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Month: February 2021

Go For a Hike

by Girija Tropp

 

For my next dystopia, I will set my world in a snowstorm’s white pages, a world inside a sewing box padded in satin where needles and sewing thread are kept. The woodpecker stamp has lost its ability to peck. Finally, an uber arrives but the toy tyres are flat.

“Wait,” Naomi says, “that was my yesterday?” The wart on her neck seems an enlarged glossier version preparing for launch in 2021. We are sitting on the balcony. The boys have got their feet on the coffee table and the ashtray is jammed with butts. While the rest of the house is, at base, gorgeously constructed, the shower is a recessed shadow on the wall, pitted cement overhead, and a bath de-enamelling, an ebullient eczema. I have not taken a shower yet—opting to washbasin myself at the sink. Skewed wooden slats on window panels let in a pleasant filtered light right up to a kitchen that could have been cosy but for utensils piled everywhere. There is a note to say Please do not do the dishes—I shall get to them in due course.

Honey asks if we like sleeping in satin sheets, and the boys say that my writing is much like me. I determine not to say another word so I can disengage.

Simon is eating wheatbix with milk and Gabbu is eating same-same but with milk and honey. They criticise each other’s food choices. Something about making proper decisions. For my first dystopia, I read enormous amounts on how the brain works and now I don’t trust anything yet I am compassionate towards its attempts at constructing a safe movie for me to inhabit. Look left and right before crossing the road, it says.

“Last night I ate a whole block of chocolate,” Honey says. “And I don’t even like the stuff.”

“You must like it,” says Gabbu, resident upright twenty-two-year-old. The other day, he engaged me in a long philosophical discussion about honesty. He is going to be a farmer because plants do not lie.

In my next dystopia, I was going to make Honey into my heroine but the plan may be derailed by dark places; the made-up father uncomfortably reminiscent of a brother-in-law despite suitable ageing. I have made her want sex with this man and after I finished my work, I felt repulsed by her impulse.

The brain likes patterns because it starts off inaccurate before searching for the veracious detail. Look, you like living in two homes and you are managing the rent and you are opening the doors to other people–you are being flexible because that is your vehicle. Rigidity is in danger of being cut off at the trunk.

Well, I reply, there is the matter of flat tires.

Too many patterns and the brain becomes lethargic and unable to discern right from wrong. I imagine that is first cause in the matter of Honey and the chocolate episode. Buddha wisely counselled a middle path but who was he counselling? My brain or me?

The morning is about to end and we move our limbs. When I take my empty cup to the kitchen, Honey deploys to the living room floor where she lies on her belly to roll another joint. She remarks on the organic matter visible between red woollen fibres—a carpet gifted by a friend, traffic-jam in red to match her curly auburn locks.

Now that I know how my mind works, the scenery is difficult. Fridge magnets. Cinnamon speckle on door handle. Betrayed soft plastic. Stale coffee grounds. Fraying silver scourer. The nine am to five pm whine of a carpenter’s saw must mean business as usual. The cemetery opposite—how old are its inhabitants? Traffic on Bell street may not travel to the airport. Soon. If you told me everything falls off the edge of the horizon, I would have to believe because it is the truth.

 

Girija Tropp is an Australian writer who has been published locally and internationally as well as winning writing prizes. Currently finishing a Chinese Medicine Practitioner qualification, writing has become her substitute for Prozac. She is grateful for the hard-working editors who discovered her — first at Agni over a decade ago, all the way through to New World Writing and now in the Journal of Compressed Arts

 

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

At the time I wrote this piece, I was re-inventing myself; I was experiencing the strange feeling that being in my sixties has a strange similarity to my twenty-year old self; I had moved for the third time in the pandemic year but it was a partial move since I was catching up on intensives for my Chinese Medicine Clinical trimesters that had closed during the lockdown; I was determined not to be by myself if there was to be another lockdown; and I had told myself that I was going to learn how to be flexible; how to create my life moment by moment. Or die trying (metaphorically?).

I wrote it for my online writing community, Hot Pants, on FFC’s Zoetrope Online. Something I had been doing with writers I’ve known for over a decade. It seems to be the one place to which I have a devoted commitment. For the final version, I checked with my housemates about the submission of the story… and warned them that I had been very creative with some conversations I had, and that even though there were five of us in the house, none of them were in any way the people of the story, and that the characters could be seen as containers or projections of my mind. I was also digging around for my next novel—without being attached to the outcome or the process or my own fixations on theme.

Your DNA Today

by Courtney Dunham

 

[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.]

 

Tap, tap, tap.

Brandy Booker’s black heels beat against the cold granite floor.

Her boss, and president of Your DNA Today, Rodney Smith, was busy with some papers slowly flipping page by page. To stop her foot from tapping, Brandy pulls at her purple silk shirt, then she takes a deep breath.

“Sir, you said to let you know if any issues came up,” Brandy says.

“Right, what happened?” he asks.

Rodney firmly lays the papers on his desk and his eyes focus intensely on Brandy. She clears her throat and continues.

“We’ve received multiple complaints now. Some of the clients are calling saying our products had caused them some…complications,” she says.

“What complications?”

“They said our slogans were misleading. Particularly ‘Genetics to Ease your mind.’ Parents are complaining they requested physical features for their children like height or neurological changes like lessening addiction that both had some unexpected effects,” she says. “Short term we’re looking at a PR fiasco and fewer clients; long term, I’ve heard rumors of lawsuits and who knows what else.”

Smith tilts his head then pushes his chair back nearly doubling over from laughing. Once he stops chuckling, he looks back up at Brandy with a slight smile.

“That’s it?” he asks. “Well, the way you came in I thought you were going to say we’ve been seeing mutations.”

Brandy takes a step back and her face crinkles.

“Well, like I’ve said we’ve had multiple complaints. I know—”

“Right, right. Well, you know how to take care of this,” he says. Smith chuckles once more shooing Brandy out the door.

“Wait, you’re okay still being the face of the new campaign, right?” he asks.

“Yes, sir.”

Brandy slowly shuts the office door behind her. Shakily, she makes it to the bathroom and sits in the stall. She shakes her head in disbelief and her hands drop. Her purse falls to the floor next to her.

“If my daughter has purple hair, or a tail, I wonder if I’ll be fired.”

Brandy unzips her purse and pulls out the sonogram of her daughter. She clutches it close to her chest and closes her eyes. After a few seconds she takes a deep breath, picks up her purse, leaves the bathroom and walks normally back to her desk.

We Were All Supposed to be Sleeping

by Lydia Gwyn

 

And they—my mother and father—let me go among strangers into a building where hearts could be only red or pink, where girls were all nurses, boys all presidents, and you had to plan out when to pee.

In this building, a boy named Junior with eyes like a basset hound pulled me over to the side of the room where the gray partition divided the two kindergarten classes. He told me my mother was dead. “They found her car on the side of the road,” he said. “In a ditch,” he said. “The teacher will tell you later.” I knew this wasn’t true. Junior was a liar. But I cried anyway. I folded my hands over my face and saw my mother’s crushed glasses, her bloody eyes.

In this building, each child held a section of parachute and we flapped it at once, snapping its stripes of red and white and sending hollow, plastic balls into the gymnasium ceiling. The wind from our work blew into my face loosening my hair from its clips. I wanted to let my section go and sneak beneath the parachute, where the light was soft and amber.

In this building, I’d run my finger down the grout between the cinderblocks of the pistachio halls. My finger was a woman turning the corners of a city, a woman I imagined myself one day—tall and dark-haired like my mother—alone in a city.

In this building, a girl with a name that sounded like sweet-dream stood in the doorway each morning and cried for her father to come pick her up. Her face looked like winter with a licked ring of raw skin around her mouth. So many mornings the teachers would coax her inside step-by-step with a roll of red and silver star stickers.

In this building, I didn’t speak much because I said all the wrong things all the time. My words sparked laughter or arguments. “Humans aren’t animals!” a boy countered me one day at lunch. Other children spoke musical words, sleigh-belled words, while my words were like bodies falling from buildings. So mostly I was quiet, except once when the same boy from lunch licked the sole of my sneaker at a time when we were all supposed to be asleep on the classroom floor, and I felt compelled to tell him I’d stepped on a dead bird in the road that morning.

Outside this building, I got to feel the hands of other children every day when we spun in rings on the playground or played Red Rover. There were girls with soft hands, girls with warm hands. No girls with hands as dry and rough as mine. It took a while, but I made friends with the girl with the softest, plumpest hands. Her name was Jill and everything about her was round and smooth and pretty. We’d sit in the grass designing dresses in our heads. Her dresses were always gold to match her gold Corvette.

Outside this building, boys in zippered jumpsuits breakdanced on the sidewalks. Their bodies moved like ribbons twirled on a stick, sure as invertebrates.

Outside this building, kids got lost in the grapevine, so we weren’t allowed to go there at recess, though the hollowed earth of the dead creek bed called to us. White clover covered the playground, and honeybees fuzzed with pollen made wobbly landings on each flower.

And at the end of the day we all went home to Hawaiian Punch and public television and whippings when we were bad. The moon shone through our bedroom windows at night and I was the kind of child who turned toward it and beamed my wishes directly into its craters.

 

Lydia Gwyn’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in F(r)iction, New World Writing, the Florida Review, JMWW, Entropy, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Her book of flash fiction, Tiny Doors, is available from Another New Calligraphy. She lives with her family in East Tennessee.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “We Were All Supposed to be Sleeping”?

The impetus for this story was a session I had with my therapist in which I had to relive my first day of kindergarten. We were trying to get to the root of my anxiety, and the first day of school was the very first time in my life I remember being worried and feeling out-of-place with the rest of the world. I began writing the first draft of “We Were All Supposed to be Sleeping” the morning after my therapy session when I was flooded with memories of kindergarten, the building, the classroom, the playground, and mostly the other children

Your Mother is Not in Heaven

by Reggie Gilliard

 

[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 took every opportunity she could to mention Denice’s ex-husband. Though Denice was her “friend,” your mother resented her. Denice, who had everything: looks that captivated, finances that were stable, children that called her regularly—that loved her. Most of all, Denice whose charm drew everyone to her. Your mother would watch Denice’s confidence crescendo, bide her time as it neared its peak. And, when Denice was inches away from bliss, your mother would drop his name and watch Denice’s wave crash. Your mother cooed, wrapped an arm around her, reassured her that someone would come along to replace him. On the inside though, she smiled, basking in Denice’s misery.

Your father didn’t make it either. You never knew, but he cheated on your mother with Aunt Stacey for three years, beginning in your terrible twos. When she got pregnant, your father never said, but heavily hinted, that she should abort it. She did. Later, at Catholic mass, when the priest decried the evils of the pro-choice movement, your father fervently agreed. Your father only cared about women insofar as he could control them. The priest understood at confessional. Your mother never suspected a thing.

You may find it heartening to learn that the priest is in hell.

Your uncle Jimmy, who spent all of his days in your Baptist church also spent many of them loathing the choir director, Ronny, who played the tambourine a little too vigorously. Jimmy spent precious moments seated on pews reminding everyone near him of what the bible says of homosexuality. Jimmy was right, Ronny was gay; Jimmy was wrong, god loves gays. God doesn’t love hate. Jimmy was full of hate. He couldn’t explain that one away when his name was called.

Your grandmother, though, she made it. Sweet Gran-gran, who baked pies when she knew you’d be coming, and made warm apple cider, and worked her fingers to the bone. She truly was a kind woman, truly tried her best. Although, because she’d spent her life praying to white Jesus and believing in white angels, she couldn’t be expected to hide her incredulity when she saw that tan skin, that curly hair, at heaven’s gate. But what Christian—what person—isn’t dealing with a little internalized racism?

They permitted her to enter, but that issue of bias had to be dealt with. They didn’t want her quietly ogling heavenly couples, like she did when you brought home your Asian girlfriend. You didn’t notice, but your girlfriend (now wife) did. They didn’t want her feeling that mix of disappointment and guilt that she did when your daughter was Asian too. You didn’t notice, but your wife did. God accepts sinners and forgives them on earth, but he doesn’t welcome them into his homestead.

So, when next you see Gran-gran, she won’t have that tendency toward microaggressions you excused because of her age and her delicious apple crumb. It’ll make your wife more comfortable.

Though, if your grandmother has been changed so fundamentally—and she has—perhaps we can’t say it is the woman you know who has crossed that glimmering threshold. I suppose your grandmother didn’t make it.

This shouldn’t stress you. You won’t make it either.

 

Reggie Gilliard is a writer from New Jersey and a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Master’s in Education Policy program. His work has been published in Down in the Dirt and Litro Magazine.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Your Mother is Not in Heaven”?

“Your Mother is Not in Heaven” has been in the vault for several months. I wrote the story during the summer, while in between school and a new job. I did some editing then, got busy with work, and had not looked at the story until about two weeks ago. The piece is a response to the culture of Christianity that I was raised in, (and that I think is pervasive in the United States) that assumes that all loved ones are going to, or are in, heaven, while at the same time putting heavy emphasis on the many ways one can end up in hell. The piece is really meant to be a series of vignettes, each paragraph or combination of paragraphs about a different ‘you’; the sum of them an acknowledgment that—no matter your denomination, race/ethnicity, or gender—you probably love someone who has done something hell-worthy (according to the Bible) and you are probably teetering on the knife’s edge yourself.

Lost Item Report of a Chinese Immigrant

by Yunya Yang

 

Yunya Yang was born and raised in Central China and moved to the US when she was eighteen. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in trampset, Bending Genres, The Los Angeles Review, among others. She lives in Chicago with her husband Chris and cat Ichiro. Find her on Twitter @YangYunya.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Lost Item Report of a Chinese Immigrant”?

I’ve wanted to write about immigration, but none of the stories I wrote worked out. I had two (failed) stories with the line about the visa stamps in my passport, and neither of them quite captured what I was trying to say. I got this idea from a lost form on the United Airlines website. I’ve always worried about losing my luggage in transit between China and the US. I realized that what I’m hoping to convey is a sense of loss, a loss that goes both ways, and an immigrant is somebody in between, neither fish nor fowl.

CNF: Assumption On Woman With A Wagon

by Wendy BooydeGraaff

 

[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.]

 

We saw her from afar often that summer and fall, wearing a tightly belted trench coat, no matter the temperature, and pulling a red Radio Flyer wagon overflowing with what?—I couldn’t quite tell—along the wide suburban sidewalk. Her neck craned forward, urgently, as if that wagon didn’t follow fast enough. She marched onward in her lace-up boots, the fluttering hem of her flower-dotted dress also impatient, her hair pulled back, the long pony end trailing behind. A professor, I guessed, walking a seminar’s worth of visual aids to the neighborhood school.

We’d see her almost daily, from across the street or while driving by. She pulled that wagon with intention, shoulders forward, clipped steps toward a classified location. She was a government investigator and her current case required her to keep all evidence close. Or perhaps she researched environmental behavior, the documentation piling up until she was ready to publish the final findings.

At the library, her wagon was parked in the vestibule, pyramids of creased plastic bags, handles tightly knotted, crammed in. Inside, there she was, at a table, intent on her pen and notebook, stiff collar turned up. Mathematics, I presumed. On the frontier of equations to change the world.

We left the library at the same time, me with an armload of children’s and board books, she with her notebook that she stuffed into a bag filled with fabrics—clothes maybe—and I got a close look at her weathered face, wind-worn smooth and tight across her cheekbones. When she turned her face toward my hello, her eyes didn’t meet mine; her voice muttered too low and quick for me to catch what she said when I held the door open for her and her wagon. I assumed it was a thank you.

I pushed my double stroller home: my baby, my preschooler, and my books.

She pulled her wagon: her notebook and her bags.

That last weekend we went to the park, the same one we always went to;

the cold surprised us: too cold to play long, too cold for the baby. Our ears and knuckles turned bright red, raw, and the wind got under our collars. The woman was there, under the pavilion, un-mittened hands writing, sitting at the green painted picnic table, her wagon parked close.

On the path home, we finally figured it out—or so we thought. We wrapped up warm cabbage rolls in sauce and tinfoil. We ran the silver package back to her, heating our hands.

She looked up from her ciphers, her eyes focused on the horizon.

If she saw us at all, it was only in the periphery. “Ah, yes,” she said to the grassy knoll. She touched the handle of her wagon delicately and bowed over her notebooks again, words and calculations covering the white space. We left the crinkled package by her elbow and after that the park and the sidewalks and the vestibule were empty. Always empty.

Maybe it was my fault. After all, I hadn’t introduced myself, or asked how she was, what she did for a living, or even if she wanted my food in the first place.

 

Wendy BooydeGraaff holds a Master of Education degree from Grand Valley State University and a graduate certificate in children’s literature from Penn State. She is the author of Salad Pie, a children’s picture book published by Ripple Grove Press. Her stories and essays have been included in Taproot Magazine, The Ilanot Review, Great Lakes Review, matchbook, Meniscus, and elsewhere. She lives in Michigan. Find her online at wendybooydegraaff.com and @BooyTweets.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Assumption On Woman With A Wagon”?

“Assumption On Woman With A Wagon” began as a poem, but like most of my poems, it was too prose-like. Still, I played with line breaks and worked the meter for years. Finally, finally, after being too stubborn for too long, I tried it as a prose piece, and it settled right into place. It benefited from being born as a poem, though, which helped me hone the words to the essentials. I like to think of the woman with the wagon coming to a similar moment of understanding in her own diligent work.

This Side of 24

by Kristin Burcham

 

His last name sounded French, although he was not. Still, he had café au lait eyes and an air of remove, of calm superiority bordering on disdain. She had never experienced that with someone her own age before. She was muddling through her twenties; shouldn’t he be doing the same? She was supposed to meet him and another couple, friends of his, in front of the movie theater. Driving nearer, a bit early, she spotted a bikini shop, a place to delay her arrival, not seem so eager. But as she flicked through stringy Lycra in magenta or lime, she felt unable to try them on; she was shy, with Paul in her mind, to expose her curves—too lush—and her skin—too pale—thinking her body was a distant goal, so dismissive of the beauty of her youth. She rushed back to her shabby car, barely beating the meter. As she pulled out, with a driver waiting to claim the space, another car swerved impatiently, clipped her Toyota and fractured her remaining confidence. She drove home, dazed, leaving Paul waiting. Eventually he called to say that his friends had given him shit about being stood up, suggested that his “date” had been imaginary. She, still shaky, explained what had happened, but he never asked her out again. Later years brought glimpses of his success—celebrated architecture firm, trips to the Galapagos—and left her regretting what she had missed, what the accident had stolen. It was only after living long enough to see that a bikini body guaranteed nothing that she realized she had not missed, she escaped, years of scornful brown eyes that would have made it impossible to attain the quietude she had woven for herself.

 

Kristin Burcham’s work has appeared in Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose and The Writer’s Chronicle. She received her MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been teaching middle and high school English for thirteen years, doing her best to cultivate future lifelong readers.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “This Side of 24”?

I had never tried writing flash fiction until last summer when I joined a writers group on Zoom. At the start of one meeting, they asked each of us for a favorite word, then at the end presented a compiled list. The prompt was “Choose three (or as many as you want) and write a story in a paragraph.” I chose four. It was fun to experience what I’ve often heard: constraint can breed creativity.

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 OPEN. The reading period for standard submissions closes June 15, 2021. Topical Thursdays’ submissions are open year-round. Submit here.

Upcoming

10/22 • Ciarán Parkes
10/24 • Jeff Ronan
10/25 • Jamie Etheridge
10/28 • Sheldon Siporin
10/30 • John Van Dreal
11/01 • Lucinda Kempe
11/02 • Carol Taylor
11/04 • Elizabeth Spragins
11/08 • Michelle Ross
11/09 • Myron Kukla
11/11 • Nanar Khamo
11/15 • TBD
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