Mr. Perry and Mr. Vandercamp brought me, Keith, and Gabe, all fatherless sons, to the town dump to sell chocolate as a summer camp fundraiser. Technically it was a landfill, and standing at the lip I saw bulldozers scraping away dirt to make room for bags of garbage. It smelled terrible. Taking the trash to the landfill was mostly men’s work in my town, and they all knew my scout leaders. Mr. Perry and Mr. Vandercamp grinned and punched shoulders and gossiped about what people were throwing away while we sold pouches of York Peppermint Patties, trying to keep them out of the sun so they didn’t melt in their silver sleeves. We worked three hours, and then Mr. Perry brought a half-dozen sub sandwiches and cokes. We ate our lunches on the bench seat of his truck. “This is the same as any job site,” he said. “You’re doing great.” We ate and goofed off and watched gulls riding thermal drafts coming off the decaying trash. . . . I was living in Kalamazoo when Luna put out the Penthouse CD. Track eight was named “Kalamazoo,” and I listened to it again and again, trying to see my life through its alchemical “green green bottles.” The cd cover was a black and white photo of skyscraper at night, towering vertically while taxi lights blurred below. It was NYC, it had to be, but that summer I stumbled out of the bar and walked home looking for that exact view. Maybe it was the bank where I weighed myself in the lobby, or the hotel where I skipped a drug test required for employment. It could have been here, I thought, standing in front of another tall gray monolith. . . .Most people dropped off their garbage in the first half of the day. After lunch, it was us and the gulls. Then, someone came back, a bearded man we recognized from earlier in the morning. “Back for more chocolate,” I joked, and he grinned but squinted his eyes. “Where’s your troop leader, kids?” We pointed to Mr. Vandercamp, sitting in his Pontiac back a little from the landfill’s open edge. He walked over there, the silver foil of a peppermint patty visible in his pants pocket. He talked with Mr. Vandercamp, and then they called over Mr. Perry. A little later, they called us over, too. “Boys, you need to see this,” Mr. Perry said, and peeled back the wrapper on a peppermint patty. The chocolate shell was white, not snowy but cloudy. Gull white. “I seen this when I was in the Sea Bees,” Mr. Vandercamp said. “The chocolate dries out and the chocolate color leaches out.” He spit on the patty and rubbed it with his finger like a fairy lamp. The patty got darker, but still wasn’t the rich brown you’d want to pay for. “It’s still good.” For something you’d buy at the dump. “Go ahead. Taste it.”
Matt Dube was a boy scout until suddenly he wasn’t. He tried to be prepared, until he didn’t want to know what was around the next corner. He’s found himself here and there, but for the last little while, he’s been teaching at a small mid-Missouri university.
Would you please burn Thistles and downy feathers for me, Cut birds, animals and vegetables A ritual of blood and concrete. I am passing temporary bodies of myself, Here harsh and thorny Double by the roadside – mangled left for fodder Long twinning fingers and Chatter voices chatter. The ghosts of myself are oracles, Purple stalk and vine – Between their veins I see my future And like the lone thistle on craggy hill I too have accepted this silent spring.
Abigail Eckstine (They/She) is a 26-year-old queer parent-to-be, writer of novels and poetry, and the founder of Cauldron Anthology. Most recently they have been published in Catatonic Daughters and Alternate Route. You can find them on twitter @whimsywriter3 and on her blog https://whimsywriter3.wordpress.com.
I can’t soothe the hurt I see in them…I wish I could. Their actions under the circumstances impress me. At their age, I was an utter emotional mess. It says so in the Snoopy diary with the broken lock stored in my footlocker in the basement.
Theirs seems a dark lonely world, a damp cold wind chilling their emotions remains their lives’ dominant weather pattern. Permafrost will set in sooner than later.
I tell myself it’s naive to think a difference can be made. One person is not a sun to a frozen wasteland. I should harden my heart before it continues to be broken. It’s not my job to save the world.
But just doing my job was a waste of twenty years of my life. Credit memos, email chains & ship scheduling meetings, Swirl around the drain of a life of loyalty to a corporation. The Invisible Hand doesn’t seem to love those outside of business.
Even if actions are without visible success, Accomplishment not so easily definable, Caring dumped into the sea of apathy, I will not despise “the day of small things”.
John Homan is a poet and percussionist from Bend, Oregon. He is a graduate of Indiana University. His work has appeared in Chiron Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Misfit Magazine among others. He is an ESL tutor in a middle school, happy to have given up 20 years of corporate customer service. He lives in Elkhart, Indiana with his wife and cats…lots of cats.
When I heard my husband Brandon’s phone buzz, and he answered with recognition, I would try to determine who was calling.
It could be his sister who lived five miles away or his parents five hours away. My heart raced.
If he said, “Oh not doing much,” and inquired, “What about you?” I held my breath.
If he followed up with, “You’re in the neighborhood?” my jaw locked. Sister.
At that point I stopped listening and began going over my options for the near future. Stated errands to run? Nope. Warning of possible weekend work? Also negative. My only choice was to activate The Action Plan: accept the inevitable, clean up, and calm down by drinking alcohol.
By the time Brandon hung up, two blankets were folded, two plates washed, and I was checking if we had enough tequila for me to have at least two margaritas.
After five years together, this is what happened whenever Brandon’s family or friends dropped by unannounced and he reflexively invited them in.
Since my first date with Brandon, I had known how different we were, so I had anticipated some relationship challenges. I am a Black, Latine, first-generation woman. Brandon is a white man seven whose roots go four generations back in Wisconsin. We also had differences in class, cultural references, politics, pastimes, and religion.
I thought I was prepared for the ways that these differences would play out. I was used to being around different people—at least as far as race and class were concerned—having grown up poor in a majority white, upper class suburb and attended ivy league schools.
I knew I would have to constantly educate Brandon about race, including on the burden of having to constantly educate him. Brandon was a good student. Well before last summer’s protests for Black lives, he had added “White Fragility” to his reading list.
I anticipated the challenges brought on by our differences would surface when we were around family, and planned accordingly. I got used to the lopsided number of family dinners, vacations, and gifts. I always had my hair washed, dried, and styled before family visits, so I didn’t need to explain why I couldn’t do this or that activity because “Wash Day” is, indeed, a day long. I even volunteered to explain at a joint family Thanksgiving what “the itis” was short for while my family masked their snickering with coughs.
But there were differences I couldn’t plan for because I didn’t know they existed. I hadn’t seen or read about this particular problem in popular culture. I couldn’t ask my few married family or friends for advice, either because most of the marriages I knew about in media and real life were homogenous in some central element. Michelle and Barack were both Black; Chrissy Teigan and John Legend both rich.
So, per the advice of no one, I came up with The Action Plan.
It worked until we purchased a condo. We skipped an expensive wedding and honeymoon so we could buy immediately. We wanted to show off our new home.
That’s when I found out I couldn’t activate The Action Plan every time someone dropped by, which happened frequently in the beginning. And, despite my belief that The Action Plan would allow me to go unnoticed among Brandon’s stereotypically Wisconsin family, apparently his mom had asked him more than once, “Why is Ofelia always drinking?”
One day in couple’s therapy, after another fight about visitors, our therapist gave us homework: “Talk about your childhood experience with people coming over and what you want your experience as a married couple to be when that happens.”
My childhood memories came flooding back.
I grew up in a house with 10 people: me, my mom, siblings, grandma, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Half of us had bedrooms. Those who didn’t slept in the living room.
When I was six, a friend was supposed to come over one afternoon. Minutes before she was to arrive, I looked around the living room at the mattresses on crates and my family members with their eyes closed and mouths open. I was in a frenzy. Why was everyone still sleeping? Where would my friend and I play? I prayed silently that my relatives would wake up and get out of the living room.
That friend didn’t make it for some reason I don’t remember. But I do remember not wanting to feel like that ever again. I vowed never to ask friends over again.
Instead, I went to friends’ houses. Their houses looked like the ones on TV, which only made my shame grow. Our house never looked like Full House. We didn’t have placemats, couch pillows, plants, or bookcases. In my adolescent brain I rationalized: I didn’t like the way our house looked, and I didn’t want anybody to see it.
On the rare occasions when someone came over, I tried to make our house look like one on TV. I made sure the bathrooms had toilet paper. I put away bed pillows and sheets and all evidence that people slept in the living room.
This continued into my adulthood with my own apartment. I took pleasure in getting ready for guests’ arrival. I’d clean the place from top to bottom. I’d make the bed, straighten the couch pillows, and place fresh flowers on the coffee table.
I had wanted to be a homeowner since the day my friend was supposed to come over while the house slept.
When Brandon moved in with me, I learned not everyone prepared for guests the way I did. He frequently invited over friends passing through our neighborhood. I panicked every visit—was there a full roll of toilet paper in the bathroom?
I knew Brandon had no such concern. The most planning I ever saw him do was to ask on the way home from brunch if folks wanted to “come up” and “hang out.” It was rare to get that much notice. We were usually lying around in sweatpants, hadn’t even brushed our teeth, and Brandon would tell me his friends were outside. I lost count how often I sprang up off the couch and started folding blankets and clearing cups off the coffee table.
I cannot believe I now live in a place that does look like Full House. For our household of two, there are three bedrooms. For the abundant supply of toilet paper, there are three bathrooms. We have art, rugs, plants, placemats, and even a bowl of fake fruit on the kitchen table. I tell my six-year-old-self, You did it!
In therapy, I divulged to Brandon what I believed to be the root of the problem: “Your way of having people over is not what I know and it’s not what I like. It’s not what I would choose for myself now that I finally have the choice.”
For Brandon, the only emotion associated with having people over was pleasure. Having to plan or prepare for guests felt unnecessary and constraining to him.
We left several therapy sessions, stuck. This difference seemed too ingrained for either of us to move.
Brandon’s phone continued to buzz. But after my big reveal in therapy, I no longer suppressed the panic, or prayed it away, or Action Planned my way out of it. I just felt it—for Brandon, and sometimes even our guests to see.
One weekend, I heard Brandon’s phone buzz and, as usual, my whole body tightened. Then I realized Brandon was speaking to me. “Is it cool if my family stops by…in an hour?”
I let go everything that was clenched.
As I straightened up the living room and resisted beelining to our home bar, I realized that we hadn’t yet addressed the second part of the therapy homework: what we wanted. I wanted to stand firm in my belief that panic was only prevented with plans made weeks in advance and hours of preparation. But Brandon delaying his family by one hour showed me that change, even if small, was possible. And standing firm meant being stuck.
Another Saturday, Brandon and I were predictably lying around in sweatpants when my mom called. She was on her way to our place to drop off something for me.
“Thanks, I’ll come down in ten,” I said.
My mind returned to the therapy homework. I thought about Brandon’s small step toward empathy, toward me. So I slogged through the panic, toward him.
Then I slogged through what I had been avoiding: the pain.
But next came, unexpectedly, the joy.
I remembered my mom awakening from her midday slumber and making the whole house breakfast. And everyone laughing and making their best arguments for the last cinnamon roll.
I called my mom back. “Do you want to…come up and hang out?”
Surprised, she nevertheless accepted the invitation.
I walked back to the living room to tell Brandon. He was up and folding the couch blankets.
Ofelia Brooks (she/her) is a Black, Latiné, first-generation writer and lawyer. Her recent or forthcoming work appears in Drunk Monkeys, Cutleaf, Diem, Amplify, and Honeyfire.
I wake in a room full of doors, floor to ceiling, wall to wall, nothing but doors, and no handle on a single one of them.
This isn’t the room I fell asleep in, that room had only one door, two windows, a desk against one wall where I spend all the hours I own pigeon-tapping on an old typewriter all the things I wished would happen to me, words I would speak, decisions I would make, lives I might live if I were only given the chance.
Waking in a room made of doors was not anything I had pressed faded keys for, not a potential future I had shaped out of nothing but wishes; at that thought, at the very arrival of that thought, before it has even finished, I realise that all the doors, though they have no handles, have keyholes just below the space where a handle would be.
But I have no key. I know this without having to search my pockets; I have not needed a key in years, my two windowed room my world, the other world outside not one I have ventured into since I began my shaping of my future from nothing but wishes.
No, I have no key.
There comes a knock at one of the doors, gentle, almost silent; what door it is I do not know. I feel it more than I hear it, a vibration begun at one door and passing through every other door, finding its way to the soles of my bare feet.
It comes again, the knock, but I still do not know from what door it comes.
I still do not know when the third knock comes, louder, persistent, endless.
Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen, The Blue Nib and Poetry Wales. He is currently working on a novel. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.
I guess I’ve been missing the mark lately. Just last week, I bought those discount pleather boots from the thrift shop on Stournari. I showed you them, you frowned, typed something into your phone, and looked at me. I’d never bought anything second-hand (my mom would probably have an aneurysm), but thanks to you, I even saved some money. And helped the environment, which is what I thought you’d be most proud of. Turns out, you had just become vegan after one of your midnight research dives on that thin aluminum Mac of yours. And, according to your cell, the soles of my boots were unethical. They were glued to the rest of the boots with something called isinglass, which is made from fish guts.
I should’ve known or researched it on my phone. I’m sorry. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable around anything I wear. To make up for it, I give the boots to the man living on the sidewalk below our building.
“Thank you, sistah,” he says, and I run back upstairs to continue my apology.
I use the mirror in front of the bed we share (most nights) to place your homebrewed balm along my arid lips, making them a dusty amethyst. I pray the smell of garlic from my fingers doesn’t latch onto the balm as I apply it. I don’t want you to smell the surprise when your nose approaches my mouth. I want you to smile when you see the cheesy vegan garlic bread I made you. Hopefully, you’ll taste the time it took for me to find one of the only stores in Athens that sells your pricey Violife cheese. As you bite into the bread whose dough I’ve kneaded over and over with my hands, maybe you’ll even taste the lightness in my pockets now that I’ve spent a day’s worth of tips from cleaning your grandmother’s rooms to let.
She was right, you know. As I scrunch the olive oil she gave me into my tight bleached-orange black curls, they do glisten like fizz on top of my Coca Cola skin. Do you think you’ll notice? Like you say, I’m much better at seeing these things. While passing my earring’s fishhook through my lobe, I remember when you gave it to me three years ago. When we first moved in together. Originally, it belonged to a pair that were in the shape of soundwaves based on a recording of your voice saying, “Agapiti fili,” beloved friend. One word for each ear. I’ve lost the one, so a single stiff soundwave dangles from my left ear. I have no clue which of the two words it stands for, but it’s metal, so it’s a safe to wear around you.
I stand up and shift my weight from one foot to the next. My belly and breasts romp beneath my tight white top. It’s probably what we looked like when we were thirteen, playing under the clean sheets of your squeaking single bed. We hid under there after Mihali had kicked a ball in your face. It was the first time I licked the pain from your lips. It made you smile, and I laughed.
Your keys scratch at our door before you unlock it. I cover my jiggling bumps with the red button-up your mother bought me last Christmas. I see you, and then Mihali, walk in as I enter the living room. A weight nestles itself in the cradle between my clavicles.
“Gen!” you exclaim while walking up to me, holding his hand, and brushing your cheek against mine. Your empty hand glides over my arm hairs, and I fixate on the scar above your lip. Once your fingers reach my button-up’s short sleeve, you pull away.
“Do you know how many silkworms were killed for this?”
“Your mother bought it for me last year, remember?” I say, pausing for an answer. “I thought you liked it when I—”
“Come on, Zeta,” Mihali says. “I definitely struggled to learn all the dos and don’ts when I first became vegan.”
You mumble something as Mihali pulls you onto our couch in front of the plate of sliced bread covered in synthetic cheese that refused to fully melt.
“Oh wow,” he says looking at the bread. “Gen, did you make this?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing special… Just some garlic bread. And you don’t have to worry; I used Violife for the cheese.”
You both smile with every single one of your teeth.
“Told you she gets it,” you say, slipping your hand between the buttons of Mihali’s shirt. I sit next to you on the other side, taking my button-up off. Another gift for the man downstairs.
“Really, Gen, what can’t you do?” Mihali starts. “Not only do you write awesome poems, but you can cook as well. Your future husband will be really lucky.”
You cough through those red watermelon cheeks, squeeze the hand you have on my knee, and rip the stocking covering the leg you pulled away from Mihali’s grey jeans.
“How’d you know I write poems?”
“Zeta showed me one you sent her. I think it was about kids hiding under blankets or something.” He reaches over and grabs a slice of garlic bread.
A stream from the setting sun collapses on my cheeks. A light reflecting from the shape of your voice clinging to my ear sways from the plate of bread to our glass tabletop and back.
“You showed him?”
“Well, yeah. It was really good.”
“It could’ve been better.”
You could’ve not put Mihali there, right under my white top, under your squeaky-clean sheets.
Chris Somos is a Greek writer currently completing his MFA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He enjoys writing and reading narratives that call attention to a story’s existence as something fictional, and that also deal with broader questions of what constitutes a story and makes it believable. Thematically, his work often deals with identity and how stories can influence one’s sense of longing and belonging. Chris is an emerging writer whose fiction has previously appeared in Two Thirds North.
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
-Amos 5:24 (NIV)
A mother and her son rest in Patterson Park on a beach towel beside a murky stream of water. The subtle sloosh of running water is no match for the handful of birds circling overhead. The chirp of the birds is penetrated by a few busses that screech to a concerning halt at the bus stop across the street.
“Mama, what does that mean?”
“What does what mean, son?”
“A guilty verdict. My friends on the bus kept saying it but they never told me–”
“The jurors say that the police officer who killed George Floyd is going to jail.”
“Ohhh…. Really mama!? Forreal!? That’s what justice mean forreal?”
“Yeah, son. That’s what that means. That’s what they said.”
“Yay mama! We got justice! So… so that means that it won’t ever, ever, ever, happen again, right?”
The mother fixes her eyes on the rush of mini waves that sop up the cobblestones and says nothing…
“Why has my pain been perpetual
And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream
With water that is unreliable?”
-Jeremiah 15:18 (NAS)
“We’ve found the defendant… guilty.” A gasp that even the judge couldn’t object to came from somewhere in the room that no one could pinpoint. Then, silence.
A few more words are spoken, there is an urgent bang of the gavel and the trial ends. Derrick, the defendant, heard none of the final words. He was too distraught to take notice. After three mistrials, the jury has just decided to convict him of a murder that he had not committed. What more needs to be said? He feels his last breath flee, then remembers to take deeper inhales and exhales to maintain his consciousness and keep his sanity.
He doesn’t know where to set his eyes first–the jury to which he was utterly shocked with, the prosecutors who had just gotten away with a cheap “win”, or his family sitting directly behind him. He looks at all three, first glancing at the jury, who by this point appeared antsy and ready to get back to their own lives. He stares at all 12 of them and wonders which ones decided that this should be his fate. Their faces were just as blank as they had been throughout the duration of the almost two week persecution. He couldn’t tell who. He was willing to bet that the juror who arrived late each and every day for trial, the one juror who dozed off numerous times during crucial witness testimony, or the one juror who never picked up their legal pad to jot down a single word were one of the culprits.
He glances over at the prosecutor who is in the process of packing his messenger bag. He is a burly man–of his three buttons on his blazer, he could only manage to button one of them. His red cheeks droop to his thin, pale lips and they look like upside down balloons. He is packing rather swiftly, as if to avoid any confrontation. Derrick watches all of this–the way he just tosses everything in the bag as if it were to be used for some bonfire later in the evening. These documents were important enough to be neatly placed in his bag and neatly placed on the table at the beginning of the trial. None of that matters now. The verdict was announced in his favor, he did what he was assigned to do and the papers were now rendered obsolete.
Derrick finally manages to muster enough strength to pivot and stare at his wife, Kiara. Kiara is staring off into the distance in the general direction of Derrick, but not exactly at him. Her left leg is bouncing rhythmically and her toes are firmly planted on the floor with her heels moving up and down in the way that someone would do if they were heated or vexed.
He says, “It’s going to be alright Kiara. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine, I promise. We’re going to be okay. I’m going to be alright.”
His painful attempt at a smile isn’t enough to persuade Kiara, and she continues staring off into the distance with the rhythmic tapping of her foot.
“Seriously, baby. I’m forreal. I’ll be okay. Keep your head up and I’ll call you tonight.”
Nothing from Kiara.
“Baby… c’mon, you’ve been with me this entire time. I know you ain’t gonna leave me now. Keep your head up. You want me to call you? We gonna be alright, just you watch. I’mma get another trial.”
An officer stands besides Derrick and beckons him to stand up. He does and the officer clinks the handcuffs on his wrists and grabs him by the crease of the elbow.
Kiara maintains her far-flung gaze and her foot pattern, with warm salt water tears streaming down her face.
This story is fiction, but is inspired by the real life story of Keith Davis Jr., an innocent man facing a 5th trial in Baltimore City Maryland after being accused of a murder that he has not committed in 2015. He has maintained his innocence ever since, despite a malicious prosecution from our “progressive” prosecutor Marilyn Mosby. Google Keith Davis Jr, and check out the hashtags #FreeKeithDavisJr and #FreeKeithFridays on Twitter.
Sefu Chikelu is a writer & bookseller residing in Baltimore, Maryland. He is originally from Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a prose editor for Afro Literary Magazine. His work can be found in Blackwoodz Magazine, Stellium Lit Mag, The Junction, Hood Communist, Sledgehammer Lit and elsewhere.
You can find Sefu @SefuChikelu on Twitter and @se_fu_ on Instagram.
Andrea Laws currently resides in Lawrence, KS, working in the field of scholarly publishing for the University Press of Kansas. She graduated from the University of Kansas, with a B.A. in English, with a focus on creative writing, and a B.A. in Film Studies, with a focus on film theory and criticism. Her poetry has been published in three compiled books of poetry, and featured on nine literary websites, journals, and blogs. Her influences have been from the masters of gothic literature, but she would like to think that she has a modern voice to this genre, with her incorporation of current themes with an “old school” format. Andrea wants her readers to have a sense of longing and desire to seek the unknown and always want more by understanding what her words mean to them. She is a nature-loving, dark enduring, Kansas woman that seeks to break barriers of stereotypes…and also makes jewelry (OutLaws Jewelry). Andrea wants her readers to have a sense of longing and desire to seek the unknown and always want more by understanding what her words mean to them. Andrea is a tattoo lover, and has been featured in the book Bodies of Words (published by December Magazine), in which a photo of her modeling her Mary Shelley tattoo was published along with other writers with tattoos. She is a nature-loving, dark enduring, Kansas girl that seeks to break barriers of stereotypes.
You can find Andrea at @alaws09 on Instagram and on her YouTube.
…and of course the room is silent. The kind of silent that makes your ears ring.
Some try to ignore it Secondhand embarrassment is still embarrassment.
I feel it on them — a relief they aren’t me Others shift in their seat and glance in my direction.
Don’t fucking look at me. Haven’t you ever been hungry? Haven’t you ever not wanted eyes on you?
I can feel my stomach gearing up to get the room’s attention again, so I shift in my seat to muffle the sound. I can feel it coming.
Here come the eyes again.
Heidi Bechard is a teacher and writer living in southwest Missouri. Poetry is her passion. You can find her on Twitter @HeidiBechard.
Fine art becomes the silver anatomy of a swan shaped to drape like perizoma
so men with the eyes and appetite of Aquila can call themselves connoisseurs
while they devour.
Sanjana Ramanathan (she/her) is an English student at Drexel University. She enjoys playing video games, cracking open a new book, and daydreaming. Her work is published or upcoming in clandestine lit, Babel Tower Notice Board, and Flash Frog.