I Live Among Trees by Mileva Anastasiadou

I Live Among Trees


Mom doesn’t speak much lately because trees don’t talk. Be like a tree, she said in the past, only I wanted to be a bird. Mom never paid attention to my needs. She claimed trees are better, they bend but don’t break, trees are strong, grounded, rooted, stable. Mom doesn’t talk much lately, doesn’t move either, mom is a tree finally, and I don’t move much either, like I’m on a leash, but I can still talk. 

My boss is like a walnut tree, he has that thing, juglone, that suppresses the growth of anything beside him. I tell him I want a raise. He looks me in the eye and I remain still, don’t even blink, he sees I’m serious, then asks, for real? Next thing I know is that I’m jobless, which sounds better than heartless but not for long; I’m both jobless and heartless when I get home. My son pats my shoulder, you did good mom, he says, you deserve better. Mom looks around like she’s not aware that something’s wrong, she eats and eats, swallows and swallows, like that’s all she cares about, like she’s feeding her roots. My husband frowns like he didn’t expect this, like I’m a huge letdown. He asks, now what?

My husband is like a happy cherry tree blossoming, doesn’t notice what’s ugly around him. I tell him we need a plan. That I am tired and weary and that I could sleep for years. He says I shouldn’t talk in song lyrics, he laughs, then asks, a plan for what? I shrug. A plan to get us out of here. He doesn’t get it. I say my dream is to have a secret plan about how to escape the life I’m trapped in, like in the Shawshank Redemption, he nods like he understands, but he doesn’t, I tell him I need to find my paradise, but he looks at me like he’s already in his, he says my life is fanfiction because I dream of being a character in a movie, although he doesn’t give a damn if my life is fanfiction, as long as I’m trapped in Desperate Housewives. 

Mom is a weeping willow, she cries and cries, she grieves all the time, but she’s still here. I tell her she should take her meds. She makes a gesture like asking, what for? I shrug, I tell her those drugs keep her alive, and she frowns, she doesn’t get it, or doesn’t care. She frowns like saying life was better when she was young, only it wasn’t. Life was harder back then. And it only got better since then, but she forgets. I also claim life was better when I was young, but I am right. We both romanticise the past. Like life has failed us somehow, like we expected more, but we got this, and we grew tired of romanticising life, instead of plainly hating it. 

My son doesn’t look like a tree yet, but he’s getting there fast. I tell him he should be sober. He asks why, I say to enjoy life; I’m tired of seeing him wasted. He says, you don’t get it mom, but I do, I do get it. He says he takes little trips to remind himself he’s not a tree. But what if we are trees? I ask him. What if growing up means you turn into a tree, stuck, rooted, trapped, caged? He stares at me, looks disappointed. This thing is smothering me, I tell him, he asks, what thing? I shrug and say, this thing called life, like life is out to get me and I can’t run fast enough. He passes me the joint, he laughs, looks me in the eye, he says, it’s not life, mom, it’s you, you’ve set the trap.  

I am like an anxious, withering tree. I tell myself I have no fear. That my son is safe from harm and he will be the bird I never could be. I live among trees, inside a forest, only it’s not the happy place mom promised, because I am trapped in the woods with no way out. My son is not a tree yet, my son is a boy, like in those fairy tales, where a boy is lost, and the woods will swallow him, but some kind trees find a voice and talk to him and help him out, that’s the kind of tree I am, the kind that bows down to offer a shade, but then stands tall, lets the wind shake the branches so the birds fly away into the sky, I bend but I don’t break and I dread the time when all those fantastic expectations fail him and life catches up with him and turns him into a tree, I’m terrified, but I don’t tell him. Instead, I sing a song that comes to mind about dreams and expectations and he sings back, like he knows the lyrics, only he doesn’t, he sings of great hopes and revelations, and I don’t correct him, I prefer the song this way. I take a puff and smile. A bitter, condescending your-time-will-come smile I try to hide, but he can read my mind and still ignores it, because he thinks he knows better and for a moment I believe he does.

Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece and the author of “We Fade With Time” by Alien Buddha Press. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Chestnut Review, New World Writing, trampset, Lost Balloon and others.

Room by Catherine Buck


This is your room.

A bay window framed with lilac curtains overlooks a city street. You can see pigeons, a crust of bread, an iron pole that some old thinker might have used to secure a horse.

Outside, the red-gold trees leave summer in style. The stubborn plant on your windowsill is still your favorite, with thriving vines that spiral around handpainted pots.

There is a window on your ceiling that holds out rain but lets in sun. On clear nights, you can lie alone and see the stars. There’s Orion, the Ursas, and a host you haven’t named.

Once you only dreamed this room. You touch your pine dresser, curved edges of high bookshelves. You spent a weekend organizing these by author, genre, and importance.

Your desk is by the windows, close enough to wave to a friend walking by with a bag of groceries. You’re planning a pizza night for the weekend.

The papers on your desk have pen and post-its in the margins, stains from at-home teacups and at-work coffee mugs.

You have an aging tabby with a limp. He sleeps on your bed and snores up a storm. He’s vain and easily startled, but lovely with kids. When he blinks at you, you want to cry.

People rely on you and back you up. Friends, family, and coworkers: they’re all there. Once you were afraid you might lose them, but mostly, they stayed.

You have love now. She has a fast wit and tries to understand you in a way that makes you feel split open. You haven’t figured her out. You’re doing so together. She’s in it for good. You want so much for it to be true.

You almost missed her, because you were still with someone else. He might have been the one to keep you in another life. If you’d stayed, your wedding photos would have gotten a hundred likes and at parties you would stand alone.

In the mornings she will go for a run down to the water and you’ll meet her halfway, holding two coffees to share by the monument. You’ll ask her to commit to this view, to never change her mind.

This is not your room.

You spend lots of time in this room. You are more familiar with the navy comforter and heavy drapes than most scenery. It is where you belong and have been.

It is yours, plural. You share this space as you share your life. You share the shag gray carpet and the bathroom double doors and the bowls of ripe fruit. You share the driveway, lawn, and garden newly mulched.

You can see your garden from the window if you look straight down: daffodils and daylilies. Each morning you check on their progress. The peonies are close to bursting.

You know this room is real because you feel the oak drawers, doorknob, pointed hangers. Your closet is packed; you’re saving the best for something you haven’t yet defined.

You share other rooms. One bathroom shelf is yours, with a bar of lavender soap, peeled labels and crusted rims. The cream rug by the tub is your favorite.

You outline everything. The front of your notebook is business: grocery lists and meeting minutes. The back is a journal just for you.

There is a fifty-five gallon fishtank downstairs. You’re trying out saltwater. You curl your legs underneath cushions and watch the beauties swim in loops. They never stop moving, even if there is nowhere to go. You hate these fish.

You had love once. You and your husband had stared into each others’ eyes and committed to forever. It was time. You shared jokes and all the times he held you as you cried. Nevermind the cause or frequency.

You almost lost him. There was a moment before you went from now to forever that you froze with the thought of another world. But you found your person. You stuck by him. That was what it meant to love.

So here you are. You have walked the path and accomplished the goal. You have a husband, job, and house. Your friends have kids and yours will come soon enough. Perhaps you will get a dog who will run in the yard with your  daughter who will tumble and you’ll dry her tears. You’ll have long talks, teach her to dream big and never ever settle.

She’ll stare at you with eyes the size of houses and promise that she won’t.

Catherine Buck lives in Jersey City, NJ, with her partner, pets, and plants. She holds an MFA from Rutgers University – Camden. Catherine was a member of the Tin House YA cohort in 2021, and a finalist in the Gigantic Sequins flash fiction contest in 2022. In her free time, she explores new places and attempts to bake bread. You can find her on Twitter at @buckwriting. This is her first fiction publication.


Jaw Song by Andy Gottschalk

Jaw Song by Andy Gottschalk


For years, I’ve played the penny whistle without sheet music. I hear songs on the radio and try to match their notes. Some of the ones I know best are “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC and every song by Paula Abdul. This year, in the winter, I had nothing to do but 1) play the penny whistle, 2) feed my outdoor cat, who was living in the glass atrium until the snow thawed, and 3) eat stew. Some barometric shift in the freezing dry air must’ve messed up my jaw while I was eating stew, though; it was hard to chew, my teeth crunched, and I couldn’t even bite down all the way like I used to. It was like my mouth had expanded. Some days I’d ladle myself a bowl and peter out after just a few measly bites because my mouth felt so broken. I’d walk the bowls out to the atrium, where my outdoor cat licked at them with wet curiosity. She was skinny and cold and surely needed it more than I did.

My jaw got worse, my mouth wider. I took up a stupid smoking habit to see what would happen, and the cigarettes fell out of my mouth and singed my sweatpants. I couldn’t feel my lips too well, so I sucked on them until I realized there was nothing there at all. The cigarettes burned bright narrow holes in my pants, and they stung my legs. I gave up the cigarettes.

By the springtime, I was taking measuring tape to my mouth, quantifying the expanse of my maw, the seemingly endless opening. On St. Patrick’s Day, my nostrils fell into my mouth, and by the spring solstice, the bridge was in there, too. It got really bad by Easter Sunday, by which time my mouth had expanded to my whole face, and my eyeballs began to swim in the opening. All my features hung in a wet expanse at the center of its cavity. I couldn’t even play the penny whistle anymore. I’d blow a few notes of “Straight Up” into the reed, and it would come out all hot and directionless—less like music and more like a wind that has unobservable, searching frequency.

Andy Gottschalk is a writer and artist from Kansas. His films have been exhibited at the Yale Student Film Festival and GIPHY Film Festival. He has prose forthcoming in Post Road 41.

Clamshell by Dylan Foy

Clamshell by Dylan Foy


Imagined warmth can sometimes be better than real warmth. The TV glow gave me goosebumps. Placebo or not, it felt warm. But as nice as it was, the static on the screen proved unbearable. My twin sister and I tried our best to put up with the intermittent scrambled signal on our Philips CRT, but we didn’t have the determination. We couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t hear anything. And the screeching somehow hurt your ears more when you cupped them. One aerial would stand straight, but the other would always fall down. Eventually, Margaret and I took turns holding the TV antenna up after we finished our homework every night. We’d swap shifts after each ad break to give each other’s six-year-old shoulders a rest. Our bedroom TV’s antenna was cracked at the base, you see. One day it just dropped with no warning. No reason. Sellotape, stacks of math books, half-filled glasses of water… They all helped straighten out the rods, but nothing made the picture as clear as when one of us held it. We chalked it down to the steel needing a boost of electricity through the conduction of our skin. A human element. Or something.

We lost the back of the remote for the batteries, so they constantly fell out. Mam keeled over laughing the first time she saw Margaret hunched behind the TV, ordering me what buttons to press on the front of the set. Unless you were a Grand Champion at Twister, it was impossible to contort your neck in a way where you could peek at the 9” screen at the same time while supporting the antenna on top of our dresser. The harsh tinge of rust on the metallic rods would sting your nostrils when you stood behind the TV, but when you were back there, the CRT’s high-pitched frequencies wouldn’t scream inside your eardrums. A decent trade-off. Unfortunately, for whoever’s turn it was to hold the left conductor completely still, you may as well have just shut your eyes because the show essentially turned into an audiobook behind the TV. A not-so-decent trade-off.

Though we did get better at keeping still over time, even with someone holding it up, the signal was never completely clear. A hiss would talk over Columbo’s smoking gun, Father Ted’s missing punchline, some important character referenced off-screen… We missed a lot, but it never mattered. We were picky with what we watched. Well, Margaret was. Ad breaks offered brief respite to massage your triceps and refuel with a can of Coke. We grew up on the TV. We looked inside the VCR flap and got disappointed. We gained sentience while watching The Animaniacs. We’d get deflated at the sight of credits. We’d go to bed with numb shoulders. There’d be more buzz in our tiny wrists than the screen itself.

“Nothing’s good on TV.” That was the last thing Margaret would say before we went to bed each night. “Nothing’s good on TV.” With a sigh and a flick of the light switch. Every single time.

The tapes started three months earlier. Not long after our father closed up shop and left, we got an unlabeled VHS tape in the post. No return address on the bubble-wrapped envelope either. Mam screened it first—the audition tape for our approval. We were so young we didn’t know what was happening. I don’t even remember crying the day he walked out and apparently got a two-hour bus up to Dublin Airport. We didn’t know why his face clouded the 9” glass, or why we had no way of responding to his questions. We didn’t know why he didn’t wish us a happy birthday on the phone instead.

When we were a little older, mam told us we used to think he was a TV show. I hated hearing that. The first three weeks after we’d received his tape, we’d ask our poor mother to put the cassette in the TV every night. Margaret whispered the lines, like they were something from a Tarantino. The next year, another one came in the post too. Shocked, but just as excited. But I liked the space between us. When I was young, it always made it feel like he was off doing more important things. By the time we turned eight, the novelty began to wear off. Like a trilogy worn out its welcome. A routine only weird when the kids at primary school told us it was weird.

I overheard Ms. Byrne speaking to Ms. Donoghue on the school green at lunch one day.

“Did ye hear the twins’ da went to America?” Byrne snarled.

“Yeah.” Donoghue pulled from her smoke. “To do what?”

“Dunno. Just know the chap fucked off to LA.”

Donoghue scoffed. “LA?” She scoffed again.

And I don’t blame her for scoffing. No one from Wexford is famous, let alone Ireland. Everyone knows someone who knows someone ‘famous’ here—even Colin Farrell. They always feel like someone a little more popular than the rest. Someone you’ve heard about who eats lunch on the other side of the schoolyard. You know their name, but you’d never bother asking for an autograph.

Our antenna fell apart soon after the first VHS came through the flap in the door. “The fucker put a hex on that tape,” mam said, folding her arms.

The untitled recordings always started out like this: static buzz at first, and then a shadowy hand unleashed its grip around the camera lens. The figure pulled back to sit on a couch a few feet away. My father, looking disheveled as ever, clasped his palms together while he spoke to us for fifty-nine seconds. I know, I counted. And that was it, really. Just a leather couch, beige walls, and a wanting, bearded man singing a cover of “Happy Birthday.” Grimly lit, like some kind of hostage or snuff tape. Soaked in analogue fuzz. He licked his lips twice.

“Hope you’re keepin’ well, Ardghal,” he’d say, then comb his sausage fingers through his shaven head. “Mind your sister, yeah? And tell your mam I was askin’ for her, right?” He’d give a little spiel about the weather too, but nothing ever about him. Nothing ever about his life in America. Poorly written. First draft, every draft. In LA, the weather was always the same.

In the early days—when we were ten—our brittle arms would get so tired that we’d have to drop them during the ad breaks. Because our CRT housed a combination VCR, we had the idea to buy a stack of empty tapes to record the Big Big Movie every Wednesday. To watch them back later and give our arms a rest one night of the week. Our family was extremely tight for cash after our father left, but Margaret and I saved up enough pocket money from skipping school lunches to purchase a six-pack of blank Maxells. We ended up renting Hocus Pocus with the cash instead.

“Nothing’s good on TV,” Margaret would continue to say, flicking off our bedroom light every night. Everyone watches TV differently. Margaret would dig her toes into the carpet, rubbing the soles of her feet on one another like a fly cleaning its legs. She would pick at the dried skin on her bottom lip. She would laugh at studio applause with the arch of her eyebrows.

Our muscles kept up with our habits, and by the time we were twelve, we’d be able to go a full double-bill of The Simpsons without dropping the aerial. Sometimes it’d be so fun to hold the rabbit ears that I’d forget what shows we watched. I’d forget to ask so many questions. But soon enough, whatever programmes we’d watch wouldn’t be enough to satiate our eyes for the night. So, we took to holding the antenna up during the ads too. When you rewind your memories back to childhood, you don’t actually remember the movies you watched on TV when you were younger. You think you do, but what your mind carries with you are the blank spots. The negative spaces. The ads and who sat with you on the couch. The things you talked over. Time has a funny way of stretching out the meaning of things, like a worn-out jumper hung to dry for too long. Somewhere between annoying and nostalgic. The nasally Barry’s Tea voiceover, and how nice that tangerine liquid in the cup looked. The 90’s L’Oréal celebrity cameos, and guessing what films they’d been in before. They play up to your senses more than films do. Dreamlike. Commercial time chambers. During an ad break, you never knew what came next.

“I think I’m gonna audition,” Margaret said in the kitchen one morning, her seventeen-year-old face beaming.

“Seriously?” My spoon plopped into my bowl of soggy Rice Krispies. “For what?”

Margaret shrugged. “Just this minute-long ad for some dish soap or something,” she replied coyly, buttering her toast. “I heard it on the radio. All the best celebs start out in ads, y’know.”

The news shocked me and mam in the moment at the breakfast table, sure, but it didn’t exactly surprise us. I always knew Margaret was destined for something more. I could always tell she looked at the TV differently than I did. She would mouth the lines of rerun episodes. She would circle things with red ink on the TV guide. She had taste. At that age, I didn’t even have the concept that something on TV could be good or bad. I remember liking everything. But Margaret—three minutes and seventeen seconds older—had opinions. She could articulate. When we’d watch a ‘bad’ movie, Margaret would always tell me what she’d do to make it better. Film was everything to her. She’d go as some celebrity for Halloween every year, getting into their persona entirely. One year, I dressed up as a member of the paparazzi to snap flash photos of her on our porch before we went trick-or-treating. The light bounced off her blonde curls, like Marilyn Monroe. Fair City might be the top of the food chain for Ireland, but I knew it was a light lunch for her. A month after she told us her plan, the three of us got a Greyhound up to Dublin where they held auditions to be an esteemed extra. She got the part. I never doubted it for a second. I already knew the answers to questions I’d bug her with, but I just wanted to break her humble shell. I wanted to make her feel special.

“What’s your character’s name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Will you have any lines?”

“I don’t know!”

Though the digital world had long moved onto parsing through bonus features on DVDs, the tapes from our forty-year-old teenage father kept coming. Reluctantly, from the hand of our mother. Same station, same episode, same ghost. Every birthday, he’d ask the same questions. “Mind your sister, yeah? And tell your mam I was askin’ for her, right?” My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth when I watched him talk. It was like he knew what was going to happen to us. He didn’t deserve to be there, so clean and clear on the glass. It wasn’t fair that we didn’t have to hold up the aerial to see him. He didn’t deserve the quiet room that my sister and I gave him, as if he had something to say. I never understood why he’d ask us questions we couldn’t respond to—or rather, why he refused to listen. How did he expect us to react by the fifth tape? Or the tenth? And even when he poked his head out for us to see each year, he’d always look the same. The more I saw his face, the more alien it felt. Time paused inside the screen—crouched still, even. Salt and pepper beard but an unseasoned buzzcut. Lips twice-licked. Fifty-nine seconds. Well-rehearsed.

It was only when I was thirteen did seeds of doubt plant before the questions popped up. Why—in a birthday message addressed to both of us—was I the focal point? The narrative revolved around me, like Margaret was some character in the background. It didn’t make sense. Even I knew I was the quiet twin. Margaret was the bubbly one. Blonde. She was magnetic. Margaret was the one everyone talked about in the schoolyard. I wanted to nail a block of lumber over the letterbox in our door. I didn’t watch the birthday messages for my fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth.

“Let’s just move,” said Margaret. “He won’t find our new address.”

“It’s not that easy,” I said, speaking for mam.

“It’s easy. Trust me.”

Mam tried to find out where the tapes were being sent from to try and stop them, but it was no use. She put those tapes in the bin, but I later took them out. I smelled the plastic shell. I don’t know why. They didn’t smell like him.

When Mam got her council job, she came into a decent bit of money for the first time since dad left. She bought us all a fancy flatscreen for the sitting room. Margaret and I watched it for a few years, but we eventually slipped back into old habits with our bedroom CRT. When we turned seventeen, we wouldn’t take turns anymore. We’d pick our nights on the antenna like a part-time job. One night, I stopped listening to whatever programme it was and just watched my sister instead. The flickers of light on her freckled cheeks. A different shot, orange. A different scene, white. I closed my eyes and listened to her raspy laugh.

Margaret died nine days after. I never got to ask her what her favourite film was.

The eighteenth birthday tape screened for one. “Mind your sister, yeah? And tell your—” I ejected the cassette and flung it across the room. It made a loud smack against the wall, but not loud enough. I had this stupid idea that they’d stop after she died. That he’d somehow know. Stupid, stupid. We never found out why he did it—his weird way of leering a hand over us behind the scenes. Even after contacting the Garda to try to trace where the tapes were coming from, they couldn’t help us track him down. Were they all pre-stamped envelopes? Were they recorded a decade ago? All on the same day? Was he still in LA? Was he even still alive? I used to theorize his recordings were all the same, but on that one I heard guilt dripping from his words. A standard VHS cassette holds about 1,410 feet of tape. One hundred-and-sixty-minutes’ worth of potential. Across twelve cassettes, I couldn’t find a single frame.

Mam and I ended up moving. We didn’t have a lot to pack. The house never felt the same without Margaret. Funny how it did without our father. Before we finalized the uprooting to our townhouse, I swore off secretly rewatching his recordings at midnight ever again. I still packed them up and brought them with me, with plans to bury them in the attic. I turned off my bedroom light for the final time. Margaret was right.

Right before we moved, Mam smiled for the first time. It lasted a total of four seconds on her quivering lips. I saw her reading a letter by the kitchen counter before school, eyes full of tears. A tear hung on her philtrum as she wrote down a time and date on the fridge’s magnetic whiteboard; a scene I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Two months later, Mam and I sat down for a night of watching RTÉ2 on our old CRT in my new downtown bedroom. What was airing on the channel didn’t matter. It was the first time I felt normal. I smiled too.

“Ardghal, would you mind grabbing me some Coke and lemon?”

On my way back from the unpainted kitchen, an unopened moving box caught my eye in the hallway. I sliced it open with my back door key and plucked out my father’s most recent tape, its black shell slightly cracked in the corner. Once I gingerly passed mam her fizzy drink in one hand, I fed the VHS into the TV with the other. I remembered to rewind it back to the start, but I didn’t hit play. We stayed tuned to RTÉ2, intently waiting for the ad break with a stale breath in our lungs. I let the tape sit inside until the time was right. I barely needed to touch the antenna that night; the electricity from my excited-nervous palm sweat was enough to conduct a crystal-clear signal. The static used to feel blank to me, but that night it felt full. Once 6 p.m. arrived, the Christmas special episode of The Simpsons’ episode ended. The credits finished. I asked Mam to hit record.

Dylan Foy is a Dublin-born writer, currently living in Victoria, British Columbia. He is working on a collection of short stories centered around nostalgia and technology.

Shimmer by Larisa Pazmiño

Shimmer by Larisa Pazmiño


The cat stared at me in that intense way of cats, which some interpret as deep thought but really means the cat is trying to determine if you’re edible or not. When I learned cats obsessed over killing, and not cuddling, it made me like them better. Still I don’t want one. I didn’t want this one, and watched with relief as its outline shimmered and faded in the way of memories. 

I didn’t want anyone else’s memories either but I seemed to be saddled with them. I wondered who else besides this cat would show up in my new apartment, still smelling of the fresh paint covering the old walls. I couldn’t see the future or communicate with the dead, but I did see memories. Signatures, I called them, of people, and apparently animals, who’d graced a place once before. They appeared, ever so briefly, then shone for a moment before they disappeared. Often accompanied by the person the memory belonged to, but not always. A distraction, for the most part, only distressing when something was revealed that shouldn’t be. Like yesterday when I met my neighbor, Scott, and his wife, Jenny. Another, much younger woman had her arms draped around his waist and looked at me, not unlike that cat, before she vanished. Maybe she was an old girlfriend from long ago or maybe she was a dirty secret from two days ago, but it seemed tawdry, and his wife seemed nice. Now it felt weird to even say hi to him when I went outside.

The only person I ever told about my strange gift suggested I make some money as a psychic. “But I only see the past,” I said. 

“Yeah, but you would know stuff about them, stuff that you couldn’t know, and then you could make shit up, and they’d believe you,” he said.  

Anyone else would have said I was nuts or taken me for a brain scan or insisted I had some deep-seated issues. But he believed me without question. He was also the one person who wouldn’t show himself to me. Whose image never appeared and then shimmered away. The person I longed to see more than anyone, even for that one brief moment. God, I missed him. Duncan, big, boisterous force of nature, my best friend since freshman year of college. I had to move out of the ramshackle Victorian house we’d shared since graduation, with a revolving group of other housemates, too strange and unsettling to be there without him. Thus I found myself in this little converted attic, a one room studio, alone.

We loved each other as two best friends can. No one ever really believed we had a platonic relationship, we were so tied together. But Duncan, a straight guy with a monogamy addiction who fell deeply in love with every woman he dated, and me, a pansexual woman with commitment issues, were practically siblings. He was like a twin brother, one who knew me better than I knew myself and could practically read my mind. Sex with Duncan would have felt like incest. 

I begged him to get new tires for his car, but he didn’t have the money quite yet. And then one night, one blew out on a dark road. The other driver didn’t even see him as he crouched on the road, trying to change it, even as big as he was. I looked for him at his funeral, for his image to appear next to his mother or his actual sister or anyone really. But since that day he had hidden from me. My own late mother showed herself to me whenever I went to see my dad, along with some long dead relatives who I’d only seen in old pictures, but Duncan stubbornly refused. 

I looked up and noticed the kid watching me through the window. The slope of the street meant the house next door’s second floor was level with the attic I lived in. The attic topped off a single family home; the older couple who were my landlords lived in the main part of the house. A wooden fence separated the two properties, and I could also see into the neighbor’s large yard, which had a big tree with a tire swing hanging off of it. The kid’s bedroom faced right into my bedroom/living room, and I caught him checking me out. I resisted the urge to flash him, since I didn’t want to end up on a sex offender registry and he looked to be about 14. I decided that window would have to stay covered for now. I wondered again about the dad and the woman I’d seen; maybe the kid was headed for a broken home. Maybe it was broken already, but the cracks hadn’t shown yet.

Took about a week to feel fully settled, to get used to the new commute from my job in the communications office of the college I’d graduated from. I planned to spend what was predicted to be a gloomy but seasonal September weekend staying in and reading and being a hermit in my very first ever solo apartment, but a knock on the door in the early afternoon said otherwise. “Thought you could hide from me, did you?” Lenore said when I opened the door. Lenore, who Duncan called my bad habit.

“Since I sent you the address, I guess I wasn’t doing a great job hiding,” I said, stepping back so she could come in. She was carrying a bag which she put on the table. She started to remove its contents. “Welcome wagon,” she said, naming the items as she handed them to me. “Gin, mint chip ice cream, Taki’s, and beef jerky. I think that’s all of the food groups covered.”

“Wow, thank you,” I said. I went to put the ice cream in the freezer and when I turned around she was right behind me, and I pulled her close, pressing my lips to hers. 

As always, whenever I was with Lenore, within minutes we were tearing off each other’s clothes. I couldn’t resist her. She and Duncan had tolerated each other for my sake, but he thought she kept me from getting into a real relationship. I tried to explain to Duncan that I didn’t really want a “real” relationship, at least not with any of the men, women, or otherwise that I’d been with to that point (including Lenore, we had both agreed on that), but he couldn’t fathom it. 

After, satisfied and tired, we ate beef jerky and swigged gin while lying naked on my futon bed. “This place is cute,” she said. 

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s nice to have my own place. Like a semi-real adult.”

“Semi-real?” she asked. At that moment, a young man appeared by my kitchen table. From what I could see, he appeared to be dressed like a soldier, World War II maybe. He vanished, and for a moment I considered telling Lenore about my weirdness, but she would likely think I was nuts. I knew the house was old, and I was in an attic turned apartment. I imagined many people had been through here before. I was going to make lots of new friends. 

“Yeah,” I said, “an adult would have better furniture.”

She chuckled. The same cat sat on the bed and then disappeared. So I had a pet I didn’t have to clean up after – that was something. And here I’d been thinking of getting a fish.

“Well, I’m glad you moved on from that firetrap. I notice this one actually has working smoke detectors.”

I had to confess I hadn’t noticed. Again, a real adult would have.  

“Well, chica,” Lenore said, getting up, “I must be off.”

“Working tonight?” I asked. Lenore ran the bar at an upscale restaurant in town.

“Yup,” she said as she put her underwear and bra back on and pulled on her shirt. “Hey, by the way, I saw your neighbors outside – the couple that live next door? The guy is a real creep.”

I sat up. “How do you know that?” I asked.

“I’ve seen him at the bar more than once making kissy-face with some young thing. Multiple young things. Not the woman that was with him who I assume is his wife?”

I lay back down. “Yeah, I got the sense there was something up with him. They have a kid, too.” I watched as a chubby woman with her hair in a ponytail appeared, looking at Lenore, reaching out a hand to her as she vanished. Did Lenore have a girlfriend? Was I the Other Woman?

“Well, maybe they have an agreement, but somehow I doubt it,” she responded. She sat back down on the bed and kissed me. “Fun, as always. You know, someday you’ll find the love of your life and I’ll be tossed aside like an old shoe.”

“Please, you know I never throw away my shoes,” I said.

Lenore shook her head and laughed. “Oh, Claire,” she said. “All hope is lost for me, but you still have some redeeming qualities. I thought about adopting some cats and becoming a crazy cat lady, but that’s cliché. I might adopt a bunch of snakes and become a crazy snake lady. Or a crazy ferret lady.”

“Ferrets smell. What brought that on?”

She shrugged. “Cute girl asked me out, and I went out with her, and I blew it. I acted like a weirdo. I don’t know what is wrong with me.”

“You’re fine. Maybe you just knew it was wrong and it was uncomfortable. Is that why you showed up here for a booty call? Not that I’m complaining. Been a while since I got laid.”

“Yeah, I could tell you’re out of practice,” she said, and I swatted her playfully. “Maybe. I like our friends-with-benefits thing. So I gotta enjoy it while it lasts.”

“Please. I’ll be hooking up with Tinder dates until my old age.” She gave me a skeptical look.

After she left, I took a shower and when I came out, a girl about ten years old was sitting on my bed. She smiled before she vanished. “Fuck,” I said, “Duncan, where are you?” I ate Taki’s and ice cream for dinner that night, wondering for the millionth time if I was just imagining all of this, if I really had a brain tumor or I was schizophrenic. I’d been to see Dr. Google enough times to feel reassured, but still, I worried. 

A couple of nights later I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass and a woman’s voice screaming. I leapt out of bed and ran to the window, the closest being the one that looked into the kid’s room. My phone said it was 3am. 

The screaming clearly came from next door and more specifically from Jenny, with occasional loud responses from Scott. From the sounds of it, the jig was up and Scot’s behavior had been exposed. I looked down and beside the house, three young women stood, looking up. Before they vanished, I followed their gaze to the kid’s window, and noticed his blinds were open. “Shit!” I said out loud as I dialed 911. Luckily his light was on and I could see him holding the razor in his hand as blood poured down his arm.

Racing outside in nothing but the T-shirt and underwear I slept in, I banged on the door as I explained to the dispatcher that a kid was trying to kill himself. The screaming stopped, and Scott opened the door. He looked at me, confused, but before he could say anything, I shouted, “Your son!” I was trying to contain my own hysteria. “I called an ambulance already.” Jenny appeared behind him, looked at me and, realizing what I was saying, turned and ran up the stairs. I heard more screaming, and Scott followed, as the sirens got closer and the ambulance appeared. 

I waited until they loaded the kid in the ambulance, and I heard them say which hospital they were going to. A cop had also shown up, so she asked me a couple of questions, and seemed satisfied with my answers. I went back to my own apartment, and tried to slow my breathing. My heart was racing, and the “what ifs” kept churning through my brain. What if I hadn’t woken up, and hadn’t seen him? What if I’d ignored the three disappearing women? What if he’d closed his blinds? How long would it have been before the kid’s parents stopped screaming at each other and found him? I wanted nothing more at that moment to call Duncan, to get him to talk me down. Instead, I took a cannabis edible and tried to calm myself. 

I called in sick the next day – I had barely slept so was in no shape to work – and went instead to the hospital. I figured they wouldn’t tell me anything or let me see the kid, but I felt the need to be there. The lady at the desk basically told me the same thing but sent me to the floor anyway. The place was full of memories that appeared all around me; I had to try and focus on where I was going and not get distracted. I found the kid’s parents sitting in the hallway, looking straight ahead. I could see that Jenny had been crying but Scott just looked annoyed. When he saw me he bolted out of his seat. “What the hell are you doing looking in my son’s room?” he snarled. A young woman, different from the one I’d seen before, appeared by his side and then disappeared. Damn, what a dog, I thought.

His wife stood and grabbed his arm. “If she hadn’t,” she said tearfully, “Brent might not be here anymore. Do you realize that?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, realizing I had nothing to apologize for, “I don’t ever look into your son’s room, but I heard a lot of screaming and broken glass. I was trying to see if something was wrong.”

His face fell, and his anger gave way to resignation. “Yeah, well….” He turned away and went back to sit down, his head in his hands. Jenny looked at me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “For everything. You saved him. Thank you.”

“Is he going to be okay?” I asked.

She took a deep breath. An older woman appeared at her side, looking a lot like her – her mother maybe – and disappeared. “Physically, yes. But we need to get him some real help.” And yourselves too, I thought. I told her to give the kid my best; I suddenly felt the need to get out of there right away. 

All I could think about was getting a cup of coffee, so I stopped at the first coffee shop I passed. As I was heading out the door, I heard my name, and turned around to see Christian, a Ph.D. student I’d gone out with, sitting at one of the tables with his laptop in front of him. We’d dated for a few months, but it was starting to get serious and I thought he was going to want to be exclusive, so as much as I liked him, of course I had been thinking about ending it. Because I am who I am. (“But I like him!” Duncan had said when I told him, “He’s so good for you.”) Interestingly, Christian beat me to it and just stopped calling or texting, so I assumed he was no longer interested.

“Hi, Christian,” I said. 

“Got a minute?” he said. He gestured for me to sit down, and he shut his laptop. We talked and I found out that he was finishing up his doctorate in economics and teaching some courses at my alma mater. I told him what I’d been up to, basic small talk, until he decided to address the elephant parked firmly on the table. 

“So, Claire, I feel bad about ghosting you like I did,” he said. Damn, I forgot how good he looked. While he wasn’t classically handsome, his face had a sweetness to it with his broad smile and deep brown eyes. 

“It’s really okay,” I said, thinking about how I must look on no sleep or shower.

“No, really,” he said, “It’s not. I really had a good time with you. It was just getting kind of serious and I thought maybe you were going to want to be, you know, exclusive. That’s just not me.”

I laughed out loud. “Oh, Christian,” I said, “we have so much in common.” 

“I was really sorry to hear about Duncan,” he said, “he was a good guy.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Thanks. I miss him a lot.” He reached across the table and took my hand and squeezed it.

“Could we hang out sometime? Maybe get dinner?” he asked, and I said yes. We made a plan, and I told him I’d better head home. You’d be proud of me, Duncan, I thought. 

Later that evening, I saw Scott loading up his car. Jenny stood on the porch and watched him back out of his driveway. Memories were swirling around them, appearing and disappearing. He drove off, and then she went inside the house and shut the door.

By the weekend, the kid was home. I was about to take out my trash when I saw him sitting in the yard on the old tire swing. I could see the bandages on his arm, and watched as the same older woman I’d seen in the hospital stood by his side for just a moment before she vanished. I put my trash in the outside bin, then walked around the wood fence and back to their yard.

“Hi, Brent,” I said, “I’m your neighbor, Claire.”

“I know,” he said, and the lack of affect in his voice broke my heart a little. I wondered what kind of meds they had him on. “You called the ambulance.”

“I did,” I responded. 

“I guess I’m supposed to thank you?”

I shook my head. “Nope,” I said, “you’re not.”

He nodded and continued to swing slowly back and forth. 

“Well, I just wanted to introduce myself. If you ever need anything, I’m right up there.” I pointed up to my apartment. 

“I need new parents,” he said, “the ones I got are defective.” A little bit of teenager sass had returned to his voice, and it made me smile.

“I thought the same thing when I was a teenager. Turns out they weren’t defective, just human and flawed.”

“My dad is a dick,” he said. 

I didn’t disagree, so I thought it best to say nothing about that. “Someone once told me the best revenge against shitty parents is to grow up, be your own person, and be happy.” (Duncan is the one who said that, Duncan whose father dropped in and out of his life, Duncan who would have known what to say to this kid.)

“I’m nothing like him,” Brent said. 

“Well, that’s a start,” I responded. At that moment, I heard Jenny calling Brent. 

“Gotta go,” he said, jumping off the tire swing. “Thanks for saving my life, I guess. See you around.” And he went back into the house.

When I got back into my apartment, there he was at last. Sitting at my little table. Looking so familiar and yet so strange, with that slight hunch to his shoulders to make up for his height. 

“I miss you so much,” I whispered, “Oh my god, I miss you.”

And Duncan smiled at me before he vanished.

Larisa Pazmiño has been a professional grant writer for 20 years, and has raised more than $10 million for various organizations. She has not been published to date. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Vermont (1991). She was born and raised in Washington, DC and has lived in North Carolina, Vermont, and Connecticut. She currently lives in Newton, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons, and poodle mix.

Kite Flying by Mark Putzi

Kite Flying by Mark Putzi


IT’S NEARLY SUMMER break and you’ve grown accustomed to walking in the rain. It rains. You duck inside your favorite dinner bar and order your hot dog with the works, dill spear, Jacob Best. You finish your dinner and are about to leave for class, putting money for your bill and a generous tip on the table of your booth. On your way out you pass the bar and she’s there with a man you’ve never seen before. Her hand is over the kite. His hand is over her hand.

You walk quickly past, hoping she doesn’t see you. But halfway up the block and soaking wet, you think, “Why not go back?” and back you go. To ace this final in a Mickey Mouse American History course you’re taking about the Gilded Age, all you have to do is study.  Class attendance isn’t mandatory: your texts are self-explanatory. There’s a girl who sits next to you. She aced the mid-term and you’re sure you can get her notes.

You’re belly up to the bar again and you greet her: your dream girl. She is unusually cordial, something you attribute to the presence of her guest. She introduces him as Alex, a name you’ve heard many times in connection with her, but you’d also heard that was over. From the proximity of their hands, you have your doubts.

Smiling, he offers you a handshake. You hate his guts, but shake his hand anyway because she’s expecting you to do so. His grip is hot, sweaty and very strong. But you meet his handshake squeeze for squeeze. You understand he can touch her anytime he wants, and that is the source of his power over you. You want to break his arm, but you smile when he explains as if it meant something that she has mentioned you.

You order another Jacob Best from the bartender and he looks at you like you’re a weirdo. But he takes your money without argument, fills a pilsner glass, and sets it down in front of you atop a cardboard coaster. As he walks away, you think, “You are right Mr. Bartender.  I’m a weirdo.”

You tell her, “I like your new sweater.”

She says, “It’s not new. My sister gave it to me.”

You say, “Is that a kite?”

“Yes,” she says, “I’m afraid it’s not the best weather for kite flying.”

“Not unless you want to get soaked,” you say, and you drink half your beer. The man she’s with says something, and she looks at him. He lifts their hands, now fisted into a tight love knot, between their two chins. She looks into his eyes and he looks back.

You say, “I’ve never seen you here before.”

“We just stopped in because it was raining,” she says without turning her face.

“That’s nice,” you say.

She tells him she saw her mother for the first time in months over Spring Break. He nods, listens. They stare momentarily with a sort of yearning gaze into each other’s eyes. You feel dizzy, sick to your stomach, as if you had a hangover, as if the air in the room were like the air above a urinal. But when he goes to kiss her, she laughs and tells him to behave himself. She turns to you.

“I haven’t seen you much at work lately,” she says.

“Well I’m around,” you say. You don’t say, “I’m avoiding you.”

“Did you hear Student Employment Services is sponsoring a big tailgate party over the summer? It’s a sort of worker morale booster. Ten dollars. All the beer you can drink, dinner at the Union, and tickets to the Brewer game. You should go.”

You think, “What difference will it make if you’ll bring Alex or some other dumb…?”


A FEW DAYS later, you punch out at a quarter to three as usual. You hold in your hand the poster you stole from the third floor cafe while you were cleaning behind the bar. You know she leaves at three, so you avoid ever having to see her. But you see the door to the courtyard which leads to the lower-level parking structure has been blocked open with a chair. You investigate.

 The weather is warm and beautiful for the first time in months. She has found a little patch of sunlight between the shadows of the high walls surrounding the courtyard. She’s moved a little bench away from its usual position against the wall into the patch of sunlight, and she’s sitting, wearing dark glasses, smiling. It appears she’s smiling at you.

“Getting your tan a little early?” you inquire as you approach.

“My tan is something I’m immensely proud of.”

“You should be. Last summer I saw you. You were beautiful.”

“Me and Zonker Harris.”

You hesitate to sit beside her on the bench. Finally, she indicates a chair set at an angle in front of a picture window. Through the picture window, you see the darkened outlines of laboratory benches. You’ve been in that room only once in your lifetime. Atop the benches, you note the outlines of the small electronically operated potter’s wheels. The devices fascinated you that afternoon you mopped, but you dared not switch one on. You imagined the wet clay spinning between your fingers.

You fetch the chair, position it in front of her and sit. She takes off her dark glasses and looks directly into your eyes, but you look away. Graffiti on the walls.

She says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do after work with it so nice out. Finally after all that awful rain we have some nice weather. Beautiful kite flying weather. And the wind is nice and warm coming in off the Lake.”

You imagine a filled picnic basket, a checkered red and white table cloth spread out on the new grass.

You say, “It’s been eighteen years since I’ve flown a kite. The last time, I was six years old. I went with my older cousin Danny. It was at a park by my uncle’s house. It was so much fun I never wanted to go because I knew my dreary old parents would be playing cards with my dreary old uncle and aunt. But it got dark and the wind got cold. Finally, I couldn’t see the kite, and Danny took it down and we went home.”

She says, “Sounds like you had a good time.”

“Yes,” you say, “it was so long ago, I didn’t remember until just now how much fun it was.”

She asks, “What are you holding?”

“It’s a poster. I got it from the cafe upstairs. It says, ‘It’s Miller time at UWM.'”

She says, “You ought to make a kite out of it.”

You don’t say anything. She looks away from you and smiles. Her profile in the sunlight is like one of those Greek statues you’ve seen. You want to kiss her, forget about the kite flying.  You want to make love to her on the checkered table cloth spread out over the grass with everyone you know watching you and cheering you both on. When she talks to you, she has this way of inciting your imagination. Once you told her you were in love with her and she almost cut herself with a bread knife.  Then you quit working food service because she flirted with all the other men, sometimes right in front of your face, and it drove you crazy. But you’d set yourself up nice for next Fall by getting to know the guy in charge of janitorial.

After you quit you literally ached for her. You dreamt of her, thought you saw her on the street a number of times, but when you called to her, it was always someone else. You saw her your first day back as a janitor, and she ran away from you, because it was an hour and a half before the Union would be open to the public, and she assumed you were stalking her. “The letter,” you thought, and then you knew how wrong you’d been to try to explain things to her with so awkward a device. Since then there have been many painful chance meetings, most of which have not been chance on your part. The communication you’ve maintained with her has always been terrible. Now it’s the best opportunity you’ve had since she approached you at the dish tub back in food service.

She says, “It’s time for me to go back to work now. Too bad you only got to talk to me for three minutes.”

“Three minutes beats nothing,” you say.

She gets up and straightens her apron, standing right in front of you about a foot away.  You follow her hands up and down the front of her apron as she cups her breasts, then passes her hands one after the other over her flat waist, over the round of her hips and down the front of her thighs. She turns her head askew and looks at you with a tight-lipped smile. It’s the look she gave the man in the bar the other day, but now you feel uncomfortable. Could this be different only because she is looking at you?  

There is a patch of blueberry jelly staining her apron between her breasts. You would give your left arm to lick that blueberry jelly until all the flavor is gone. But you can’t touch her because you’re frozen.

Halfway to the door, she turns and looks at you with her arms crossed. It’s obvious she’s waiting. You see she’s angry. She wants you to ask to fly a kite with her. She finally turns and marches away with her fists clenched. She marches.


THE NEXT DAY you see her in the break room. She was not there when you punched out at three, or rather, you couldn’t tell because the door was closed and the window was too small to see all the way in back. But you note the light in the break room is turned on. The door to the courtyard is also closed, but you don’t expect her to be outside today because it’s raining again and cold. Braving the rain, you walk over the little bridge which spans the courtyard between the Union and Concomitas Hall, the political science building. Through a large picture window, you see clearly into the lit break room. A short blond man you recognize as her boss sits facing the window, talking to a woman with long blond hair, with her back to you. You run down a stairwell into the courtyard, but the door to the hallway is locked. You run back upstairs the way you just came, through the Union, down the big center stairwell you swept an hour earlier while a thousand students circled their way around you, all in a big hurry, presumably to get to class.  Behind the concourse, you find the hallway which leads to the time clock and break room.  Opening the door to the break room, you step inside. She sits facing her boss.

When you opened the door, you heard their laughter, but now they’re both silent. You remember her boss was the one who pulled at her blouse at the dinner party you crashed. He wanted a better look between her breasts and you were outraged she didn’t mind. She did not look at him while he was doing this, but talked gleefully to another man who sat on the opposite side of her. Then her boss balled up the piece of paper he was holding in his left hand, the piece of paper with her phone number on it, and stuffed it down her blouse. She smiled at him, excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, undoubtedly to remove his little missive.

Now they’re talking again as if you’re not there, and you sit down across from them.  You ask his name and he tells you and snickers. You aren’t quite sure he’s laughing at you, but from your perspective there’s nothing funny going on, so his laughter must involve you somehow. You comment on his neat appearance. One would think that as a baker, there would be at least some flour on his shirt, on the corners of his bushy mustache. She jumps right into your conversation. 

She says, “Oh yes, remember that time you shaved it off and I said you looked so nice, and then I saw the stitches and felt so stupid? Here I was thinking you’d just done it for a change of pace and it turns out you’d cut your lip. How embarrassing.”

More embarrassing is the fact that you were standing right there when she said it. You also recall he came up to you the minute she left and told you flatly he was going to fuck her.  He spoke to you as one man secretly boasting to another of a conquest.

He laughs and nervously you laugh along with him. From the look on his face, he remembers that day.

You take a chance and ask her, “How about a little kite flying?”

“Bad weather,” she says curtly, and he laughs very loudly and slaps his thigh. Again she has that look on her face, only this time it’s directed toward her boss. He looks into her eyes, leans toward him, props her chin on her fist.

The next several minutes are extremely hazy for you. You hear their voices, but what sticks in your mind is her laughter as he mentions her sitting on the edge of a bathtub biting the nail of her big toe. Finally he says, “My break’s over. Are you coming with me or do you want to stay with him?”

She says, “I’m coming with you.”

He gets up and she follows close behind him. At the door they pause, and he says, “I ought to get us some time off. This job is killing me. Boy I’ll tell you. Sometimes I swear I could use a wheelchair.”

She says, “Just order one and I’ll wheel you wherever you want to go.”


TWO WEEKS BEFORE the end of the semester you decide, since your work is nearly completed, you are going to take a break. You develop the habit of sitting in the break room from a quarter to three when you punch out until four-thirty when all the day-shift workers in the Union, students and Civil Service workers alike, have left. For the first few days of your occupation of the break room, employees you recognize from food service pass by the little window, grimace as they look inside and then disappear, either grumbling or laughing. Since the day you saw her with her boss you have not seen her in the break room or anywhere else. For the first time the idea strikes you, “Why not go into the bakery?” But you’re disgusted with the image of her and her boss side by side.

Was it a week ago or two weeks ago that you last saw her? You can’t be sure. You are sure when the semester’s over, you are going to work for your old man.

On the fourth afternoon of your vigil, you come to the door of the break room finding it open, and inside you see a man sitting by himself. You assume he works with her because he wears a white uniform with jelly smeared across the front of it. He’s not her boss, but you remember you saw this man eating lunch with her a month ago, when you briefly mentioned to her that all the sour cream she’d dabbed on top of her Mexican plate lunch added wasteful calories and fat grams. “Who cares?” she’d replied, “I love it!”

He sits and looks away from you with a sort of forced indifference. He’s very tall and appears more muscular than the men you’ve seen with her in the past. But you won’t let him interfere with what you perceive as an observance of your ritual.

You sit down at a table and read from a book entitled The Universe of Force, by R.E. Martin. You’ve read a two-thousand word essay about Martin Eden over and over. Today, you’d intended to study a different part of your textbook. But he sits across from you, and you wonder what he’s thinking. You want to ask him what it’s like to sleep with your dream girl, but you cannot imagine anything more demoralizing than to verbalize such a question. You glance up from the book to find him staring at you. Instantly, your eyes fall back upon the printed page.  You recite aloud from memory.

Martin had been a fighter since childhood, first physical (a notable brawler and amateur boxer), then intellectual, and he was proud of his strength and contemptuous of his weaknesses.

You continue silently to yourself. Ten minutes later, he gets up and leaves. You hear him murmuring something in the hallway. Then you hear the voice of an old women you recognize, the counter person from the cafeteria downstairs. She says, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not your problem. He’ll have to face up to it.” He speaks again, but no matter how hard you try to listen, you can’t distinguish his words. His voice is too low. He seems to grumble, but then there’s also something the matter with your hearing. The old woman says, “No. She wants nothing to do with him. She likes you and that’s all there is to it. If I were you, I’d just ignore him. It’s none of his business anyway. Go out. Have a good time. You’re a lucky guy, you know. She’s very beautiful.”


IN THE LAST several days of your vigil, it gets easier to read in the break room. Nobody disturbs you. It’s as if the break room has become your private cell, something you have earned through persistence and because of the magnitude of your suffering. Sometimes workers laugh or whistle as you pass them in the hallway. You feel like a man being led to his execution. You focus upon the goal you have determined for yourself: to take over the break room as yours until the end of the semester.

You get all your homework done. You believe isolation is a small price to pay to “re-establish your manhood” as you tell yourself repeatedly.

A friend of yours who is rather stupid knows the situation from both sides because his job shuttles him between the third floor and the kitchen. At times during your absurd relationship with your dream girl, you have used him as a kind of speaking tube to the bakery, taking advantage of his gullibility and of his willingness to involve himself in practically any circumstance. However, since the start of your vigil, your good friend has remained abnormally distant. With only two days before finals, he at last confronts you. You are vacuuming the third floor cafe, when he pushes up next to you with a cart of clean plates and soup bowls. You shut off your vacuum, and discover him smiling agitatedly as he asks, “What did you do in the break room to that guy? Punch him out or something?”

“All I did was sit there and read a book? Is it a crime to be literate?”

He says, “No kidding! Wow! That’s fucking crazy! You wouldn’t believe down there what they been saying about you.”

Yes you would believe. And you tell him so.


YOUR GRADES are the best they’ve ever been. You average an A-minus across the board with no grade lower than a B-plus. At the post-final party for the class about the Gilded Age, you end up making out with the A student who sat next to you all semester. She offers her phone number, but you don’t call her. You work for your father over summer vacation. Just as you suspect, he goes broke after four weeks. But he promises to pay your rent through December, and you take the opportunity to leave your sick roommates, one of whom insists he has slept with your dream girl eight times, and move into an apartment by yourself. It’s merely chance your new apartment overlooks the Union from across the street.

One day while you lounge in the afternoon sun, beer in hand, you peer down from your ninth-floor balcony and see a large group of people congregated noisily around three tables which have been pulled from inside the cafeteria out onto the terrace. It’s unusual because it’s Summer Break and no one is at the university if they can help it. You look closer and see it’s the group from food service and then you remember the tailgate party. Sure enough you see her.  Her back is turned. She sits alone and doesn’t appear to be talking to anyone. Is she waiting for you? You watch for half an hour. She turns several people away when they come up and try to talk to her. You decide to go for a long walk because you did not buy a ticket to the tailgate party.


IN THE FALL you’re broke because you didn’t find a job to replace the one you lost when your Old Man went broke again. Sure enough, rent is paid for: who knows where the money comes from, but it comes. Still, there’s food, clothing, Jacob Best. You beseech your old boss at the Union to take you back as a janitor. He says, “I can put you to work right away,” and you end up scrubbing the asbestos out of four-thousand ceiling tiles they’ve stripped down from above the kitchen.

At the end of the day you’re beat. For the first time in months, you go back to your favorite dinner bar, wondering if you’ll be recognized, if the waitresses and bartenders will remember your order. You walk in and you don’t know one person working there. You wonder if the place has changed hands. You realize there’s a quick turnover in college bars, but has it really been that long? You don’t think so. There’s a black man who’s a regular there, a mutual friend of yours and your dream girl’s. He sits beside you, asks, “Where you been hiding all this time?”  You say you were not hiding.

He says, “I hear you’re working at the Union again. Why don’t you go see…?” and he mentions her name.

“Why?” you ask, “she wants nothing to do with me.”

“Why don’t you go to the bakery and find out?”


THE NEXT DAY you punch out fifteen minutes early and walk to the bakery: your mind is in a far-off land someplace and you are listening to Indian snake charmer music. You step inside the bakery and she is talking to the tall blond man you read in front of in the break room. You feel relieved to see the boss is gone. But you see the blond man off to the side.

She holds a pot in one hand, dipping batter into 9″ circular cake pans. She fills three pans out of seven, then goes to a stainless steel vat to dip out more batter. When she bends over the vat, you look at her ass. It’s perfect or at least what you conceptualize as perfect. In the cafeteria thousands of students every day eat her cake without ever knowing how perfect her ass is.  (From this day forward, you will always look upon her cake with reverence. The way you eat her cake will be deserving of a ten-thousand word anthropological essay.) She turns, sees you, and almost drops her metal bowl.

“Hell,” you say, “how are you?”

“Fine,” she says. She does not look fine.

You try to tell her something. You tell her, “Those things that happened before. They’re in the past. They don’t matter.” This is not what you wanted to tell her.

She looks down and says, “I realize that.”

You say, “Let’s forget about what happened before. Let’s not even think about it.” And you cry in front of both of them because you know you’re not telling the truth. The tall blond man is so embarrassed with your crying, he goes behind the counter, turns his back and pretends he’s straightening a shelf.

She says, “Just don’t worry about it, O.K.?” Her voice is broken as if she’s in pain, and then there is a long interlude during which you hear only the ovens: A kind of humming noise.

After you’ve left, you realize you can never face her again. 


OVER THE NEXT few weeks, you finally call the A student, date her and actually have sex with her several times before you dump her. You conclude you don’t love the A student and that sex isn’t nearly the big deal you assumed it would be. Frequently you see your dream girl in the hallway, but you never speak to her. Sometimes she is alone, sometimes with other women, or with the blond man, who seems now almost always to walk a step behind her. Once you see her at the dinner bar with the black man, and she looks up at you from across the room, but you don’t dare come near her. Finally, when you can’t stand it any longer, you detain your speaking tube in the cafe and announce your dream girl is a whore and a slut and you never want to speak to her again. You say you hate her. You admit you’ve considered killing her. You even joke about the time she met you in the courtyard, calling her “just a flirt” and mentioning how you laughed afterward that she had actually, for a change, paid attention to you. But you quickly cover up.  “Of course she didn’t mean anything by it.”

About a week later you pass her in the hallway. Lately, she has adopted an expressionless glaze upon seeing you. Today however she scowls and hunches forward, an animal poised to attack.

You ask her as she passes by, “Are you alright?”

“Leave me alone!” she screams and continues down the hallway at a faster pace, walking stiffly. But then you see her pause, raise her hand to her face, and you hear her quietly weeping.  You have an image in your mind of holding her. She weeps on your shoulder, and you tell her, “It’s all right. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only love.” But her image is getting smaller and smaller as she resumes her passage down the hallway, and you realize she means nothing to you at all.

Once again you will have to wait until the end of the semester to get out of here.

Mark Putzi received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1990. He has published fiction and poetry, both in print and online, in the US and in many other countries. He lives in Milwaukee.

Season of Mango by Michelle Kicherer

Season of Mango by Michelle Kicherer


We’d actually won the trip in a drawing. There was a raffle at Bradley’s work and he’d put his name in with a ten dollar donation. It was a fundraiser for the Estradas, this family whose house had burned down after their daughter had hung her sweater from the wall heater to dry. First rain of the season—it was another drought year—and no matter how many times her parents had warned her, honey you can’t put things so close to the heater, it gets too hot, she just didn’t get it. They didn’t warn her that honey, if you hang a sweater on the heater and leave it for an hour not only will that sweater dry, it will start to smoke and catch fire and because it’s a polyester blend it will catch more quickly, the smoke will smell funky and the fire will spread so fast across the walls and down to the carpet and the flames and smoke will fill the house and by the time you notice you will be getting out of the shower in the back room and you will have to run naked—the towel you grabbed was accidentally a hand towel—and you will stand on the lawn crying until a neighbor runs over, tosses you his jacket, and calls the fire department. 

Maybe if they’d put it like that she wouldn’t have thought to set it there. Vagueties are frustrating sometimes. 

A few days after the fire Bradley had come home from work and called, “Rachel! Rachel, oh my god where are you!” 

 I sat up in bed and thought oh no, what is it. So I said, “What is it?” 

He bounded into our bedroom where I was sitting cross legged on the bed, papers on my lap and in my hands and lined along the bedspread. He sat down. He was smiling. 


“Wait, Brad, get off you’re crushing this kid’s homework.” 

He leaned forward so I could snatch the paper from under his thigh.

“Sixth grade history papers,” I said. I smoothed Jackson’s paper. He’d called it, Mesopotamia: Where Was It? a fine title and a fine start, though I wondered how much his dad had helped with both. 

“Are you ready?” he raised his hands like he was about to do a magic trick. 

“One second.” I finished my comment on the top. I almost wanted to address it to Jackson’s dad, Will. I could have jotted, Hey Will, another winner, but I wrote Nice work, Jackson. Don’t forget to cite your sources and set it on the nightstand. Our school was so small that not only did I know all of my students’ parents’ names—and their siblings, their pets—but I knew all of the parents of the kids who weren’t in my class. I knew the janitor and the school’s letter carrier and I went to high school with the UPS driver, Robert Thomas, who stopped going by Rob after a nineties rock band ruined it for him.  

“We just won,” Bradley tossed another student’s paper onto the floor and leaned into me, put my face in his hands. “A trip to Costa Rica.” 

“What?” I said it like a gasp. 

“Yes!” I said and I thought wait, where is Costa Rica? I moved my carefully sorted papers aside and stood up and we hugged and I demanded more information. “Were you on The Price is Right?”  

“No no,” he said, and he explained about the fundraiser. About how the bank heard about Casa Estrada burning down, how they were going to do their annual fundraiser for a good cause anyway—the timing worked out well!—and about how there was no minimum donation required, you just had to donate something and you got a raffle ticket. “Ten bucks, I only did ten bucks!” he kept saying. 

“But,” I had that sinking feeling like when you realized you left your train tickets on the dresser and you’re already at the train station, all aboard. “Wait shouldn’t the Estradas win the trip?” 


Aren’t we doing this wrong? “I just mean—”

“It’s a fundraiser so they can build a house,” he said, confused.

“So we’re the ones who win a trip?” 

Bradley scratched his belly and frowned like he couldn’t hear me. “Well how would they have the raffle otherwise?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. Then I understood what he meant. He meant, why would anyone donate money if there wasn’t a real incentive. Sure, helping some family rebuild their home is nice but what’s in it for me? And I’m sure he wasn’t even aware of it—it’s a subconscious thing sometimes—but I couldn’t help see it that way. 

Bradley looked at me with a tilted head, his excited smile started to shift away.

Well it wasn’t Bradley’s fault, he wasn’t the one who set up that raffle! So I said, “I just, I can’t believe it!” and we hugged again, laughing. 

The parameters of the trip were that we had to take it in the off season, but Bradley had some big project coming up at the bank and he wouldn’t be able to get away in the fall, so we said, well how about spring? And it just so happened that Sierra Junior High had its spring break during the last week of March. It was only two weeks away but we figured, why not? We called the travel agent in tones of disbelief—did we really just win a trip to Costa Rica? Do travel agencies still exist?—but she happily booked our tickets and explained that we’d be staying in San Jose, that the best rainforest tour was two hours away and that our meals were included except for when we ate outside of our hotel, La Rama.

The day after the fire, I’d seen Theresa at work. She was the janitor at our school. I always thought that was kind of cool because before Theresa I’d never seen a lady janitor before. When I asked her what happened that day, or if she was okay—I forget how I’d phrased it, it’s always so awkward asking about that type of thing—she went into a surprisingly elaborate anecdote. About how no one could get hold of her at first, because she was in the back of the school trimming some tree branches that had gotten so long that they were tangling with the phone lines or electric lines or some lines that ran along the back fence. When I asked her why the landscaper didn’t do that part she’d smiled and said, oh, there isn’t one, I just mostly do all of that stuff. Impressive, I’d said. 

So Theresa went on trimming those tree branches while her house burned to the ground. She had stepped down from the ladder with an accomplished feeling, she’d been meaning to do that for weeks and finally she stayed late one day and did the whole trim job at once. And as she walked back through the school campus her phone’s signal returned and the accumulation of beeps went off, one after another—voicemails and missed calls, many many texts—and the urgency duplicated and she felt sick. 

She drove home—it was hardly twenty minutes away—and then she noticed the smoke, how did she not smell it before? It was that stupid cedar tree, she’d thought, the smell was so strong as she cut its branches that she didn’t register the faint smell of smoke in the air, it got stronger as she drove closer. She’d already gotten word that her daughter and husband were okay—they weren’t even injured—so nothing else truly mattered but she did not know what else to expect. 

When she got home there was her daughter, still wearing the neighbor’s jacket. Alicia started sobbing when she saw her mother, and she said mommy, I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to, and Theresa had crouched down and hugged her saying, of course you didn’t. Where is your father? 

Alicia pointed. 

Theresa looked up and there was her husband, crouching in the chicken coop. He was holding the white chicken, she was very still in his arms not because she was harmed, but because she was comfortable there. 

How many are there? Theresa had asked. She tried not to name them anymore.

Her husband’s eyes looked empty. They were wide open and so was his mouth, and when he looked up at her he blinked several times as if to reset his vision, his voice. 

Four, he’d said. All four. And his mouth sounded wet because he’d been crying. 

Theresa told me all that then leaned on her broom. She said but we are all safe, so that’s what is truly important. Then she stopped talking and swept something into her dust pan. It was the kind with the long handle and I always felt bad when I saw her walking around with it, sweeping up litter that kids were too lazy to toss in a garbage can. 

I’m so glad, I’d said. Definitely. 

Theresa walked a couple paces away and swept up the remnants of a corn dog. Someone had left that last bite on the stick, that part that was always slightly more crisp. When she told me that Red Cross put them in a hotel for two weeks’ time, it made me wish I’d asked about that part but I hadn’t thought of it.

I’d just nodded and said, that’s nice you have a hotel. And when I asked, is it nice? She didn’t answer me and we’d had an overly quiet goodbye. 

So days later when Bradley came home with his golden ticket, said we’re going to Costa Rica, baby! of course I was excited but as he hugged me I pictured Theresa leaning on her broom, John crouching in the coop with that white chicken in his arms. Their daughter standing on the lawn in a neighbor’s borrowed jacket, her little legs exposed. But it’s like the next thing I knew we were on a plane then in our hotel then we were asking the concierge about the best place to see monkeys. We booked a jungle excursion, as Bradley called it.

“Okay the bus is picking us up at six,” Bradley said. 

“God, that’s early.”

“Well the best jungle is two hours from San Jose.” He was looking down at a map that had cartoon parrots and monkeys and surfers accenting the trees and jungles and beaches.

“Hey try this coffee,” I said. 

“Get that out of my face, no thanks.” 

“I know you’re not a coffee person but this coffee is so good. If you don’t try it, that’s like, not trying rum in Jamaica.” 

“Well I don’t like rum, either.” 

We packed out backpacks with sunscreen and extra socks, water and granola bars and the next morning we got up before the sun did. We ate the yogurt Bradley had taken from the breakfast buffet—the waitress had said sir, we’re not open yet, but Bradley insisted, no we just need two!—and we went outside to stand in the warmish air waiting for the bus marked Tourismo. It was called something else, but all we could remember was that word. 

“God, I hope we see monkeys,” Bradley said, rubbing his hands together. 

“So do I!” I said. 

Two other couples were outside, too. 

“Are you guys going on the jungle tour?” Bradley asked an older gentleman. 

“Rain forest?” The old man said, smiling.

“Same thing,” Bradley scoffed and they stopped talking. 

Our little bus arrived—it was more like a van—and I realized that it would only be the six of us taking the tour. Me and Bradley and four old folks, and I felt disappointed when I assumed the walking component must not be too rigorous. We took the seats in the front row. For the first hour we drove along a flat road, the sun slowly replacing the moon. It looked like the road simply stopped at the foot of the mountain, they seemed to meet at a ninety degree angle. And on either side of the road was a dense forest of palm trees. 

“Is this a palm tree forest?” Bradley leaned forward and asked the driver. 

“It is a plantation,” he replied. 

“Are they growing coconuts?” I asked. 

“They are for olive oil,” the driver said. “Palm oil trees.” 

We stared out the window and I wondered if this was true, but then I thought well, it’s not like he’s lying. “I’ve never heard of that,” I said. 

The driver shrugged. 

A few minutes later we drove by a fruit stand made from an old boat. Fishing nets filled with bright fruit hung over the sides. 

“Are those mangos?” I asked. 

“Yes. It is the season of mango,” the driver said. 

“Season of mango,” I said to myself and smiled as I closed my eyes, letting the rumble of the road lull me to sleep. When I woke the bus was tilting up a mountain, it was bright out and we were getting higher for a few more minutes before the van turned on a road and down we went, descending past walls of trees in varieties I’d never seen before. Thin trunks and thick ones, dark green leaves and light. 

“I’m surprised there aren’t more flowers,” Bradley whispered. 

When we unloaded from the bus, backpacks on, sleeves rolled up, the seven of us began our walk. It wasn’t a real rainforest journey, Bradley had complained, it was actually an area that was sectioned off from the rest of the forest. Some tour company had chopped down a bunch of trees and taken out a bunch of bushes so people could walk along and experience the jungle from within. 

It was a slow journey, more of a jungle stroll, and we all looked around silently for wildlife. We saw birds that looked like crows but that whistled like frantic canaries. A flutter of bright wings soared by and Bradley gasped, “Was that a parrot?” 

“I think so!” I whispered and pointed at a spider the size of my palm. 

“God, we better see a monkey,” Bradley said. It was all he’d talked about, it was all he wanted to see. Of all the beautiful things we’d witnessed in Costa Rica, he would not feel satisfied unless he saw a goddamn monkey. He peered into the trees. “I just know they’re out here,” he said as if he were referring to aliens. 

The tour guide told us about one of the trees, then something about a bird who steals other birds’ babies, but I wasn’t listening. I kept thinking about the day before spring break how I saw Theresa in the hall. She was pushing a yellow mop bucket toward the girls’ bathroom. I asked how she was doing.

I’m doing okay, she’d said and smiled. That fundraiser actually is going to help build us a new house. It really will help. She was nodding. 

I’d said, That’s so good! Because I didn’t know what to say. I knew there was still a lot of money they needed. I wondered what would happen, if the bank would give them a loan and if they’d cut them a deal. 

Thank you for donating, Theresa had smiled to me as if I’d done her a huge favor.

I felt sick, like I’d just gotten caught stealing and she was giving me a chance to confess. I wanted to say no no no, it was actually nothing, really. I’ll give you the trip, this is a stupid system. Our donation wouldn’t have bought you more than a quart of paint. In fact, that very morning Bradley and I had been putting the finishing touches on our packing, making sure we had sunscreen, bathing suits, sandals. He’d told me something. 

He’d said, Hey you know, my boss kind of joked that I should give this trip to Theresa and John. Or maybe he wasn’t joking. He went like this. Bradley held up his hands and moved them side to side like he was weighing options. 

We didn’t look at each other after he said that, we just stared into the suitcase we were sharing. I looked at my bathing suit. It was bright blue. I said, what did you say? 

Bradley shrugged and went, I said no way! He tossed his swim trunks on top of the bag and laughed, saying, I want to go see some fucking monkeys!

Theresa had thanked us for our ten stupid dollars and I wanted to know: did she know how much we’d donated? Did she think it was a lot, that that’s why we won the trip? 

The tour continued along the rainforest floor. We learned about different trees and which spiders were poisonous and what birds lived where. The tour guide pointed at a plump white bird who’d landed on a branch above our heads. He watched us walk. I wondered why it wasn’t scared, if it was so used to tourists by that point that it didn’t mind us. I made a kiss noise and it flew away. 

“I’m so glad I didn’t give this up,” Bradley turned to me with wide excited eyes. “Best ten bucks I ever spent.” He pointed to a black spider suspended between two bushes. Down each of its needle-like legs was a thin silver stripe. 

“Very poisonous,” the tour guide called when he saw us looking. 

“Bradley,” I whispered. 


“I’m sure she knows they should have won.” I looked away from the spider. “Theresa, I mean.” It was not the right time and I was being too vague and a bird cawed loudly. We looked up as two parrots charged into the air. 

“Oh my god awesome!” Bradley gasped. I watched him clap and turn to the man next to us, saying something about how cool that was, what do you think startled them? 

I looked away, into the trees behind us and that’s when I saw him. I don’t know if he was the reason those parrots got startled or if it was just a coincidence but not too high above us, on a branch only one tree away, sat a little brown monkey. He held a small red fruit in his hands. His black eyes shone against his hairy white face, and though he looked kind of like a tiny, furry old man. He was very beautiful. 

Bradley took a granola bar from his back pocket and the sound of his fingers fumbling then ripping the red plastic package was all I could hear, louder than the whistle of every bird and the sway of every branch and so much louder than the sound of our feet crunching over leaves and twigs. When he finally got it open a tiny corner of the wrapper fluttered to the ground. I stared at it, shining red between green leaves and brown dirt. 

Bradley took a bite of his granola bar and maybe it was just because he was winded from walking but he chewed it with his mouth open, I could smell the peanut butter. I knelt down to pick up the wrapper and when I looked up at him he looked back as if to say, what are you doing down there? 

“You dropped this,” I said, holding it up between thumb and pointer like it was a dirty thing. 

“Oops,” he said, chewing and walking. 

I stood up again and stared at the wrapper. Ten bucks, I kept hearing. Ten bucks. I watched Bradley as he listened to the tour guide, smacking his lips while he finished his snack. I held the shiny red piece of plastic up and showed it to the monkey as if maybe he would understand. But the monkey pretended not to see me and continued eating his little red fruit, gnawing with eager but dainty bites, his eyes wide as if he was listening to a good story.

“Rachel!” Bradley whispered, waving me on. 

I nodded but before moving I looked up at the monkey on his perch. La rama, I remembered. Branch. The monkey put the last piece of red fruit in his mouth and chewed, swallowed, vigorously picked at his tooth and then he saw me. He stopped picking and lowered his hand, rested it on his knee, and we stared at each other for a fine moment. And then as if someone commanded him to do so he suddenly looked down at his knee and became very serious as he picked at it. 

Bradley turned around and stopped, looked in the direction I was looking.

Ten bucks. 

I looked away from the branch. 

“Do you see something?” he asked. 

“No,” I said. And we kept walking. 

Michelle Kicherer is a fiction writer and journalist. She teaches through Literary Arts, Litquake and Writing Workshops, and offers a limited number of writing coaching spaces each season. She regularly interviews writers and musicians like George Saunders, Sharon Van Etten, Tess Gunty, and Ottessa Moshfegh for outlets like the San Francisco Chronicle and Willamette Week.

The Other Eye by Ana Matias

The Other Eye by Ana Matias


Every other day, my therapist gathers fallen branches from outside her office. She arranges them haphazardly, like a reminder, placing them in a glass vase next to the open tissue box. It’s a small habit I find endearing. Once, I asked why there were never flowers in her arrangements. Their lives were already brief enough, was my therapist’s reply.

Today, I tell her about last night’s vivid dream. One she told me to expect, given the course of treatment. This type of psychotherapy (called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is known to accelerate the healing of emotional pain and easing the mind’s access to traumatic memories. During our sessions, my therapist asks me to focus on a recollection, or a particular nightmare. She then places a set of headphones over my head, telling me to close my eyes and follow the sounds that click in my ears, first the right, then the left, a movement mimicking the restlessness that summons the motion pictures of dreams. This conscious movement of the eyes causes internal associations to arise. Glimpses, physical sensations, a sudden feeling.

In our first session, my therapist asked me to imagine a calm, comforting place. “What kind of place are you picturing?” she asked after a few moments of silence. Nothing came to mind, and I was overcome by an inexplicable sense of failure. Frustrated, I decided to picture a beach, the waves coming and going as the noises clicked in their alternating rhythm. Then, out of that imagined blue, came a sob, followed by another. It took a while to realize that I was crying, a while longer to figure out why. According to my therapist, the clicking sounds persuade the mind to make associations: shards of childhood memories, rushed symbols, the face of someone you hadn’t thought about in years. The treatment would help lift the dust, any uncovered clue offering potential value. The meaning behind these associations are mere suggestions, a distant voice hailing from across the dunes, one we stumble after hoping it will lead us somewhere. Vivid dreams are a common side effect to all this rummaging around. The way I understood it then was that once you convince it to talk, the mind gets a taste for it. Once acquired, it can’t help but want more and more.

My therapist keeps her books on proud display in her office. Some rest under the table, others on the bookcase behind the chaise lounge, its black leather upholstery hinting at her clinical approach. For this reason, my therapist’s interest in my dreams never really surprised me. I suppose the dreams of a repressed person are more interesting to interpret than those of a healthy, well-adjusted one. The more someone is unwilling to see, the more the mind becomes roundabout in its messages. More poetic. I admit that a part of me appreciates being pried open, being considered interesting in some way. Another, however, resents being observed so clinically, a feathery, caged-in sort of feeling.

The dreams my therapist favors are, of course, the ones that most confirm her theories. These dreams typically narrow down to a single scene, an impression. They often begin in the middle, like changing the channel to a movie that is halfway towards the end. One of my therapist’s personal favorites is the dream where I am lying on the grass, enjoying the sunshine. I am wearing a summer dress, one that exposes my bare legs. Sensing something is amiss, I look down, to find them covered in blisters – watery, pulsating, about to burst. The physical sensation is so realistic that my half-awake body moves on its own, frantically removing the bed covers to slide my hands up and down my naked limbs, just to make sure. It takes a while to shake off the burning sensation, even when the skin under my fingers is palpably smooth. “So much repressed anger,” my therapist whispered after I was done, leaning forward with interest. She said it under her breath, to no one in particular.

Though my therapist and I share a name, it never feels the same as talking to myself. Her tone is firmer, more motherly, perhaps because some part of me needs it to be. It is with this tone of voice that she informs me that it will take a while to transform the meaning of this pain on an emotional level. Insight, much like hope, can’t be forced. One day, she carries on saying, I will simply realize that I am not as afraid, not as tense, and wonder when exactly that happened and why I hadn’t noticed when it did. My dreaming mind has a lot to contribute to this conversation, though it can only speak in its old, seafoam language, through fear-spells and the odd, misplaced muscle pain.

“You have issues surrounding control,” my therapist remarks after we vivisect a nightmare I had the night before. Her voice, both definitive and kind, goes on to say: “Enjoyment, for you, is always followed by some form of self-punishment,” a concept that is equal parts disheartening and comical. Her words confirm my long-standing suspicion that there is a self-imposed divide between my conscious efforts and the other part, the shadow that keeps hounding and shifting behind me, one that I have been, throughout the years, unknowingly feeding. She, the other eye, the one that remains open through the night, is more than used to winning.

Aside from the childlike greenery-picking, I like my therapist because of how summarily she addresses my issues, an academic approach that is strangely comforting. These detached explanations seem to settle something in me. My therapist also isn’t thrown by any of the palm-sized horrors I show her, giving the impression that she has seen much worse. I tell her of the horrible, jump-start thoughts, of the nightmares. Of the man on the pier, feeding an oil-slick mass of sea creatures from a bucket – inside, a pile of baby corpses, their sickly skin iridescent in the dark. I tell her of the screaming woman lying on her back, of the man pinning her down, each thrust of his ramming her head into a meat grinder. I tell her of the times I wake up paralyzed and find a shadow next to me in bed, faceless in the room’s clinging darkness. I seem to know, somehow, with a clear, piercing sort of certainty, that this person-shaped void is smiling at me.

“Tell me about the last time you were angry,” my therapist then asks, dismissing these dreamscapes. I am ashamed to admit that the last time it happened, I was thirteen. For a week or so, the boys in my class had pestered me relentlessly, backing me into corners, pulling at my sleeves, at the hem of my skirt, their laughter emboldened by my rule abiding, nervous temperament. Then, during art class, one of them was dragging his sweaty, heavy palm through my hair, forcing my head back with each downward stroke. He kept cooing, this careless, pig-faced boy, calling me a good little puppy, a nice, quiet little girl. I was indeed quiet, obediently working on the assignment with my head down, the teacher’s attention held elsewhere, or so it seemed.

I had my first glimpse of her as I was cutting paper mâché flowers. “Keep doing that and you’ll regret it,” is what I heard myself say. My right hand was trimming a blue petal, the left holding it up and keeping it still. There was a brief pause, followed by disbelieving laughter. The boy’s hand became heavier, his needling voice dripping with newfound power. I remember inhaling, exhaling. Then, I saw her stand, saw her turn the scissors in her grip so that the blade faced backwards. Then, in a single, sweeping movement, I saw her strike behind her without even looking, burying the blade on the wall next to his shoulder. Stunned into silence, the other boys stared, their wide eyes moving from my classmate to her, and back. Moments later, she pulled the scissors out of the punctured plaster and pointed them at the boy’s slack-jawed, pudgy little face. “Next time, I won’t miss,” she said over the blade, looking him dead in the eye. Then, she sat down and went back to her paper flower arrangement, demurely smoothing out the petals’ edges.

For weeks, I was horrified that that was all it took to set me off. Since then, I lived with the certainty that there was a part of me I was unable to control, a part that could take over if I became too lenient, too overcome. Sometimes, I could almost feel her hand curling next to my ear. These were distinct, blunt thoughts that I knew were mine but that felt, somehow, apart from me. They were piercing, ember-like, telling me exactly what to say to inflict the most possible pain, proving I was always a moment away from destroying every good relationship in my life. “Try as I might, I can’t be Dr. Jekyll all the time,” is all I have to say about this matter now, addressing and evading it all at once. My therapist’s eyes crinkle with amusement, and a shriveled, starved part of me, feels validated.

“What Dr. Jekyll failed to realize,” she says, “was that hiding his urges and calling them ‘Mr. Hyde’ only made them more violent than they had to be.” A brief pause, just enough for a pin to drop. “That and Victorian society,” I add, regretting it instantly. To my surprise, my therapist laughs, conceding to the humor in my deflection. “That too,” she says, sneaking a glance at her wristwatch. “Besides,” she continues, almost as an afterthought as she reaches for her notebook, “why choose Dr. Jekyll? Sounds boring to me.” It’s my turn to laugh. In a way, our sessions have started to sound like variations on a theme, their repetitiveness a lingering melody that shifts with the leaves in the morning sunlight. “Control is an illusion of power” remains the concise, inescapable truth that slowly seeps into my bones. These sentences, short and memorable, return to me as mantras, lighting up like street lamps in my head as I go about my day. “Guilt is such a useless emotion,” is one. “Pleasure and rest are not things to be earned,” another.

Today, I tell my therapist about a recent change in a recurring dream. In it, I leave home with all my belongings and rush to the airport. The narrative moves within a familiar structure, an anxiety dream where the bad thing never actually happens, but the fear that it will just grows, and grows, like a wave about to crash. Sometimes, I can’t get to the airport on time despite being meticulous, on schedule. Sometimes, I get on the wrong bus, or they ask for documents I didn’t bring with me, or I’m at the wrong side of the building and struggling to find my gate. I never actually miss the flight, just thrash about in my mind’s uneasy waters until I wake up, gasping for air.

For the first time, I dream about the worst possible outcome. When the dream begins, I am sleeping in my car with all my things. To add to the pitiful picture, it’s raining. While dreaming, I distinctly recall finding this image overly dramatic, a little amusing, even. Then, an older woman raps her fingers at my window, trying to get my attention. She sees my predicament and invites me to stay at her house for the night. When I come in, I notice every single room is covered in boxes and shopping bags, blocking all possible entryways, hardly leaving any place for me to lie down. Even so, I accept her hospitality. When morning comes, the older woman and I take the train and she leaves a stop before mine. Wishing me good luck, she insists that I call her if I need a place to stay for a few more days. Touched by her kindness, I thank her, and we say our goodbyes. Then, I notice the man in front of me is staring, having clearly eavesdropped on the conversation. He seems worried on my behalf. I find this stranger’s concern endearing, a vague feeling that wafts from the dream version of me to my own sense of being the one dreaming, my consciousness, my thin, papery sense of lucidity. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks, glancing at my lap. Only then I notice I’m clutching a bag against my chest, one that is full of containers with food the older woman had given me. I reassure the man that he has nothing to worry about, and I mean it.

As I finish telling her my dream, my therapist smiles. “That’s progress,” she says, sounding proud. She seems to mean it, too. “You think so?” I still ask, needing to hear her say it again. “Tremendous progress,” my therapist replies, not bothering to take notes.

Ana Matias was born in Macau in the early nineties. She writes short stories, poems, and essays. During business hours, she is also a translator and is writing her Ph.D. thesis in comparative literature. She lives in Lisbon, Portugal.

I’m Through by Sara Ryan

I’m Through by Sara Ryan


I’m through with memory

and everything that was before. each day,


I am more permanently in the speckled


light of the afternoon. the obscurant

dust swarms with moths. the ink-black


beetles crawl up the sink drain and settle


on the porcelain to lick rust. liar, liar—

how could you believe in a dying


tree, the carved-out lot where a house


once was. who told you I was listening

for brick-heavy words in the corners


of your mouth, for shed feathers collecting


in highway underpasses. just once, I want

to tally my losses: the number of birds


living in my car vents, how many pages


dissolve to ash and spine. promise me

you will go ahead into ochre rocks, rivers


that lick at your knees, and not look back.


that you will climb into the sky because

it is beautiful. I feel my throat fill


with mineral grief until it evaporates


into hollow. when I think of dying, I think

of gravity dragging dust across the plains.

Sara Ryan is the author of I Thought There Would Be More Wolves (University of Alaska Press), as well as the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). In 2018, she won Grist’s Pro Forma Contest and Cutbank’s Big Sky, Small Prose Contest. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Brevity, Kenyon Review, Diode, EcoTheo, and others. She is a PhD candidate at Texas Tech University.

Before Language by Benjamin Socolofsky

Before Language by Benjamin Socolofsky


childish mountain

mountain of children



a river

rich vein

suburb turning

the city inside out

light foreshadows


black fur,


from which children decipher

before language from

what won’t – 

even sound becomes


heavy as i learn

you    (repetitive 

motion)     as i know

us, coiled being

concentrically living


the spoiled small

petals uncolor

the valley in between

two mountains

bicycle in a tree

pasted two things that don’t belong


are you – 

Benjamin Socolofsky is a poet based in Las Vegas, where he is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His work has been published in Opt West, Biscuit Hill, and others.