Zero is a beginning and one is a beginning too. I was once a zero and became one after one year. It was then I began to walk and talk. Early, they said, but for me not soon enough.

At five I was flying, off to other States, which gave me a taste for adventure. When I was only one decade old, I spent most of my time in the woods, eating wild plants and hiding, having developed a knack for hating indoor school, which continued for many more aggregates.

At 16, I became what they call a professional (got paid) and at 1 and an 8, left home for good. Off to the big city of New York to become a ‘real’ actress, where I mostly stumbled and stopped flying. I found it difficult to maintain flight throughout my 20s and 30s with so many men telling me what to do. Directors and producers all had so much to say, like lie down and don’t tell anyone.

At 3 followed by an 8, I found God, only later to discover it was a cult. This was after 16 grueling years of hardcore belief. I was now in my fifth decade ‒ 5 followed by another 5. At this point, I fell in love and rediscovered I had a body with desires. This sent me flying again, back into my body and remembering I hated school, however disguised.

Now in my 7s followed by a zero, seven decades, I mostly live outdoors again, riffling through weeds, kissing peonies, writing essays, and witnessing too much death. Friends and otherwise. But I still have love, my body, and trees.

I may live to a one followed by two zeros. Ten decades! Back to one, followed this time by two zeros. Hopefully I’ll still be in my body on hands and knees in the dirt. Or, lying in the earth, scarred and resting, with all those zeros and ones spent.

Dian Parker

Dian Parker’s essays and short stories have been published in 3:AM Magazine, The Rupture, Critical Read, Adelaide, Epiphany, Memoir Monday, Anomaly, Westerly, Channel, Capsule, Tiny Molecules, Sky Island Journal, Hotazel Review, among others, and nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and lives now in the hills of Vermont.

Spring Resurrects

Strawberry shoots, signs of life, play peek-a-boo in the leaves I spread before the snow fell. Last time I saw Mom, she was tethered to an oxygen converter. A few days later, she was in hospital, hooked up to monitors and a morphine drip. I prefer to think of her here, greening-up from within the strawberry plants she gave me years ago. She always loved arithmetic—adding up her tidy rows of numbers, carrying remainders. Perfect calculations. There is comfort in knowing that each spring I’ll find Mom multiplying and dividing her strawberry plants across the garden, multiplying and dividing.


When I walk past a mirror or quickly sift through old photographs, I assume it’s me I see. But sometimes it’s my mother. Always the trickster jumping out, scaring the bejeezus out of us—whoopee cushions on the kitchen chair, a giant plastic spider beneath the pillow. This tendency towards mischief we share showed up in my son early on—ketchup packets under the toilet seats, my handwriting impeccably forged (ice cream, poop wafers) on the grocery list, flour on the keyboard to decode a password. Harmless disruptions of the mundane.

Mom always kept us well fed. She still surprises me when I flip through my favourite recipes and see her treats in her slanted cursive—tangy rhubarb crisp, zucchini bread, Grandma Thibault’s apple pudding. I was her shadow in the cramped orange kitchen of my childhood. I stood on the stool as she showed me how to make mustard beans, pickled beets, stewed tomatoes. Thanks to Mom, my pantry brims. Eventually, she will feed her great-grandchildren and theirs.

I dig up two strawberry plants for my little brother so he’ll always find Mom in his garden when he needs her. Plus, strawberries are his favourite. Mom loved to give gifts that, like here, keep giving and giving. A twinge of sorrow tugs at my heart, but the pull of joy is stronger. Mom will never abandon us. She’s in the shape of my hands and muscular calves. In my cousin’s smile, and the way she holds her cigarette. If I search hard enough, I can find Mom in everyone I love.


Soon, Mom’s earthly body will leave us, but I’ll find her multiplying and dividing in the strawberry patch each spring. She’ll remind me that she never actually left by multiplying ruses, divvying up signs that prove she’ll always remain. Disguised as a crow’s cackle moments after I stumble and hope nobody saw, she’ll keep me humble. A decade from now, her laughter will echo in my grandchildren’s as they snort and slap their knees. In my late fifties, I’ll see her more and more in my reflection—jowls beginning to sag, doughy folds draping my cheeks. I won’t even be surprised when she replaces me. I’ll open wide my mouth, expose every tooth and let loose the laugh she could never contain.

Rachel Laverdiere

Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. She is CNF editor at Atticus Review and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s most recent publications in Bending Genres, Five South, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Grain and other fine literary journals. In 2020, her CNF made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit


I was in line at the Delta counter behind two white men of military bearing. They each had man sized hard cases with latches and locks, big enough for long barrel shotguns or automatic rifles. It was Mother’s Day in Texas, and I had missed my flight home to true blue LA. Delta had a flight out around noon and I was trying to find out if there were seats to be had for anything less than the cost of a Trumpian lie.

Five lines. Three agents. Worse still, the agents kept calling up those waiting in other lines. The world’s babble tangoed on the noisy air: Italian, Arabic, Tex Mex, Chinese. 20 minutes later, I sighed with exasperation, sure that whatever seats were left were gone at any price. The man in front of me confided:

“You’d think they would want to get the guns out of sight first….”

That won a chuckle from me.

Another long wait. The first guy with a gun case was finally summoned. The case was opened. A big rifle. The crowd was unimpressed. Much chatter among the uniforms, then a strategic huddle and another long wait. My neighbor laughed:

“That guy’s a pilot for them—Delta. What am I gonna have to do?”

The pilot signed a contracty looking document and was handed a red tag which he carefully placed inside the case before securing all the locks and an extra case-hardened steel padlock. The uniforms witnessed his every move until all those keys disappeared into the man’s carry on and he had stepped back from the gun case.

We were invisible again. A Chinese traveler from another line needed a translator. The man in front of me turned and made small talk:

“Where are you going?”

I mumbled,

“Home.” Then,

“To California,” more assertively, from inside my covid mask. A translator was found. The Italian family were called next.

“Where are you travelling with rifles?” I asked.

“Nevada. We got the contract on feral pigs outside Vegas,” he drawled.

“Yes,” I answered. “I read recently that they are becoming a problem in Southern California, too. Do you ever eat what you kill?

“Once. I brought a young pig home to cook for my sons. One, two years old—they only eat nuts and roots. The older ones eat dead things and stink. I had a bite. The meat was really sweet, but I am a vegetarian, almost a vegan, really.”

I had been visiting my sister in Austin for the first time since Covid began, since her husband had died, since my cancer fight. Alito’s draft opinion on Roe leaked that week. We hung on each other again, trying to ease our shared despair. Uvalde was yet to come.

I called her when I got home and told her about my travel travails, ending with the vegan pig hunter. She laughed and sung the Lyle Lovett line:

“Texas wants you anyway….”

Ellen T. Birrell

Ellen Birrell is an artist and lemon farmer in Ventura County, CA. Her writings have appeared in X-TRA, Cabinet, Adelaide, Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2018, Mac-ro-mic, Condiment, Material, and Parabol. Her 2019 essay “Gloves” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is Faculty Emerita at California Institute of the Arts.

Fire God

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

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, on Twitter and Instagram @timepinto, and

Boxed Flowers

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

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.


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

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.

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