t care. And that was that. Marika went on seeing Örzsy every other weekend Sunday. They had passionate assignations. Sometimes he’d call her when he was with his other women. He’d sneak away just to have a stimulating five-minute conversation with Marika—“an interludial,” he’d call it. So Marika and Örzsy had many years together. The terms of their relationship never changed. And he always made her feel that she was important to him. Then one day, Örzsy died. He fell off a cruise ship on the Aegean Sea between the island of Naxos and the island of Syros. It wasn’t foul play. It was an unhappy event. And Marika was left with no other option but to see only Egri, who was by then old. He was still single—but also, still stupid.

 

Rita Taryan is a Hungarian-born Canadian-American. She teaches at Fordham University in New York. Read Rita in Panel Magazine, Hobart, ExPat Press, Room, and elsewhere.

 

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

My family escaped communist Hungary in 1971. I was seven. I didn’t see the place again until I was thirty. Every few years now I go back for a visit. I wander the streets, walk by my old grade school, take a tour of the gilded Parliament, visit the graves of the heroes of 1956, smoke in the old literary cafes, rummage through the vintage bookstores, eat street food. I’m a foreigner there, so I burn my tongue on the Hungarian fried bread (lángos).

I often wonder how my life would have turned out if I had grown up in Hungary. “Six Kilograms of Flour” is the product of my wondering. In any case I would have a life story which, like Marika’s, could be neatly summed up—with some compassion—in about 340 words.

Emergency Vet

by Steve Cushman

 

He remembered sleet and the dregs of a cherry Slurpee, her hands bloody with the bird, a Robin who’d flown into the truck’s windshield.   He remembered thinking birds don’t fly into windshields and yet here they were.  Shelly had shouted, stop, fucking stop, Ray, and he stopped because what choice did he have?

He remembered her back in the seat beside him, asking Siri, where is the nearest emergency vet?

And Siri saying, the closest emergency vet is Northeastern Ridge Emergency Veterinary Clinic, which is five miles away.  They are open 24 hours a day.

Come on, she kept saying.  He remembered thinking she might have been talking to the bird, coaxing it, maybe giving it a pec rub, trying to somehow bring it back.  Or was she talking to him?

He remembered he’d been thinking of the right way to end this between them.  Three years and while he hated to admit it, he felt nothing for her anymore.  Nothing may not have been accurate.  He still felt fondly for her, and wished her the best, whatever that might be, but he no longer wanted to spend every moment with her.  No longer needed to feel her body against his to feel whole, alive.  His breath no longer caught at the sight or scent of her long, dark hair.

He remembered thinking, why are there so many fucking red lights on Battleground Avenue?  He remembered thinking, we will never get there or anywhere really unless we run every one of them.  But he was not the sort of young man who ran red lights.

Turn right on Westridge, Siri said in her sing-song voice.

He remembered wishing Shelly would say something to him, anything, beside Come on, Come on.  He remembered thinking this bird is dead and why are we rushing to have someone tell us what we already know?  He remembered the rain and how it kept falling, pelting the window, the roof, like a thousand ting-tings a minute.

When they reached the clinic, it was empty as he knew it would be.  Closed for renovations, the sign out front said, and underneath it, in smaller letters:  For your pet emergencies, try Friendly Emergency Vet.

He remembered saying, I don’t think we can keep going like this.

She held the dead bird to her chest and said, I know. I know. Me neither.

 

Steve Cushman is the author of three novels, including Portisville, winner of the 2004 Novello Literary Award. He has published two poetry chapbooks, and his first full-length collection, How Birds Fly, won the 2018 Lena Shull Book award. A new collection, The Last Time, was released in 2023. Cushman lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, and works in the IT department at Cone Health.

 

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

This flash story was inspired by a poem I read recently that repeated the phrase “I remembered.” My intent was to write a story that followed this pattern, but as I started 3rd person POV felt right so switched to “He remembered.”

I’m also always interested in having a couple characters in a small space, filled with conflict, so a truck worked for that, and a bird had flown into my bay window a day or two before I drafted the story, so that was on my mind. While I try and keep cell phones and other technologies out of my fiction, the nagging voice of Sari, along with some unpleasant weather, seemed to offer another level of tension between this young couple.

The Cows

by D Angelo

 

A handful of cows, fed up with their predestined fate, decided to abandon the pastures and move into an unoccupied house. They ate Doritos and watched football. Drank Budweiser as rain pecked at the windows. Sometimes lightning would charge like a bull across the sky. The cows would laugh at the irony before curling up against each other for warmth. The cows did all the chores, including mowing the lawn, and enjoyed the experience. When the original owner of the house appeared, she fell to her knees and wept, having never experienced this kind of life before.

 

Shortlisted for the 2023 Manchester Poetry Prize, D Angelo (also credited as D A Angelo) is a UK-based writer with work in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Sage Cigarettes, Flights of the Dragonfly and Petrichor Mag.

 

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

This is loosely based on actual incidents. My research brought up bizarre incidents of cows occupying empty houses in rural areas such as Montana, only for their owners to return shocked. Nobody knows why cows (and other animals) do this. I wanted to put a surreal spin on it and create a small story alluding to the unhappiness we can all face at times.

Practicing

by Matthew Anderson

 

Below the house, the pest control man inspected the crawl space for termites. Crawling along the cinder block perimeter of the wall, he looked for signs of termite tubes. The little mud highways they build as they chew through the insides of houses. He crawled on his belly, following the beam of his headlamp. He turned his head one way, then the other, waving his circle of light across the bricks. He has found many things in crawl spaces. A rusted knife. Dog collars. Scared and coiled snakes. But most often what he found was death. Stiff rats and stinking opossums teeming with maggots. He often wondered about how painful their deaths were, often imagined his own bones giving way, shattering inside of him from the impact of a car, like so many small frail creatures. He orbited death like a lonesome moth transfixed by a lightbulb. He spoke nothing of it to anyone. He spoke little about anything. But he felt a peculiar peace when deep inside of cool, quiet crawl spaces. Sometimes, after finishing a termite inspection, instead of going home to her unwavering disappointment in him, he would turn over to lie on his back and perform his only ritual. He would let his gloved hands flex in the dirt and feel the cold of the ground slowly leaching his heat. He would turn off his headlamp and stare up into the blackness that had just been the floorboards above. He would let his eyes adjust to the deepest dark, a soothing blindness. He would set his hands atop one another on his stomach and close his eyes. He would lie in the dirt as still as stone, and imagine never seeing such a world again.

 

Matthew Anderson is a Southerner living in Portland, OR with his fiance and two Sphynx cats. He experiments with prose poetry and non-fiction and is currently working on a memoir. His work can be found at medium.com/@matthewdavisanderson and he can be found on Instagram @yerboymatthew.

 

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

I actually was a pest control man myself. I spent many long hours crawling around and squeezing myself through tight spaces under houses. There is a true strangeness to crawl spaces. I’ve had rats and frogs run across me, seen black mold cover entire floors, and once found a dirty old crack pipe. Yet I did become quite comfortable in them, and I would sometimes turn off my light and take a quick 20 minute nap in the dirt. I have definitely slept beneath the goings-on of many people in their houses in Charlotte, NC. I would never do that job again, but it was a unique experience that I still ponder from time to time.

CNF: A Daughter Contemplates

by Michelle Bitting

 

How strokes and seizures have put him in the hospital again. We come to say hello. He’s eating chicken in a chair— parmigiana, salad, ranch dressing and a roll. Better than yesterday! Says the nurse. His mind was on a boat, somewhere in San Diego, yanking at tubes, the strapped-on oxygen. Arm restraints. He who never held back, stomping I am the King! around the house, his throne front and center. After all the chaos, here is his final crown— an EEG meter reading the heady Zeus bolts— his aim, his honor under fire. I could object how old age and infirmity so mercifully erase the past in a white room where his face— so genuinely sweet, so delighted to see me— as if my little boy, as if. What is this all about? My mother at her window repeating doctor reports, struggling to get it straight, comb it along her own ravaged folds. Half a century he marched us, the spoils doled, the strict conditions— captives and a promise of allegiance— my brothers not able to make it, buried out there in ghost country. The quality of mercy grows strained. His wife, his perennial sun sits confused, not knowing if rising or setting, a waning orb. Hands that grasp at keys can’t hold where they go— locked in a crib if it comes to it. They don’t believe I won’t bolt, silly, so long ago I left but look how machines beep on. He finishes his sorbet, the hospital tray I’ve placed outside, needing to head home. He moves to stand, thinking he’s going with me, forgetting the nightie, the tube sucking gold between his legs. Alarms will go off, the nurses come running if he tries. He looks to me, hoping for reprieve, and for a moment I love him mistaking me. Whoever it is he believes I am.

 

Michelle Bitting was short-listed for the 2023 CRAFT Character Sketch Challenge, the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize, the 2021 Fish Poetry Contest judged by Billy Collins, and a finalist for the 2021 Coniston Prize and 2020 Reed Magazine Edwin Markham Prize. She won Quarter After Eight’s 2018 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest and was a finalist for the 2021 Ruminate Magazine, 2019 Sonora Review and New Millennium Flash Prose contests. She is the author of five poetry collections, Good Friday Kiss, winner of the inaugural DeNovo First Book Award; Notes to the Beloved, which won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award; The Couple Who Fell to Earth; Broken Kingdom, winner of the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize; and Nightmares & Miracles (Two Sylvias Press, 2022), winner of the Wilder Prize and recently named one of Kirkus Reviews 2022 Best of Indie. Her chapbook Dummy Ventriloquist is forthcoming in 2024. Bitting is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Literature at Loyola Marymount University.

 

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

Writing ‘A Daughter Contemplates’ wasn’t easy due to the critical and complex family situation(s) referenced that continue to confound and haunt me and my work. Still, the words came fast, in a flood that I attribute to the watershed effect of the psyche unleashed and prompted by distressing, unexpected events. In terms of formal considerations, the poem was written in verse, but then needed the container of the prose poem with justified margins to hold all its significant viscera and with tension. A little story that leaps around and about the writer’s memory and current physical experience that feels strangely at odds and defamiliarized in relation to the past. And yet, the view is somehow miraculously new? Maybe poems, in their own way, help us bridge these impossible and oft irreconcilable differences, or at least liberate space to allow the needs of seemingly discordant forces: body & psyche, honesty & mercy to ride alongside in peace, and in conversation with each other.

Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain

by Laton Carter

 

A bird in my backyard sounds like it’s choking. It isn’t my yard, the apartments all share it, but still—it feels like it’s there for me. Just one maple. Grass, some geraniums for a border. You’d think I’d see it, but I never have. The bird only sings. I don’t mean strangulation. I mean that single falling grace note proceeding the central pitch. It drops like a warble.

If you stare at a sofa long enough, it becomes a country. The seams, the cushions, the backrest, they’re territories. All the people who’ve sat there are tourists. Some more than others, and the ones who return become residents. Look at that face. His deep set eyes, the buried self. I don’t know what to call it and have it be right: self-loathing, self-doubt. It leans out to be fixed.

I never let my license expire. Cosmetology sounds a lot like space, but it’s lids and brows, cheeks and a jaw. You get to draw on them, watch the surface transform into something it isn’t. Make-up is a damn better protection than a gun. Drink your coffee and think about it. It doesn’t make sense until it does.

The tablets in my mouth at first were bitter. Then you don’t notice a thing. The grandmother I’m holding is a pillow. Her breast against my cheek is all I want just for a little while.

 

Laton Carter’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in A-Minor Magazine, Atticus Review, The Boiler, Indiana Review, The MacGuffin, Necessary Fiction, and Split Lip Magazine. Carter works in a middle school in Western Oregon.

 

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

While Patsy Cline is generally credited as the first female country singer to sing about divorce (1955), it took thirteen more years for the word itself to appear in song. Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” (1968) chronicled the taboo of divorce before the misconstrued “Stand By Your Man” made Wynette a household name. This piece of fiction, which borrows its title from a Reba McIntyre song, attempts to compress Wynette’s humility in the face of pain.

CNF: Flights

by Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

 

It wasn’t yet evening, and the tasting room had emptied out after the afternoon rush. The next wave of customers hadn’t started filling in, so for a while we were the only ones at a table, the inbetweeners, neither there for the daytime vibes nor the late-night ones, contenting ourselves in the lull, in the quiet of the radio, its melancholy music, full of songs that hit hard out of the blue when you’re alone in the car, or packing, say, for a long trip.

Our countdown to the day our child was leaving was down to single digits, but we weren’t speaking of it.

We were remarking instead on the beer selections, the Route 66 décor, the friendliness of the bartender, which we especially appreciated given the circumstances. We’d come to the brewery, after all, because our spirits needed tuning up. It was a happy occasion, yes, our child heading off to college, but even though it was something we’d been preparing for all summer, somehow we were still utterly unprepared for it.

We chatted about the owners’ vision for this new place, the repurposed desks dotting the room, the board games stacked on shelves, careful not to mention any memories they conjured of our own, our old, family unit. But still they were everywhere, these reminders of the big change just over the horizon.

The road signs hanging on the walls, pointed, poignant, were all filled with images of cars driving away.

We passed a quiet afternoon with small glasses of beer neatly lined up, then suddenly whisked away. All the while, a Pegasus on a rusty gas station sign hovered above our table like a weathered mobile.

So much leave-taking all around. Even the horse had wings.

 

Alyson Mosquera Dutemple’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Salamander, Passages North, Redivider, Arts & Letters, and Cincinnati Review’s miCRo series, among others. She is a 2022 runner-up for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and one of her stories received a Special Mention in the 2024 Pushcart Prize anthology. Alyson teaches and edits in New Jersey. Find her on socials @swellspoken and at www.alysondutemple.com.

 

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

I’ve written a lot of flash fiction, but I have always been too intimidated to try my hand at non-fiction flash… that is, until this piece.. “Flights” is my first CNF flash. I once read a quote from Richard Bauch about the flash form that ends with “in order to make it work in so small a space, its true subject must be proportionately larger.” I guess when thinking about the big change in my family life that is the subject of this micro, I finally stumbled upon a true subject proportionally large enough to write so few words about.

News

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.

Submissions

Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.

Upcoming

05/27 • Claudio Perinot
06/03 • Amanda Chiado
06/10 • John Davies
06/17 • Lynne Jensen Lampe
06/24 • Valerie Valdez
07/01 • Carlin Katz
07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
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