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Month: May 2021

Camelous, Said Dave, When The Marriage Counselor Asked Him to Describe His Wife

by Kayla Pongrac

 

And after he shared this adjective, Dave added, “It’s because Mary carries around these massive grudges that remind me of camel humps. They’re so . . . obvious.” Mary sat quietly in her chair, wondering how she could describe Dave; surely their counselor was going to ask her the same question. If she was “camelous,” he was desert material, too: dry of tongue and uninhabitable of heart. The counselor cleared her throat and asked Mary to briefly respond to Dave’s word choice. Was his description accurate? “Well,” Mary said, “I’d like to think I’m octopuslicious because sometimes I feel like I have three hearts and I can’t interest even one of them in forgiving him.”

 

Kayla Pongrac’s flash fiction chapbook, The Flexible Truth, was published in 2015 by Anchor and Plume Press. She’s currently working on a new collection of stories, which are being brought to fruition with support from: her favorite albums on repeat, many cups of hot tea, and her dog’s good company.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Camelous, Said Dave, When The Marriage Counselor Asked Him to Describe His Wife”?

Octopus vulgaris. Eight-limbed mollusk. Resides in every ocean in the world. Known for its exceptional ability to change color, to camouflage. Discharges ink when threatened. Two eyes, one beak, three hearts. Three hearts! That was the “fun fact” that captured my attention. I forget when and where I was reading about these fascinating creatures, but I do remember how that specific fact got me thinking: what if humans, like octopuses, had three hearts? That’s the origin of this piece.

I’d like to think that if I had three hearts, it would be so much easier to forgive those who have hurt me most, but the female character in this piece surprised me when she came alive on the page; she knew for certain that no matter how many hearts she had—one, three, fifteen—forgiving her husband wasn’t happening, and she felt no shame in that.

Sheer Illusion

by Elizabeth Edelgass

 

[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.]

 

In a drawer of nudes and whites—
one black bra, sheer
illusion, Chantilly lace
discreetly placed
to mask nipples
like a lover’s hands, aphrodisiac.

A bit of silk and two tiny hooks
secretly scaffold
emboldened breasts. Slender
straps—a mystery how they hold my flesh—
designed to slip,
to tease, to taunt, demibra
meant to magically render
demi-god from body
otherwise disinclined

to flirt, to flaunt. Long months, now,
since I surrendered
to isolation,
breasts set free, unseen, resigned
to body’s disintegration—
who will notice, who draw near?
Bras forsaken, cheeks unpowdered, ears unringed,
no hint of splendor—silk cups dismembered
and coarsely lined to mask face, not bosom.
Black lace,
remembered each time the drawer slips open—
in truth,
unworn for twenty years.

 

Elizabeth Edelglass is a fiction writer and book reviewer who finds herself writing poetry in response to today’s world—personal, national, and global. Her stories have won the Reynolds Price Fiction Prize, The William Saroyan Centennial Prize, the Lilith short story contest, and the Lawrence Foundation Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review. Her flash “Partial” was Highly Commended for the Bridport Prize.

 

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

This terrible year for humanity has offered me one unexpected gift—the chance to study poetry, through the magic of Zoom, with Yvonne Blomer, former Poet Laureate of Victoria, British Columbia, a continent away from my home in Connecticut. After years of publishing short stories, the new challenge of attending to poetry every morning has kept me going through these months of isolation. “Sheer Illusion” was born from my struggle to learn how to write a sonnet. The pandemic year seemed, to me, perfect material for the sonnet form, with its volta—turning point—life before, life now. In early drafts, “Sheer Illusion” was one of a group of pandemic sonnets. Luckily, Yvonne urged me to loosen the constraints and allow this poem to flow more freely, closer to my own voice.

An Account of the Terribleness of Robinson Crusoe by His Man Friday

by Mike Itaya

 

1
He never. Never.

2
Except “The One Time” did wash the goddamn coconut cups. And then he’s like, “Friday, this domesto-scene is 1650’s stale.”

3
And: “Don’t crack my coconuts.” “Don’t crack my coconuts.”

4
His response. To everything. Like, “Robinson Crusoe, don’t set fire to my blanket.” “Robinson Crusoe, don’t eat all the coconut bread.” “Robinson Crusoe, put your trousers on.”

5
He says: “Bros before clothes.”

6
Plus: “I’m randy” instead of “I’m dandy.” When neither was appropriate. But both were true.

7
Robinson Crusoe gets real Anglo-saccharine during a certain hour of night. Runs like a river about his woman, Shaylene.

8
At the big send off in England, Shaylene told R.C., “I’ll wait for you forever, baby. You know, hypothetically speaking.”

9
And I’m just saying, you know, hypothetically speaking, that doesn’t sound too good.

10

I think Robinson Crusoe has a hypothetical girlfriend.

11
He got so choked up he carved a coconut “likeness” of Shaylene.

12
And I’ll be 100% honest, even accounting for scanty talents, that “likeness” looked like a real goddamn piece of shit.

13
When he showed it to me, it was a big-time, spooky fright. R.C. was like, “Behold! ‘The Shaylene.’”

14
And me: “Wow.”

15
But it gets worse. It always gets worse.

16
His pity-parties. R.C. upending palm liquor. But when one of his sexy locks falls over his brow, I feel the pale moon tango across my heart.

17
I think I want to live on this island forever.

18
Just saying: there are worse looking people.

19
And R.C. starts humming George Benson’s “Love X Love.”

20
What if I need “Love X Love” with this motherfucker?

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But hypothetically, what would you believe?

22
Would you believe a man could lose the world to find it again?

23
Would you believe him if he promised to return?

24
Would you believe if he promised to never leave?

 

Mike Itaya lives in southern Alabama, where he works in a library. His work appears or is forthcoming in New Orleans Review, Superstition Review, and Four Way Review, among others. He studies fiction at Pacific University and is a member of the arts collective, Mobile Canon.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “An Account of the Terribleness of Robinson Crusoe by His Man Friday”?

This flash came out of a class with Kathryn Kulpa. Other writers, like Jen Michalski (during the Barrelhouse conference) helped out with edits. So did listening to George Benson. If you have not heard “Love X Love” by George Benson, I recommend you check it out.

Color Coded

by Mary Kuna

 

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

 

 

Mary Kuna (she/they) is a librarian who lives in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. They received second prize in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s Librarians’ Choice Writing Contest and an honorable mention in Queer Sci Fi’s Innovation flash fiction contest and anthology, and have been published in 50-Word Stories. She is passionate about YA literature, queer representation, and writing that explores mental illness, trauma, and healing. When not reading, writing, or knitting, they are at ballet class or training for a marathon or a triathlon. She tweets sporadically at @MaryKuna.

 

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

Knitters constantly made creative, adventurous color and style choices when knitting for adults, kids, and even older babies, so I was surprised how stringently they stuck to the “rule” of “pink for girls, blue for boys” when infants were concerned. My regular customers weren’t necessarily rigid in their thinking, nor were the people who rarely knit but who emerged to buy yarn if someone close to them was expecting a baby. They primarily took the parents’ wishes into consideration—or what they assumed those wishes were. If uncertain, they exercised extreme caution. People often picked out a pattern but said they couldn’t purchase yarn until the parents learned the baby’s sex.

I’d long thought this could be the topic of a humor article in a knitting magazine, but then realized it wasn’t funny haha, it was funny peculiar. Unsettling, even, considering today most people claim to believe in gender equality and society is finally, slowly starting to become more accepting of trans and nonbinary people. So I decided on a less lighthearted approach, and I’m always interested in deep dives into the art, history, and science of colors. Some knitters are texture people, obsessed with cables, lace, or other textured stitch patterns. I’m a color person. My childhood bedroom had rainbow-print everything, I love colorwork in knitting, and I find the history of pigments and color symbolism fascinating. I recommend the books Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America by Jo B. Paoletti and Through the Language Glass by Guy Deutscher for more details than I could pack into a sentence-long bullet point.

Geomorphology: A Lesson

by Deanna Baringer

 

Nina is seven, and knows a lot of things—but not this: the earth cannot be trusted. Tomorrow, she will know. Tonight, it’s raining, and the water seeps down between the rocks in new ways, evict-ing the soil, loosening the roots of the trees on the hill. She likes the way her house seems to sit on its lap, protected from the worst of storms. This is the landscape she studies through the window now, memorizing its contours, learning, always looking up. Tomorrow she’ll know so much more, but only for a moment: its scent, its taste, its unbearable weight.

 

Deanna Baringer is a writer and educator whose work has recently appeared in FEED, Santa Clara Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Lily Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she now calls Pittsburgh, PA home. Find her on Twitter @vardonroad.

 

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

There was a house perched up high on a steep hillside that I used to admire on my way to work. I liked to imagine what it would have been like to grow up there, to play in that yard, to have such a view. It looked like a dream. But then, one day, the house was gone, and parts of the highway were impassable, covered in dirt and rubble. I learned later that the residents were able to evacuate just before the face of the hillside collapsed. It was an unforgettable scene, and one that made me start to look at my surroundings with a bit of suspicion. I still think about that house all of the time, even though years have passed, and it was certainly hovering in my mind when I began to write this story.

Clean-Up Crew

by Brett Biebel

 

Mrs. Horowitz has a barn full of animal skeletons. It’s the small ones mostly. Mice and voles and fish. She’ll pay you 125 for a new specimen, as long as it’s clean and complete and in good condition, and what she does is use them on her anatomy students. The gifted kids. Track 1A and AP, and it’s all this real special kind of final exam. She throws the bones in a bucket, I think, or maybe it’s a trough or a barrel or something, and she puts the kids in groups, and she’ll tell ‘em like, “This tub here’s a sunfish, a raccoon, and a cat got clipped by a Volkswagen in 1987,” and they gotta put ‘em all together no mistakes. First team to finish gets an “A,” and then it’s all downhill from there, and me and ol’ Evo couldn’t hack it, not by a longshot, and so we keep our eyes out for fresh kills. The rare and newly dead. There’s a few other groups around town always try to get in on the action, and it’s mostly real friendly like, but the other day we find this bald eagle, and Scottie from the Cub store is there at the same time, and we let it lay there between us, and it’s all knives out and icy stares, and “I’ll flip you for it,” he says, and we nod. We wait. Evo’s got this Eisenhower silver dollar he always insists on, but Scottie wants a quarter he found by the old railroad tracks back when he was 12, and the procedure here is simple. “We toss ‘em both,” says Evo, “And if they’re the same it’s us, but if they’re different it’s you,” and Scottie’s alright with that, and so up they go. Spinning. Twisting. Ours ends up heads, and his lands on the fucking bird, and we walk over there real quiet and real pained, and when it’s tails, we watch him throw the thing into the cab of his truck.

“Gentle, asshole,” I say, and he laughs. Drives off. It’s only later we think about America, and we’re drinking coffee and Kahlua at this shitty folding table out on his deck, and, “Better it’s Scottie, really,” says Evo, on account of something about symbols. Hexes. Something about stripping all that beauty just so some egghead can feel good about putting it back together. Hooking a cheap scholarship. Grabbing herself a taste of that big-time college debt.

 

Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, is available from Split/Lip Press. You can find him on Twitter @bbl_brett.

 

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

I almost got in a car accident while staring at an eagle. It’s hard to look away from a bird like that, and I think that’s probably where this story came from. I’m also obsessed with the urban/rural divide in the US and the difference between following the rules and scraping out a living on the margins, and I spend a lot of time thinking about all the weird things we incentivize in every system I can think of, including and maybe especially education. All of that plus a rainy day and a little bit of time, and here’s the result. Usually, I’ll have an ending in mind before I start writing, but this one began with the eagle and the image of middle-of-nowhere students using roadkill to study anatomy. The last lines came more or less spontaneously, which was refreshing. A rare and welcome change of pace.

Introspection

by Omer Berkman

 

[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.]

 

The day before he was connected to the ventilator, he still had time to open the old notebook and summarize the main points: He lived for 83 years, in 12 different apartments, slept with 9 women, 4 of whom he loved, raised 2 girls, received 1 award of recognition for outstanding employee, but the salary did not cover the expenses. He thought whether to also write about 1 global epidemic, but in the meantime decided not to, it could wait. In any case, his family did not think to engrave any of this on the tombstone.

 

Omer Berkman lives in Israel, together with his wife, two sons, two hens, and a ghost of a black cat. He is a Hebrew writer who has published a non-fiction book and a theater play. His work — prose and poetry — has appeared in many Hebrew magazines. One of his short stories was recently translated into English and published in Halah, the literary magazine of Jerusalism. In his spare time, he works as a developer in a high-tech company that tries to measure the global digital traffic in the World Wide Web, an action similar to compressing human behavior into raw numbers.

 

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

The first version of the story was written in Hebrew, before the world knew about a virus called COVID-19. It was an attempt to write a resume for a man, a simple and ordinary person, compressing a full life into two lines. The story was already quite universal before, but when I tried to say something more personal about this man, and added the sentence about a global epidemic, I thought it should have been written in an international language as well.

Hard Work

by Franklyn Ajaye

 

[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.]

 

Denmark Wilson was walking down Queens Parade on his way to the fish and chips shop and saw a young woman sitting cross legged in front of the entrance of the McCoppins market. “Can you help me out?” she said as he grew closer. He gave her a dollar and she smiled with nice, even teeth, and thanked him. Also on the street that day busking with his guitar and scruffy black dog laying on the ground beside him was WWB which is what Denmark named him–which stood for World’s Worst Busker. In all the time Denmark and anyone else who passed WWB each day, he’d never understood one word he warbled, or note that he strummed on his guitar. Not one. It was uncanny. In fact Denmark promised himself that he would put a dollar on WWB’s towel the day he honestly recognized one word or note. So far, it hadn’t happened. But other people’s criteria for helping him wasn’t as stringent as Denmark’s so WWB always took home some coin for his incoherent and music free daily noise.

On his way back home with grilled scallops, prawns, and chips she was still there, and he took a good look at her. She was mixed race. Indigenous and white he thought. Hair neatly combed, clothes and shoes in good nick. No external signs of disrepair that he could see. Definitely attractive. About 25 he thought as he continued and stopped in the barbecue chicken shop. He bought some peas to give his feast some proper nutritional value, and headed home to

enjoy it. Denmark didn’t cook and considered himself a modern day hunter gatherer no different than primitive cave men. They did it with spears, he does it with a debit card. Same degree of difficulty. If they were alive today they’d starve because their spears wouldn’t be accepted at checkout stands or ATMs. He’d like to see the looks on their Cro-Magnon faces when that happened at the supermarket, but then again he’d have a tough time trying to kill a saber tooth tiger with a debit card. Maybe he could bait a trap with cash—to catch the money hungry ones.

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The saber tooth capitalists.

The next few days when he walked down the street she was sitting there again and he gave

her what change he had. He noted that she always wore a different, nice, clean outfit. A very well dressed beggar. On the fourth day as he came upon her he asked, “How you doing today?” and she answered in a too well practiced, pathetic, small voice, “Not too good,” which rubbed him the wrong way so he just nodded and continued to the post office. He realized she’s not homeless, she’s not destitute, she wants to be paid just for living. Begging is her job. Nice work if you can get it.

On the way back with his stamps he went over to her and gave her a dollar. “Thank you”, she said. Denmark bent down, looked her in the eye and quietly said, “They’ve got programs here

to help people. Do you know that?” She nodded. She had grey and green eyes and he was startled by their beauty. He continued, “You’re lucky you’re in Australia. If you were in America there’d be nothing.”

“I know,” she said in a barely audible whisper.

“What’s your name?”

“Jacinta.”

“This is no way to live Jacinta. You can do better than this.”

She nodded, and Denmark went to the barbecue chicken place, bought some chicken and peas and went home. When he looked back she was looking at him.

The next time he saw her she averted her eyes when he walked by, and the next two weeks

she wasn’t there, and he wondered if he’d scared her away. Then on a very hot Sunday afternoon she was once again sitting in front of McCoppins. It was a hot, humid, stifling day that no one would be out in unless they were a mailman, on a road repair crew, or construction worker—and they all had weekends off. The street except for Denmark and Jacinta was empty, and he was only out in that heat to go to the fish shop to do his hunter gatherer thing. There’s no disputing that begging is best done outdoors, and on this hotter than hell Sunday fit for neither man or beast that

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even made WWB take the day off, Jacinta was out there. As he got close she saw him and turned away. “How you doing Jacinta?” said Denmark. She didn’t answer. He dropped a dollar on the small rag in front of her and kept walking to his fish. Fifty feet later Denmark turned back and saw Jacinta collect the money, get up, climb on a motorcycle, put on her helmet and ride off. He laughed as he turned back around. What the hell he thought. She’d earned it. 80% of success is just showing up” Woody Allen once said, and Jacinta had shown up.

He stopped in the chicken place.

“The usual?” said Gao the middle aged Chinese owner who with his wife Bing lived above the shop and opened up every day that there was weather. 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Every year.

“Yep, chicken wings and peas.” When Denmark got home he put the shrimp, chicken wings, chips, and peas on a plate and put it in the microwave for 20 seconds, then took it out, opened the fridge and poured himself a glass of orange juice mixed with ginger beer. He took the plate and glass over to his kitchen table and sat down. Another successful day of hunter gathering he noted with some satisfaction, and said a little prayer giving thanks to himself.. He ate a forkful of prawns, chicken, chips, and peas, and as he chewed thought, goddamn she has pretty eyes. I should’ve asked her out.

 

Franklyn Ajaye is a Black American actor (“Carwash”, Bridesmaids”, “Deadwood”), television writer (two Emmy nominations for comedy writing), musician, a stand up comedian with four comedy albums, who has appeared often on American television shows, and done successful one man shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and author of the book, “Comic Insights/The Art of Stand Up Comedy”. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

 

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

As far as a fascinating story as to it’s creation I can only say that it’s based on my observations and experiences living on Queen’s Parade in Melbourne Australia, and that each time it was rejected I tried to improve it. I can also say that most fiction I read has such a bleak or weary tone to it, that I was doubtful that a piece a little more amusing/ironic like mine would ever be published.

CNF: We Would Like to Buy Your Property!

by Barbara Westwood Diehl

 

This postcard wants to pay cash for my house. I imagine the
money in Monopoly colors. The stacks of bills beside a
game board. The dapper man with a mustache and top hat. A
beauty pageant bouquet and sash. The little green houses grown
to red hotels. The parade of thimbles and Scottie dogs. The
stock dividends. The poor tax. The jail card. Bankruptcy. A life
unboxed.

This postcard wants to know if I am thinking of selling. As if it
knows I haven’t been content. As if, when I opened the
mailbox, I had been dreaming of railroads and red hotels. Of a
man with a white mustache, a green bag of money in his fist.
Of a silver ship on a deep and distant sea.

This postcard would like to buy my house. As if I had suddenly
emptied my house of its contents and sat down on the front
steps with my purse and luggage. The essentials. The
sentimental. As if I had shaken my house like dice in a cup and
emptied it onto the lawn. To see how many spaces to move
along the flagstone walkway to the street. As if I knew where
that would lead. As if I could walk away the winner.

 

Barbara Westwood Diehl is founding and senior editor of The Baltimore Review. Her fiction and poetry have been published in a variety of journals, including Quiddity, Potomac Review (Best of the 50), Measure, Little Patuxent Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Gargoyle, Superstition Review, Per Contra, Thrush Poetry Journal, Atticus Review, The MacGuffin, The Shore, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Also a poem in the TELEPHONE project.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “We Would Like to Buy Your Property!”?

I’ve been writing poems and flash based on postcards lately—mostly taking some ordinary aspect of a postcard and wandering away with it into some not-so-ordinary, sometimes fantastical, place. I’ve been getting a lot of those “we want to buy your property” postcards in the mail lately. The tone of them always strikes me as strange, presumptuous. As if people would say “sure, what the heck” and upend their lives upon receipt of a postcard. This feels as odd to me as living life by a roll of the dice, as unreal as Monopoly money. I wonder who takes these cash offers, and why, or if they keep the postcards like secrets.

The Ones We Call _ (5 of 5)

by Martins Deep

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

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

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

08/30 • Andrew Warnke
09/02 • TBD
09/03 • David Hargreaves
09/06 • June Avignone
09/09 • TBD
09/10 • Laurence Musgrove
09/13 • Zoe Dickinson
09/16 • TBD
09/20 • Karoline Schaufler
09/23 • TBD
09/27 • Joan Wilking
09/30 • TBD
10/04 • Kim Chinquee
10/11 • TBD
10/18 • TBD
10/25 • TBD