Beach Glass Blues – by SARA CODAIR

Beach Glass Blues

By Sara Codair

 

Desperate for a fix, I crawl out of the surf. My fins separate into feet. My tail splits until I’m crouched on four scaly limbs. My muscles ache as I push myself upright. It’s not a position I hold often. Normally, water surrounds me and supports me. The air is thin and dry in comparison, so my muscles have to do all the work.

I don’t need to be on land. I’m not built to be on land. Most of my kind will go their entire lives without ever setting foot on it. Those who do seldom return. The other females don’t understand why I risk myself venturing to it over and over again.

#

This morning, when they saw me break away from the school, they grabbed my fins. The hunt leader’s voice hissed in my head, “stay in formation!”

I kicked hard, broke away and pled my case. “I have to go. I feel the land pulling in my blood, just like the whales who follow the pull of the poles.”

“You merefolk, not whale,” snarled the leader. She gestured for the others to grab me, but I was too quick. Only the head huntress herself could keep up. Once she realized this, she propelled herself to the front of the group and grabbed the tip of my tail. “You think too much.”

I kicked harder.

She did too, clawing her way up my tail. “You strong swimmer. Good hunter. Fertile eggs. Stay in school. Find food. Feed males. Make young.”

“No. I need to go to land. I need to use my gift. I need to feel.” With one final kick of my mighty tail, I broke free and pulled ahead of her.

She didn’t catch me again

#

Once my muscles adjust to the thin air, I put one foot in front of the other and begin walking over the hot sand. Deep purple swirls through powder white and pale yellow. Scallop shells and black rocks peek above the grains, but those are not what I am looking for. My gift only works on manmade objects.

#

When I was young, Mother often snuck away from the school she hunted with and sometimes, she snuck away from the caverns before the hunt even left. One day I followed her until the water got shallow and ended on a strand of fine pebbles.

I watched her climb out and transform into a creature that walked on two legs. I followed her out and screamed as my tail split in half. I passed out from the shock of it and when I woke, she was sitting on a rock, stroking my hair.

“You have gift,” she said. “Like me, you can walk on land. If you touch an object made by human hands, you can not only feel its history with all your senses, but also experience the life of the last person who touched it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked staring up into her black eyes.

“You’ll see,” she smiled. Despite her rows of pointy teeth, it was soft, and spoke of love. It wasn’t the predatory grin the other females made before venturing out on a hunt.

#

Mother has been dead for many tides now. As far as I know, none of the other females have our gift. But then, most of those females have never set foot on land and don’t understand why I would ever want to. They are content with their mindless life of feeding and fornicating. They believe humans are killing the earth, and merfolk have no need for the objects and memories of such a destructive species.

To me, humanity is beauty. Objects are their legacy, evidence of their love, life and flaws that will be around long after they vanish. Merfolk don’t feel like humans do, so every taste of human extremes, whether it be rage, pleasure or pain, is the most addicting substance I have ever consumed.

A flash of deep blue catches my eye. I crouch down and stare. It’s a shard of cobalt glass with symbols carved in its surface. The glass is opaque and its edges are smooth.

It’s not a whole object, merely a fragment of one. I can’t picture what it looked like whole, but I want to. My stomach flutters and my heart races as my fingers creep closer to it. Gentle currents of desire course through my body as my fingers brush the smooth surface. I close my eyes, inhale, and squeeze.

#

I fall downwards; racing against the current as the gritty sand that stripped my edges spits them back out. I’m floating in the dark blue, blissfully free in the ocean until I am back on the land, drowning in a pool of blood. I fly through the air, bounce off of dark skin, and return to the bottle from which I came.

#

The flow of feeling freezes as I come to a crossroads: the moment when a human last touched the object. It returns me to my present, crouched in soft sand, staring at shard of glass as the waves pound in time with my heart. I inhale the scent of oil, salt, rotting seaweed and decaying shellfish.

I have a choice to make. I can keep flowing through the history of the object, or I can branch off to the life of the person who touched it last. As much as I want to know what the object was part of, I am even more curious about how it came to be sitting in a pool of blood. I focus on the blood, brace myself and squeeze.

#

I’m giddy with excitement as I pull the cork out of the blue bottle and pour sand-colored liquid into two delicate glasses. I sip tangy, bittersweet wine from one and a man with smooth, copper skin sips from the other. Even as he drinks, his dark chocolate eyes never break contact with mine.

     “Happy Birthday,” he says brushing my cheek with calloused fingers.

     My face leans in closer to his until our lips our touching. My body ignites with a hot buzzing feeling, a need to be close to him and have him inside me. Soon, the wine is forgotten, our clothes are off, and he is gliding in and out of me until the pleasure crescendos and I become one pulsating explosion of bliss.

I lay on the bed, gasping for air, tangled up in his arms until I hear a pounding on the door. I throw my dress on, get off the couch and peek through the window. Monsters roar inside me at the sight of the man who sired my lover.

     “Who is it?” asks my husband from the bed.

     “Your father,” I snarl.

     “He must of made parole.”

     “I won’t let him hurt you.”

     A wave of euphoria washes through me as I hear the bottle shatter on the man’s head. He collapses into a still breathing heap. I’m disappointed he’s alive, then I’m drowning in guilt, so I pick up a shard to blue glass and stick it in palm, letting blood pour out in a cleansing stream that takes my rage and guilt with it.

#

I take a deep breath. It feels like sandpaper grating the inside of my throat. The sun’s golden light is beating down on my skin, sucking the moisture out of it. My stomach growls. I need to return to the ocean and feed.

The glass falls from my hand as I stand. I force myself to my feet and stumble to the white foam. Rotting wood stings my toes and I fall like a heap in the damp sand, still shaking with exhaustion and ecstasy.

I have no energy left for walking, so I roll until cold water laps my scales. My legs melt back into a tail and flippers. I kick and kick and kick until I am flying off the shelf, soaring through icy water. The pressure builds around me, supports me, takes the weight from my aching muscles and numbs every inch of my being.

Numb is the best way to define the life of the female merfolk. We swim and hunt with other females. We offer our bodies and catch to the males and hope their seed is fertile. Then we sleep and repeat the cycle when we wake.

#

I consume as many fish as my stomach will hold on my way back our underwater cavern. It shelters us from current and predators while we rest and mate. All fish taste the same to my tongue, but as the flesh and bone pass through my lips, I savor the flavors of human memories: bittersweet wine, decadent chocolate and spicy curry.

When my stomach is so full that another fish will burst it, I ride the currents back to the cavern. The other females have already returned from the hunt and are in engaged in spinning gyrations with the males.

Large hands grab my waist and a seed-spewer slides inside me. A man swallows my head and soon we are spinning and gyrating like the others. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t evoke any pleasure, either. In fact, I can barely feel him moving in me at all.

In my boredom, I think. The way his hands grab me and the force with which he thrusts is not quite like what I just experienced in the human memory. Her body sung with pleasure as her mate glided in her.

The memory was brief, but I play it over and over again, imagining I can feel the same thing. I don’t let the memory advance until the male is pumping as hard as he can. Then I play the part where she reaches a crescendo so powerful she cries out with pleasure. His seed surges into me, pushing up until liquefied food expels from my mouth into his.

He swallows and pulls away. I watch him swim off to a corner to sleep. His body is covered in green scales. He has two legs, each ending in fin. His seed-spewer, having expended its seed, sags down to his knees, making it nearly impossible for him to swim.  He curls up on a ledge, tucking his shark-like head between his knees. He has no eyes, no ears and no nose.

The males have simple lives. They inject seed into females in exchange for food. Then they sleep until their store of seed is replenished. They don’t speak, think or hunt. They can’t even digest a whole fish. We have to do that for them. All they do is eat regurgitated food and provide the pieces of DNA that the female cannot produce on their own.

Still, I try to imagine he is human. I try to conjure the contentment the female felt cuddled up with her mate after they made love, but before I can fully capture the memory, another male slips inside me. My belly is still too full, so I welcome him.

A female’s stomach can hold enough food to feed ten males, but if she feeds ten, there is nothing left for her to digest, and she must hunt again before she sleeps.

I replay memories of human reproduction while seven males who take me. By number eight, I’m tiring. By number nine, I’m exhausted. When he finishes, I swim towards my resting spot. I’m almost there when hands grab me and another seed-spewer goes in me, eventually forcing the last of my food out of my mouth.

#

Exhaustion weighs me down like lead. I want nothing more than to curl up and sleep, but to do so after giving all my food to mermales will mean the kind of sleep I will not wake up from. I’ve watched it happen to dozens of other females.

I force myself out of the cavern and follow the call to land, eating as I make my way there. I want more than a life of numb feeding and fornicating. I want to feel like the humans do, even if it means never giving birth to my own off spring.

I don’t know where the humans hide, but this time, I do not plan to merely content myself with their memories. I will venture beyond the beach, to see if any are left alive. Perhaps, if I find them, they can teach me how to feel. If it kills me, well, it will be a better death by mating.

***

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Sara Codair has been writing fiction since she learned how to hold a pen. Now, she teaches writing at community colleges in the greater Boston area and writes whenever she has time. Her short story, “Above the Influence,” recently appeared on Mashstories.com. She tweets at @shatteredsmooth.

 

 

 

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In Memoriam – by JESSE BRADLEY

In Memoriam

 

Jenny and I find the shattered shell and spilled turtle meat outside of the cul-de-sac we live on. She stares as I scrape what I can off the street with a shovel that Paul keeps in the trunk and into a reusable shopping bag.

 

“What are we going to do with it,” Jenny asks. She twirls one of her pigtails.

 

“You’ll see,” I say.

 

***

 

Jenny watches as I squirt lighter fluid on the turtle asterix in its open shoebox coffin. I pull a book of matches out of my pocket.

 

“She’s only five,” Paul says.

 

“She has to watch,” I say.

 

“She’s. Only. Five.”

 

“So was I when I watched the Challenger explode.”

 

I light a match and throw it in the shoebox. I wrap one arm around Jenny, place my hand on the back of her neck so she can’t turn away. I make her inhale three times before letting her go back inside. Paul runs after Jenny, leaves behind the plastic handle of whiskey I asked for.

 

“Let the nightmares come,” I say to no one before taking the first swig. The moon begins to smear.

***

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J. Bradley is the author of the flash fiction chapbook, No More Stories About The Moon (Lucky Bastard Press, 2016), the forthcoming linked short story collection The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016), and the forthcoming Yelp review prose poem collection Pick How You Will Revise a Memory (Robocup Press, 2016). He lives at iheartfailure.net.

*Photo courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*

 

Either Or – by HILLARY UMLAND

Either Or

Hillary Umland

It either is or isn’t midnight and I’m sort of sauntering home in the quiet dark of town, first past his place, but the lights are all out.

He’s either still working or with her.

I know and everybody knows, and everybody knows when it’s me instead. So I keep walking, take some turns, hope it’s just me out roaming tonight, no nefarious creeps. I am drunk. I think, “If he calls me again I won’t answer, I won’t go over. My stock is up right now and there are plenty of other fish in this city’s sea who want to be with me only, and I don’t need to be one of two to anyone.” There, it’s decided.

Suddenly, though my throat swells with the panic of needing and with the pain of wanting, I stumble off the sidewalk and toward this black or blue sedan parked on the curb and vomit on its back passenger door.

“Fuck,” I say, wiping cheap whiskey and hope from my lips.

And isn’t this what got me stuck here in the first place?

I push myself up and off the car, unevenly backing away on my too-high heels to the sidewalk. Making my way down Delaware Ave, I think about him again, choking back more tears and vomit. Not again. And not on a car.

It doesn’t matter anyway. In six months he will either be married, or she will have finally left him. Either way, in six months I’ll be sitting alone in a full movie theatre quietly crying into a large cup, half coke, half whiskey, watching a movie about a couple erasing the painful memories of their relationship from their brains forever, wishing one of them was me.

***

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***Hillary Umland is a writer of fiction and poetic prose currently living in Nebraska. She has been published in Unbroken Journal and Sick Lit Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @hillaryumlaut if you like Top Chef and pizza. ***

Atavistic Lipstick – by JEFFREY H. TONEY

Atavistic Lipstick

Jeffrey H. Toney

 

Stepping onto the grimy commuter bus, her beauty jolted me from my daily stupor.  Bright red vinyl facing benches held three passengers, one seat unoccupied next to her.  I joined her as we jerked towards the next stop.  Leaning against the window, warm dry air blew past her cheek gently tickled by a tiny tear trail.

“What’s wrong?”  My optimistic fool inquired.

We crashed hard, helpless passengers smacking onto hot metal bulging blisters borne from four tons colliding, her atavistic pop lipstick loam laced with blood, now crimson pin pricks on my glasses, salty on the tip of my tongue.

***

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Jeffrey Toney (r) with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda (l) at Relief Live, celebrating the 10th anniversary of Music For Relief at LA River Studios (November 14, 2015).  Music for Relief has raised over $7 million for survivors of multiple disasters across four continents including Hurricane Katrina, China’s Wenchuan earthquake, a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan in 2010, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; see: http://musicforrelief.org/disaster-relief-programs/

 

***

Dr. Toney has published scientific peer-reviewedarticles, news media opinion pieces as well as short fiction stories in O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal of The Veterans Writing Project, The East Coast Literary Review and in Crack The Spine.  Recently, he was nominated for a PushcartPrize for his 100 word story, “The Quiet Raspberry Wormhole” published by Crack The Spine.  He serves as Provost and Vice Presidentfor Academic Affairs at Kean University. He volunteers and fundraises for charities such as Music For Relief,founded by Linkin Park, and the RFK Center for Human Rights.  He serves on the Steering Committee of theScience and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for theAdvancement of Science (AAAS).  You canfollow him on Twitter @jefftoney, read his blog on The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jeffrey-h-toney/) and listen to his podcast about how anyone can contribute to human rights issues on Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria (http://carasantamaria.com/podcast/jeffrey-toney).  

 

April’s Theme: Hillary Umland’s Letting GO

April: Hillary Umland’s Letting Go Theme

Letting go is such a magnificent writing prompt that covers so many areas of our lives. I’m particularly excited about April because I can’t wait to show our writers and readers alike the diversity of the pieces we will be publishing.

So, as it turns out, the end of Women’s Month in March turned the whole month around, fantastic work landing in my in-box left and right, plastering a smile to my face as I read your groundbreaking writing.

I am a last-minute gal myself, so I don’t mind last-minute submissions; just know that you may be squeezed in somewhere. And I’m more than okay with that. Hopefully you guys are too. I have come down with some sort of bizarre, fluish  illness as of late, that has been making me sluggish and irritable; and, hopefully, understandably slow to respond to your submissions e-mails.

I’m crossing my fingers in the hopes that we will soon have an intern here at SLM to help my weak-immune-systemed self sift through all of the amazing work I’ve received so I can both respond to you in a more timely manner, as well as get your pieces scheduled a bit more quickly.

What a venture this has all turned out to be; I feel like the luckiest editor alive. I can’t tell you the joy it brings to me to get a submission that is just absolutely breathtaking. There’s no experience that can match it. Although this job does not pay, it pays me in a way that nothing else can.

Hillary Umland, one of the very first contributors to Sick Lit Magazine’s open submissions call, has been one of my favorites. Her work is so descriptive, yet in a way that makes the use of “like” and “as,” seem unnecessary. Her writing flows in this effortless way, blowing me away every time I read one of her pieces. She is truly a talented, valued member of this team.

I think we can ALL relate to the process of letting go. Letting go of a loved one, a home, friends, an exciting time in our lives. It hits particularly close to home with me, having been an Air Force *brat.* I’ll never forget when I had an asthma attack at an away football game (I was in the marching band) and I’d had to take off my band uniform because it was so hot outside. I’d forgotten that my friend and I had switched socks on the bus, so there I sat, with one sock up to my knee and the other down to my ankle, with a nebulizer blowing albuterol vapor into my lungs. I wanted to hide my face.

So far I’m thrilled with what I’m reading. Just give my sick-self some time to respond to you with a proper scheduling date for publishing. Thanks, writers, for being patient with me. Know that I appreciate all of you; I appreciate your kindness as well as your overwhelming sense of knowledge when it comes to your craft of writing and art.

I’ll close with this question: What does the concept of letting go mean to you?

Cheers!

Peace and love,

Your Favorite Editor 😉

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

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PS: WE ARE OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS UNTIL I SAY OTHERWISE! ROCK! 

(send everything to kelly.fitzharris@gmail.com)

*PS: The photo I used as the header is of my room when I was a senior in high school, living in Niceville, Florida, attending Niceville High School and running at least 5 miles a day. Oh to be young and energetic! I found it fitting; I mourned the loss of that house SO MUCH when I was in college and found out my parents were selling it. So, I finally had to….let go.*

Anatomy of Womanhood – by SERA FLYNN

 

Anatomy of Womanhood

 

  1. On feet: “Your feet must be small and soft,” they say. “You must move quietly, like the slightest breath, and stay on the marked path.”

 

Kiki doesn’t move quietly. She runs. And she is swift, swifter than the boys in her neighbourhood who drop from her peripheral vision one by one until all she sees is sky blurring by and all she feels is the pistoning of her legs, the earth traveling upwards through her veins and bursting behind her eyes.

 

The mothers soon stop that. They cluck over her, muttering that her legs are too muscular, like a boy’s, that she must walk, like a lady. They bind her feet in small patent leather shoes. The kind of shoes that reflect nothing but pitch – the color of the darkest night without stars.

 

Except the men on the corner, they see something in the reflection of those shoes they like. They sit and sneer as she passes. As quiet as a mouse, she fears their sharp gazes on her, their phlegmy snickering. She says nothing when they flick at her dress straps with their fingers or pinch the hem of her skirt. She stays still, feeling the bottoms of her feet itch.

 

But on the night when Mr. Azikiwe corners her in the alleyway, hands insistent, pressing her down, she moves like lightning. Her brother once told her lightning does not come down from the sky. “From the earth, Kiki,” he said, sighing at her fourth-grade ignorance. “It comes up from the earth to meet the sky.” And so that is what she is; neither quiet nor small nor soft – she is a lightning storm blinding him as she darts away from Mr. Azikiwe’s grasp and out into the street where she screams until the police come running.

 

That night, after questioning, in the darkness of her room, she takes off her shoes and looks at the long bones of her feet. The lightning there sparks and gutters. Still there, for the next time she needs it.

 

  1. On cunt: “Your cunt must be pure,” they say. “You must be clean and well-groomed – bare and sweet like a peach. But not too sweet, so boys know you are not to be picked.”

 

Magda has overheard the boys talk in class, sitting with shoulders hunched, elbows on knees, voices low and laughing.

 

They list off names of girls they’ve kissed up against the brick wall behind the cafeteria, exchange information about which eighth grader won’t complain if a hand slides up her skirt an inch too far, or which teacher will turn his eyes away if he stumbles across them while smoking his daily cigarette on the football field. These are the important things, things she hears over and over. She could practically recite them in her sleep.

 

Sometimes, she relays these secrets to Lily as they lounge on the window sills in the bathroom, passing a lollipop back and forth. “Skanks,” Lily scoffs. “Don’t they know you’re suppose to make them work for it?” Magda feels as though she should protest, speak up for these girls she’s known since kindergarten – Mary, Lakeisha, Jasmine. Her cheeks bloom with such hot joy at the sharpness of Lily’s language, at the sight of her cherry-colored lips on the lollipop, that she says nothing.

 

It’s when the boys in her class talk about how a girl smells, how it all depends on her hygiene, how the briny, fishy smell sticks to them, stays on their hands, that’s when Magda feels sick to her stomach.

 

She’s always liked the way she smells, a private, secret pride. Sometimes, in bed at night, she slides her hand across the warm, giving skin of her stomach, down between her thighs, twisting her fingers in the curls there. Carrying that hand to her nose, she falls asleep, comforted by the smell. She dreams of salt-skimmed ice and flying fish that break from beneath, soaring up against the moon.

 

On the night Lily wakes her with a pebble against her window. They stride through the darkened streets towards the playground, laughing in murmurs with hands held between them. Magda almost tells Lily what she’s heard, how she feels. She imagines a night when, at a sleepover, she might tell, her head bent against Lily’s own brilliant red hair. She would hear in that space before sleep Lily’s soft agreement as she slides her hand down between Lily’s thighs into the warm, bristly heat.

 

At the playground, someone waits beneath the glare of the street lamp. Magda cannot see them clearly, but the boy-shapes are big and dark. Lily ignores Magda’s question, allowing one boy to reach out and pull her against him as they approach. “Don’t,” she murmurs, but the word dissolves into a giggle.

 

Magda perches on a roundabout, trying to ignore the soft sounds coming from the end of the slide where Lily is smothered beneath a boy-shaped shadow. “Hey, wanna make out?” the other boy asks, scuffing his foot across the grass. “Sure,” she responds because – why not? His mouth is too pliant, his tongue hard and insistent and she’s about to protest when he worms his hand into her pants, then jerks it back. “Yuck, girl! Don’t you shave?” he exclaims and, from the slide, a responding snigger. Encouraged, he continues, “Just like a bramble down there.”

 

Magda has time to say nothing because it is a bramble – a briar of thick vines woven from hair. Those vines slither up around her, forming a labyrinth from which deep, blood-red roses bloom. Roses that smell of the ocean. The last thing she sees before the vines enclose her is Lily’s face, wide-eyed and staring, and the last thing she hears is a boy hissing from between his teeth “Whoa…”

 

They come to see Magda, the boys from her class. The girls, too. Sometimes, on a dare, they attempt to penetrate the briars but only scratch and scar themselves on the thorns. The vibrations reach Magda deep within where she lies nestled amongst roses. She could tell them: no sword or stone shall reach her.

 

It will take a princess with fiery red hair.

 

  1. On breasts: “Your breasts must be pert,” they say. “Round, like a lemon, but not as big as a melon – that’s too ungraceful. You must uncover them only for one who has paid for their beauty. They will offer milk to your marriage, calm the squalls of your children.”

 

Dia’s breasts get in the way, and so she binds them.

“Amazons, yo, that’s what we are,” laughs Cortez, pinching out her cigarette. “Can’t no breasts ruin our aim, eh?”  Dia sometimes wants to say: our aim is shit, sister, but this would earn her a smack across the mouth, so she keeps quiet.

Quiet like a fox – that’s what Cortez says, on account of when Las Zorras jumped Dia in she didn’t make a sound, even though they left bruises that bloomed for weeks. “Knew you was one of us, Di,” she throws away the words with a sideways sneer, but Dia gathers them up and carries them inside her heart. “The boys, they respect a girl who keeps her mouth shut.”

Dia wants to point out no one is louder than Cortez when Los Lobos are around, loping down the sidewalk, a pack circling the girls, sniffing at them. Cortez slys her eyes, lets her fingers linger a little here, laughs a little too loudly there and when Jester slides his hand beneath the hem of her shirt, she does not brush him off. “They status, Dia,” she says, later. “You gotta let them catch you now and then. The streets aren’t scared of us, y’know? We just girls. But the boys – they got real hardware.”

Dia wouldn’t know. When the boys are around, she doesn’t say a word, just tries to fold in on herself, pull her tail in, bind her breasts tighter, make sure there’s nothing they can hold onto. She is proud of being in Las Zorras, but Los Lobos are a different breed – she’s heard stories of what they do when they’re disrespected. Their hands on Las Zorras are temperamental – one minute petting, one minute sharp as blades to skin you alive.

Like Lulu.

“Hey, puta got what she deserved,” Cortez declares and the other Zorras nod. “She knows the price, man. You run with Los Lobos, you playin’ with the big dogs.”

Rumors on the street is, Lulu’s barely alive, collateral in the hazing of the gang’s newest member. When she returns, a month or so later, she’s sullen, until Cortez confronts her – “Sister, you knew what you was getting yourself into. That’s why you learn to shoot.” – as she pats the 9mm tucked in her waistband. “They get too fresh, you go all Amazon on their ass,” and she throws back her head to laugh. Dia does not point out the Amazons were a myth. She does not say ‘my heart is not mythical and magical. It’s soft and breaks easily.’

She keeps her mouth shut.

The night Los Lobos come for Dia, she tries to slither, boneless from their grasp. She has mostly gone unnoticed in their rituals, but she knows she cannot escape their hazing forever, even using her binding as armor. In the shifting shadows of the streetlamps, they’re a route of shadows that grunt and murmur as they tug at her shirt, at her pants, pull her from herself. The concrete is rough against her ass, someone fumbles with the bandages around her breasts, uncoiling them and then kneels between her legs.  The night air, cold on her skin, makes her gasp. Her voice is unleashed. She yaps and hollers, biting when someone places a hand – salty and stinking of metal – against her mouth.

“Yo, someone’s gonna hear. Bitch ain’t worth it man,” she hears amidst her noise.

Then, the gunshot. She explodes into darkness.

They give her the bullet, later, at the hospital, flattened out like a penny on the A-train track. “Oddest thing,” the doctor tells her. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Your breast bone and your ribcage – for lack of a better explanation – are impenetrable. Like steel. The bullet bruised you. There might be internal damage.”

Dia smiles. She knows the truth of that.

 

  1. On mouth: “Words must fall from your mouth like petals,” they say. “You must practice a pleasant and rich tone so that you will not sound shrill. A woman’s purpose is not to scold. You must be measured, not harsh or too emotional – emotion is a woman’s weakness.”

 

“Speak to her,” they tell Jo. “She can hear you.”

But Jo doesn’t know what to say. Her mother is ensnared in a tangle of wires and beeping monitors, perhaps no longer there at all. After all, even though Jo hears the shrill tone of her mother’s heartbeat, when she places her hand on her mother’s chest, she feels nothing.

Jo was not present when her mother fell, lecture at the local University interrupted mid-word. She only knows what happened because she heard the nurses whispering, saw some of the students milling about in the waiting room.

“Excuse me,” one of them say, as Jo passes on her way to the vending machines. It’s past midnight. “Can I just say that Professor Hoffman is an inspiration to me. She always has been. I’m just so devastated about what happened.”

A young girl. No more than twenty-one, bright-eyed and fresh out of the package. Jo doesn’t bother to say she lost her mother years ago, before she wrote The Wyldwood. Before she became an entry in Time magazine as one of the Decade’s Most Influential People. Before she was awarded an honorary doctorate and began teaching. Back when her words were whisky-soaked and wild.

“She always told the best stories, in class,” the girl continues. “It must have been amazing growing up with a mother with such a vivid imagination.”

Vivid. Jo’s can’t pinpoint exactly when she realized her mother was different. She does remember her mother’s first attempt to commit suicide, one weekend in the cottage by the lake, remembers finding her slumped in a patio chair, murmuring to herself with a bottle of JD in her hand, an empty bottle of pills on the table next to her. Her words spilled out, half-formed, dark, seeping like ink. Terrified, Jo ran from them where they pooled on her mother’s chest, shifting like a cancerous growth. She ran into the trees, stumbling over roots. That’s where the ambulance driver found her.

She was seven.

It was then Jo stopped talking, overwhelmed by nightmares that her words, like her mother’s, might writhe out of her mouth, alive and insidious. For years, she remained silent. And then, fifteen, tired of her mother’s blackouts, she learned words could be weapons. She could use them to cut and maim. “I hate you!” she screamed, in that last argument. Her mother’s outstretched hands, bleeding at the palm. “I hope you fucking die.”

The last words she spoke to her mother.

Until now.

“I’ve missed you, ” Jo speaks softly. The hospital is asleep and dreaming, lights low, hallway mostly empty. She wonders how many people in this hospital will wake again. “They say you can hear me.”

She hesitates, uncertain. Searching for strength, she curls a hand against her stomach.

“I remember, Mama. I remember the stories you told me when I was young. Before…” The stories that later became the property of the world, but which, at first, were hers and hers alone. “There’s a lot of other things I remember, too. I’m still mad at you about that.” Tears spill onto Jo’s cheeks, burning hot. She swallows the fire, feels it pool, molten, inside.

“Mama, I remember Wyldwood?” The word itself – Wyldwood – exhales in a glittering curlicue of gold.  Fireflies. They cast light on her mother’s face, across the forest of wires that surround them. “You need to come back, Come back to me. I love you.”

At that word – love –  the fireflies burst into a shower of tiny, gilt petals that, spiraling through the air, catch against her mother’s lips, her cheeks and settle on their hands, entwined on the bed.

And with that, Jo settles in to tell the story that was, once upon a time, the way her mother found a path in the dark, tangled forest of their life.

Once upon a time, there was a girl…

 

 

  1. On hair: “Your hair is your crowning glory,” they say. “It must be long and lustrous, perfumed so that you may bathe your lover in its beauty. But it must be covered, for it will tempt the men around you – ‘it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7).”

 

 

“Not too short,” the barber scolds when Stella asks for a trim. He weighs the length of her brown hair in his palm. She watches it slide through his calloused fingers with the odd feeling of witnessing a private joy. “Too much like a boy,” he barks and his colleague, who sweeps hair from the floor into spiky little piles, laughs too.

 

Stella thinks of her bureau covered in expensive bottles of dry hair shampoo, waxes, balms, mousses and the hour and a half it takes her to get ready every morning. She thinks of Heath, how he stands in the bedroom doorway each evening, silhouetted against the hallway light, as she brushes her hair in the mirror. How, when he leans down to kiss her neck, he carries the scent of someone else.

 

“All of it,” Stella says, the sudden decision a flame catching in her chest.  “I want all of it gone,” and the barber mutters and moans as he shaves it down, taking the money she hands him afterwards with begrudging grace. Before leaving the shop, she winds her head up in a grey scarf, carefully.

 

Heath has recently engaged in an affair with one of the girls from his troupe, a young supporting actress with impeccable dramatic timing and extraordinarily long blond hair. Stella constantly finds these golden hairs around the house – caught in the drain, in the underwear drawer, between her socks, in the soup she prepares for supper.

 

“You’re so busy,” Heath said, when she confronted him about it, hissing in whispers off stage left. “Your work keeps you away from me, Stel. You’re not who you used to be.” and he turned away from her, towards the group of actors huddling, awaiting his direction. As though that was the end of it.

 

And perhaps it is. That night, after her hair is cut, watching him from furtively from beneath her eyelashes over the dinner table, her head still covered, she wonders if this is all her fault: the long hours at the office, the grey in her hair, the way their conversations slowly became only about the house or the fertility treatments. Even their love-making has become rare and mechanical, a means to an end. She remembers those first few months of marriage spent lazy and love-swollen in their bed. They only left to eat. She cooked him meals wearing nothing but her combat boots.“My star girl,” he called her, unfurling the words into her ear. “My spitfire. You burn me,” and sure enough, he carried the marks of her on his body. She let him claim her, make her fire cool to his touch.

 

“I’ve changed my hair,” she says, now, unraveling the scarf. He pauses in his meal, blinking.

 

“What the fuck, Stel?” He spits. “Don’t you think you’re a little old to be a hipster? You look like a dyke.”

 

Anger flares in her, but she quells it. Stands, throws her dishes into the sink and retreats to the bedroom. There, she sits at her dresser, staring at the dark space of her face in the mirror. After a moment, she sees a spark. Just one. A quick glint that blinks out. Startled, she raises a hand to her scalp but finds only the satisfying bristle against her fingertips.

 

The next day, avoiding the sideways glances of her colleagues, she leaves the office at lunchtime, wandering through the side streets of the neighbourhood. She still feels odd about the hair – constantly catching herself reaching up to feel it, and so she avoids the windows. It doesn’t take her too long to find a tattoo parlor.

 

“Lady,” the tattoo artist, a thin young man with snakes curling up his arms, whistles as she perches on his chair, “I love the hair. Bold.” She thanks him, pointing out the star she’d like inked onto the nape of her neck. It takes only minutes, the needle’s lick scalding her skin. “There ya go, sister,” the artist concludes. “With that hair, and your tattoo, seems like you might need to get yourself some new threads.”

 

It’s opening night, and she’s ahead on her paperwork, so Stella calls into the office to tell them she won’t be returning. Instead of frequenting her usual store, a place that sells high-end collections that always seem to be in muted, work-appropriate shades of grey, she meanders into a small thrift shop just around the corner. The place has always caught her eye, with brightly-colored displays, but she’s never had the nerve to enter. There, she picks out a second hand dress the color of soot, studded with shimmering golden paillettes. “A night sky,” the woman behind the counter coos. “With your hair, you are a constellation. With stars on your skin.” And sure enough, when Stella reaches to touch her tattoo, it simmers beneath her hand.

 

It is late – she’s lost track of the time – and so Stella refuses a bag, instead keeps the dress on. As she’s paying, a pair of threadbare combat boots catches her eye. She buys them too. She walks the several blocks to the theatre, with each stomp feeling the anger in her at Heath’s betrayal unfurl and loosen in her chest. People who pass turn to stare at the anger and then fierce joy rising from her, a trail of embers that spiral on the breeze.

 

At the theatre’s front doors, reaching for a door handle, Stella catches sight of her reflection. Her hair has ignited, a nest of flame that lights her whole face. Shocked, she reaches up and finds stars hidden in the bright strands. Stars that gutter in the palm of her hand.

 

Ignoring the people that stare out through the glass at her, she throws her head back and releases her laughter up against the moon. Then, turning, she keeps walking – through the streets into the luminous dark, hand cupped against her stomach.

 

She will call her Esther, this white-hot star inside her. Together, they will be a galaxy.

***

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Sera Flynn lives at the edge of the world with her husband and two beasties. She tames high school students for a living and in her spare time likes to collect folklore and swim with sea monsters. 

Her Life in Cups – by ELIZABETH ARCHER

 

Her Life in Cups

by Elizabeth Archer

 

 

 

Training bra, white cotton, size too big.

“You need to wear this now. Every day. Her mother handed her two plain white training bras, ordered from the catalog.

Her mother wore horrible things made out of spandex that encompassed all of her—breasts, waist, hips, thighs—things that looked like clingy white armor. She’d seen her mother struggling into these in the July heat, getting dressed for church.

She was thankful all she had to wear was this little strip of white fabric. It meant, though, that she was no longer a little girl. The week after she got the bra, she boxed up all her dolls except a few fashion dolls.

Women wear bras. She was a woman, albeit a woman in training.

Bra: White lace, B cup, 32.

 

 

One day she woke up with breasts. She knew they’d been growing, stealthily, for a while. But that was not her memory. Her memory was that she looked down and saw them, little hills on the horizon of her olive skin. They were a challenge, a strange terrain that changed everything.

They were inescapable, like fate.

The boys across the street took notice of her changing topography. Teenage boys always notice breasts. Everyone’s breasts. Grandmas. Pregnant ladies. Any breast garners their attention. They can’t help it.

Her evolution from A to full B heading for C attracted them. They checked for the rustle of paper, brushed up against her, eager to prove the contents of the bra were genuine.

36 C, black lace, with matching thong.

She could hear his breath hitch, see the light in his eyes. The swells of breast lapped over the cups in erotic froth of pale skin. In the mirror, she could see the tableaux-man, woman, bed. She-almost naked. He-fully clothed still in his evening clothes.

As much as she loved her black gown, this outfit would linger forever in her memory. The iconic moment.

 

36 DDD White Nursing bra

 

Being pregnant changed everything. Her responsibilities. Her breasts.

They grew in mathematically improbable ways. Like pumpkins in a prize patch, every night they swelled and curved a little more. The front of her invaded the space before her, and things parted to let her pass. But nothing prepared her for the day after childbirth.

She awoke to find changes over night, like something from a fairy tale. They pinned her to the bed. Her husband thought some sort of gift had come to him, but she didn’t feel the same way.

They were ginormous by any standards except siliconed porn stars.

She had to go bra shopping in unknown territory. Where did one shop for cup sizes beyond DD?

It turned out they lurked in catalogs, just like training bras of her childhood.

She resorted to tent like dresses from late pregnancy, and clutched the baby to her chest to distract prying eyes.

“Wow,” her husband, “Do you think they’ll stay like that?”

“God, I hope not,” she responded.

For the first time, she realized just how objectified a woman with enormous breasts becomes. She was giant boobs with legs. Male eyes settled on her breasts. And stayed there.

“Maybe if you quit nursing they’ll go back,” coworkers advised.

 

“I wanted to nurse him for six months,” she said.

He was growing rapidly.

“That’s going to be a tall one,” said the pediatrician. “He’s off the charts for growth.”

Nursing over, the breasts began to deflate like unhappy balloons, leaving stretch marks silvering the skin.

“Do you think they’ll come back with the next baby?” her husband asked.

“What next baby?” she said.

 

38 D with underwire and wide straps, six hooks in the back. Off white.

Somewhere after baby number three, bras ceased to be from the boutique with red lace and satin flourishes.

They became torture devices, with metal that threatened to spring out, that bit into her back from crooked hooks. The breasts took the shape of the bra, not vice versa. Freed from their tormentors, her breasts slid happily down her chest, heading for her navel, blissfully unaware of their disappointing contours.

“You could get implants,” her husband suggests, casting that sideways glance he makes when he’s avoiding confrontation. “If it made you happy.”

 

He watches as she buttons her blouse over the bra. She knows what he means. He’d like them reinflated, re-energized. Filled with bags of goop to make them perky and proud.

“I’ll think about it,” she says. But she doesn’t think about it.

There are bills to pay, and what is under the hood of the car is more important than what is under her t-shirts.

 

Masectomy bra, with inserts. Black. 36 B

He is the one who finds the tiny lump. She remembers the sound in his voice. “I think there’s something here. Something you need to have checked.” He sounds terrified, the way he sounded when his Dad had his heart attack.

She knows before the doctor calls that it is malignant. She remembers when her mother’s lump was biopsied. It all comes rushing back, like a hurricane wiping out the same coastline it has hit before.

Her body, this time. Not someone else’s. The soothing language, the hopeful words, fade to the background thump of her heart beat.

“Take them both. Take them away,” she tells the surgeon, given options. Checking and rechecking seem an impossible burden, compared to an empty beach, and clean new surface. She wants the fear swept away, as if it could be erased with the tissue.

 

“You look beautiful,” he tells her, forcing her to show him what she wants to hide. “More beautiful than ever.”

She wears the mastectomy bra, with the inserts that fill the voids were flesh once lived. Maybe someday, she thinks, she’ll have them reconstructed. Someday when she feels stronger, when the memory of her mother’s final agonizing days has fled. But not today.

Today, the cups aren’t half-empty. They are full of life and hope.

***

ElizabethArcher (2)

Elizabeth Archer writes flash fiction, poetry and short stories. She lives in the Texas Hill Country.

*Photo courtesy of regular contributor and writer for SLM, C.C. O’Hanlon.*