A Show of Concern

“You’re going to get in trouble if you sleep in class, it’s that simple. You sleep at home, not in class. You know this.” The Principal leans back in his faded burgundy chair, arms crossed like the period at the end of sentence.

Marley nods, scrunches down in the hard, wooden chair in case she might actually be able to disappear.

“You should be tired of this by now. How do I get you to understand?”

Marley stares at the front of the wooden desk, the ugly words scratched there, bites both lips since her fingernails are already gone.

“Then why do you keep doing it? You know it’s not okay? Why not just go to sleep earlier?”

She wants to answer, wills the words to expose themselves, but nothing happens.

“Watch less TV… listen to classical music….”

Marley’s fingers strangle each other in her lap.

“Do you have something you want to talk about?”

It feels as if one of them might snap.

 “I can’t help if you don’t let me.”

Help?

“Do you go to bed early?”

Somehow her head bobs once vertically on its axis.

“Then why are you so tired?”

She doesn’t even know where the shrug comes from.

 “Do you have nightmares?” He seems hopeful. “Is something waking you up?”

A single nod, like a flower poking through snow.

“Yes?” He straightens.

Marley leans forward almost imperceptibly, lips parted.

“You can tell me.” The Principal leans in to meet her.

Marley tastes the words, not sure if they even make sense.

The Principal collapses back into his chair. “I can’t help if you don’t let me.”

Marley struggles to make the words work in her head first. Some things you have to live to understand.

The Principal sighs and drops his head, waiting patiently. Marley blinks, trying to see clearly. A plane goes by outside. The words mix, get lost, mix again, then form something she allows to squeeze through the cracks. At first just a small croak escapes her, then something just above a whisper… “My mother… she… gets sad a lot… at night… she wakes me up so I can… help her sleep.”

There’s a long pause as the Principal stares into his lap seeming to take this in. Marley stares into her lap as well, waiting for whatever comes next. Another plane goes by, just a sound, hundreds of people riding a hum in the sky. She listens, wishing she were anywhere else. Then another sound from under the desk, the unmistakable whoosh of an email flying through the ether.

The Principal looks up at her with a concerned frown. “Look, I can’t help you unless you’re willing to share. We’ll overlook it this time. Get back to class and sleep at home. Okay?”

Teja BenAmor

Teja BenAmor is a fiction and screen writer from East Village, New York City. Her screenplay Toothbrushes & Cowbellswas a finalist in the Cinema Street Screenplay Competition. Most recently her work has appeared at Every Day Fiction.

The Mirrored Shields

For thousands of years this was a peaceful place – pine trees stretching up toward the sky, hawks gliding at the line where the clouds met the infinite blue, fish scuttling down full rivers, one might even get lucky and see a brown bear, a flopping salmon in its mouth. But then the bulldozers came, ripping the ground with violence like a dagger cutting deep into flesh, shattering the idyllic mirrored surface of the lake, those still parts of the river, with the boom of seismic blasts, draining the land of its blood. Pipes were laid for oil to flow but no one who lived here wanted this. The people arrived to defend the land like birds in murmuration, huge crowds, a mass of bodies, there to put their flesh in front of the bulldozers. The people were peaceful. They were told to hold their ground and not panic. But then the riot police showed up to make an example of them. The people were shot by rubber bullets, sprayed with mace, assaulted by water cannons and blinded by tear gas.

After many days and months of camping in frigid temperatures, the people were close to giving up but then one morning as a hawk squawked across the sky, they opened their tents and discovered mirrored shields had been placed in front of every tent. They held these mirrored shields up in front of them, feeling like superheroes. They moved toward the riot police like a unified silver mass of shimmering scales. The police gasped to see themselves reflected back in these mirrors  – their black helmets, bullet proof vests, combat pants, guns strapped to holsters, but underneath all that gear they were still human, still of this land, like the stardust they were born from and the dust they will return to.

For a moment there was a vibration of shared humanity -that underneath the uniforms they were just like the people they had been told to fight.

Christine Arroyo

Christine Arroyo’s work has been published in X-R-A-Y Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Dark Recesses Press, Beyond Words, and Variety Pack, to name a few. She lives with her husband in New York’s Hudson Valley with her rescue dog and cat.

All the Time in the World

Wherever he went, a thundercloud paraded behind him. Just a little one, about the size of a coffee grinder. Black-ish, oblong, floating along in the wake of his head. He could never, ever see it. But, if he looked back—as he always tried not to do—he could mark its tiny path of damp devastation.

You should get that looked at, said his best friend, who had come along for the ride.

You should get that looked at, said his hairdresser, who had to nudge the thundercloud out of the way so she could study the back of his neck. Stand back, peering, to make sure everything was even and as it should be.

 

 

Her sign said Hairdresser for Men, not Barber. Over a long life, she told him, she’d learned that the only thing that mattered more than how things appeared, was what they were called.

You should get that looked at, he said—he was accustomed to telling people all day what to do—when she retreated so far from the back of his head in order to see it that she bumped into a portable coffee cart and sent the grinder flying.

You should get that looked at, said his friend—he was accustomed to going along with everything, plus he knew a good appliance repairman.

The hairdresser gazed out the window and pointed at what she saw with her extreme far-sightedness (which is just a term for everything close being confusingly blurred): a dark cloud rolling in.

 

 

Afterwards, he was never sure what to call what had happened. Just that, once again, something had.

You shouldn’t look, said his hairdresser, about the back of his head after she slipped with the clippers. A small breeze—a warning unheeded—tingled his newly bald patch of scalp. We’re outta here, he screamed, furious, his friend’s insouciance once again parched ground to rain. He jerked his head towards the door with a lopsided flounce.

You shouldn’t look, said the drenched paramedic in the storm, about his best friend being cut from the car he’d just smashed.

You shouldn’t look, said a new thundercloud, purring into his ear like a full coffee grinder, as if there were all the time in the world to even things out.

Kimm Brockett Stammen

Kimm Brockett Stammen’s writings have appeared or are forthcoming in Litro, december magazine, CARVE, The Greensboro Review, Pembroke, Prime Number, and many others. Her work has been nominated for Pushcart and Best Short Fiction anthologies. She holds an MFA from Spalding University. kimmbrockettstammen.wordpress.com

Dating Tips

He sits up next to me in bed, well into the night, the dawn birds’ song nearing, scrolling through a Tumblr account of topless girls on his, what, first generation iPad? He’s not even touching himself or anything. He’s scrolling like he’s reading the news, like he’s reading some half-baked cultural take by a nepotism-baby journalist, his brow tense, his glasses resting too low on his nose to be of use, so what’s the point? But still he scrolls, his finger flicking up, up, up. The topless girls are faceless, too. But I see them. And I see what he’s doing. Does he see me? He makes no movement to suggest he does. He scrolls, his finger flicking up, up, up. Now the dawn birds’ wretched noise begins. And I’m grateful because I can stop pretending I can sleep in this too-hot room, in this too-hot bed that is definitely bedbug-infested, but he won’t admit to that, either, just like he won’t admit I can see him scrolling up, up, up through these girls that aren’t me. I mean, I don’t need them to be me. But he doesn’t know that. He thinks I love him. It’s a game we play called something I don’t yet have a name for. Just like the topless and faceless girls. If we sit with this stale air between us any longer I’m going to do something terrible.

Rachel Stempel

Rachel Stempel is a queer Ukrainian-Jewish poet based in Binghamton, NY. She is the author of the chapbooks Interiors (Foundlings Press), BEFORE THE DESIRE TO EAT (Finishing Line Press), and Dear Abbey (Bottle Cap Press).

YLIED

I’m waiting in line, and there’s this little girl standing behind me. She has big brown eyes and blonde hair, and I drift into her conversation the way people do sometimes.

The girl is talking to a man dressed in an old-time suit with one of those high collars. The man spins the brim of his hat in his hands. I presume the man is the girl’s father and that he has dressed-up and brought her to this.

The girl says that she just had to come because the bus driver used to drop her off special right in front of her house, even when it wasn’t raining or snowing. Not only that, but he once let her borrow his gloves, and she holds up her hands and says she has been meaning to give them back and forgot and now this. She says she was going to paste one of the gloves into her scrapbook, but she hasn’t figured out how to do it.

The rose she holds in her floppy covered hands she has dipped in wax. She says the tight, waxed spiral did not open like her teacher said it would, instead its head is all droopy and the stem is about to break.

The procession jolts ahead, then stops. Those upfront pause as if to take note of a traffic accident and to thank God they’re not participants in it.

“He couldn’t read very good either,” the girl says, ” ’cause he suffered from this letter switching disease. Sometimes STOP became POST; sometimes YIELD became YLIED.”

She says she sat in the seat behind him every day and held onto the metal bar when the bus went down the other side of the mountain. She says she feels especially bad because she didn’t say anything to him Monday morning when she got off the bus; she was too busy finishing her dreams.

We inch toward the coffin: a sturdy transport, long and bulky, immobile, ready to carry its passenger to his final stop.

“I think they should retire his bus number,” she says, “and, I’ll tell you what I hope they don’t do. I hope they don’t paint over it or change it or something.”  The girl holds up her gloved hands, one on each side of her face and tries to read the scene like side mirrors, her brows knitting-up. “If they change it then when he looks down from Heaven he won’t be able to read it as his number ’cause in Heaven the letter-switching disease will be all healed.”

She drops her hands and gives me one of the gloves. “I’ve decided, I don’t want to go up there anymore. Just tell him that I sure do appreciate him letting me borrow his gloves, and tell him I’m sorry and I would have returned them but I misplaced the other one. Just tell him that, will you?”

J. Bradley Minnick

Dr. J. Bradley Minnick is a writer, public radio host and producer, and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Minnick has written, edited, and produced the one-minute spot “Facts About Fiction,” which celebrates influential authors and novelists with unique facts from their lives. These spots air weekly on UA Little Rock Public Radio and its affiliated stations. In 2014, Minnick began work on Arts & Letters Radio, a show celebrating modern humanities with a concentration on Arkansas cultural and intellectual work. He has produced over 95 episodes, and this work has been acknowledged by the 2016 national PRNDI 1st Place award for Long Documentary for “Sundays with TJ,” and a 2020 SPJ Arkansas Diamond Award for Long Documentary/Investigative Reporting for the two-part “They Liked My Phras’n: The Life and Music of Rose Marie McCoy. He has published numerous journal articles and fiction.

Here They Kill the Mustard by May

While her husband drove, Margaret kept her eyes closed, trying to identify each roll to the right, each jostle to the left along West Road. She had guessed the first curve was the bend around the Tudor house. The one being gutted behind a green privacy fence. “Privacy? Everyone knows what they’re doing,” she had laughed. Moments later a sharp bank had shunted her frail frame into the padded door panel, and she thought they might be at the place with the goats. Her uncertainty, though, had surprised her.

Six long years had passed since they had moved to the hills and found themselves quickly labeled “the kids from the flatlands” after the septic tank overflowed and raccoons tore through the chicken wire. Nearly every day since they had navigated this route, eyes alert to “all” potential threats. Margaret chuckled again, then promptly regretted the expended energy. In the momentary quiet she sensed her husband was staring so that the familiar pang of guilt struck. Six long summers ago she had asked him to trust her as they tracked the petite flags and glossy plastic signs along snaky one lane roads to the Open House. Six long autumns ago they had moved into their “forever” home. She tried to find it funny.

 Soon enough, her contrition morphed into something warm as they descended a long, gentle slope. She knew they had reached the huge empty lot where the wild mustard grows. Where tall stalks burst out of compressed cracked earth with spectacular speed, growing taller than her in spots, revealing a radiant splendor seemingly overnight: intense yellow flowers arranged in delicate x’s atop sturdy hairy stems, their billowy ballet summoning dainty white butterflies. Margaret’s mother said that in the parable mustard represents faith. Well, here they chop it all down by May. In early spring, weed abatement notices start arriving. “Dried mustard plants? Highly combustible! Be safe and clear it out!” She chuckled for the last time. “Nothing that invasive is gone forever,” she thought. “After a fire destroys this place, the mustard will be the first thing to come back.” In her life before treatment, Margaret had jogged through the field each night, had stood rigid to hear what swaying sounds like, had heard the crunching beneath her shoes. She understood that well before the trucks and chainsaws rumble up to pull life out by the roots, wild mustard plants have already dropped much of their seed. She opened her drained eyes onto her husband. Oh, how she wished now that they had done the same.

Elizabeth Allison

Elizabeth Allison spent many joyful years in alternative and high school education before leaving the classroom to spend more time with her children and on her own writing. Her work has since appeared on sites such as The Huffington Post and Intrepid Times.

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