April 2022 | nonfiction
Fire runs screaming down the hillside like an insane deity, crackling in a forgotten tongue and making believers.
Fear is catching; animals running from death. Cars blaze by, people clutching steering wheels, deer-in-the-headlights-stares lamenting pets. There was no time.
Near the mountain prisoners dig a perimeter, pretending the roaring all around can’t harm them. Fire is searing light waiting for sacrifice.
Propane tanks are flying in the sky, do-it-yourself missiles launched from backyard silos.
Beetle-blighted pines ignite, squealing sap boiling before the explosion. Smoky air and ashes trying to be everywhere, falling like dirty snowflakes.
Red lights gleam in the darkness. Ambulances sing warnings, parading down streets, offerings in their wombs fragile as porcelain.
At the gas station vehicles cram together like bumper cars, people shouting at people who can’t change a single thing.
Cell phones in hand; everyone’s uploading their video: we are safe.
All over the country, people watch the nightmare that isn’t happening to them.
Here, fires happen every year.
Children sob for toys lost; parents worry about what comes after this.
The cots are all six feet apart at the shelters. Please wear a mask the signs say, but not everyone will. Truth is point of view; beliefs are arbitrary.
Fire is truth. Everything here will burn.
Josh Price lives in Northern California with his wife and dogs. He has forthcoming flash with The Los Angeles Review; South Florida Poetry Journal, The Daily Drunk, 365 Tomorrows and F3LL Magazine have published his flash fiction and CNF. You can visit him at josh-price.com, on Twitter and Instagram @timepinto, and www.facebook.com/sjprice1213/.
April 2022 | nonfiction
For my sixty-ninth birthday, my husband bought me a years’ worth of flowers. FedEx dutifully delivers a box on my doorstep each month. I quickly unpack them, trim the leaves, find a vase, and add the special powder to the water. Then I center the flowers on my kitchen table where they’ll last about a week.
That first month I thought, such extravagance! I considered all the practical things I could have used instead. A new bathrobe. A hat to hide my graying hair. But each time I walked into the kitchen, that splash of color brightened my day. It was a minor miracle. A delightful, disarming surprise. The flowers were as lovely as they were useless. I suppose that was my husband’s point.
Alongside the kitchen table sits my writing desk. I’ve always been a writer. In high school, I wrote copy for the yearbook. In college, I majored in English. Somewhere in my closet I have piles of handwritten blue books, my term papers typed on a Smith Corona with more than one funky key. But for the last dozen years, as I turned the corner from middle-aged to more, writing has become an obsession. Short stories. Verse. A memoir.
Inside the world of literary journals, I’m doing well. I’ve learned to handle rejection. And I’ve learned to embrace the times when I’m published with a kind of giddy glee. Of course, I’m seldom paid. And on the rare occasions when I’m sent a check, it maybe covers lunch.
Only after gathering my courage do I tell my friends. Check your inbox, I’ll email. I have something posted that you’ll like.
But while I wait for their response, my stomach knots. If I could see my friends’ faces, they’d be forcing a smile. If they could reach through their screens, they’d be patting the top of my head. Like a child, I’m patronized. Very nice, they write back. Good job! But the subtext always lingers. If you’re not compensated, does your labor have value? If a writer isn’t paid, are words on a screen considered work?
I’ve always been a housewife. I had children to raise and a husband with a time-consuming job. Unlike me, most of my friends led professional lives. In their minds, writing is transactional. They’ve written law briefs, essays for medical journals, applications for grants. They view my efforts as a hobby or indulgence– like playing mahjong or knitting baby booties for the kids.
Maybe they’re right. Yes, my writing doesn’t serve a function. Yes, my writing doesn’t pay the rent. I simply write about ordinary people who lead ordinary lives. An old lady shuffling in the supermarket. A lost child spinning on the sidewalk. A caretaker desperate for help.
And what takes weeks to create has a lifespan of minutes. The reader clicks the link, and it’s hello and goodbye. A story there and not there. A blink and it’s gone! Just like a boxful of flowers.
Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories and essays have been published in journals such as The Massachusetts Review, Catapult, PANK, and World Literature Today. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of The Net, Best Small Fictions, and for inclusion in Best American Short Stories.
April 2022 | nonfiction
When I hand the leftovers to my mother, she muses from her bed, “You know who else likes eggplant parmesan? Your father.”
Her voice betrays her hesitation; the knowledge that this might transform something I like about myself into something I reject.
“Really?” I’m looking at her, but imagining him: his attention falling to the eggplant’s shiny belt, just visible beneath the blouse of mozzarella; what’s wrong in his life, in the way he lived it, dissolving into tomato cream; the drama of getting what he’s hungry for, eclipsing what others might need from him.
When I think of what my father likes to eat, I think of when he poured orange juice over his Raisin Bran in my mother’s kitchen when I was five, then declared, just as matter-of-factly, “I can’t do this” and left for seven years. I think of the next and last time I saw him, when he coated a dinner plate in honey, overturned oatmeal onto another plate to cool, combined them with a fork, then spooned the goo in cultish silence.
Those foods make sense. They say, “I owe nobody explanations, I don’t do my dishes, and I’m leaving.” But this is different. The time it takes for tomatoes to cool suggests a comfort with remaining, with waiting for something worthwhile. A man eating eggplant parmesan is not a man on his way out the door. No one orders eggplant parm to go–I just can’t do this.
“Did he like it with marinara or tomato cream?” My question, strangely specific, feels essential: the sort of detail you slip into a third draft that makes a character real. I’m eager for an answer–I love tomato cream.
With the beginning of a smile, my mother responds, “I suppose that’s the limit of how well I know him.” She signals to my hands, as if I might want to write this down. “That’s a good line—I know my father well enough to know he likes eggplant parm, but not enough to know with what sauce.”
I press my fists into her duvet and my laugh blends with hers. It is good. The swift return from familiarity to strangeness; from the struck candle of knowing something to the surrounding darkness of knowing mostly nothing.
I hug my mother goodnight. When I turn to leave–“Take this, honey.” She pokes my back with the box. “Not a huge fan.”
On my way to the kitchen, I pause at the portrait my sister drew of an old man; a stock-photo she chose for an art class. He’s a stranger, yet it’s her most expressive piece: head tilted back, eyes closed except for a glint of white, mouth gargling an invisible fountain of laughter. Whether he really was laughing–or even happy–doesn’t matter. It’s not a portrait of him; it’s what my sister saw in him, made of him. The men aren’t here to ask. They’re not even on their way.
Tomato cream, I decide, turning the corner. Tomato cream.
Martha Krausz is a nonfiction writer, high-school writing coach and Body Positive mentor, currently living in Northern California with her white german shepherd, Alfredo. She holds a BA in literature & poetry translation from Hampshire College, and an MA in English & American Literature from Mills College. Her essays are published in Prometheus Dreaming, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, & The Wild Roof Journal; her essay, “Shadow Sister” was nominated for Best of the Net in 2021. Martha harbors a lifelong love of Virginia Woolf, wants to be Cheryl Strayed when she “grows up,” and practices intuitive movement & baking most days.
April 2022 | nonfiction
Source material for Disney movies is mostly R-rated. Take Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, which hinges on premeditated murder. There’s also the idolized butterfly. In truth? It’s grisly in the cocoon. The caterpillar isn’t sleeping, it’s liquifying into protein-rich ooze.
Hallmark disavows it, but I celebrate the hero’s journey. We can also burn to ash and resurrect victorious. Hardships convey alchemy. Our spiritual journeys are the same—annihilation then rebirth, like the legendary phoenix. It’s how we emerge with wings and launch our fellow suffering… through the passion of our personal resurrections.
Spiritual work naturally generates a higher quotient of self-love. Though emotions are shifting and relational, there’s Grace beneath our imperfect perfection.
Self-love exists on a sliding scale, but God’s Love is immoveable. Once tasted, it forever fosters your ability to embody it.
Susan Dyer is a champion of women’s spirituality. She was born clairvoyant and merged with unnamable ‘God’ in a 2017 near-death experience, which clarified her journey. She graduated Hamilton College with a B.A. in Creative Writing and Cultural Anthropology. She’s published in FOLIO Literary Journal, Dance Magazine, forthcoming in both NINETENTHS Quarterly and Down in The Dirt. Find her at www.susandyer.com and on social media @SusanDyer1111.
April 2022 | nonfiction
It was a wedding, my cousin’s wedding. He was marrying a girl he knew for nine years. He proposed in Disney World at Cinderella’s Castle. The ring came to her in a glass slipper. I was a bridesmaid. All the bridesmaids had their makeup done like parrots. I wore a magenta dress and orange eye shadow. My brother was there, and his girlfriend Kay, and I watched him eat macaroni and cheese off an hors d’oeuvre spoon, his eyes closed, opened, closed again, then opened less wide than before. Something was happening to him, and Kay grabbed a microphone and sang, “…they were young and they had each other, who could ask for more?” She threw her white curls back and gyrated. I ate chocolate covered strawberries, one after another, and sucked the chocolate down and left the red berry dry. I thought about God, how if he was real, why was he letting my brother live this way, still, anymore, at all? I wanted answers but I wasn’t Jewish enough to conjure a parable, make use of a prayer and adapt meaning to my suffering. Later, I would move to California, not once, but twice, and the second time I’d live out in Pasadena and hike the Bridge to Nowhere, part of the San Gabriel Mountains. I’d hike alone, even though my mother begged me not to. But it was then I learned how to pray, how to ask the earth for something, how to live off water.
Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She earned her BA in English from Indiana University and graduated from Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. She teaches General Education at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, CA. She was the 2017 Nonfiction Award Winner for Red Hen Press, as well as the AWP Intro Journals Project Award Nominee in 2015. Her work has been featured in Electric Literature, Jewish Book Council, Lit Hub, Entropy, The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Hobart, Cosmonauts Ave, and more. Her first collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine was published with Red Hen Press in 2018, and her debut novel The Brittanys is out now with Vintage.
January 2022 | nonfiction
You learned, early in life, how to become a doll. You learned to show emotion in carefully measured doses, each tear equal to one pull of the string along your spine. Just enough to make your owner hold you closer, stroke your silky hair, pat that one tear dry.
You learned to be careful. Too much emotion, and your owner would wail that you were malfunctioning, that your glass eyes might burst. Your owner would peer at every inch of your porcelain limbs, searching for cracks they might need to patch up. They would squeeze your rigid wrists, clutching you tight, till their worry hurt more than any fear or loneliness of your own.
You learned that porcelain is beautiful for its fragility, for that moment it seems about to shatter, but somehow survives.
You learned how to sit on a shelf and wait and watch.
You learned to yearn for arms around you.
You learned that the wrong arms burned.
You learned that if you held all your thoughts and desires inside you, away from your owner’s prying eyes, your wishes would make their own kind of heat. Demanding and furious, just like a heart.
You learned to break yourself, to crack one porcelain finger, then two.
You learned that destruction is the closest thing to love.
You learned about masking tape, duct tape, Super Glue. You learned that people see what they want to see. They see what will keep them from breaking.
You learned that life as a doll is no life at all.
You learned that there is so little we choose. You learned that sometimes, we can’t get up and walk. Sometimes, there’s only one way off the shelf.
You learned there’s not so much difference between a fall and a jump.
Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC. Her poetry has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and Best of the Net.
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