A Piece of White Chocolate

A Piece of White Chocolate

By: Matthew Dube

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.

Do You Think You’ll Notice?

Do You Think You’ll Notice?

By: Chris Somos

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.

“Silk?”

“Uh, maybe?”

“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.

You can find Chris on Twitter @PaneledProse.

Stream Never Failing

Stream Never Failing

By: Sefu Chikelu

“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. 

“Let’s go.” 

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.

Insomnia

Insomnia

By: Isabella Melians

content warning : abortion

She won’t let me sleep. She has been standing at the foot of my bed for five nights now, sixty hours, three hundred minutes, two hundred and sixteen thousand seconds. When I close my eyes I swear I can smell her honey breath, her whispered chant of why, why, why. Lukewarm tears trace their way down my cheeks, finding their home in my threadbare satin pillowcase. My ragged breaths falter across eggshell sheets, breaking her rhythmic mantra. I want to explain to her that it wasn’t supposed to end this way, she should have been born, he should be here, I shouldn’t feel so guilty. But my mouth is glued shut, reducing my remorse and apologies to flutter against my hollow chest. 

It’s 1 am, any sane person would be asleep by now, but I feel like anything but. The muted world outside does nothing to silence her probing question, leaving just my rambling mind and her pulsing inquiries. He left us without a second thought. Why, why, why. I couldn’t raise her alone, it should have been both of us. Why, why, why. It would have been perfect: married at 24, pregnant at 25. Grace for a girl, Orion for a boy. Why, why, why. I should have told someone, I should have considered keeping her. Why, why, why. I shouldn’t have gone to the clinic alone. Why. 

Amber hair cascades over the left side of her face, leaving a single cerulean iris to peer out. She would have had her father’s eyes. Her hair is frizzy and her eyebrows are unplucked, she seems almost feral. I see myself in each untamable fiber running rampant across the side of her head. My fingers prickle with the slightest urge to smooth her wild strands. Her nose scrunches in perplexity, the freckles dotted across its bridge compressing in a single fold of skin.  Scarlet lips frown in puzzlement, uncertainty falling across tan features. Her intrusive interrogation is currently inaudible, chapped lips channeling the ghost of her supercilious question. Why, why, why. My mother always said you could tell who was a Flores by their heavy upper lip. The orange lamp outside flickers in irregularity. In between flashes her tear-stained cheeks gain a new streak. 

Now it’s 2:45 am. Rain is pummeling against my bedroom window, but neither of us move. Her hands fidget with a sole strand of hair, twirling and untwirling it around her finger. A familiar expression crosses her face, eyes turning sorrowful. I wore the same expression when  I swallowed the first pill. My shaking hands had fumbled before reaching my mouth, the chalky pill burning as I swallowed. Images flash across my mind. A dazed person staring in a mirror, white pill in hand. Surely that person couldn’t have been me? Legs gave out beneath me, I didn’t try to stop the fall. My hand was bleeding, how did it get cut? Cold tile comforted me as I lay alone. Her sorrowful eyes mirrored my own tearful own. 

It’s 3 am. Her form now flickering in between ages indecisively. At first a tiny baby squirms in her crib, entranced in the dance of stars and birds above her head. She is dressed in a white onesie rimmed in pink, cotton socks warming otherwise bare feet. Grace is embroidered along the side. Toothless gums release frantic whimpers before being comforted by a striped pacifier. 

The next second generates a wobbling toddler trotting towards an ice cream cone, vanilla sliding down its sides. Sandy feet eagerly fumble across the earth, a salty wind tousling blonde hair. The sunlight catches her eyes as she reaches the cone, pure joy lighting up pudgy cheeks. Sticky fingers leave traces of the desert across a checkered dress. 

She changes again, a teenager now, sporting purple hair that falls short at her arms. A burgundy dress hangs off of her shoulders, satin circling beneath her knees. Shimmering lip gloss paints her face, her hair curled and tied back in a sapphire pin. When the doorbell rings she jumps nervously to her feet, hesitant steps echoing across the tile hall. 

 By 3:30 am she has become harrowed, a ruffled yellow dress contrasting the dark circles beneath her eyes. She carries a Starbucks cup in her right hand, handbag in her left, as she trudges towards a stone building. A white coat is draped across her shoulders, reading “Dr. Flores.” A sigh escapes her, turning the air in front of her a hazy white. 

A flush in her cheeks the next instant, a baby gently tugs at hair reaching down her back. The microwave beeps and she pulls out a bottle of warmed milk, testing its warmth on the back of her hand. A framed photo rests on a shelf adjacent to the fridge. In a white dress, she kisses a dark haired gentleman. 

But then she turns withered, once vibrant skin sagging at the joints. She lays in her bed, surrounded by flowers and cards. An automated machine steadies her breathing, chest falling in cadence. Her eyes are unmoving beneath her lids, stuck in an everlasting dream. 

At 3:45 am she materializes in her original appearance. She just stands there, in her own silent vigil. Her hands lie still at her sides. The only sound in the room is our breathing. The silence surrounds us, encompassing the slightest creak of wood or flutter of branches scratching at the window. It extends its velvet hands until they circle around my heart and squeeze. It becomes hard to breath, I know I am inhaling yet the oxygen never seems to actually enter my lungs. I’m left gasping for air. It takes 15 minutes to steady my breathing, frigid air soothing my clenched lungs. My eyes dart around the room, skimming over wilted roses and stacked vintage books. Widened pupils glide across my mother’s jade necklace, turtleneck sweaters piled on wooden chair hangers littered on mosaic tile, and across my daughter herself. Despite being smothered beneath three downy blankets, my skin turns icy. Heartbeats strum against my chest, skin trembling with each passing pulse. The ceiling trembles beneath heavy drops of rain, creaks threatening to cave in and surrender to the storm. Sweat beads across my forehead, trails of salt falling across my icy cheeks. She knows I deserve this. 

Isabella Melians (she/her) is a 16-year-old sophomore attending school in south Florida. She is the vice president of her school’s writing club, “The Writer’s Circle”, and has been acknowledged by publications including Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine, Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, The Weight Journal, Same Faces Collective, The Raindrop Magazine, Ice Lolly Review, and other reviewers. In her free time, she enjoys playing the cello, watercolor painting, and fostering with a local pet rescue.

Find Isabella @isabellam_04 on Instagram.

WWMVD?

WWMVD?

By: Kelly Washington

I knew things had gotten out of hand when my vagina got her own Twitter handle. It started innocently enough. Eighteen months ago my newish girlfriend Chloe and I were undecided on where to eat for dinner and she flippantly asked, “What would your vagina do?”

We were sitting on the couch doing what most couples do at 7pm on a Thursday. We were watching Wheel of Fortune arguing whether it was worth it to buy the vowel O. Actually, Chloe was debating the merits, while I was dissecting the latest Kardashian Instagram picture and laughed at how small their private jet was. Daddy’s was bigger.

But something in Chloe’s voice gave me pause and I seriously considered it, What would my vagina do? and my vagina decided she would not buy the O and she wanted cheeseburgers even though I was a pesco-vegetarian. We ended up getting fish tacos instead, and while my vagina wasn’t exactly a weather vane that night, from that point forward our code word, before Chloe and I broke up, was WWMVD?

Attend Tom Cruise’s newest film premiere here in LA or fly to Milan for Fashion Week? WWMVD?

Skiing in the Alps or yachting in Ibiza? Always a tough call, but WWMVD?

Regular highlights or ombre-effect? My vagina had a difficult time deciding that one.

Even tiny decisions could conjure up the WWMVD, such as which butter sauce to order with salmon. Not the end of the world stuff, but still important. By then Chloe, who was a decidedly normal and sane person in every way—AKA not wealthy— found the whole thing to be a pimple on society.

“You’ve taken this way too far, Meredith,” Chloe said as she was breaking up with me. “Just like that time you decided to take up Italian art classes, or glass blowing. This time, it’s your vagina. What about this?” she asked, gently tapping my brain.

Sadly, it was true, but I imagine Chloe didn’t appreciate it when I let my vagina decide when we could have sex, who could drive, and which Netflix show to binge.

It was worse when Deirdre—my mom who was more of a gossipy best friend than a mother— told me that she let her vagina decide everything, to include not divorcing my financier dad. “My vagina is decidedly against poverty,” Deirdre said one day at brunch, dipping celery in her wine. I saw her point.

A month later my sister Leslie joked that I should create a Twitter handle for my vagina before Chloe did because Chloe did not have a trust fund and she worked in retail. “Like, she had to wear sneakers, Meredith,” Leslie said with concern. True, Chloe had to work in order afford rent and food, and surprisingly I didn’t hate her for it, but maybe Leslie was onto something.

My vagina was an important part of me. Why shouldn’t she have a Twitter account?

But, as things go, I was just so busy with bikini fittings and vacations and meeting up with my personal trainer, that it took me another three months to think about creating the account. By then, my vagina had taken up other interests, from jazz to craft beer tasting to dating my yoga instructor, Karen.

That last one was definitely WWMVD approved. Karen was a big fan of letting vaginas breath, so I spent another month with my yogi on a beach in Bali.

Like I said, I was busy, but finally, after my brother Chad got wind of the WWMVD thing at our uncle’s fourth wedding reception, he told me his girlfriend said I should give my vagina a name. While I know his college degree girlfriend was making fun of me, I had to give credit was due because it made me remember the whole Twitter account.

I consulted Deirdre, Leslie, and Karen on a name, and we came up with Bethany, but where the H is silent. That was a given. Bet-Ta-Nee.

By this point, Karen’s vagina wanted to breathe around another vagina, and, honestly, I just wasn’t as limber as I’d sold myself upon our first meeting, so Bethany and I broke up with her.

One night, when the lights were out and it was just me and Bethany, I created the account, typed up 280 characters full of snazzy vagina stuff and within three days Bethany has 101k followers, without even trying, which, really, was normal for me. But, here was the thing, no one knew it was me, and Bethany was an excellent tweeter, so things took off on their own.

After a while, however, I didn’t like how Bethany was more popular than I was. The real me, Meredith, had close to 450k followers, Bethany’s account grew close to 1M and I just couldn’t deal with being second fiddle.

Deirdre said I should change therapists, that’s what she did when things weren’t going her way; Leslie recommended I get a puppy, name him Mr. Peanut Butters, and post puppy photos on my real Twitter account; and Chad just laughed at me before he and his caddie went back out on Daddy’s golf course. I could have told him that he had spinach in his teeth, and I didn’t, but I still felt positively charitable in that moment.

Feeling bad about myself because I could never name a puppy Mr. Peanut Butters because I previously claimed to be allergic to peanut butter, I caved and texted Chloe.

Me: hey. free to chat?
Chloe: depends‏‏‎‏‏‎
Me: i need advice
Chloe: with what?
Me: bethany is, like
totally taking over my life
Chloe: and Bethany is….?
Me: my vagina. her twitter
acct is more popular
than mine.
Chloe: of course you named it ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎
Bethany. i’m on shift. what do ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎
u want?
Me: i know you’ll give me a
straight answer. should i
delete bethany’s account?
Chloe: srsly?
Me: yes
Chloe: there’s only 1
answer… WWYVD?

Kelly Washington is a former military intelligence specialist and army veteran who writes everything from dark fiction to dark humor pieces. Her short work has appeared in “best of” volumes, Pulp House Fiction Magazine, Fiction River, Kaleidotrope, and Fahmidan Journal, among others. She lives in Virginia with her family.

You can find Kelly on Twitter and Instagram @kellywashwrites and her website, kellywashington.com

Cop Some AZ’s And an OZ

Cop Some AZ’s & an OZ

By: Joe Szalinski

content warning : drugs

Of course he’s late, I thought to myself, as I kicked small stones out of my path, en route to the bodega up the street.   I’d been ripped away from the fantastical realms of Borges to reup—some books are better enjoyed stoned—and my asshat of a dealer was keeping me mired in this murky reality for far too long. Once inside the store, I withdrew a couple hundred. A text arrived. “Gonna be a little longer. Sorry.” Accepting my fate, I bought a couple iced teas, and shot the shit with the cashier until the plug pulled up.

Joe Szalinski is a writer/performer from West View, PA. He is a graduate of Slippery Rock University and posts a video every Sunday to the Instagram account @poetry_hugger.

Try This Easy Weekday Meal!

Try This Easy Weekday Meal!

By: Alex Miller

Stressed out? Tell me about it! What’s worse than putting in a full day at the office and coming home to a houseful of hungry kids? I’ve got three I’m raising on my own, and they’d eat the tires right off the car if I’d let ‘em. But I sure do love those rascals! When I’m crunched for time, I whip up a meal I call Mama’s Emergency Mac & Cheese. My little troublemakers love it! First thing’s first, grab a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Set a pot of water to boil, then toss in the noodles. Now you’ve got a chance to breathe. Might be a good time to check in on the little buggers. Fighting again? Where do my babies get the energy? Break it up before someone gets hurt. Now, back to the kitchen. It’s wine o’clock somewhere! Take a pull off the Bota Box. Still drinking wine from bottles? Pro tip—box wine is economical! You can drink all night and never hit bottom. What’s that sound? Oh fuck, the macaroni is boiling over. Turn down the heat! Once the noodles are nice and soft, pour off the excess water, then add the sauce packet. Actually it’s a powder, but trust me, once you throw it on the noodles and add milk, it’ll sauce right up. Shit—you’re fresh out of milk. No worries! Just add water. Mix well and you’re ready to serve. Holler dinner time to your little cretins. And make sure they use proper utensils. If I look away even for a second, my little monsters dig in with their bare hands. What a pack of wild animals! Grab yourself another glass of wine. A big one! You earned it! Gaze at your children and smile. What’s more satisfying than seeing them chow down on a meal you slaved over? You can’t help but feel a warmth in your chest. Times like these are special. They remind you that although you face hardships and make sacrifices, the struggle is worth it. For family. Sometimes I think back to when I was pregnant with the oldest. In those days, I was the golden child at the office. The wunderkind. Until my jackass boss found out about the pregnancy. Fired me on the spot. And that was that—no more career track, no more dreaming about a corner office. Hey, it happens to the best of us. Go get yourself another glass of wine. Oops—looks like the devil spawns are done eating. There they go yanking each other’s hair again. Quick! Turn on the TV. What the fuck do they watch? Sesame Street? Teletubbies? Paw Patrol? Whatever, it’s all dumb shit for kids. Now that they’re distracted, time for some peace and quiet. Don’t forget to refill your wine! Sneak upstairs to the bedroom. Lock the door behind you. Peer out the window and observe your dim reflection. Who is this woman? You were pretty once. You had dreams, ambitions. What did you trade them for? This damn house in the suburbs and some man who didn’t stay? You hear the pitter-patter of feet on the stairs. Here they come. Your little demons. They pound the door. Cry out. Mommy! Mommy! You had a name once. Now you are this thing they call mommy. How did it happen? When did your home become a prison and your children, the wardens? Tiny hands grope the narrow space beneath the door. Slender fingers stretch and grow, reaching for you, always reaching. These creatures, they are yours. These helpless sacks of flesh with scraped knees and empty bellies. 

Love them. 

Fear them. 

Feed them. 

Make them strong.

Alex Miller is writer and graphic designer who lives in Denver. His fiction has appeared in “Pidgeonholes”, “Back Patio Press” and “Rabbit Catastrophe Review”. He is the author of the short story collection “How to Write an Emotionally Resonant Werewolf Novel” (2019, Unsolicited Press).

Find Alex @WildernessClub7 on Twitter.