Flash Special – Five Writers | Sara Lippmann, Guest Editor (May 2016 / 16.6)
Kyle Hemmings has art work in The Stray Branch, Euphenism, Uppagus, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Black Market Lit, Red Bird Press, Snapping Twigs, and Convergence. He loves pre-punk garage bands of the 60s, Manga comics, and urban photography/art.
We were a dying wasp. The only thing I still liked about him was the shape of his nose when he was looking down. Not enough. He would get his words all twisted around when he was upset. He’d say gold bright instead of bright gold. Light the turn on instead of turn the light on. Tiny things, kept his anger small. Small. In bed I curled into a cat-like C, tightened myself to the edge. I was on a boat lost at sea—there was fog, there was rain. I made a C, I was lost at sea, I couldn’t see. He was careful not to touch me, afraid I would scream. There were nights when I would’ve screamed and other nights when I would’ve let out an ocean-water sigh, a beckon, a beacon of sound. Low, small. When he came inside from cutting the grass, my husband wove a thick ribbon of good-stinky animal musk from the back door to the bedroom, from the bedroom to the shower. It was leathery, whiskey and wood. Beard and muscle, it was breath and sweat; it was a swallowing shadow of man and men. A darkening cloud, a cup emptying and filling up. His hulking enormity, made slight. It brought me back to him—a smoky, creepy, long, sharp-fingernailed cartoon finger. I met him in the hallway and told him our love was decoration. We wore it like jewelry, slipped the thin posts into the holes in our ears, slid slim goldbright bands over our wrinkly knuckles. We were deep-green parsley on a runny-yellow dinner plate. Garnish. I took his clean, hearty hand. Led him to the teeming backyard gardens where the bees hung and swung. Hovered low, small. “Our love is sad. We need to grow it,” I said, stretching my arms wide, wider. Widest. Titchy fireflies winked neon light around us, the grass was summer-soft beneath our bare feet. I approached the blinding goldbright throne of a God I’d made low, small; I prayed efflorescence.
Leesa Cross-Smith is the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press) and the editor of WhiskeyPaper. Her writing can be found in The Best Small Fictions 2015, and lots of literary magazines. She lives in Kentucky and loves baseball and musicals. Find more at LeesaCrossSmith.com.
As if the evening shift at Cool Beans hadn’t been shitty enough—I burnt my wrist on the steamer, forgot my dinner on the table at home, and had texted Matt five times to no response—I was on bathroom duty at closing. Seemed fitting. The way bad things piled on and good things flickered and died fast, like my last cigarette in the bitter Pittsburgh wind. My coworkers were all nonsmokers. Figured. I wrapped my arms around my torso and went back inside.
Two customers remained, usuals who bought small coffees and spent eight hours on our free wi-fi. We had nicknamed them The Dingleberries. They just wouldn’t leave. Karla was managing, and she was bad at confrontation. Instead telling them it was closing time, she just kept sighing and clearing her throat. The Dingleberries paid no attention.
Not my problem. I had toilets to scrub.
In the back hallway, I pulled on my gloves and stuck all the cleaning supplies into the bucket. I made my way clumsily to the unisex door.
And then I screamed.
On the floor of the bathroom, a young woman was slumped against the toilet, blood covering her arms and wrists and clothes, more blood pooling on the tiles beside her. It was surreal, like every campy horror movie I’d stayed up too late to watch at sleepovers.
Karla and Dean rushed back to check on me.
“Call 911,” I said, calmer than I felt. But then I leaned over my bucket and threw up.
“Oh my God,” Karla said.
“Fuck,” Dean said. But he was the one to pull his phone out from his work khakis and make the call.
“They’re on their way,” he said. “They said not to touch anything.”
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and stood up.
“I’m going to need to call corporate,” Karla said. Her voice was shaky. I put a hand on her arm. We all stood quietly for a second.
“What should we do? Just leave her?”
“I don’t think she’s going anywhere,” Dean said.
“Just close the door. I’ll sit here,” I said. Like someone keeping vigil.
Dean went to finish cleaning up. All the commotion had scared The Dingleberries away, which was the only good thing that had happened that night.
The police and the ambulance showed up, sirens screaming. They pronounced the girl dead. She had no identification on her, just one of those prepaid phones with no minutes left.
The cops asked us questions: When did she come in? Did she seem distraught? Who found her? Approximately how long had she been there? I answered with as much detail as I could, which was very little. I was so distracted these days. None of us remembered seeing her come in. She hadn’t bought a drink. My stomach growled audibly. By the time we were free to go, it was after midnight. After Karla locked up, the three of us gave awkward hugs goodbye and went to our cars, the only three left in the dimly lit lot. A thin layer of frost glistened on the windshields.
At home, I dug into my leftover macaroni, even though it was cold and congealed. I turned on all the lights in the apartment and put on dance music. I opened a bottle of wine and took some swigs. I tried to dance to warm up, but could barely tap my toes. I started crying.
I texted Matt again, and when he didn’t respond immediately, I called.
“Something happened at work,” I said. “I need you to come over.”
“Really?” He sounded half-asleep.
I’d been the one to leave. Two months ago. He had kissed a coworker at a party, and then I had started texting an ex-boyfriend, like it hadn’t killed me to imagine that kiss over and over, like I was too tough to be hurt.
But tonight I was weak.
Is this a booty call? he texted when he was on the way.
I saw a dead girl. At work. In the bathroom.
I just don’t want to be alone?
As soon as he arrived, I wrapped my arms around him and sobbed. He rubbed circles on my back and brought me tissues. He got glasses for the wine, and we sat down on the couch.
“Tell me what happened,” he said.
I told him.
“Why would someone do that in a coffee shop?”
“The cops said she was probably homeless. Had nowhere else to go.”
“I’m so sorry you had to see that.” He brushed the hair out of my face and leaned in to kiss me with his soft, familiar lips. I kissed back, wanting this small comfort to last.
“Do you want me to stay?” he asked, already slipping off his shoes.
I put my hand on his knee.
“No,” I said. “Let’s not confuse things.”
“But you were the one who called me. You’ve been texting me constantly.”
“I don’t have anyone else.”
He was standing up now, putting his jacket on.
“Why are you getting mad?”
“You know why. You play dumb, but you always know just what you’re doing.”
This time he slammed the door as he left. And I knew he’d never walk through it again.
In my bedroom, I took a sleeping pill from the drawer and swallowed it with the last of the wine. Just one. I climbed beneath the sheets and spread out on the mattress. I thought about the girl. What did it feel like to believe the world was hopeless? I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep, but the gory image burned behind my eyelids. I didn’t know how I would go back to work.
Tomorrow I would call in sick. Or maybe quit. There were tons of coffee shops and tons of cities. I could go anywhere at all.
Amanda Miska is the Editor and Publisher for Split Lip Magazine and Press, as well as a fiction and memoir writer. Her essays and short fiction have been published widely in online and print journals, which can be found on her website: amandamiska.com.
It is a summer evening when Moira sees her, and still early, though the place is crowded with people stopping over from the outlets, the beer festival, the lakes up north. The entryway of the restaurant bustles, the door opening every few moments to admit new flushed faces. They wait their turn, jostled occasionally by purses and shoulders. Moira’s husband pulls her to him, kisses her hair, and she tries to smile. A red-faced toddler squirms in his father’s arms and throws a cup at the wall.
Their name is called and they pass down the narrow, creaking corridor to one of the small dining rooms and take their seats in the high-backed chairs. Through the window Moira can see a corner of the parking lot and the entrance’s walkway, overspilling with flowers. The oil lanterns on the tables are already lit, the drone of voices around them almost soothing. The hostess hands her a menu, and she tries to relax, to settle in.
She turns her head at a sound beside her, to the elderly couple at the next table, and realizes that the woman is trying hard not to cry. Her forehead is creased with concern, her back hunched. The fork in her hand hovers over the dish, as if unsure of where it will land. The man with her, husband by all appearances, is speaking gently.
“You’ve ordered this before,” he says.
“No,” she responds softly, shaking her head. “No, I didn’t know it would be like this.”
The woman tries maneuvering some of the food onto her fork, seafood and pasta and vegetables, but she’s not really trying hard enough to make it stay. Teardrops glimmer against her cheek.
The waiter comes by and apologizes, offering a substitute.
“I don’t want to put anyone out,” she says.
“We could wrap it up,” says the waiter.
“You could take it home with you,” says the husband.
“I don’t know,” she replies, over and over, her voice barely audible above everything else.
Moira turns away, to the wine list, to the lantern, to the window. She notices a tiny hole in the lower corner of the glass, which has begun to splinter.
“You okay?” Moira’s husband asks her, his direct glance close, concerned.
He thinks he knows what she’s thinking, she can see that, but that’s impossible, everything’s impossible at this minute, when the woman is tired and unsure and Moira just wants to hold her, to slide out of her chair and onto the floor and pull her down with her to stroke her hair and hold her tight, to rock her and promise her that it doesn’t matter.
She’d ask her: What have you lost?
She’d ask her: There is more to us, right, than what is left?
“I’m okay,” Moira tells him, although she’s not looking at him, but at the empty table and the backs of the couple exiting the room. Then she notices a jacket, black leather, slung across the empty chair. She slides her own chair back and reaches for it, then follows the woman and her husband down the hall, catching up to them near the end.
The husband thanks her, falling back a step.
“She’s having a tough day,” he confides, his eyes going back to his wife, who is still walking ahead of him. She doesn’t seem to realize that he’s stopped, or maybe she has, and just wants to leave the place.
On a whim, Moira steps forward and hugs the older man, and they stand together for a second, awkwardly holding on.
She wants to say that there’s not much time. That her baby is home right now, that her baby will have no memory of her touch, that she will be a photo on the mantel and a story in the girl’s heart and really, what more is there, at the end of it all. But she can’t say those things to strangers.
Back at the table Moira watches out the window as the man walks down the steps of the restaurant and down the pathway. She sees him stop suddenly and look in both directions, alone despite the foot traffic that has parted to either side of him, and while she scans the corner of the parking lot for a sign of his wife, Moira hooks the tip of her finger inside the opening in the glass and presses down, withdrawing slowly, as her flesh tears and the blood rises and runs.
Kari Nguyen’s fiction has received nominations for a Pushcart Prize, awards from the Glass Woman Prize, and recognitions from Glimmer Train, The Binnacle, and New Hampshire Writers Magazine. For more visit karinguyen.wordpress.com.
If You Need Me, I Will Be Over Here Pretending I’m the Girl Faster Pussycat Was Singing About
Area codes, I tell him, are bad for sluts.
He looks at me like he knows there’s more to it and he knows I’m going to tell him but he kind of wishes I wouldn’t. If I were someone else, I’d stop talking. I’d make him work for the rest of the story.
If I were someone else, I wouldn’t be here. By here, I mean fill in the damn blank.
This is a choice, is the thing.
Think about it, I say. Do you see phone numbers written in the bathrooms of new places now?
I can’t say that I’ve looked, he tells me. He asks if I want another drink, and I follow him to the bar. If I let him order for me, he’ll come back with another Miller Lite. That’s the beer I order if I’m drinking beer, but if I’m drinking beer it’s because it’s light out still or because I’m hiding something.
At the other end of our table, our friends are having the same conversation they always have. It doesn’t matter what this conversation is about. What matters is that under the words, they reveal a truth to each other that I cannot see, a truth that glints in unfinished sentences and knowing laughs. This is a language I cannot speak. I am not invited past the surface. I’m tired of sitting on the edge of the circle, nodding along and pretending. I’m not hiding tonight.
He and I have been dancing around this for weeks, at least in my mind, and the night is moving too slow, too much the same, so I order something with tequila in it. Sometimes I think tequila me is the real me, the me in a leather skirt and ripped tights rebelling ten years too late against a cause everyone’s already accepted.
You know how when you’re watching a sitcom from like ten years ago, and all the problems they have would never happen now because of cell phones? I ask him. He sips his beer, allows this point. I continue: this is what I mean about the area codes. You can’t write girls’ numbers on the bathroom wall anymore.
He laughs, so I keep going. I say, Now you would have to write the girl’s number with the area code, and that takes away from the immediacy. Does she still live here? Did she move? Do you get all caught up in wondering how a 919 area code ends up here? Those three extra digits change everything.
You’d probably just text, he says.
I think I would have been for-a-good-time-call girl back in the day, I tell him, steering us back to the point.
Our faces are nearly touching, eyes flicking down to the mouth and back up. Finally, I think. Why are you like this? he asks.
This was not the straightforward question I had been hoping for. I straighten my spine, drop one shoulder like a movie heroine from the 1950s about to light a cigarette, like I could go all Bette Davis on his ass. Like something inside of me isn’t shrinking. Like what? I ask.
Why do you keep calling yourself a slut? Why can’t we just talk like normal people and see what happens? He looks at his glass when he speaks, like the beer holds the answers.
I tell him I believe in being honest about who you are and what you want.
There’s more than one way to be honest, he says.
At the other end of the table my friends are leaning into each other, laughing at something that would lose its magic if explained. Right here, he’s looking at me, thinking I am too old for this and possibly desperate, because why else would I be too impatient to just see what happens. These two things are more tangled together than I want to believe.
I get up to close my tab. I can feel his eyes on my back as I scrawl an approximation of my name across the slip. If I turn around I might still try to sleep with him.
I have a history of turning around.
My hand tightens on the pen instead. I bring it with me to the bathroom. I have never written on a wall before and it is harder than I thought it would be, both the wall and the action: more scratching than writing, but proof that I am here. I only know one way to be honest, and that is to be seen.
Amy Rossi is a graduate of the MFA program at Louisiana State University. Her work appears online in places such as Hayden’s Ferry Review, WhiskeyPaper, and Ninth Letter, and more of her thoughts about 80s metal can be found at amyrossi.com
Milk and Eggs
Couples make lists and go to the Eat-Rite once a week. To enter the store, they have to hand over their car keys to a sixteen-year-old who blushes whenever adults speak. While they’re shopping for batteries and the exact right kind of luxury ice cream and overpriced, unseasonal vegetables, the kid does a doughnut in the parking lot. The tires squeal and tattoo the asphalt. The sixteen-year-old loops around and through parking spaces, listening to a song where people are told they are like love and snow and rocks being polished. When the song is over, the teen parks the car and leaves its keys in the ignition.
When the couples are done shopping, they emerge into the parking lot. It feels like a new place where the sun is always on the verge of setting. Where silver sedans breed. Compact cars nuzzle their mother-cars’ front grills. Flick on their lights whenever the couples come too close. The couples don’t want to deal with this. They are always at least five times as hungry as they were when they entered the Eat-Rite.
Some couples flee. They drop their groceries and re-enter the store. Build beds made of leftover ads. Drool and dream on the buy two get one free pages. Frozen aislelights become their sun and moon. After a week or so of wandering the linoleum and reading the backs of cereal boxes, they become employees to kill time. They drape themselves in blue polo shirts and black pleated slacks. If they stay in love, they whisper between kisses stolen at the customer service register, “Oh Lord, oh God, sweet potatoes are only ninety-eight cents each this week with an Eat-Rite card.” Those who fall out of love argue over who will be the one to live in the store and who will be the one to live behind the milk aisle. The loser has to make sure all the rows are filled with gleaming white day in and out. Have to listen to Steve the Dairy Delivery Guy say, “You should have known better than to go shopping with a lover.” As if that was something everyone grew up knowing.
Others clutch hands and heavy bags close. They push carts and work their way through the Eat-Rite maze. In the parking lot each takes turns feeling the cars’ dents and handles finding the ones that will spring open just for them. Sometimes they run into other couples and swap groceries or realize after some dazed moments they are with a completely different person than they entered with. Lovers are loose Brussels sprouts at the bottom of a paper sack.
When they find the right car, the couple loads their trunk. Fruits and yogurts mash together. Coat the interior as the car stops and starts, twists and turns. They’ll be together forever now; not even spoon or tongue can pull them apart.
Megan Giddings is the Executive Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. Her chapbooks, Arcade Seventeen (TAR:The Atlas Review’s chapbook series) and The Most Dangerous Game (The Lettered Streets Press), will be released Summer 2016. She has stories forthcoming or that have been recently published in Best Small Fictions 2016, Pleiades, Black Warrior Review, and Arts & Letters.
From Sara Lippmann, Guest Editor
When I think Internet, the first word that springs to mind – before ‘click-bait’ or ‘gif’’ or ‘rabbit-hole’ – is connect. That is what we did, in the 90s: we dialed up, we waited for the hum, the pick up on the other end, as if we were phoning home. A world on the other end awaited; seven years ago, after a long time away from writing, that world became my literary community. I turned to the Internet because I was trying to reconcile the solitude and isolation required for working with the camaraderie (and commiseration!) I craved when the day’s writing was done. It can get cold and lonely spending the day in your head, and here, on the Internet, were all these writers, leading parallel yet divergent lives. What we shared was this tension. We understood that push/pull of desire. That community became my lifeline. It reminded me – it continues to remind me – that we are not alone. And so, it is with equal measures of hope and humility that I present this special all-female issue of Blue Fifth. Five singular writers, found like buoys in vast waters guiding the way, offer stories that tap into that loneliness. Loneliness found among strangers, in the most impersonal of public places: the grocery, the bar, the coffee shop, the family restaurant; loneliness penetrating the intimacy of the marriage bed. Perhaps the starkest kind of loneliness is the one we confront in the mirror; the alienation felt not only from others, but also from ourselves. Nevertheless, the day begins. We wake up, we wrestle the beast, we want things, we want to be seen, we go on wanting, that want running like a live wire through these beautiful, unshakeable stories – “to only connect.”
— Sara Lippmann, May 2016