Oona: A Love Story


Arlo was strolling down Pike Street one morning when he saw a woman sitting on a bench in front of a sex shop, madly trying to light a cigarette.  She looked to be in her early twenties, was tall and slim with azure blue hair, and her milky white skin was adorned with tats and piercings.  She looked vaguely familiar so he offered her a light and they chatted it up a bit.

Her name was Oona, and he found out that they were at the same Poetry Slam event the month before.  She told him that she just moved to Seattle, used to work as a dominatrix, and that her wife, Didi, was a tranny.  She also revealed that she once lived in a coven and was a witch.

Afterwards, he took her shopping at a place that carried a wide assortment of the dark, Goth clothing befitting her persona.

They met several other times that month, always followed by more shopping sprees.  Arlo could see what was happening but it almost didn’t matter because he just wanted to be in her presence, at whatever cost.  He liked to buy her needful, shiny things.  She liked to get those needful, shiny things.

During the following months, Arlo fell into the role of servant to Oona and Didi: running errands, delivering takeout food, chauffeuring, and helping them furnish the apartment they shared with another tranny.  He truly enjoyed this role.

One day, she told him that she unexpectedly inherited some property in New York and would be moving back there within the week.

Arlo felt hurt and lost without her.  Eventually he figured out a way to sooth the pain and kick-start his life back up again; he would immortalize her in print.


by A.R. Bender

Sunday Morning

That’s my bike over there. Uncle Calvert, who I had a girl crush on in middle school, painted it white for me, and my sister Jessie twirled blue satin ribbon around the frame till it looked like a barber pole. It’s parked next to the pink and white oleander I love, with flowers that smell like bubblegum, look like pinwheels, and now poke vine-like through the rusting spokes.

I rode it when it was mousy brown, reliable transportation, nothing folks would want to steal. Rode it down the street right across from me, where it dumps onto University Drive at the signal, which had turned green, my luck was holding. I’d hit all the lights like clockwork that morning.

The old Dakota pickup came rocketing through, hell-bent on squeezing a lemon from a hundred and fifty. I’ve done it myself. I sailed through the autumn air like I was moving through water, I could paint a scene for each second I floated, until I hit hard and sudden against something, couldn’t tell you what, call it end of road.

I sit high up on the light standard across the street, looking down on the traffic island, first sun casting a warm glow on the altar of my Schwinn, which is chained to the traffic sign and festooned on either side by mother’s lovely planters.

Here she comes, clutching her translucent caddy in one hand, crammed with spray cleaners and dust cloths, and a milk jug full of water in the other. She crosses the still-deserted street from the parking lot, old hips slowing her to a waddle. She wipes and primps, stands back to inspect, kisses the bike seat and handle bars, things I’d touched, with the lingering lips of a parting lover, the same sweet ceremony every Sunday morning.


by Ronald Jackson

Ronald Jackson writes stories, poems, and non-fiction. His work has appeared in Blue Monday Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Firewords Quarterly, The Gateway Review, Kentucky Review, North Carolina Literary Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and in anthologies and online venues. Recognitions include honorable mention in the Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition in 2012, third prize in Prime Number Magazine’s 2014 flash fiction competition, honorable mention in the 2014 New Millennium Writings short-short fiction competition, and runner-up in the 2016 Lamar York Prize in Non-Fiction.

Strange Sugar

It was her parents dying in a tragic accident downstate.  It was being sent off to live with a grandfather she’d never known existed.  It was working at his funeral parlor in an old Victorian house by a lake the color of desert glass.  It was assisting the grandfather in a softly lit basement room of tiled walls and shining metal tables with round black drains.  It was being ten years old and manipulating blue-tinted flesh and pliant muscle.  It was peering into faces that had been rendered void, it was fitting small plastic cups under the lids of dehydrated eyes.  It was inserting needles into veins and replacing syrupy blood with fine clean embalming fluid.  It was applying makeup to silent women and shaving greasy five-o’clock shadow from the men who no longer cared about being nicked.  It was combing little boys’ matted hair and knitting cheery bows into the tresses of little girls.  It was repairing bullet holes and stab marks and burned flesh and flayed flesh and flesh that had gone missing.

It was the grandfather’s unswerving presence.  It was how he sipped from a silver flask after a long day of reassembling human puzzles and stared at his protégé as though searching for something neither of them could see.  It was the way he fed her powdered donuts and murmured what a good good student she was.  And stroking her cheek and lightly fingering the cleft in her chin.


Joel Best

Joel Best has published in venues such as Atticus, decomP, Autumn Sky and Carcinogenic Poetry.  He lives in upstate New York with his wife and son.

2 pm Standing Meeting


They met every other week on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 pm.

He wondered where the term “standing” came from.  Regular, he supposed, immobile.

They sat around a long oval table made of dark wood veneer.  Printed agendas were constructed with care, divided by action and discussion items.

He was often light-headed at these meetings.  Maybe it was the lunch, maybe the air in the room.  He’d stare at the white agenda, then from one face to another around the table.

Why is there almost always laughter at some point in the meeting?  Is it collusion?

Why a moment when it is clear someone screwed up?  Questions are asked with spaces in them to be filled with accusation.

“Next item,” he heard.

Then a time when others are blamed who are not at the meeting.  Explanations of (bad) decisions by superiors–moving forward, new direction, budget limitations, bigger picture.

Who at the meeting is struggling for power?  Who slighted?  Who jealous of success?  Who can’t bear to hear the other’s voice, and would disagree with any position, even if it was formerly their own?  Who secretly attracted?

Why is one speechless, saying nothing–never with an agenda item, comment, question—just attendance?

He wondered what would happen if he just passed out and his head bounced off the table.

What if he just vaporized?

What if he spoke German?

He doesn’t know German.

2:55 pm.


Gary A. Berg

Gary has an MFA from UCLA and is author of published short stories and non-fiction books.

At the Bottom of the Ocean

Each day he chooses which view the dome’s artificial windows will show him. At the press of a button he can be in the middle of the desert, or overlooking a square in Paris, or surrounded by high-definition rainforest. Most often though, he chooses the marina. He likes to watch the sun ease up over the horizon as he sets to work each day. All that space. All that sea and sky.

It’s a tough gig, working at the bottom of the sea. As the deployment lengthens he finds himself longing for the surface. It’s not human company he misses so much as the chance to run somewhere that’s not a treadmill. The chance to be outside, with nothing above him but sky.

Some days it’s hard to bear. Some days he sits watching the marina for hours at a time, face inches from the glass, weeping freely. He slopes around the station, banging implements together, cursing underneath his breath. His daily reports become terse: ALL WELL. ALL WELL. BORED. ALL WELL.

One day he presses his face against the window so that there’s nothing else to see. It’s beautiful. If only he could break out through the window glass. Dive through into the sunlit blue water of the marina and swim towards those boats. He sits for hours, face cupped against screen. Watching. Hungry. Then he fetches the fire axe. He lines it up with the window. He’s been down here too long. He wants to sail.

Krishan Coupland

Krishan Coupland is on the Creative Writing PhD programme at the University of East Anglia. His writing has appeared in Ambit, Aesthetica, Litro and Fractured West. He won the Manchester Fiction Prize in 2011, and in his spare time he runs and edits a literary magazine. His website is www.krishancoupland.co.uk.

Sometimes the Smallest Thing

It was ten minutes to closing time at the cell phone store and Gillespie struggled with what to do after work.  He had narrowed his options down to either hanging himself or going to the grocery.  Now he was stuck, since both seemed so appealing.  On one hand, the notion of vegging out in front of the television with a Hungry Man dinner made him breathe deep and flutter his eyelids.  On the other, death’s sweet release was permanent and contained no calories.  He now had eight minutes to decide.

Oh, hell.

An old woman shuffled through the door and it banged against the two-wheeled grocery basket she pulled behind her.  Her hair was platinum and held down with a polka-dotted kerchief.  Gillespie smiled wanly at her, knowing he wouldn’t be leaving on time.

“Need some minutes!” The biddy hollered at him good-naturedly.

“Minutes we have.”  He clicked his mouse.  “What’s your number?”

“How would I know?”  She thrust the phone at him.  “I never call me.”

Gillespie took the phone.  It was covered with something sticky.  He punched up her number.

“How many minutes?”

“Ten bucks worth.”  The bill came at him and he took it.  It was sticky as well.  He completed the transaction as quickly as he could, then turned back to the woman and froze.

The old lady held a banana, and it was pointed directly at his heart.

“Take it.  They were on sale at Kroger.  Strawberries and oranges, too.”

He took it and thanked her, and she and her cart banged out the door and down the sidewalk.

In his car fifteen minutes later, Gillespie peeled the banana and considered his options.

He hadn’t eaten a strawberry in twenty years, and today they were on sale.


by Robert L. Penick


Robert Penick’s work has appeared in over 100 different literary magazines, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and China Grove. He lives in Louisville, KY, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon.

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