We let our socks sear on hot concrete. Twelve laps around the pool then we jump in. We splash dead frogs onto each other and croak with towels around our bony shoulders, shaking like biology class skeletons. We put our pruned palms together, trying to align the ridges against one another. Connected by skin, we smile.chop! chop! read more!
Inside the Piggly-Wiggly, picking out beans, P-Nut suppressed the headache brought on by the bruise on the back of his neck. He’d gotten the bruise from the can of beans that his wife chucked at him, before it bounced off him and clattered into the sewer. So he walked away to fetch them the dinner of the can of beans. Was it the same can of beans that she would then chuck at him? He was losing track. But he knew this: Van Camp’s was the right kind. Hormel was not the right kind. The red stamp and the dent said so. The register blinked .79. So, .79 cents was the cost of magic beans.chop! chop! read more!
The orange sticky-note is hard to miss—the corner peels off, pricks me as I pluck it from the headboard of my bed. Your handwriting is large and round. ‘I hope your interview goes well tomorrow. Remember to be yourself!’ I toss it into the garbage and get ready for bed. The next morning, I pause in front of the mirror and I dig the note out of the bin before shoving it into the pocket of my dress pants.chop! chop! read more!
Sylvia works stain into peeled orangewood counters while the sunset peeks in muted veil through kitchen window milk glass. The month of flowering is nearly finished and this barren women has a wedding to attend. Too stressed by her own state of affairs, she daren’t dream herself into any others—she for(goes/gets) the gift.chop! chop! read more!
It is August when her boyfriend, the pornographer, takes her to the beach with her two boys, one pale like her, the other dark. They bring beer and bologna sandwiches in a crinkled grocery bag, lay stolen motel towels out across the sand. The boys dart off into the surf, shrieking, laughing, ignoring the Pacific chill.chop! chop! read more!
A burning witch on midsummer eve smells like campfire, like tobacco, like men standing in a circle as they smile and sing. She is only an effigy, a cartoon with her green skin painted onto her plywood face, her body a sack of coarse black fabric scraps stitched together and overstuffed with hay. She rides a broom and has a long warty nose that was carved by hand. The time it took to give her two warts instead of one.chop! chop! read more!
Most people think electric eels are eels when they’re, in fact, knife fish. They’re solitary, shallow, made with enough electrolytes to kill a man.
“They can kill a man, but not themselves. Sometimes, they wish that they could.”
Cadence was always saying I never listened to her, when the truth was, I heard everything.
I listened while she rambled about the oceanology books she’d brought home from the library, her actual courses festering in her backpack. She’d cook me ramen or sprawl out on the floor with her sketchbooks, drawing herself into more contained circles. Indie music would flow through the apartment while she told me about the nine things I didn’t want to know lurked at the bottom of the ocean. If I spoke back, she snapped at me for breaking her concentration. Then moments later she would turn to me and say, ‘Hey Ezekiel, did you know electric eels can’t feel their own shock?’chop! chop! read more!
The girls never kissed the boys. The boys that walked down the hallway in packs, smelling of Cheetos and drugstore cologne. The girls never went to school dances, out to movies or late night pizza. They never wore jewelry. Never a spot of makeup, their skin fresh like new snow. If their mama caught them trying on her church heels they were beaten. They never showered with the other girls in gym class but they snuck glimpses of their breasts. How their nipples were large and not pink like their own. They wore plain dresses in forgettable colors: beige, olive, navy. Their hair pulled back into a bun. Tight. Uncomplicated.chop! chop! read more!
Have you tried Amma’s ghosht tarkari and ghee paranthas? Oh you must. Succulent lamb chops served in earthen ware while Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle croon through an old radio. She runs a dhaba, a roadside food stall not far from Yamuna Expressway. Next time you are on your way to see the Taj Mahal, you should try her food. The cauliflower and carrot sabzi is sold out in an hour after she makes it. Potatoes, carrots, onions and cauliflowers grow in her backyard. She doesn’t bother with tomatoes because they require a moist soil throughout the year and water is a scarcity in and around Delhi.chop! chop! read more!
I left a bouquet of fake flowers tapped to Water Wheel Stand’s door in memory of Sharon and those long fall afternoons when I lugged pumpkins from the refrigerator truck to the trailer for customers, the afternoon when I was hyper and jabbering about the current rewrite of my book and how she turned to me and said, “Sara, you need a boyfriend”, the summer Saturdays of handing boxes of plums, pears, tomatoes, and green beans out of the truck to open for the morning, the fall evenings my brother would pick me up from work and help us close.chop! chop! read more!
We’ve had these fights before, the ones in which the decision we make means a lot more than the thing we buy, or don’t buy. Take our car, for example. We almost divorced deciding whether to buy a car to fit five or six; in the dealership while our older boys climbed into and out of fresh trunks you drummed your hands on your pregnant belly and stared into backseats that couldn’t handle any more of us. When we took our shiny new five-seater home it spent its days on our corner, where we could watch it from our living room window, minding it through the hum of Philadelphia life as it stood resolutely through all Kensington’s comings and goings.chop! chop! read more!
He walks under an onyx set of moons whose one good eye blinks like the cherry top called to that last moment in his old life. Yesterday, the warden warned the leaky faucet would not be tolerated, and so it became the last domino to topple, and how true they all fell. Now he draws on his jeans under the mirror of clouds. It was time to reset his watch, as well, the cheap Timex from Aunt Alice, set it to a more auspicious hour—perhaps Twelfth Night off Dame Street in a drawing room where they were dancing in quadrilles and pansy skirts. Or to an hour of privacy where the fairy tale poet still searches vodka in the closed garage that tilts to Africa.chop! chop! read more!
She found it under her bedside table curled like a sleeping black snake. She stared at it for a second, then grabbed it and ran back down the stairs, thinking maybe this would save them. But when she flung open the door he was already gone, and then it was just her squinting into the bright sunlight, holding an old belt in her hands like a sad wish.chop! chop! read more!
We pulled off at the fruit stand halfway between the hospital and the funeral home.
“The peaches are in season,” Father said to Mother in the passenger seat.
“It was just like he was sleeping,” my aunt said to herself in the back, her eyes never leaving the rear window.
With the exception of my aunt, we got out of the car. Mother leaned on the passenger door. Father examined the stacks of wicker baskets piled on the makeshift plywood table.
“How much for a bundle?”chop! chop! read more!
Morning makes itself bluer by the minute. Colder, too, as the temperature falls. In my friend’s apartment, we sit in her breakfast nook while the bay window lets in light. Steam rises from white plates, broccoli omelets and the scent of garlic and salt. My friend lists places in the tourist district we’ll visit today, leads me to an expansive map stretched across a wall. The Czech Republic’s outline etched in black. All the country’s borders linked and locked by land; the Vltava a thin, persistent reminder of thirst twisting through. She points to Malá Strana, the John Lennon Wall where people paint a layered collage of lyrics on brick.chop! chop! read more!
Today I walk past boys and their mothers. I’m parallel to them as they disobey traffic laws and take risks. I remember my mother telling me to ‘look both ways’ while I watch their heads remain constant and straight. This boy has a clear path, it’s safe even if he takes some risks. I’m eating a croissant and it’s burnt. If you burn a croissant even just a little bit it tastes salty. My boy left the taste of salt on my tongue and I guess he is a man. I’ve known the taste of true salt longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve known the taste longer than I’ll say. I watch boys defy the law, the written law and the laws of physics. I have seen their bodies suspend and twist in ways my body will never move. I feel inflexible. Sometimes when I bleed my leg goes numb, just one, but the leg is variable.chop! chop! read more!
March in Seattle roared like a lion, that is if a lion sneezed pink cherry blossoms and pelted your face with ice pellets the size of golf balls. It wasn’t global warming, it was spring. At least it felt like spring.
Merrin had watched the Groundhog discover his shadow on television last month, so she was pretty certain that spring had sprung as she dashed from her car into the safe haven of Safeway in the middle of an unexpected hail storm. The damn cat had shredded her last roll of toilet paper and she was in dire need of a Diet Coke. Merrin’s plan had been to give up Diet Coke for Lent, but that had lasted exactly twenty-seven minutes. She could have given up something else, but she didn’t have the heart or the willpower.chop! chop! read more!
Jessica unzipped the frog’s belly with a pair of sharp scissors. As its skin slipped away, revealing the jewels buried inside—heart, lungs, kidney, stomach—she tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in her own stomach, her heart’s reluctant sprint.
When her biology teacher announced they would be dissecting frogs at the end of the year, Jessica protested the practice along with a few other girls. Her teacher, however, was not moved.chop! chop! read more!
He’s in his bed, crying. Except for the blond tresses of the moonlight billowing through the open window, darkness reigns—in the corners, on the bookshelves, and in his heart. His pillow is soaked, heavy with tears spilling down the sides of his bed, covering the floor, slipping beneath the door out into the hall, into the street, a veritable deluge.chop! chop! read more!
The old man woke up when the five fifteen train thundered past his one-room house. The walls trembled and dust dislodged from the wooden roof and rained down on him. His bones rattled for a while after the train had given a final desolate hoot and moved on in its journey.chop! chop! read more!
I live in the middle of a really small pool in the middle of a really big room below a really circular hole in the really high ceiling. When the sun shines through the hole, the animals come and watch. When the moon shines, they go away. I don’t know where they come from, but, every morning when I wake up, they’re there. I’m not sure if they’re the same ones every day. They’re animals; they all look the same to me.chop! chop! read more!
Lighting for your soul in purgatory, for deep nights at the end of the dock, for gravetenders on vacation, for the silencing of aspersions. Discounts for camping without a lantern, for al fresco dinners at the café of nevermind, for attending the flatbed truck parade, for packing a canyon with parabolas. Call for a second lighting tomorrow, for delivery of your complimentary rope ladder, for the flame annuity option, for your name on this grain of pollen. Twelve tapers included.
What Phi Dees saw that morning may have disturbed him. At least he has not forgotten and has noted the way the memory prowls unfettered in his mind. What happened would seem to be a simple matter; indeed, natural. A neighborhood cat down low in the grass, inching toward the feeder, leaping through the air to bite a finch off its perch. No skirmish or even sound of a ruffle. There and then not. And the cat turning to look back in his direction.
But what he saw was this: a view of himself, looking up from his reading, observing too quietly the silent scene. Even waiting for its denouement, not unlike when he once watched someone fall slowly down a flight of stairs.chop! chop! read more!
A red-stemmed vase of lightning lifts the sky toward heaven’s permanent farrago of space and time: heavy, religious, worth thinking about, we agree. God might rest easier tonight blessed by our toast, a toast raised above the fold, the mad superciliousness of the headlines, the narcosis of the many. Lincoln, you would’ve reminded me, lives on in the few. We do well, I might have replied, to thank the weather for this breeze, and that bottleneck guitar climbing those angelic blues might be the ultimate apotheosis, yet another reason to go on living as if this day might last forever. Lilacs and a shot of bourbon, neat.chop! chop! read more!
You could say that the fundamental difference between them was that she was a glass half-fuller and he was a glass half-emptier. Or that she drank water, and he drank.chop! chop! read more!
Fractious was the Word of the Day, peeled off the doorstop-sized calendar block and stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnetized map of the London Underground, a relic of LBB. LBB — Life Before Benny — was Anna and Keith’s term for a time when their living room wasn’t littered with plastic toys and bits of food. Only eighteen months ago Anna had posted a photo of their freezer, filled with tubes of breast milk, on Instagram. “Our life now,” she’d written. “LBB is in a galaxy far far away.” They’d laughed, but Anna had thumped the next bottle on the shelf with a little more force than necessary.chop! chop! read more!
“Steve, Mr. Parker, in bed A over there, needs jugular vein access. His peripheral veins are shot from chronic drug abuse. You can handle that, can’t you? “ It was day one of my internship, July first. I’d done a couple of jugular vein punctures as a med student, under the direct supervision of a resident. But now I was on my own.
“Of course,” I said with false enthusiasm.
Jesus, I thought, already? It’s only nine a.m. I officially became a doc only two hours ago. I picked up the jugular vein access kit and headed for Mr. Parker’s room. Alone.chop! chop! read more!
WHAT IT IS
is how I hate my face. is how my face is amnesia. is how i love my face. is how my face is still amnesia. is waking up at 4am feeling like there is someone in the room, someone saying don’t forget me. is saying, ma, you know what the really effed up thing is, is how knowing where you come from is the privilege $99 and a mailing address gets you. is that the effed up thing is it isn’t a right. is buying your mom a dna kit for christmas. is what the hell is christmas anyway. is collective amnesia. is wanting to know if her estranged father had royal blood in him. is rethinking what is royal. is what is blood. is colonialism. is sitting in a lecture hall while a professor talks about post-colonialism.
I wore my grey dress to the funeral, the one with the scratchy sleeves. My tights had a hole under the knee that got bigger when I poked my finger into it. The coffin was closed and I wondered if Nancy looked like she was sleeping in there. There was a single white rose lying on top. I didn’t even know they made roses in white. A skinny lady with a stern face and a hat played the organ while everyone stood up and sang. I didn’t know the words.chop! chop! read more!
In the beginning it’s just him and the silence. In the old college library, the wind pushes fraying leaves through the crevice under a door towards the center of a labyrinth of stacks, finds him crouched watching her read over a bottom row of books, her skin the pink of magnolias, her hair a mess. When she looks up he pretends to scan the shelf in front of him and she goes back to reading, enabling him to stare again, and this repeats several times until she straightens, circles the row to where he kneels searching for her face between National Security and Immigration and Man, The State, and War, and when she says something he startles, momentarily distracted by the book she’s holding, but then recovers and asks her: Want to grab a beer?chop! chop! read more!
Because we swim small in a twinkling expanse, we should cling to the icy crystals of fact: The screech and gouge might last for decades, but hardly forever. The smash won’t topple individuals so much as dance through generations. The Earth itself has weathered metaphors far more titanic. And it’s unlikely the lower animals will sense climate change at all!chop! chop! read more!
Someone came up with this image.
It was during the me-too chinwag after Mass
And it was a mother’s voice.
Later, I thought alone
In my hull:
What sort of submersibles
Are we at home then, in Ohio?
Peering out the window of the small, high-ceilinged room where schoolchildren once hung their coats, I see nothing but corn running a mile to Grandpa’s woods, the new ranch house of the city people and, across the road from that, Uncle’s Clarence’s farm, which my wife still wishes he had left us. The barn is falling in. We saw the first little breach in the roof appear. “Uh-oh,” my wife said as we drove by.chop! chop! read more!
The nightgown in the painting crosses genres: detective and farce. It has a partial body – breasts – but not a face. You could say it’s peekaboo. You could say it’s diaphanous. Either way, it reminds Georgette of how her husband uses recurring motifs to create a story, or at least a semi-story, for a story full of holes is a story full of mystery, a mystery like lace.
How came Georgette to place herself here: married to Magritte and doting on their dear Pomeranian, Loulou? This question is without a clear beginning, middle, or end, like the short Surrealist films that Mag likes to make with their Surrealist friends.chop! chop! read more!
We all had our money on the metalhead. The fight was supposed to take place in the usual spot, three miles from town in a clearing in the woods beside an abandoned shack and a seasonal creek that happened to be dry that time of year. The other kid, a redheaded pipsqueak about my size, was mouthing off beyond what anyone predicted, and the metalhead, whom everyone kind of feared because of his long hair and self-inflicted scars and tattoos and silent teeth-gritting lack of interest in all of our classes, the other students, the football program, and just about everything else our fourteen-year-old minds cared about—even girls!—this metalhead, whose name I’ve forgotten, was predicted to mop the floor with the redheaded kid in seconds.chop! chop! read more!
Halfway through my seventh decade I realize I have gained in modesty, at least in the sense of exposing skin. It is partly because I have a clearer vision of my nerd body’s attractiveness. My face is a thing of no great beauty. My dear Cheryl refers, affectionately I believe, to my toothpick legs, and my cardiologist told us that my sunken chest added risk to the standard rib-cracking heart valve replacement procedure. There is little danger that the sight of my body will be inciting lust in the general public. But, mostly, I keep it well-covered because I’m a contrarian crank playing Canute to our post-modest times, in which a twerking Miley Cyrus thrives.chop! chop! read more!
Se me puso ella fractal esta mañana, fractal, la cara toda triángulos & rombos & retorcida que se rompía. Pero ya que los mansos vamos a heredar la tierra quemada, esquivé sus reproches, grandes e infinitos como trenes carboneros…y yo, imbécil de mí, voy y me monto en uno, a lo errabundo, por discutir, porque son tan jodidamente largos y lentos, y me muero alto y claro en dos segundos. Ya incluso la cocina se sentía diferente, más lenta, como si estuviera bajo el agua. Y entonces miro al reloj y son las seis. La tía Rosa solía decir que una pareja es igualita que las dos manecillas de un reloj: por siempre separándose y rejuntándose otra vez, así que al mediodía hay amor lleno y a las seis, que es como una espada, sólo queda el odio.
No one really expected the world to end like this. For one thing, it took too damn long. People want bad things to happen like a pulled-off Band-Aid rather than the slow pushing of a knife. Instead, this is how it happened: gravity just plum up and left. Everything not tied down or deeply rooted floated away. Cars, umbrellas, little squirrels, everything. Big lakes seemed to erupt like geysers and their poor fish flapped and flailed in the atmosphere growing thinner and thinner and waited, with increasingly cloudy brains, for the splash that never came. People held their beloved family pets on leashes like balloons and children cupped their goldfish in upside down hands until they could figure out how to refill empty bowls. Some people seemed relieved, though, to no longer be burdened with the daily decision to live or not. They just let go and that was that. Others held on white-knuckle tight, pulling and floating their way into hardware stores for ropes and chains and bungees to tie themselves down with. Some people seemed to have been expecting something like this.chop! chop! read more!
It is rarely what we imagine or expect, but always something burrowing beyond sight, hidden in the crevices or dreaming itself from the flurried wings of crows, my mother in the backyard setting down the tin plates of meat scraps or peanuts, the birds a frenzy of commotion. And here, beside us, is cousin Whitney, twelve that summer while my brother and I are eight and nine, and everything about her is simply wrong. Slow and stuttering speech. A staccato way of walking. Fingers touching even simple words she can barely read.chop! chop! read more!
For a butter knife it was sharp. My grandmother must have had it for a long time. Its blade was truncated by a fracture, rust collecting at the end of its one-inch length, at the site of the break. I was never sure if she kept it because of some sentimental attachment or a deep-seated sense of Soviet scarcity made more acute by the still fresh memories of the deprivations of the Great War, which was only two decades behind her. I was attached to my distorted reflection looking back at me from its heavy silver handle.chop! chop! read more!
By the ninth year we believed it might never end and gave up trying to win it because trying to win a war is the surest way to make it go on; that is, when you try to win a war it’s only the war that wins. This was the sum of the wisdom we had achieved in nearly a decade; in fact, it was the solitary thing we had achieved in all those years of fighting and suffering. Now that we were pushing thirty we couldn’t bear that the war would go on and on, not just for another decade but for the rest of our lives. Nevertheless, simply laying down our arms and surrendering would be futile because of the swarms of gung-ho seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, weaned on tales of glory and revenge, who wouldn’t think of giving up, at least not for another nine more years. As for ourselves, our generation, we reckoned that it wasn’t the enemy that needed to be defeated but the war itself. It had already ruined everything it touched, from dairy farms to post-adolescence, from stone bridges to summer romances, from highway overpasses to bedside manners, from the pride of old men to the breasts of pubescent girls. So, by and by, we came up with a plan, desperate yet not inelegant. A dozen of us decided to organize a theater festival, as we announced, right on the front lines (of which there really weren’t any), right in the middle of the battlefield (though there really was no field). Our great production would stretch from the trenches to the rear echelons,chop! chop! read more!
by Rebecca Lee
“Let’s go downtown.” It’s the chant I hear every weekend. Downtown is where the lights are. It’s where the girls go. The makeup, the short skirts, the pot smokers and the boomboxes. They’re all there.
“Let’s go downtown.” The teenage guy I have a crush on, Matt, is asking his friends if they’re going. His voice is slow, low, and slick like rain. They sit at the back of the bus and blast Sublime on a battery-powered radio. I’m twelve. He’s seventeen. It could happen if I wear the right clothes.
“Let’s go downtown,” I say to my neighbor, Laura, later that night. Laura’s four years older and has a license. She can borrow her stepdad’s car. She smokes cigarettes and listens to En Vogue. It’s hot out and it’s close to summer. We’re getting older. I can feel it.
I grab the black pleather halter-top with red lace stitching. Short skorts in spring tease the boys, but make me comfortable. I lace up my boots. Knee high and red leather. Just like the kind I see on Mtv.
We go downtown several hours later. I sneak out of my house and she sneaks out of hers. The suburbs are unnaturally dark with no streetlights or store fronts. The field of tall grass by our houses shivers from a dull wind. It must be coming from downtown. That’s where everything happens.chop! chop! read more!
NOBODY PLAYED THE GUITAR IN THE CORNER OF THE LIVING ROOM
by Christopher David Rosales
Not the husband heating the milk for the baby in the crib. Not the baby in the crib. And not the wife coming in the door from work. The cat didn’t play it. The dog couldn’t play it. The parrot on its perch cawed “I won’t play the guitar”. The French diplomat didn’t play it. Instead he smoked an e-cigarette beside the fireplace listening to the Spanish ambassador remark, “Nunca tocaré la guitarra”. The stunt man in white rode his motorbike off the balcony before he got his chance to play it. The prostitute and her fiancé leaving out the back window never even asked to play it. The serial killer chose instead to swipe his bloody knife across a painting in the hall, his calling card. Meanwhile the cat-burglar returned to the drawers the jewels he felt guilty about stealing, nestled them among panties. No, neither the maid, the butler, nor the flower arranger played the guitar, and not even the gardener blowing leaves off the walk. And yet if you touched the guitar in the corner of the living room, you would have felt it hum.chop! chop! read more!
BLUE: SMOKE: COTTON: TEETH: CAT: JELLY: BLOW
by Anne Panning
I rarely wear blue, but today there’s a striped dress the color of rain in my closet. It’s a pullover. I can hardly stand how good it feels against my bare knees, walking.
When I lived in The Philippines, I became a party smoker. The cigarettes were menthol, loosely packed. The brand was called Hope. I quit.
My sister works at a fireworks factory. She has to wear all cotton clothing, right down to the underwear. When I ask her what she does all day, she says, “the usual.”
One of my teeth, one of my front teeth, is porcelain. A clay animation artist made it. The dentist said to me, “Be careful. It’s like china. It can break.”
I got a dog instead of a cat because I know a cat could eat me. My dog is part poodle and not very smart. When the groomer ties holiday ribbons around her neck and sends her home smelling like oatmeal, our whole family applauds.
Last night I dreamed my dead father was lying in bed, drunk, his hands covered in bright red raspberry jelly.
Every night I sleep with two fans blowing madly through my bedroom: a box and an oscillating. The air is chilled and hard and loud. When I turn them off in the morning, it’s a terrible silence.chop! chop! read more!
by Karen Levy
They pulled up behind the others who’d just arrived and were piling out of their car, laughing.
That was a long drive.
Together, they walked toward the house. They all laughed except for her; she was very angry at her brother-in-law.
There was a fishing boat out front. A sign led them away from the front door, to a backyard office, where a sunburnt man waved them in.
Joe, he said.
Nice tan, Joe, someone said and the others laughed.
From fishin’, he said. He was a big man but he said it light and breezy.
She thought he looked like a cop. She’d heard that her brother-in-law had been caught by undercover cops.
They barely fit into the office; there were eight of them, all related through blood or marriage.chop! chop! read more!
EMU ON THE LOOSE
by Thaddeus Rutkowski
Not much was happening at the artists’ retreat (people were hiding in their studios; maybe they were working; maybe they were drinking) until the emu arrived. We didn’t know where it came from; no one came with it. Wherever it had been, it hadn’t been missed. It was a tall bird, between five and six feet from toe to head, and it was in no hurry. It ambled past the barn complex and stood on the dirt road. Those who saw it from their studios left their writing (or their drinking) and came out for a closer look. The bird wasn’t afraid. It stood and stared at whoever approached. It didn’t need to use its legs to kick—no one came close enough to threaten it.
Someone had the idea of corralling it in a pasture. There was a way to herd the bird; you flapped your arms and blocked its path. It had to walk away from you. The emu was led through a gate into a fenced field. It didn’t try to escape. It stood there in the tall grass and stared. Its eyes were intense in its triangular head. If it wanted to, it could jump the fence, or tear the wire mesh apart with its claws.
Someone brought it food and set the dish on the ground near the gate, but the bird wasn’t interested. What did emus eat? Probably something more natural, something more alive than what was in the dish. Something that wriggled or flew.
We left the creature in the pasture and gathered for our own dinner.chop! chop! read more!
THE LOVE NOTE
by Svetlana Beggs
In 1988, when our city was still called Leningrad and kids wore red (always wrinkled) Young Pioneer’s scarves, my friend Natasha developed a crush on Yura, the tallest boy in 6th grade. She blushed whenever he walked near her, causing us to start feeding Natasha’s backpack tiny love notes bearing Yura’s forged cursive. I was the designated forger, Lida was the writer, and Polina the spy, but we jokingly called her “the assassin.” In two months we published seven short notes and made five crank calls to Natasha’s flat releasing Lida’s “deeply meaningful silence.” Around this time Natasha began to apply her sister’s eyeliner in the school’s bathroom and we told her honestly that her new look was “amazingly alluring,” even though Yura’s friends now called her “The Vampire.” She would walk into the classroom holding the backpack over her breasts, the boys would say, “Hide from the Vampire!” and Yura would chuckle because he wanted to continue being friends with these boys.
One day, Elena Nikolaevna, our fear-and-trembling inducing algebra teacher we all called “The Guillotine,” pried a draft of our love note from Lida’s fist and mercilessly unfolded the crumpled piece of paper. Everyone grew quiet from the effort of suppressing curiosity while showing overt dislike of The Guillotine. And then she started reading the note (omitting Yura’s name, thank God), her voice rich with enjoyment because she was delivering the pleasure a lot of students craved while simultaneously showing everyone her whip. The Guillotine had a way of making things sour and unappetizing, saying, for example, “comradeship” instead of “friendship,” or “it is in your interest,” when she clearly had her own interest in mind. In her voice, our note no longer felt like a clumsy first draft—it sounded sinister, as if written by a creepy stalker: “…When you walk home tonight, turn around five times and you might see me…”chop! chop! read more!
EVERYONE MEANS SO WELL
by Lisa Piazza
By fourth period
we can barely breathe. Each stir of the stifled air whispers glitter into sound. The struggle at the board is all mine: a virtue of verbs, the urgency of action. Who can tell the compound from the complex? Every phrase dependent on the next.
Sophia whines from the second seat: keep it simple. One subject, one verb. It’s a plea. I pull a name from the book on their desks: Scout discovers. Jem grows. Keep going: Boo scares, Dill hides until Robert’s screech from the seat in the back corner un-silences the cycle. Today he’s a cheetah, all energy and thrust. Some days he is nothing but quiet. Across the room, Zaid knows better than to laugh but he does it anyway, then Regina, who hates her teeth, dares to smile and Leann pulls out her phone and Parker puts on his sunglasses and Devin the Quarterback sticks his fist out for a bump: Knuck it up, Ms P.chop! chop! read more!
Today I put a bottle’s worth of anti-depressants in my mouth, thinking I might swallow them. I let them sit there for several seconds, cold on my tongue, and then I spit them into my palm. I did it again—put them in, let them sit, spit them out—and then a third time. They stuck together from saliva. I was afraid; I was gearing myself up; even this, I couldn’t accomplish. I imagined swallowing them, quite suddenly—do it!—the little slide over my tongue and the momentary bulge in my throat. But each time I imagined swallowing them, I became more afraid and dismally hoped I would fail.
I was alone in a room I didn’t like. A small, crowded room in which the bed filled up the interior. I sat on the edge of that bed. There was a mirror in front of me, and I saw my reflection: fragile, pitiful, my hair in tangles but my eyes made up in crimson and black. My best feature I’ve been told—my eyes, the speckled gold green of the irises. My reflection was tarnished by a dark, blotted mirror, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to look at myself.chop! chop! read more!
by Michelle Ross
In the shed, the girl’s mother presents a hammer for the girl to examine. “A hammer is a lever, a simple machine. All simple machines reduce the push or pull force needed to move a load by increasing the distance over which that force must be applied,” she says.
The girl slides a finger around the cold metal knob and along the thick claws. She recalls the purple hammer birds in Alice in Wonderland, how their heads seemed backwards. The claw end of a hammer more closely resembles a beak, after all; but in the movie, the knobs are the birds’ beaks, the claws like feathered hair moussed back. Of course, in the movie, the birds wedge nails into wood rather than pry them out as her mother does now.
“See how I lift the handle all the way up like this to remove the nail? I’m willing to work for a longer period of time so that I may apply less effort over the short-term. In the end, conservation of energy always prevails: input equals output. But most people don’t appreciate how wildly different that input can be made to look and feel.”
As is the case with most of her mother’s lessons, the girl understands that this one is at least partly about the girl’s father. Since he left them, he has remarried; fathered two boys, brothers the girl has never met; and published a book of cookie recipes, three of which the girl’s mother claims he stole from her.chop! chop! read more!