October 2021 | fiction
“You know, Jay Foxx, if Studdbecker had intercepted that pass before the half, the result might have been completely different.”
“Perhaps, Marv, the fans would have demonstrated so long and so loud that the game would have been suspended. Called perhaps. Perhaps even the half-game show would have been canceled. And we might have had to fill a couple of hours of dead network air.”
“And, Jay, it was the Birds’ air attack—”
“Perhaps an unforeseen eclipse would have suddenly darkened the field so that, even under lights, the teams would have turned terrified their eyes to the skies.
“Or perhaps, Marv, sunspot activity would have so interfered with radio waves that the coaches would have failed to rouse their eyes in the skies. Our own broadcast might have failed.
“You have to think about it, Marv: If a football falls and there’s no video to record it, does it ever fall really?”
“Jay, I don’t think–”
“For all we know, if Studdbecker had intercepted, the idea of football would have ceased to exist. If it had ever existed at all. At that point. You’re right, Marv, the result might have been completely different. Completely different.”
“And speaking of something different, Jay—”
“On the other hand, Studdbecker might have scored… ”
“That’s what I meant in the first place, Jay, because then—”
“… with the resulting overconfidence among Studdbecker’s teammates at the hat (debilitating the Blues’ efforts to assemble any offense in the second half even as the Birds would have rallied to score touchdown after touchdown.)”
“Forget it, Jay. Will you please just forget it? Studdbecker did not — he did not — get the I-N-T.”
“No. But even if he had, Marv, the Blues might have fumbled it back to the Birds on the next play allowing them to score so that the result might have been the same although arrived at slightly differently, right?”
“I as well.”
“And so the Birds won the game.”
“Let’s send it back to New York then.”
“Yes. Let’s try.”
A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha
October 2021 | fiction
“These are the facts of life,” our camp bunk counselor Peggy would say, minutes before any camp social, glancing at her watch ticking away as if we were connected to the time bomb that each boy contained behind his jeans fly.
“The average teenage male’s brain is soaked in sex,” she told us, and I thought of a towel dropped in a bathtub, too heavy with water to wring.
As for the fourteen-year-old girls who were in her charge, we were no different than the boys. Maybe even more dangerous, our eggs all revved up and ready to go, like a souped-up Mustang in a drag race.
Peggy was from Arkansas – a state none of us had ever heard and could have been as distant as Mars. Every morning she brushed her long bone-colored hair eighty strokes a minute
and then massaged Vaseline into her scalp. She had lost her left eye to a stray golf ball and in the empty pocket she could see miracles of light, bursts of purple, green and gold, a constellation of the Lord’s color. A large gold crucifix flapped against her concave chest as Peggy shouted out directions for lifesaving as we swam in the cold Maine lake. She could teach us not to sink if our sailboats capsized but when it came to boys, we were all hell bent on drowning.
She prayed quietly in the middle of our cabin, her words competing with the
buzzing mosquitoes and The Archie’s Sugar, Sugar. We traded lipsticks, practiced kissing our Bobby Sherman posters, tongues licking the crinkled paper that tasted like Cutter repellant. We, the girls of Cabin Nine, were all lost causes.
“Please stop,” Peggy begged as we stuffed our bras with Kleenex.
Peggy also had the gift for predicting the future. One night, during a thunderstorm, she made us sit in a circle and announced our names: Cindy, Diana, Helen, Jill, Karen, Sylvia and Rachel. I wondered why I, Rachel, was the last on her list. Cindy, who wore thick rimmed-glasses and had braces, would be a film star. Diana, who was already a tennis star at the camp, would one day play at stadiums around the world. Helen would be a nurse, although we had seen Helen once faint at the sight of blood when she scraped her knee. Jill, the only girl who had divorced parents, would never be married but find happiness in a place filled with deserts and camels. Karen would have six children with three different men. As she spoke, her face would be lit up by the streaks of lightening outside. She never predicted anyone else’s future because the lightning went out and we all screamed. “Now that’s enough,” she told us, leaving the cabin to inspect if there was damage outside our cabin because of the storm. Later that week I begged her to tell me what would happen to me, but she only took a deep breath and exhaled so deeply that I could feel her breath across my face.
That Sunday, the bus that took Peggy to church overturned and bounced down the mountain like a “yellow rubber ball,” according to one witness. We did not know how to grieve and just read our Tiger Beat magazines.
Our new counselor was named Summer, a beautiful California hippie who had been to Altamont and told us how she had seen the Hells Angels beat up people. Summer was the opposite of Peggy, and several of the girls sprayed lemon juice on their scalps so they could have her same butter blonde hair color.
Yet Peggy still hovered us, her warnings hot against our skin like a sunburn that wouldn’t heal. We couldn’t explain to Summer why none of wanted to attend that last camp social.
Instead, we sat in a circle outside our cabin, staring at the stars in the night sky, each girl holding each other’s hands. This was our own memorial service. It was as if Peggy sacrificed herself for our collective virginity, our eggs safely nestled inside us mute and idle like dead car batteries.
Penny Jackson is an award-winning writer who lives in New York City. Her books include BECOMING THE BUTLERS (Bantam Books) and a short story collection L.A. CHILD and other stories (Untried Reads.) She has won a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction and was a McDowell Colony Fellow. Penny is also a playwright with plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, and Dublin. www.pennybrandtjackson.com.
October 2021 | fiction
Striving to inject some wonder and whimsy into people’s humdrum days, an older man with a sense of humor installed a plaque in front of his stately home reading: “Queenston Heritage, Frederick John Wimple, 1812-1896, Inventor of Time Travel, Lived here in 2065.” The installation was done discreetly, such that no one really knows when it occurred.
Recently, a local doctoral student decided to covertly document the amount of time that tourists and passersby spent looking at the numerous heritage and historic plaques dotting the quaint village which 19th century Mr. Wimple had called home in the late 21st century. The researcher’s results were made public in the form of an article published in a local paper.
Having great pride in the relatively large role their home has played in the forming of a now great nation, townspeople were dismayed to learn that on average most people spent twice as long reading the plaque pertaining to Frederick John Wimple. Given that the dozen or so other plaques detailed in the study typically contained ten times the amount of information as the Wimple marker, this was seen as evidence of an apathetic populace and confirmation that we’re living in a post-truth era.
Looking to draw evermore visitor traffic to benefit the local business community, it recently leaked that the village council was furtively formulating plans to install several other fictional “contemplative plaques.” Additionally, the grand Victorian home at the purported site of Mr. Wimple’s past residence of the future was recently sold off-market for an exorbitant amount of money to a mysterious theoretical physics think tank based overseas.
Scott G. Harvey
SCOTT G. HARVEY teaches psychology at SUNY Buffalo State and resides in the Niagara Region of Ontario with an ever-changing mixture of humans, cats, dogs, and chickens. He is the author of Savagely Noble: A Young Man’s Journey from Ignorance, Through Illusion, To Identity. His short fiction has appeared in Short Story Avenue.
October 2021 | fiction
The mangos were rotting—that’s how I knew she was going to die.
Doria Day was a simple woman—some people are just like that. She would get up in the morning and walk her three miniature poodles, shower, and drink coffee while she read the newspaper. Doria Day still read the newspaper.
When she’d moved into town, there was already a mango tree in her backyard, right in the view from my window. I’d lived there my whole life, and there had never been mangos. The day after she moved in, there were plenty. She would pick them, placing them delicately into wicker baskets—but there were always mangos.
My grandmother had taught me about the trees when I was young. She’d said they just wait for the right person, like a soulmate. That’s why some people called them Soul Trees—my grandmother had called them Trees of Life. These Trees of Life say a lot about a person—what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. They droop when the person is sick, and they flourish when they are well and happy. Everyone has one, somewhere—we had one for me in the front yard, but it was apples. Bright, shiny red apples, growing since the day I was born.
Doria Day’s mangos were rotting. The leaves were still fine, implying she was in good health—an accident then? Supposedly, they could tell the future like that.
I made plans to see her—we agreed I would take her to do her weekend shopping, after she walked her three miniature poodles, showered, drank her coffee, and read the newspaper. She insisted on reading the newspaper.
That day, I put on shoes and a light jacket to protect against the morning chill, and stepped out of my front door, stopping only to take in the presence of my own tree—sometimes, it just felt comforting to see my thoughts and feelings, my health and wellbeing, reflected in the tangible world, something to remind me that I was doing okay. Reaching up into the branches, I plucked fruit from between the leaves, taking a bite; I’ve always loved the taste of apples—it was like the taste of existing. I’d been so busy with school and work lately, it was a relief to finally stop and savor the sweet fruit for the first time in over a week. Delicious juice dripped down my chin; I licked my lips clean as I stepped away from the tree, tantalizing flavor bleeding over my tongue as I chewed.
Thoughts turning to the day ahead, my foot caught something soft and unnatural. I swallowed the fruit in my mouth, and looked under my shoe to see a rotting apple, oozing into the grass, brown and rancid.
KJ Angelo is a queer Latinx writer, editor, and translator living in Portland, Oregon; KJ is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop.
October 2021 | fiction
Not earbuds but headphones so big the phones cut out any unwanted sound. That was the way Jeffrey wanted it. He wanted to stay in his inner world with his music and his basketball. He had no need to nod or say hello or anything to the vague inhabitants of the gym, people he saw everyday but didn’t see, didn’t want to see, particularly women who seemed to be drawn to him for some unknown reason. God knows he wasn’t particularly attractive, gray hair, kinda short but decent muscles from years at the gym. Maybe it was his indifference that attracted them. Ever since Covid he wore a mask even when he didn’t need to like when he was working out hard on the rowing machine, building a sweat. He liked the mask, extra protection against anyone who tried to enter his space.
He used to be friendly. “Hi,” he’d say to the guys shooting baskets. (When he was a kid, he dreamed of being a professional). “What’s up?”
They’d shake hands maybe or bump knuckles and tell stories about how many baskets they used to make or which team they were sure would win the championship. It was nice the way it used to be, warm, the sun blasting through the gym window on summer days, so you were grateful for air conditioning, you were happy to be alive.
Alive was what it was all about. And Olivia was hardly that anymore, her slow decline, the headaches, the weakness, the insomnia until they diagnosed Covid. Olivia protested, “I wore a mask, I washed my hands, avoided crowds…” She was certain she’d never be infected, that they’d never be infected, but she was.
“How’s your wife?” George asked the other day. George was a trainer but out of work since the pandemic hit and the gym closed for several months. Now he was hoping to get back at it like so many others.
“How’s your wife?” Carl asked yesterday climbing the stair stepper.
“How’s your wife?” Don inquired adjusting the weights on the arm extension.
“How’s your wife?” “Your wife?” “Your wife?”
Jeffrey wished he could answer. Wished he could say she was better, she was fine, they were leaving on vacation next week, flying to Paris, or Hawaii or Madrid…
Instead, he turned up the volume on his headphones and pressed them closer to his ears.
Elaine Barnard’s collection of stories, The Emperor of Nuts: Intersections Across Cultures was published by New Meridian Arts and noted as a unique book on the Snowflakes in a Blizzard website. She won first place in Strands international flash fiction competition and was featured on their webinar. Her work has been included in numerous literary journals. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fiction. She was a finalist for Best of the Net. She received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and her BA from the University of Washington, Seattle.
July 2021 | fiction
Toss… turn… kick at the blanket… flop on the belly… bury the head in the pillow. Henry’s arm pokes out from under the covers. He pats the mattress, feeling for his phone somewhere along the edge of the bed. His hand finds it, drags it under the pillow. Henry opens one sluggish eye, peeks at the time. Four thirty-eight. He’s been in bed since eleven. Tossing and turning, flipping and flopping. For the dozenth time, he yells to his brain, Sleep, godammit!
Henry flops onto his back, straightens his legs, props a pillow under his knees. With one hand on his chest and the other on his stomach, he slows his breathing, counts his breaths. In through the nose… out through the mouth. Inhale… exhale… The exhales last longer than the inhales.
Soon the breathing is pushed into the background, and Henry is sketching buildings and bridges—a whole city—in his mind. The practice has often calmed him, given him peace. Now he colors in the buildings, adds some landscaping, draws the happy people he imagines would be living in his designs.
But it’s not working. And this is his third try. He must be trying too hard.
He stops the construction in his mind and opens his eyes. Stares at the ceiling. Once again, Henry tries to slow his breathing. Please… he begs his brain. He checks the time: five twenty-one. Please, please… Instead, the more he pleads, the more his breathing quickens, shallow and short-winded, until great tremors quake in his chest.
A wounded animal howls; Henry is taken aback by the strangeness of his voice. The quaking has dislodged something, and now the solid mass fissures, releasing an anguish that has clung to the bedrock of his soul, refusing to yield. Now it tears toward the ceiling of his chest and trembles at the surface until it finally escapes the barriers of his body. For a moment it hovers over Henry’s face, soggy with tears. And then, it vanishes.
Henry’s breathing slows into deep, protracted sobs heaved from an unfathomable well through difficult passages. The strange sphere of hardened mass had held all his heaviness, and now he longs for it, so used to its chain; chained to little Henry, with his rosy cherub cheeks, five years old, playing with his sister. Playing with his father’s shiny pistol while his sister laughed and tossed her halo of curls before the deafening sound of the world ending.
The first glimmer of dawn creeps through the edges of the curtains. Henry dozes off at last, grateful to forget.
M. Ocampo McIvor
M. Ocampo McIvor was born in the Philippines, raised in Toronto, Canada, and currently lives in Seattle. After a career in technology, Ocampo McIvor has returned to her roots to follow her calling in literature. Her work has been featured in The Bangalore Review, Conclave Journal, and Storgy Magazine. She is the author of Ugly Things We Hide (uglythingswehide.com).