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Stephanie Curtis

      Like much that still resided in the house, the chair was worn, hard, and immensely uncomfortable, but that is where she needed him to be. He knew her return home would be soon, given the diminishing light filtering through the nearby window.
      Over the last few weeks, her growing disposition required his presence more than it ever had before, for the absence of the boy had left a gaping chasm in the life they had once led. Any picture containing the boy's once happy face, had been taken down from the wall and the mantle. The house had grown severely quiet and even the fire seemed to have fallen from a warming flame to slow burning embers. Any desire to keep the house vitalized was lost, leaving a thick layer of gray dust on every surface and a cold chill in the air.
      A few minutes had passed, when he heard the familiar sound of her key in the lock. As she stepped through the door, her pale, sullen face looked at his. Her gray eyes revealed that she had been to the lake again, reliving the accident in her head. Trips to the lake took the greatest toll and her clear struggle to reach the sofa was painful for him to watch. As with many nights before, he did the only thing he knew would cause her even the slightest relief.
      He inched away from the old chair and crept over to the sofa where she had finally taken a seat. As he climbed into her lap, he could see the mixture of pain and comfort in her eyes as she looked down at him. He had slept with Jacob every night and though it caused her great pain to look at him, he knew it was the only thing that let her feel any connection to her lost son. He felt her pull him close as she fell into a dreamless sleep and sounds of purring were all that could be heard throughout the house.

Stephanie Curtis attends the University of Maine and plans to graduate in December 2009 with a BA in English. She is currently interning for a local newspaper and hopes to continue her career as a writer after graduation.



Jane Banning

     The abandoned railroad track drowsed at the far end of Clifford and Violet's back yard. The track laid on the edge of town, within sight of the main street and its crumbling post office. Asparagus, sweet and slender, grew tall alongside the old rails.
     Clifford and Kevin sat at the backyard picnic table, away from the womenfolk clotted up in the kitchen. Not much talking needed out here.
     A metal bowl and a pile of freshly cut asparagus sat on the table. The men sliced the spears and threw them into the bowl. The chunks zinged off the bowl's hard edge and thudded on top of the other pieces. Apple blossoms nodded in the wind and a bee buzzed over a dandelion.
     The men's hands grew comfortably dirty.
     "Good pick this year," said Kevin, shaking back his long hair.
     "Yup, not too hot and not too cold this spring so far," Clifford said.
     "Strange question, Cliff: asparagus make your pee stink?" asked Kevin.
     "Stink like hell." Clifford nodded once.
     "Janet says it doesn't make hers stink."
     A robin chuckled from the apple tree.
     "Well, I wouldn't believe a word of that. But then, I haven't been around much woman piss, just Violet's these fifty years. I'll tell you about stink, though, if you want to know." The knife grew still. "Germany that winter of '44 - twelve, fourteen men in a squad. It was God-awful and we didn't eat asparagus, no sir, only C-rations. It was worse than a pig lot."
     "It was bad in Da Nang, too. Fatigues never dried out some days," Kevin said, quietly.
     "Yup, the stink, the screams, they're all the same and it don't matter one bit if you're in the swamp or the snow."
     Kevin looked up.
     "How many years has it been? You still hear 'em in the night?"
     "Thirty years." Clifford kept his eyes on the table. "I still hear 'em."
     The two men sat silently. The metal bowl was full. Back by the railroad track, the cut asparagus stumps barely poked above ground level. Their severed tops seeped and dripped. The roots spread farther every year.

Jane Banning lives in Oregon, Wisconsin with her husband and son. She was a finalist in the Micro Fiction Award contest in 2008. Her work has appeared in the University of Iowa Daily Palette, Six Sentences, Tuesday Shorts, Long Story Short, Birds By My Window, and Boston Literary Magazine.



Francisco Q. Delgado

      On her first inhale, she smells storm clouds. The next, earthworms. She feels slightly off, having come off a dream in which her dead grandmother and best friend from childhood got matching snake tattoos, sat in a dark booth across from her and talked as if she wasn't even there.
      She should really give Aislinn a call, she thinks. Maybe message her on Facebook. They talked every day growing up, but back then they lived next door to each other. It's their online connection that feels more genuine at this point in time, more real. Yeah. Definitely Facebook. Maybe ask her about the guy in her pictures: the one posing with her in that bar she's always in, the two of them flipping off the camera or flashing West Side gang symbols like Tupac Shakur.
      She might even ask about all those people who leave comments and well-wishes on her page: did you know them before you moved out there? Do you guys go out as often as it seems?
      Do you think they'd like me?
      Her page is full of friends she has only because of Aislinn, who probably wouldn't even consider them as close as she does. There are also a few acquaintances of her own: people from work or college that she suspects are only looking to up their friend count.
      She hasn't logged in since her last visit to the café, where she'd overheard the good-looking barista talk about some pictures he posted. It pains her to recall how quickly she admitted to having an account of her own, how she'd love to see his pictures, just love to and that he should friend her, really, really that they should be friends.
      Her phone vibrates across the bedside table. It's Megan from work. Whatever the nature of their relationship—she wouldn't call it a friendship, per se—stems primarily through proximity, the fact that their desks are attached, not unlike how her friendship with Aislinn had begun way back when.
      Even before her phone stops, she regrets her decision not to answer it. What if all of her co-workers were going out to happy hour and Megan was inviting her along?
      She might've gone for once. Maybe taken her camera.
      In the meantime, she tries to come up with something to post: something cryptic but universal. Something like, "Can't wait for the weekend" (a lie, she has nothing going on) or "So happy I took off of work" (which she isn't. She instead hates herself for doing so, for needing to).
      Maybe something honest. Not too honest, though. Not so honest that it's inappropriate for thirty-three people to view it with one click.
      blah di da, she types.
      Enter.
      She then searches the network for Jason W., the good-looking barista who probably just forgot to friend her.
      She has all day to message Aislinn.
      Why she wanted to in the first place, she can't remember.

Francisco Q. Delgado is currently working toward his M.A. in English at Brooklyn College. In 2005, he earned his B.A. in Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz, where he also won the Vincent Tomaselli Short Story Award. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Skive Magazine, Six Sentences, Ghoti Magazine and Underground Voices.



ZiXiang Zhang

wandering non-believers with mohawks crouched beneath the crimson nipples of a lethargic French mistress, buried under a tulip tree by the Evangelical motel, sipping from Venoms and whistling through roadside clementine haystacks

psychedelic tunes that vaporize between breaths of pistachio gelato and falafels, near the flamingo shops where dark shadows dance drunken trances on their tails, while philosophers carry caffeine and bullets through fields of unconscious roses.

ZiXiang Zhang is currently a senior at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City. He was born in China and immigrated to the US when he was 8 years old. Zhang volunteers on the sailing vessel Schooner Pioneer and heads a Philosophy Club in his spare time. He plans on concentrating in either astrobiology or abnormal psychology in college, while maintaining his passion for poetry.



Dave Erlewine

     My wife and I sit on my parents' living room couch, listening to my dad talk. My mom is in the bathroom, apparently suffering from a horrific stomachache. When she emerges, perhaps she'll regale us with stories about her thigh tumor in '88 ("benign, sure, but enormous"), the last day she ever worked ("a janitor nearly sodomized me on the stairs"), or the dystichiphobia that makes the 20-mile drive to our condo all the more commendable ("every red light a dagger").
     My dad asks about my job and my marathon training. While I'm answering, he stands up and stretches. My wife's hand opens and closes around mine. Our infant daughter, Ella, drinks her milk, sitting on my lap.
     My son gets off the floor and latches onto my dad's waist. He pats the boy's head and then gently pushes him off. "How are you, boyo? Can I get a handshake?"
     My son looks at the offered hand. Then he lays his own into it. My dad smiles at him and then goes to check on my mom. I kiss my son's forehead.
     We sit quietly and a minute or so later my dad returns to announce: "She's laying down. Sorry but looks like you'll have me all to yourselves." He laughs, nervously, and I hear myself doing the same. My mom has been getting stranger since my dad retired last year, but not coming out to greet us is a first.
     My dad leads us to the kitchen. My wife heads to the bathroom.
     In place of the kitchen table, potted plants cover the hardwood floor, looking up at the window. My son points at the place he usually eats during visits. "Where's table?"
     My dad sits on a stool at the kitchen island, his thin legs dangling, smiling thinly. "Grandma wanted to try something new. Do you like it?"
     My son shrugs. Ella's kicking at my chest so I put her on the floor. I survey the new set up, and pat my dad's back. "It's a good look, Pop."
     He looks past me; he's watching Ella, who is eating dirt from one of the pots. For a second, I'm paralyzed, thinking how easily she could choke, how my wife will never forgive me for turning my back.
     Ella spits out a gob of wet dirt, then screams louder than I've ever heard. I run over and scoop her up, shushing and soothing her, cleaning her mouth out at the sink. The whole time, I keep looking back at the kitchen entrance, waiting for one of them to appear.

David lives near Annapolis with his wife and kids. A lawyer, he writes stories on the train and increasingly late at night. Many can be found at www.whizbyfiction.blogspot.com.


Crows Over Walmart
Vicky Fish

      "Where'd they come from?" whispered our son.
      In the orange glow from the parking lot lights, we watched bird after bird swooping down over the Wal-Mart. Black birds, doubled by their dancing shadows against the pale building, coming wave after wave.
      "Bats?" he asked.
      "Too big, don't you think?" I said. They came to roost, hundreds of them, on the lamp posts and lining the edge of the flat roof, wing to wing.
      My husband stopped the car so we could watch them settle. So we could wonder where they came from and what they wanted. Do birds want? White flakes were beginning to spit. Time to get our little one home to bed.
      "I wonder where they'll go next," he said.
      I touched my husband's arm and he gently pressed the gas with his foot.
      "Don't drive yet," our son protested.
      What we've been searching for, I thought, turning to look at my husband, he has found or has not had time to lose.
      How to be completely immersed in everything.

Vicky Fish's fiction has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Summer 2008, Hunger Mountain, Spring 2007; Quality Women's Fiction, Summer 2007; Cell 2 Soul, Spring 2007; The Wild River Review, Fall 2006; Slow Trains, Spring 2006; and the Northwoods Journal, Spring 2001. Vicky lives in Norwich, Vermont with her husband, Hugh, and their three boys.



Avis Hickman-Gibb

      Sheba sorted the dirty washing. It was the same stuff every week. Five work shirts, seven pairs of boxers and socks, seven tees, a couple of pairs of chinos. Vido was consistent, regulated; using just enough clothes to stay the right side of clean. She sighed and thought back to when she'd had another life; as Uri's wife.
She'd thought when she married the rich and powerful Vido her life would change massively—after all hadn't she given him a beautiful baby—little Sol? Shouldn't she get something back for that? She paused and sat back on her heels; and as she thought about her child, her face softened. Such a wise little cub! He always seemed much older than his tender years.
      In the background, from the top of the house she heard a faint melody repeated over and over on the piano, as Vido worked in isolation on his latest piece. There was a time when he'd played all his new the stuff to her, late at night during their courtship; when she'd still been another man's wife. But now—
      It had been a mad whirl; passionate, intense—so powerful it had swept them both up and left no room for anyone else—especially poor Uri. They'd not given him much thought as their love bound them to each other. And now he was dead; another casualty of modern life. And that's where the recriminations had first started to creep in. She tried not to; but like a worm eating an apple, she worried away about the cause of Uri's death. Maybe Vido had had something to do with it—what did she know?
      Her mind rambled back to the early days of scorching sex when nothing had come between them; Vido in some kitchen bound to a chair as she pleasured him late at night with nothing but moonlight to glint in his eyes; Vido in a hay loft with about a million doves fluttering around - arousing, wild, caressing soft fragrant skin.
      But now, they both knew they'd mortally wounded Uri—and it was far too late to do anything about that. That fact ate into their souls and stopped them moving forwards; left them stunted and forlorn. No more sex; no more touching; no more closeness. Just a cold-blooded transaction; like gunfighters protecting their territory, waiting everyday for a new gun in town to take one of them out.
      She'd known he was seeing someone else, but she hadn't known who—until this washing day. She looked down at the crumpled leaflet she's dragged from Vido's pocket.

            God loves you. God forgives you. Hallelujah!

      And she knew then that she'd lost Vido to his roots; back to the lost little catholic boy who'd grown up believing in his God. She couldn't compete with that kind of guilt.

Avis Hickman-Gibb, lives in Suffolk, England with her husband, one son and two cats. She gained a BSc. in Environmental Chemistry more years ago than she cares to admit, and worked in the fledgling computer industry whilst still a babe-in-arms.



Jack Swenson

      Jake woke up Monday morning with a song in his heart. His wife was in the shower, and Jake stood in the doorway of her bathroom singing "Happy Birthday" to himself. Jake was sixty-eight years old.
      Mother Nature hadn't greeted the occasion with a smile. When Jake got up at 5 A.M., the rain was pouring down. The porch at the back of the house was slick with water. Jake had patched the roof the previous week, but it was apparent that he had missed some holes.
      Jake booted up his computer and logged onto AOL. There was a message from Doc in his mailbox. Among other things, Doc asked if Jake and Kat were still smoking.
      "I'm not, she is," Jake wrote back. Jake wasn't fibbing exactly. He had quit again the previous Wednesday. Miraculously, quitting had been painless this time. He thought about it from time to time, but he didn't have the terrible cravings. This time he had decided he wasn't going to fight it. On previous attempts, he had made lists of reminders and posted notes to himself. He had made quitting a major chore. This time he decided to just quit and see what happened.
      He did just one thing in preparation this time. He vowed to reward himself for not smoking. Be good to yourself, they told him in the smoking class.
      Jake watched with a bemused interest as the day unfolded around him. After breakfast, he pitched into his morning chores. He emptied the garbage and cleaned the cats' litter boxes. He put a load of clothes in the washing machine and ran the dishwasher. He thought about having a cigarette, but he put the thought aside.
      Before lunch, Jake sent an e-mail to every friend and relative in his address book berating them for not sending him a card for his birthday. That afternoon, the replies began to trickle in.
      By the time his wife came home from work, Jake had collected a stack of e-mails from kinfolk and friends. A college roommate said it was four days until his own birthday, and he didn't want to be reminded of it. A cousin in Florida said that she sat down hours ago intending to send him condolences, but she forgot about it. A Minnesota friend said she didn't send him a card because she thought his birthday was the next day. He'd get his "happy birthday" then, she said.
      Jake built a fire in the fireplace, and Kat magically produced a shopping bag full of gifts and cards. One by one he opened his presents. There was a book by one of his favorite authors, a tiny flashlight, a warm jacket, and a new cell phone. Of the cards, his favorite was a Larson cartoon of an elderly man in a cape standing on a windowsill and saying to his wife, "Dang! Now where was I going?" The caption read: Superman in his later years.

Jack Swenson is a binge writer. He needs help. He has tried Writer's Anonymous, but it didn't work. Any suggestions? Please do not suggest joining a church or getting a job. Thank you.



Obstacle
Meg Tuite

      It's a summer afternoon in Montreal and some asshole is making his way toward me. He is just another obstacle to move, skirt and trouble around. He whistles some revolting tune louder and louder when he zeros in on me—a girl who actually deigns to avoid him. He smacks the concrete as if it weren't coarse enough for him. He is here to be seen, slapping the newness of shoes on the sidewalk, while his clothes shriek, "nothing but style, baby." I detest him. I will do all in my power to avoid his languid eyes—the smirk that saturates his lower jaw. He demands my eyes to rummage his wares and drink in exactly what came groveling back at him from out of the pleasing mirrors and shop windows he passed. There is to be no dismissal. I am here to reflect back the only reflection he will ever see. I look right through him like I would a shrub. I am going to win. I will bear down on him, stare him straight in the eye, and denounce any fantasy he lives by. He slides his long, brown hair behind an ear and smiles at me. He is humming now. His pace slows down and his hips slide forward and he is the calmness of all calm. I start to tremble. Everything inside of me is bombarding with hate for this poser. I look under his clustered eyelashes into the corridor of his past with doting parents and all the girlfriends lined up with demented smiles on their faces as he date-rapes them and then steps over them to move on to the next. His sex is a table for one—perpetual masturbator with audience. Girls are here to suck him, admire him and run hands over his flanks. They do him. He does not do them.
      My tall, lanky bones shrink into themselves. I become downtrodden. Straighten up, I command. Face this bastard head-on.
      The sun's raking eye spotlights him. Crazed dandelions litter the grass on either side of him with their citrus snickerings, those crooked declaimers of light!
      We move closer to one another. If I were a dog I would pee on him. He becomes a tall, willowy tree. I become a bumblebee. My hands and body do things I demand them not to. They rustle with my hair and buzz around my clothes tucking things in and pushing things out. Sweat shudders over my skin. I could cross the street right now and cower among the greenage. I could bear the rancid lie of my distractedness. My feet are ridiculous and keep moving forward. I narrow my eyes and stare at his forehead-just a piece of skin with hair on it. His melody is placid, repetitious and plays over and over in my head. My feet move faster. A malicious pebble contradicts me and I am going down. Arms reach out to capture me and a voice whispers, "Are you okay?"

Meg Tuite has just returned from the Tin House summer workshop in Oregon. She won first prize for fiction in the 2009 student writing competition at Santa Fe College which will be out this fall.



Lots of Fish in the Sea
William "Cully" Bryant

      The waters abound with beauties: trout, and sailfish, The fancy anglers, with pipes and hats seek them, with colorful lines and flies, hoping for a model specimen. They admire her, capturing a photo, releasing her to narcissism, or mounting her, near the couch. Eternal trophy.
      Give me the bottom feeder. Splendid simplicity. Catfish or carp, blandly whiskered, or dressed in plainest scales, unimpressed by chartreuse and shiny spinners, They seek simple fare, refuse from the game above. A worm, offered plainly, suffices. They give themselves freely, providing a lifetime's sustenance.

William "Cully" Bryant is a physician, author and Associate Editor for Oak Bend Review. His writing spans many genres, and his work can be found online and in print journals, including but not limited to: Clapboard House, Beeswax, The Distillery, Ampersand, Journal of Truth and Consequence and Uunderground Voices. He has just completed his first novel, a fantasy, "Messages". The author can be reached at cbryant85@msn.com.




Tom Mahony

     He stood in her shower the morning after, feeling both fear and hope. After decades of relationships ending for stupid reasons and petty reasons and no reasons at all, she might finally be the one. He was ready to abandon self-absorbed bachelor freedom and rigid fussiness for the payoff of true love.
     He searched the rack for shampoo. There were five bottles of cryptic liquid to choose from. Two had labels written in French. One seemed to be in something like Latin. Another had no words at all, just utopian images of flowers and waterfalls, and could've been drain cleaner for all he knew. He suppressed his impatient confusion—just a simple man looking for something that wouldn't make his hair fall out or turn blue—and studied the last bottle. It was filled with words like "awapuhi" and "babassu oil" and described as "hair wash" for "scalp synergy."
     Scalp synergy?
     He knew right then things wouldn't work out between them.

Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in dozens of online and print publications, including Surfer Magazine, Flashquake, The Rose & Thorn, Pindeldyboz, In Posse Review, Boston Literary Magazine, 34th Parallel, Diddledog, Foliate Oak, and Decomp. His short fiction collection, Slow Entropy, was published by Thumbscrews Press in 2009. He is looking for a publisher for several novels. Visit him at www.tommahoney.net.



Michael Brien

      I chased my son across the carpet, and caught him up in my arms. He squeezed his blue eyes shut and threw his head back, his tousled hair falling over his ears. Several strands still held like lint against my sweater. He laughed, wriggling in my arms until I put him down.
      A young father sat on the deacon's bench coddling his child against his chest, his bearded face looking up at me, then back into the small opening of the baby's blue blanket. "There, there", he soothed his infant's cries, tracing his forefinger gently across its forehead.
      "How old is your boy?" He asked.
      "Nineteen months," I sighed.
      His bass voice, still soothing, said, "So is mine."
      On the other side of the room, my son had climbed into a child's oak chair and was bouncing his sneakered heels against its legs. I saw the sun dance in the papered waves stretched thin across the pediatrics' waiting room wall. I sat down beside the man, turning my head, not daring to look again at him or his child.
      The door opened. A nurse poked her head from around the corner and called, "Daniel?"
      The man rose and went to her. I watched her forced smile as she stepped back to let him and his son go before her down the hall.
      My son stilled his feet.
      The door closed.
      Silence filled the room.
      Then slowly, I heard the incessant pounding of waves on the beach below.
      Wave upon wave, upon salt and barnacle encrusted rock that lay for millennium at the base of this hilltop edge, began striping away the silence, and calling my son's name.

Michael Brien teaches English composition, American literature, and creative writing at the Online University for Southern New Hampshire University. He is a member of the New Hampshire Writer's Project, and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. He has published nearly 100 short stories, poems and feature articles in various regional and national magazines, and has read his work on public radio. He is a New Hampshire Humanities Book Discussion Scholar, and resides in Meredith NH.



Carol Parikh

     When Darlene was in her cups she put her feet up on the kichen table and sang Me and Bobby McGee. Her cats settled on her lap and narrowed their eyes as if the ceiling light were sunshine. If it was a weeknight, she'd still be wearing pantyhose. Her black wool skirt would be hanging behind her on the bars of the exercycle, and a silk blouse, ivory or green, would be on the bathroom floor. When I first moved in, I picked up the blouses and shook out the skirt and recycled the gin bottles. Then I didn't.

Carol Parikh teaches in the writing and publishing program at Emerson College and has a story forthcoming in Alimentum. Other, longer stories have appeared in The Literary Review, Confrontation, Indiana Review, The Journal, and elsewhere, and won prizes, including the Charles Angus Award from The Literary Review and first prize for fiction from the Indiana Review.



Joseph Taylor

      As I wait at a red light on the way home from your dyslexia assessment you ask from the backseat "Dad, what's shit-lexia?" Laughing, I remember an art teacher who once said the world is already so brimming with shit, why make any more? In my adolescent vigour I replied well, what if it's not the right shit? which felt pretty clever. Back then I made things from wax and wood and I loved a girl who would draw other girls with her haircut wearing stained dresses. She said things like;
      "I'm never letting it happen to me. I'm going to adopt."
      and
      "All the child prodigies were successful before they hit twenty."
      and
      "Can you be quick, it's starting to hurt."

      If you weren't so young you might ask me why I loved her, and I wouldn't know what to tell you, because now and then I still do, but one day you might make things from metal and plaster and love an art school girl and she will say and draw the same things because, well, that's art school. Then you might come to me and say "Dad, what do I do?" in whatever vernacular young people will be using, and I'll say "Have you tried talking to her?" and you'll say "I can't. She cries over nothing and never listens." That evening you'll pick at the roast dinner I spent all week planning, answering everything I ask with one or two words even though it's been almost two months since you were last home. Before you leave to get the train back to Goldsmiths I'll have to bite my tongue to stop myself saying;
      "You're too young to know about love."
      and
      "Some women just won't ever make it worthwhile."
      and
      "At your age no-one can make the right decisions."

      As we linger at the front door saying goodbye, you shuffle in for an awkward hug. It doesn't feel all that awkward, though, so I hold you for a moment too long before you leave, closing the door behind you. I stand blank for a minute in the hall, wishing more than anything I could have explained for you just how hard it is, it really is, to love someone so intent on misery and how much you can waste on the wrong one.

Joseph Taylor is twenty-one years old, a Fine Art student and previously unpublished. He was born in Paris, began to write in Kansas City yet lives and studies in London. He has just begun a blog—josephtaylormcrae.blogspot.com
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