I am my father’s hardest bullet. Buckshot sperm bored out from the barrel that birthed me. I was born Valentine’s Day, 1989, and every three hundred and sixty-fifth day I have been gifted a bullet of different caliber. They sit arranged on shelves the way a hunter might hang heads, displayed for prize and for valor. But I don’t own a gun. There’s no opposition to this purchase, no great moral dilemma keeping me from exercising what my father calls a Constitutional Right slowly eroding away. There have been mornings where I’ve pondered a purchase, thought “today I’ll buy my first firearm.” I research what I might want, market prices, shooting ranges near me, but I never carry the idea past my front porch. Instead, I often sit and watch my father polish his arsenal, meticulous with each wire-brush thrust, each slow turn of some impossibly small screw. I know the green gun case sitting in our basement is a legacy, one that will be passed down to my brother and I. I ask my father to mark the monetary value of each weapon. My intention is to split our inheritance up by worth, making sure each son receives equal distribution of our father’s collection. This request was met with stern words: they are not, nor will they ever be, for sale.
Ashton Kamburoff’s poetry, essays, and flash nonfiction have appeared with Black Lawrence Press, Rust + Moth, Vinyl, and other literary venues. He served as the 2017-2018 L.D. & LaVerne Harrell Clark Writer in Residence and has received fellowships through The Vermont Studio Center & The Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He currently works as a freight train conductor on the eastern seaboard.
You kiss Ryan Gosling at El Cid on one of those smoking terraces that overlook the canyon below Sunset Boulevard. You have both been catcalling the flamenco dancers and sharing cigarettes like you and your best friend used to on the patio of the coffee shop in Los Gatos, a life so distant from where you have come that you wonder whether you have made it up so that your character has backstory.
Contrary to what you will tell others later, the kiss is closed-mouthed and lopsided. You are so drunk it is not possible to know who leaned in towards whom, but it is likely that you perpetrated. You, desperate, starved for love, so deprived of the validation that you exist in this fetishized dystopia of self-willed kamikazes. There is some theatrical fondling of the shirt collar and its forced awkwardness. Still. In a small, lopsided way, you are confirmed.
The next morning, ebbing your way out of gin-induced oblivion, you manage to stumble into him. You are perusing the ’zines in Skylight Books, dressed in the same lace jumper you wore the night before, and he is handling a book on California poetry near the greeting card carousel. You should be wearing sunglasses. Or a mask. He is wearing a fedora; you, the glass beret you bought while backpacking through Brittany. Both of you are escaping the Los Feliz heat and its baking sheet sidewalks.
There is a blip. Unrecognition. A hiccup in reality—which is really a trademark experience since your unbecoming into one of many, many free radicals. Your grip on the black and white vanity print tightens. Your damp fingers smudge the script. But that’s okay. You will buy it anyway. As a memento of reformation. The smile is microscopic and barely hurdles the rampart of books and greeting cards, but by god, it is a smile. It is a laser to the brain. To his left, a wispy brunette spins the card carousel, unaware that you have conquered fantasy.
Ryan holds your gaze just long enough.
He licks his lips.
He sets the book down on an untouched stack of LA Weeklys.
Exits frame left. Fades to white.
Holy shit, you think. I’m finally real.
Tara Stillions Whitehead
Tara Stillions Whitehead’s writing has appeared in Fiction International, Red Rock Review, Chicago Review, Sleipnir, New Orleans Review, Texas Review, and elsewhere. She has received a Glimmer Train Award for New Writers and Pushcart Prize and AWP Intro Journal Awards nominations. A former assistant director for television and film, she now teaches film and writing in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
It was the first class of the morning. Five of six new students sat around the table, propped upright in their plastic garden chairs, attentive and ready to work. So far so good. Then the sixth student arrived.
She had long, long black hair. She said nothing, set a notebook on the table, lowered herself into a chair and in one unbroken motion laid her head down on the table and fell asleep. Her black hair spread out on the table like an oil spill.
From time to time I glanced at her, and eventually I asked her a question:
“Julia? What is an example of a relative pronoun?”
There was no answer, no movement. In the suspended silence, which seemed to anticipate—some consequence—all of us stared at her. Now her hair began to undulate in wide swaths, floating, covering her notebook, and a full quarter of the table’s surface. It looked as if it would entwine itself around the books, the chairs and finally, around us. It was voluminous, its brilliant, black sheen hypnotizing—alive in itself, it was both a reflective surface and a depthless expanse. As I stared at it, it darkened and—began to grow. I stood up and backed away from the table.
I covered my split second of terror by hop-stepping over to the blackboard. For the rest of the class, I stood beside it, supported by its reliable, solid substance. I scrawled all over it until the uninterrupted mass of sentences on the board reflected the uninterrupted mass of hair on the table.
For the next hour I couldn’t help glancing over at that hair, and every time I did, it looked slightly different and began to take on a range of emotional qualities. In one moment, the hair was luminous—emanating angular and vibrant rays of warmth and light; at another it was a malicious stain, glowing with hate. At another it was as brittle and fine as glass, emitting a shrill and painful sensitivity—I could almost hear it screech. At the worst moments, it was dull—implacable, the dark matter of the universe.
I was shocked when this nameless substance rose up from the table at the end of the class. I gasped but covered, “Ah—I—I hope you’re alright, Julia?”
She said nothing, picked up her notebook and did not show her face as she left the room.
She came to three more classes and slept through each one, her hair spreading out over the table and taking on an array of emotional qualities and physical transformations as I watched it. I tried to speak with her, but she wouldn’t respond or show her face.
After the fourth class, Julia disappeared. I never saw her again, but in the days that followed, the overhead light reflected off the table where her hair had been—a negative image of its substance— out of an obsidian darkness, a faint and iridescent haze of light.
Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She has written radio plays for CBC Radio Drama and a play for the Blyth Theatre Festival. She began writing short fiction four years ago. Since then, her stories have appeared in Litro UK (print and online), Popshot UK, Thrice Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Understorey, Filling Station and antilang., among others.