LOVE OF YOUR LIFE by Kris Willcox They say you fall in love with your children the moment they’re born, although this was not my experience. Paul was a nice baby, but his needs and insistent gestures confused me. Fifty years ago, it was normal for fathers to feel that way. Babies weren’t worn in pouches from dawn to dusk, and no one had ever thought of a jogging stroller. Paul’s carriage looked like a tiny hearse, and I’m sure I never pushed it. One Saturday, when he was not quite two, Carol went shopping during his afternoon nap. She left me with instructions for the casserole (into the oven at five) and for Paul (wake him if he sleeps past four). I spent an hour circling the house with a push mower, and when I noticed that the light had become golden, I knew it must be time to …chop! chop! read more!
HIRAETH by Paul Joseph Enea Ever since she’s lived in the village, Hanna’s floor fan sounds more like static than white noise. She’s certain the static taints her dreams, which used to be innovative, like prestige television. But these days her dreams are closer to reality TV than a nuanced narrative. They play like reruns of her day at work, where she blurs through long corridors dispensing meds to post-ops. Every day, she rests her hand on the shoulder of a doomed patient. She wonders why she doesn’t dream about people she knows and loves. It scares her that she only thinks about Oliver when she’s awake. She misses him in her dreams. When he was alive, smooth white noise filled every room in their home. At one-thirty in the morning, it’s hard to tell the difference between bored and haunted. Hanna rolls out of bed, dresses in jeans and …chop! chop! read more!
IN-LAWS by Laura Tanenbaum “In five years, I’m going to fall in love with a fish,” the four-year-old declares, over hard-boiled eggs, on a ninety-degree day, to no one in particular. “They will be rainbow-colored with gray and black stripes. I will teach them to walk on their fin so they can come to our house. And I will teach them how to breathe. I will say, ‘It’s easy, fish. Just breathe like you did in water; only, it’s air.’ ” His brother tells him he might need to compromise. Maybe six months on land, six months in the water, like the high-powered couples do. No, he says, concerned. The fish has to come to him. I’m watching his concern, trying to see which plane of reality he’s accessing, except that I no longer know what I mean by this. I know only that the words “imagination” and “metaphor” are …chop! chop! read more!
DARK MATTER by Meredith McCarroll “You know how dark matter is like the absence of space, but it, like, takes up space?” “OK.” “Well, what if dark matter could be contained and it’s like an anti-gravity solution. In a gas form. It takes up the space that is the absence of space.” “Dark matter?” “Yeah. Which is different than dark energy.” “I don’t know what dark energy is.” “Oh. Have you heard of the Big Bang, Mama?” He is fourteen. I am in the bathtub. He is wearing the new sweatshirt he saved to buy that is still so soft on the inside that I rubbed my cheek against it when he asked me to feel it. He is four and he explains centripetal and centrifugal force to my mom. She records it on her flip phone that is stashed now in a drawer with misfit cords, lost …chop! chop! read more!
THE EGG by Dawn Miller Third Place, Cleaver 2022 Flash Competition “The Egg” is a story of conjugal love gone rotten. In this frightening study of betrayal, the author’s fine use of startling and original metaphor is something that knocked me out. Reading this story, I imagined staring into the raccoon’s terrible, crazy eyes. I couldn’t get the image of the egg-sucking animal out of my head. And though the plot might be familiar, this writer treats us to a fresh engagement with the subject through a horrific outside-the-body vulnerability that I have rarely read in such a compact flash. It is in the tiniest creepiest details that the heart of this story lives. —Meg Pokrass, Contest Judge The raccoons are at it again, shuffling under the deck with their bandit faces and jailbird tails. Wanting. They think I don’t hear them, but I do. A snuffle. A scrape. An …chop! chop! read more!
WHALE CRATERS by K. T. Moore “Had one come down overnight.” Eden was waiting for him in the car park. Tayne felt himself sweating by the time he reached her, and as the wind kicked up, a shiver started between his shoulder blades. Eden had her hands tucked into her jumper sleeves; Tayne peered at what remained of the lookout and he wished he’d thought to bring a pair of mittens. “One landed in Port Chalmers a few months back,” he said, staggering as he joined Eden at the cliff edge. Along with the rotted kelp, all of Matakaea smelled like an abattoir floor rinsed in brine. “Nearly crushed a group of students doing the crags.” The whale had landed at the tideline; the impact had gauged a hole in the headland large enough to reshape the anatomy of the coast, an entire promontory crushed to rock dust beneath fat …chop! chop! read more!
SAFFRON AND BROWN SUGAR by Christina Simon My first horse, a palomino mare; horse shows from Del Mar to San Francisco; high school when possible; ran from the red-haired, freckle-faced bully who called out oreo, zebra, half-breed, fucking mulatto; pretended his blows to my head were no big deal; learned to care for my dying mother at home when we were both too young; saved those acquired skills for later; figured out there was a dark side to their hippie life, the darkest possible color in all the universe; twinkle twinkle little star/I know what the hell you are; scheduled a courthouse wedding, just the two of us; married the blue-eyed guy from Philadelphia who is in the Harvard Law Review 1990 photo with Barack Obama; we hung the picture on our apartment wall, the sign of a historic first yet to come, one we dared only dream about; President …chop! chop! read more!
YOU SLEEP UPSTAIRS by Ron Tobey The annual flood of green from West Virginia’s vast Appalachian forest drubs me senseless. I feel lightheaded. I check my Fitbit. Why does my blood oxygen level drop? My mortality, I wonder. At midnight, the rain slips off the ridge peak, settles, as a hen fluffs, spreads her nether feathers, wiggles a little dance, nests upon our hollow.”I lie in bed from two-thirty to four-thirty in the morning, listening to her contented cackling drip off the eaves of our log cabin. You sleep upstairs in the guest bedroom. The foam mattress is better for your hip and leg, injured when trailering your horse, but the ache keeps you awake. Frequently, you pace in staggered rhythm the plank floor boards above me that creak like crickets. Outside, the remnant of June’s fireflies rises into the steamy clouded night sky. I worry you will become confused, …chop! chop! read more!
THE TALE OF MOLLY GRIMM by Janet Burroway Second Place, Cleaver 2022 Flash Competition This story is the one I kept rereading because it stuck to my brain. I thought I had finished with it and then it pulled me back into its surreal world again. It is a dark fairytale-like piece that haunts the reader and asks us not to look away from the parts of our spirits that refuse to be exorcised. There is a great deal of dark humor in the story, particularly in the end. It is told like a cautionary tale, as if we’re hearing it over a large pot of tea in a strange neighbor’s home, a neighbor who we’re not sure we trust. I marveled over this brilliant little horror story with a funny, happy ending. —Meg Pokrass, Contest Judge “I won’t go,” said Molly Grimm. “Sweetheart, we’re overdue.” “The girls from the …chop! chop! read more!
THE PERSON FALLING HERE by Theo Greenblatt The drink is called a Cape Codder, he tells me. Vodka and cranberry juice, two ingredients; too simple to warrant a cocktail name, I think. Cranberries are grown in bogs, he explains, and Cape Cod is famous for cranberry bogs. I already know this. When the fruit is ripe, it rises to the surface and the bogs look like giant pools of bubbling blood. The Cranberries were an Irish band whose singer, Dolores O’Riordan, had a haunting, hiccupping voice that gave me chills. She drowned in a hotel bathtub “from alcohol intoxication,” the paper said. Meaning, she drank herself under. Sitting at the hotel bar, staring at the drink in front of me, I picture Dolores O’Riordan submerged in a cranberry bog, her dark, spiky hair, not unlike my own, the only part of her visible above the surface. He places a fat, …chop! chop! read more!
INCENDIES by Fannie H. Gray On our honeymoon, I never even noticed an acrid smell. The langoustines, the salade gourmande, the tartare de boeuf, the shimmering, perspiring glasses of sublime rosé, all served with the efficient careless attention which is inherently French. All the while, French woods that had escaped bombings and marauding splintered and hissed, seemingly spontaneously combusting. If I had taken off my shoes, pressed flesh to earth, would I have felt the stampede, the hooves, and claws, frantically searching for safer soil? If I had strolled from the glorious auberge, would I have noticed the townsfolk buying hoses and pitchforks, the Peugeots queueing for petrol? I let you pour me another glass of La Chapelle Godonne. Secretly, I seethed when you couldn’t put the rental car in reverse in Marseille. As you pounded the wheel, your face a proper Provencal rouge, I calmly left the vehicle and …chop! chop! read more!
WHEN WE KNEW HOW TO GET LOST by Sabrina Hicks First Place, Cleaver 2022 Flash Competition This story bursts with tragic urgency and it simply stuck to my heart. The author builds a feeling about a young love relationship from the inside out, moment by moment. We’re reminded of the way it feels when every new adventure is branded on our spirits. The reader feels trusted in an intimate way, so much so, that we are placed right there with the lost-yet-happy couple. How could such a unique and personal story seep under the skin and begin to feel like our own? And yet it does. We are shown a flash of life’s uniqueness before adult real life occurs and understand that this beautiful way of being in the world will die. The author accomplishes this with a mastery that left me breathless. —Meg Pokrass, Contest Judge Fifty miles out …chop! chop! read more!
PEACOCKS by Andrew Stancek The show we are not watching is on Buddhism. Your hand dips absently into the plastic bowl of Colonel Redenbacher’s; my ketchup chips are long gone. The Knicks are playing the Lakers, but I don’t suggest switching the channel. Another game, I can hear you snort. We play our own. When you came home, I beamed at your new short curls; your lips vanished as you looked through me. You dropped your purse like an anvil, opened a can of Heineken, pressed the cold beads to your forehead, didn’t ask if I wanted one or how the job search went. The door of your office slammed—stood by the door, shamelessly eavesdropping. All your words sizzle, especially when you talk to Mama Python. I heard you call Hydra his dog, say she piddles on the kitchen linoleum and you’ll be damned if you wipe any more messes. …chop! chop! read more!
TETHER AND FLOAT: THOUGHTS ON TWO NEW ESSAY COLLECTIONS by Beth Kephart SOUVENIRS FROM PARADISE Erin Langner Zone 3 Press HALFWAY FROM HOME Sarah Fawn Montgomery Split/Lip Press What would happen if, when we thought about essays (the power they might wield, the indignities they suffer), we thought about tether and float? The ways in which the essay knits itself into its own grounding facts, on the one hand. The ways in which it transcends them, on the other. Essays erupt from the lives that we live. Our hopes, which surge and thin. Our grief, which stills and screams. Our joy, which can’t be fixed. Our desire, which we understand until it makes no sense to us, until we don’t make sense to us, until we write the essay to find out, or read the essay hoping to find both the shimmer of the world and the maybe of ourselves. …chop! chop! read more!
HERmione by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) New Directions, 288 pages reviewed by Aalia Jagwani When I started reading HERmione, I knew nothing about Hilda Doolittle, the American modernist poet better known as H.D. But although intensely personal and grounded in an endlessly fascinating life, HERmione’s slow unravelling of H.D.’s psychology is arguably all the more enticing in when approached unknowingly. Reading HERmione did not feel effortless—this is not a book that propels you forward. It instead holds you back, grappling in the realm of ambiguity that the protagonist inhabits. It is an exercise in restraint — from tending instinctively toward the straightforward, from attempting to categorize people and relationships that resist boundaries. Reading it felt like playing a game with myself — to piece together HER consciousness, I had to allow my own to dissolve. It is precisely this dissolution of the self that H.D. details in HERmione. She adopts an alter-ego, …chop! chop! read more!
HERRICK’S END by T.M. Blanchet Tiny Fox Press, 299 pages reviewed by Jae Sutton Born and raised in Boston, mostly by his mother—who is loved by everyone she meets—Ollie Delgato has had to endure multiple hardships. But he has a plan. At nineteen, he is admitted to Bunker Hill Community College on a full scholarship and gets a job at Bonfligio’s Caffe, which comes with an apartment located just above the shop. His main goals are to lose weight and fall in love. More than anything, he wants to “become the kind of person that guys wanted to hang out with and girls wanted to date. Seven months to achieve normalcy.” Which is why the weight loss program, Lighter Tomorrows, becomes a constant on his summer schedule. Antonella (Nell) Cascone is the only girl who has ever given Ollie the time of day. They go on walks and platonic dates …chop! chop! read more!
CLEAVER’S FORM AND FORM-BREAKING POETRY CONTEST Judge: Diane Seuss Show us your poems that hold up the perfect iambic pentameter of a Shakespearean sonnet or crash it on the rocks of free verse. Show us a villanelle with textbook patterning or show us the villanelle who just crashed her car. Whatever the form, we want to see your poems that use form consciously, whether that’s to execute them to perfection or execute their expectations. The one requirement is that your work engages with a form of poetry; whether it gets married to that form or breaks up at the last couplet is up to you. Some examples of poetic form: Sonnet, Villanelle, Haiku, Haibun, Ghazal, Acrostic, Pantoum, Prose Poem, Golden Shovel, Elegy, Rondel, Sestina, and many more. Feel free to bring us a form we haven’t listed. Judge: Diane Seuss $500 First Prize $250 Second Prize $100 Third Prize Prizewinners …chop! chop! read more!
THE SILENCE THAT BINDS US by Joanna Ho Harper Teen/HarperCollins Publishing, 437 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson Danny Chen is a basketball phenom who loves watching the Star Wars trilogy and singing, albeit off-key, Sam Smith’s song “Lay Me Down.” He enjoys eating burgers from In-N-Out and break dancing like he’s a member of the dance troupe The Jabbawockeez. At school he’s larger than life— everyone knows and admires him for his kindness and outgoing personality. To Maybelline Chen, he’s her goofy and loving big brother who cheers her up, believes in her, and always has her back no matter what. But when Danny dies by suicide, May finds herself coping with more than just her brother’s passing. Joanna Ho’s compelling new novel The Silence That Binds Us explores the impact of suicide, and how important it is to use your voice to change the narrative and stand up against …chop! chop! read more!
A MOUNTAIN TO THE NORTH, A LAKE TO THE SOUTH, PATHS TO THE WEST, A RIVER TO THE EAST by László Krasznahorkai translated by Ottilie Mulzet New Directions, 144 pages reviewed by Dylan Cook It would be fair to say that there’s only one real, human character in A Mountain to the North, but even that feels generous. The grandson of Prince Genji, as he’s referred to throughout the novella, isn’t substantial enough to have his own name. He wears a kimono and geta, he gets motion sickness, and he loves gardens. He isn’t very notable, but he isn’t lacking either. He may be the only person, but he’s a supporting player, and as such his costars of trees, rocks, water, and wind often outshine him. The grandson of Prince Genji is our tour guide, a human figure we can hang our hats on as László Krasznahorkai chips away at …chop! chop! read more!
Will Huberdeau speaks with Lucian Mattison about his new collection of poetry Curare from C&R Press. Will: Starting with the title, what does “curare” mean to you? I had to Google it and got a variety of definitions and explanations. How did you develop the concept for this collection? Lucian: I’m not normally a big obscure reference kind of guy. Usually, I like to lean more into “Let’s all get along and understand each other.” But in this case, I made an exception for a couple of reasons. On a more surface level, I read the book Shaman’s Apprentice about a scientist from Berkeley who goes into the rainforest to study medicine. He tries to get the ingredients for this poison called curare that is applied to the tips of arrowheads and darts. It becomes this elusive thing, and no one has a recipe. Or they don’t trust the …chop! chop! read more!
WINNERS & FINALISTS CLEAVER’S 2022 FLASH CONTEST Winners, Honorable Mentions, and finalists will be published in Cleaver’s Issue No. 40, our 10th-anniversary issue Judge: Meg Pokrass We writers know how this goes… We submit our work to a literary contest. We wait. We wonder if the readers felt moved in all the right places; if they were engaged, intrigued, enlivened… We know how many fine talents are out there, and the process of waiting to hear back is not fun. As a contest judge who is also a devoted writer of the form, I take it strongly to heart. The strength and integrity of the stories I read blew me away. As in any high-level literary contest, there were vastly different approaches to telling a story: There were flashes where the narrative lived right on the surface and others which offered skilful clues, and where the author trusted the reader …chop! chop! read more!
Poetry Editor Claire Oleson speaks with emet ezell on their debut poetry chapbook, Between Every Bird, Our Bones, out now with Newfound. Claire: This book gives us bite-sized poems in paragraph-like vignettes. What drew you to this form, this body, for your language? emet: In BETWEEN EVERY BIRD, OUR BONES, the text and the body are unapologetically queer— which is to say, they never fully solidify into a single shape. No table of contents, no capitalization, and no titles. Instead, these poems fly through the sky with infinite beginnings and infinite iterations. I found this poetic form by listening deeply to the physicality of language. Sparked by images and sounds, I wrote slowly by hand. This allowed me to prioritize the carnality of language, its cadence and direction. When I listened long enough, the writing told me what it wanted: wide margins and solid blocks of text. I needed a …chop! chop! read more!
TOO MUCH OF LIFE: THE COMPLETE CRÔNICAS by Clarice Lispector translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson New Directions, 864 pages reviewed by Dylan Cook A note of caution about Too Much of Life: reading it may cause you to question your reality. When Clarice Lispector took up her crônica column in 1967, she refused to give readers half-hearted, surface-level observations. Each crônica lets us see the world as Lispector saw it, and, under that microscopic magnification, even the most commonplace things become unfamiliar. Who are we when we’re asleep? Why do we lie? What’s the difference between “person” and “persona”? Or, as Lispector asks, “who am I? what am I? what will I be? who am I really? and am I really?” For our own sanity, we may choose not to question our being so closely because we’re afraid of what we may find. Lispector had no such …chop! chop! read more!
FIRST CHOICE by Hannah Felt Garner It is fall break when we arrive on campus for the interview. No one around but the student workers in Admissions and a security guard in a golf cart, silently cruising under heritage elms. My father and I have just toured a more prestigious college nearby when he announces this little detour on our drive home. I resist but only a little, sick already of a process which will later give me hives. Twice: the day of the December deadline, then again the week leading up to the one in January. My body is leaning as far as it’ll go against the car door. It wouldn’t be my first time jumping out of a moving vehicle, my father’s favorite interrogation site. After an exuberant campus tour delivered by a junior in plastic flip-flops, my father disappears into the glassy Admissions Office then re-emerges, Ferris-wheeling …chop! chop! read more!
EIGHTEEN by Alison Sanders I hear her in the shower. There’s a gulping sound like she’s drinking straight from the faucet, or she’s trying to but she can’t keep up because the water is coming way too fast. It sounds like she’s drowning. She thinks she’s hiding in there—that no one can hear her. And when she comes out, she thinks that eye drops can hide the angry scarlet in her eyes. She thinks makeup can conceal the swelling of her eyelids and the redness at the tip of her nose. She hopes that putting on clean clothes will hide the way her shoulders hunch in defeat, in surrender. Mom says she’s not disappointed in me; she’s just disappointed in my actions. She says it carefully, as if it really matters. That’s a difference without a distinction, I tell her. See, she yells. You say shit like that but you’re …chop! chop! read more!
MARILYN MONROE LETS THE LIVESTOCK IN by Emma Brankin When her husband tells her no, you can’t invite the wet, bedraggled cow caught in the rainstorm into their house overnight, Norma Jean kicks him out. She’s had enough—why are decisions something other people get to make? So she pours herself a bourbon and listens to his cursing as his pick-up truck drives down the dirt-track to his mother’s. Then, she swings open the front door and gently clucks her tongue as the creature slowly trots its way inside. There, in her small, floral-wallpapered hallway, beauty and beast hover, uncertain. Norma Jean eyes the animal’s fluorescent ear-tag, runs a nervous hand through her brunette coils and makes a tepid joke about liking its earring. The animal shivers, doubt in its black beaded eyes. She knows it now questions her kindness, the belief that comfort can ever last for long. Slowly, she …chop! chop! read more!
IN WHICH LIFE?: A Conversation with Chauna Craig author WINGS AND OTHER THINGS, Press 53 speaking with Emily Huso Chauna Craig’s second story collection, Wings and Other Things, speculates about the possibilities that exist beyond fear, self-doubt, and patriarchal control. Most of the collection’s sixteen stories are set against Midwestern expanses and center female protagonists who dare to imagine the roads not taken and to re-imagine themselves. In these narratives, Craig explores moments of silent but irreversible rupture: an unwelcome revelation about a significant other, words that can’t be unspoken, a dream dashed. Like the exposed anatomical heart depicted on the book’s cover, Craig’s prose demonstrates vulnerability, a rawness of syntax and image. Through sharp sentences and halting fragments, we are shown not just the breaching whales and the prairie’s sky of infinite stars but the wiped snot, feet scraped raw in a field of corn, mouths that taste of …chop! chop! read more!
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MEXICAN TETRA by Dan Shields Earlier in the day, before the ambulance whisked me off school grounds, I crawled under my desk during recess, untucked my shirt, and squeezed my skin as hard as I could. I squeezed and twisted, trying to reach my organs like they could be juiced like fruits. Like they could be wrung out as sweat rags, and all the pain would flow in snarling, tarlike rivulets out of my ass, and I’d stand up straight again once everything had a chance to dry. I squeezed until my ribs turned red, tore at me, my body, the thing I’d always been told only wants to love and protect the person rattling around inside it. The bell rang and the kids returned. Flush-cheeked and sweaty, they got their science books out while howling gossip dredged from the monkey bars. I heard Cindy …chop! chop! read more!
FOR PHIL by Michelle Bitting All day we’ve bent like Benedictine monks over armoires and bookshelves, rubbing the house clean of grime and wicked thick dust, pausing but once to drop our robes and oil each other bright as snakes entwined in the grass of our sun-bolted bed. You never left me or the strange world of my childhood I carry like a mourner on my back, never quite able to set the black box down and leave it behind without turning back to turn it around. Three decades I’ve waited to jump the suicide train my family tracks like a runaway beneath coastal starlight, a southern cross I note and bind in books stretched from ghost smoke like a cigarette I wish I had but I’m trying not to do that because I like my body when it’s with your body— two strands of the same high-voltage cable holding …chop! chop! read more!
MELT by Candice Morrow A record high, the porch thermometer reads one hundred and nine, and your father sleeps naked without even a sheet. You left for college yesterday, and I suppose this means, among other things, that we can sprawl exposed for the rest of our lives. Fuck. From the freezer I take a Popsicle rocket pop, a kitchen staple since you were three. Grocery lists on the refrigerator door read milk, eggs, bread, and, in your tiny, scrunched cursive: rockets. I set the sprinklers and sit by the window to watch water spray out from the dark, hit and roll down the pane. The rocket is Americana: red cherry fading into vanilla fading into a mouth-staining blue, its very colors suggesting a revolution for the driest of summer tongues. But why keep buying them now that you’re gone? Gone with your new suitcases—I ripped the tags off at …chop! chop! read more!
ENOUGH FISH by Josh Krigman The important thing was whether she had enough fish. Rose stared at the open refrigerator, its fluorescent-lit innards threatening to overflow. Stacks of plastic containers and tinfoil-covered dishes formed a towering puzzle without a single piece missing. It was a familiar dance, this waltz between the shame of waste and the pride of excess, all in search of that elusive pleasure of accurately anticipating the precise depth and breadth of her guests’ needs. But she hadn’t been eating and worried that along with her own appetite she’d lost her eye for everyone else’s. It was just after eleven. People would begin arriving within the hour. Yes, she might have enough. It was possible. She began unloading, opening lids and inspecting contents as she made a mental inventory. There were gold cardboard plates of pre-packaged lox, two unopened, one rewrapped in cellophane, another bound in wax …chop! chop! read more!
HOW I LEARNED TO SMOKE by Andrew Vincenzo Lorenzen YOUR ASHES ARE EVERYWHERE. You don’t know how to smoke a cigar. I’m going to teach you tonight. I shouldn’t—but I will. Here, hold it like this, see? Between your thumb and index finger, like that, see? Isn’t that better, hm? Now, you dab the edge of it in the ashtray, like that, perfect. It’s tidier that way. Don’t cough like I do. You’re too young to cough like I do. Normally, they don’t let you smoke in here. Normally, I wouldn’t be talking so much. Normally, well there’s not much normal anymore, is there, kiddo? PUFF SLOWLY. IT’S NOT A RACE. I don’t want you sick tomorrow morning. Your mother will have my balls. Not a word to her about any of this. Not a word, you hear me? You should never lie to your mother. It’s not right. You …chop! chop! read more!
DEBT OF A DAUGHTER by Devon Raymond A man who is your father tricks you into believing that there is no price to pay for being his favorite—that you are free to accept all of his attention, and presents, and praise. So you delight in the laughter you provoke during games of I Spy, and you abandon yourself as he sweeps you across the living room in dance routines worthy of Fred and Ginger. You don’t yet know the cost of seeing yourself sparkle in his eyes. Your father plans all along to extract payment, and when he does, you block it out. There is no place for his act in your ten-year-old mind. You live with it unknowingly as it twists the wires in your brain and paints blackness where there might have been light; your first kiss is not a crackle of joy but a wave of dread. …chop! chop! read more!
O by Varun Shetty It is a circle, a cipher, the opposite of something. It is formed by an old man’s lips parted midbreath. It is an absence held in the valley of his mouth. It is unmoved even with an endotracheal tube, even with bile and blood, it lives on despite my Ambu bag raising his chest like a tide. It is not the monitor beeping or the oxygen hissing. It pays no heed to the palms on his chest cracking his ribs. It is untouched by 200 joules of electricity. It is a protest of the space outside it. It is not the darkness of the crevice that carries a sparrow’s nest. There, the world is a song and only song. Varun U. Shetty is a writer and critical care physician. He grew up in Mumbai and lives with his partners in Shaker Heights, Ohio. His work has …chop! chop! read more!
HOW ARE YOU? An Antonym Story by Beth Kephart If there were a Very Special Prize for the world’s most inadequate respondent to the How are you? question, I would be blue ribboned. How are you? Well… How are you? Just a— How are you? No, really. You first. I am so notoriously arrantly perfectly foul at performing this simple civic duty that I become invisible to myself whenever I am asked. Uh, I stutter, and in the absence of my response, the talk salts up without me, which is to say that I can walk four hills, two cul de sacs, five point two miles, and 12,433 steps, a phone pressed to my ear, without making any sound except for the huff and the puff demanded by my exertions, and the yes, and oh my god, and so happy for you required of a listener. Sometimes, when I’m at the proximate end of my travels and my face …chop! chop! read more!
TWO MICROFICTIONS by Jeff Friedman PET PIRANHAS Jess and I loved to watch our pet piranhas swim back and forth, weaving through the lush greens in our aquarium. Though we had seen the James Bond movie in which a pool of piranhas had stripped a man to the bone in seconds, we believed that if they were treated well, the piranhas would be loving pets. We kept them in a tank under the window so that they could get direct sun as well as the nourishing light from the multicolored lights we installed. We’d sprinkle in food, and the piranhas would rise to the surface at once to eat it as if they were a single body. Often Jess would wiggle a finger in the water to see if she could lure a piranha to curl around it, but before they could get to it, she lifted it out. “Not …chop! chop! read more!
GRAND SLAM by Alison Lubar Tacoma WA, 1939 Jack takes a baseball bat to the river. August spawning season. …………….The dry rocktops steam like the belly of a monster cut open. …………….Unlaces right boot, then left, pulls them off without sitting and sets …………….each woolen sock safely inside. There is no one out sunning today. Salmon bounce and skip upstream, suddenly buoyant and silver. …………….Across the frothing surface, Jack wades in halfway amidst the frenzy. …………….He winds up, tight as a fist, smacks one out of midair toward the bank— …………….it lands next to his shoes. Not all hits are lucky. Not everyone is lucky. Jack knows he’s firstborn— blessed. Extra pressure to provide as the sole …………….sober near-adult. A quarry of four; he will share with his sister. He escapes …………….hunger and a beating that night. No one is ever full. When he’s bunted …………….across the room, it’s so …chop! chop! read more!
HAUNTING VIVIAN by Amy Savage The first ex to haunt Vivian waits until she’s left her bar stool to use the restroom. On return, she finds his embossed business card cowering next to her martini, the bumpy letters of his name like chocolate-covered ants, striving to entice but making her skin crawl. She quickly scans the crowd, but his bald arrogant head is nowhere to be seen. That white shiny orb of a skull that had drawn her like a moth to a flame. Vivian texts her friend Kelly, who’d nursed her back to life when he’d cheated, who’d urged Vivian to change her social media status to widowed and, whenever she thought of him, to chant, “He’s deceased, I’m released!” For closure, Vivian had even written up a sample obituary for him. Cause of death: cerebral hematoma resulting from fall from dude ranch fence. It wasn’t so far-fetched—he had …chop! chop! read more!
FAVOR by Kim Magowan Liam, Emailing because I just heard that you and Genevieve split up, so I wanted to reach out and say—well, I was going to say how sorry I am. But that isn’t entirely truthful. At any rate, I’m here if you need me. Divorce, ugh: been there, done that. And I will also say that personally, I didn’t find it helpful when people would say mean things about Jim, thinking that in so doing they were being supportive. But all that did was make me feel shitty and question my own judgement. Like, was I supposed to thank them for saying they had always thought Jim was an asshole, or boring, or bragged too much? Anyway, all this is to say: I truly understand what you’re going through, and by no means do I want to add to your suffering by participating in that well-intentioned but …chop! chop! read more!
OFF by Suphil Lee Park You wake up in complete darkness. It is the kind of darkness that strikes you as a jolt of realization that you’ve never found yourself in complete darkness up until that very moment, not that terrifying night at a cabin nestled deep in the Norwegian woods, not when every ion of light is strangled out of an airtight, soundproof Broadway theatre just before a burst of spotlight, and not even that one time you crawled into a washer full of dirty laundry during a hide-and-seek turned competitive sports and fell asleep. The first thought that hits you, still hazy with sleep, is that Dax must have closed the blackout curtains before you went to bed. With one arm, you swipe what you think is the perimeter of your bed. Your voice comes out shrill, unsure: “Dax?” Sound and space have an odd relationship. Even though …chop! chop! read more!
34 FEET by Phil Keeling The gun was small and snub-nosed. It looked heavy, though, attached to the lanky arm of my mugger. Imagine it. Me! With my very own personal mugger. Because in that moment, he was mine and I was his, alone as we were at the moment. Swear to God, the gun looked heavier than the kid wielding it. Its barrel was cool against my head in the muggy Savannah night, so that wasn’t so bad. Did he keep the gun in the fridge? This was the same year my cat died. The first year I had ever lived alone after my girlfriend of nine years had left. The week after I’d been let go from my teaching position. Sometimes the world just loves to pile it on. “Your wallet,” my mugger said, as if I had promised him something earlier, and he just knew that I …chop! chop! read more!
ZOLOFT NANNY by Madeleine Gavaler Red drips down Dasha’s chin as I watch her through the playground bars. I hold my phone a distance from my cheek, giving my voice air to wade through before making its way to some faraway woman at a desk who doesn’t know why none of the meds work on me. “Zoloft made me want to kill myself, so actually I would not like to keep taking it.” I press the sound of her between my shoulder and face, the way suburban moms do when they’re busy cleaning but still have to talk to their friend Nancy—women can hold so many things. I crawl under the slide to the child and lick my thumb, smudging cherry slushie around her massive cheeks. Another nanny, older, wordlessly hands me wipes from her more well-equipped but lower-tech stroller. “Thank you,” I mouth. My psychiatrist continues to proselytize into …chop! chop! read more!
SHOOTING BUCK by Lydia Downey Peeking around the cliff, I meet my father’s eyes. The horizon’s glowing haze & morbid curiosity as I stretch my palm over the Tetons to haul the buck back to safety from the metal clicks of huddled persons. Father must not notice my fragile body off the cliff, scraping my hands red to meet brown lagoons alone in the powder sugar cliffs where he will become solidified of Wyoming. Let me begin again. Will me to come forward & stand proud amidst the death of does & fawns. Show me how to shave the antlers plastered to your skull to pop like a tick & cluster blooms of coal for me to shave part of your body as a necklace to carve on my clavicle. I have watched you migrate alone to suspend time in Douglas firs, braid pine needles into your coat & lick …chop! chop! read more!
THAW by John Schneider Still burdened with winter’s whiteness ………….and the darkness of prolonged nights, we gaze out at our world through glazed windows. ………….This is the time of year for crusted glass, cold reflections. Again, my aging eyes ………….look back at me, facing something disturbing, wearing the same wrinkled image. It winces at me from ………….the frozen kitchen window, still closed to seeing: ………….a reminder of our fragility. When the sky blushes with afternoon light, the sun’s ………….angle changes. Shadows shift. Jagged icicles suspended from eaves melt sharply, just to freeze again, ………….every day into and out of existence: ………….a lesson about holding onto. ◊ With the thaw, I discover a fleeing hare, ………….its tracks in all this whiteness painted with warm drops of blood tenderly Pollacking ………….the canvas. I close my eyes, lost in the scene. ………….My breath on the window leaves its brief prints. ◊ Like a …chop! chop! read more!
AN EASIER STORY by Emily Parzybok Around the time I had an abortion, the bathroom drain gave up entirely. For months, the drain had been slow-moving. I’d find myself in an inch of water at the end of a shower, shaking my feet as I placed them one at a time on the bathmat. Finally, it stopped draining altogether. A ninety-second rinse left a pool in the tub that took hours to clear. In the TV show Russian Doll, a character says, “Nothing in this life is easy. Except peeing in the shower.” And I kept remembering that line as I held my insistent bladder under the hot water and thought about whether or not to stay pregnant. I found out I was pregnant on a Thursday morning. The faint double lines confirmed what my body already knew. It was my first pregnancy. It had been the first time I’d …chop! chop! read more!
CENTER OF AN IMAGINARY WORLD: Place in Fiction A Craft Essay by Mandira Pattnaik Recently, while compiling my short stories and flash fiction for a possible collection, I was surprised by how many of those stories were based in the culture and climate markers of the place I live. Some place markers appear by explicit mention geographically, while other stories wore badges of a common identifiable whereabouts. I realized these references represented the center of my imaginative world, much like Calcutta does for novelist Amitav Ghosh. The same way James Joyce records his short stories upon the scaffolding of the city of Dublin: In Westmoreland Street the footpaths were crowded with young men and women returning from business, and ragged urchins ran here and there yelling out the names of the evening editions… full of the noises of tram gongs and swishing trolleys and his nose already sniffed the curling …chop! chop! read more!
LESSER KNOWN MONSTERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY by Kim Fu Tin House Books, 220 pages reviewed by Prisha Mehta A customer seeks out advanced simulation technology to recreate a conversation with her dead mother, but is refused on the grounds that relief from grief is too addictive a product to ethically sell. A young woman moves into a house crowded with hundreds of out-of-season June bugs as she recalls the emotionally abusive relationship she has just left behind. Every person on the planet loses their ability to taste, all of a sudden, all at once, and an artist makes a new career out of recreating food with physical sensation. These are the small worlds that populate Kim Fu’s Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st century, a short story collection containing twelve narratives that, though disparate in plot and subject, come together in a thematic and emotional symphony. This collection is …chop! chop! read more!
WIN ME SOMETHING by Kyle Lucia Wu Tin House, 272 pages reviewed by Annie Cao In Win Me Something, Kyle Lucia Wu’s enthralling debut novel, Willa Chen is a biracial Chinese-American girl who starts a nannying job for the Adriens, a wealthy family in Tribeca. Willa has always struggled to feel a sense of belonging when it comes to community; she’s not fully Chinese but not fully white either. She faces racial prejudice and microaggressions while living in New Jersey as a child and New York as an adult. Her parents are divorced and have started their own separate families, but she has trouble feeling connected to either one. Whether because of her racial background or family situation, Willa exists on the margins—she sticks out due to her differences and is never truly understood. At the beginning of the novel, Willa claims that she just “[floats] silently through” the world, …chop! chop! read more!