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     Christmas elves still litter Helen’s lawn. Next door, Lorraine sits in her kitchen with the Valentine’s long stems she sent herself.
     After Helen’s New Year’s humiliation, Lorraine brought casseroles.
     “Calls her his soul mate!” sobbed Helen, as Lorraine clucked sympathy. Helen wanted Lorraine to share her outrage. At this, life’s oldest story. As if Helen’s long dissatisfaction wasn’t noted by her neighbors. By Lorraine.
     Now it’s been six weeks.
     “Gather up your dignity, Helen,” thinks Lorraine, pinching rose petals until they bruise. “And your deflated elves strewn like spent condoms. Admit your relief. Come over here for once. Bring flowers.”

Susan Rukeyser writes stories because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Most of them are fiction. Her shortest work appears in or is forthcoming from: Short Fast & Deadly, Stone Highway Review, and Star 82 Review. Longer work appears in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, Metazen, and Atticus Review, among others. She has one novel out for consideration and another in a drawer. Find her here: susanrukeyser.com.

     Joe was sitting on the living room couch with his pants around his ankles when his wife told him she was pregnant.
     “You’re kidding?” he said.
     “Makes it all seem kind of pointless, doesn’t it?”
     He held out the waistband of his underwear and adjusted his left testicle. His wife shook her head and watched. “At least it won’t happen again.”
     He couldn’t see the tiny line of stitches. Didn’t want too, really. But they pinched each time he moved. He pushed the bag of frozen peas close against his crotch.
     “Nope,” his wife said. “Just the once.”

Robyn Ryle started life in one small town and ended up in another just down the river. She teaches sociology to college students when she's not writing and has stories forthcoming in Pea River Journal and WhiskeyPaper. She writes about small town life and other topics on her blog, you-think-too-much.com.

The Baker’s Husband
Amanda Nicole Corbin

     At the funeral, he looked on with a blank expression and a cannoli in his hand. He chewed through the eulogies, and never spoke himself. At the end, he asked his daughter if she was in the mood for cake, so they rode home in silence.
     He spent another week with dry eyes and a belly full of pastries, avoiding work and watching television. He noticed the donuts becoming stale. It wasn't until the next week, when his wife's final batch of dough began to grow green blooms of mold, that he put his face in his hands and cried.

What Hurts the Most
Amanda Nicole Corbin

      It’s missed by the training-bra daughter who analyzes the difference between hey & hi, by the mother who knows you used a steak knife on her china plates, by the father who noticed you tracked cleat-mud from the soccer field through his garage, by the sister who tells you how her friend looks like she’s gained two–maybe even three!—pounds, by the grandfather who sees there’s a tongue-tip taste of bourbon missing; it’s the rising skin on your bare finger from where your wedding ring once sat. It’s noticing that you’re the only one who pays attention to you.

Amanda Nicole Corbin is a Buckeye fan in Salt Lake City, who has been published in Ellipsis, the upcoming issues of Mock Orange, Apex Caliente, and Paper Nautilus. She is editor and founder of Pure Coincidence Magazine and is a clichéd coffee-addicted writer.

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