SEA TURTLES & SIX PACKS — CAVIN BRYCE GONZALEZ

You know those plastic ringlets that attach six packs of beer and such? Well I cut them up every time. That’s right. Not because I’m some kind of nature tuned druid or a saint with a golden moral compass. No. I certainly hold no compass. I did it originally because my ex-girlfriend told me too. She’s a vegan, see, and she loves animals. She loves sea turtles, too, specifically. And one night while we were on a date, her with her big bottle of wine and me with my six packs, she saw me throw that ringlet away. She told me it might kill a sea turtle one day. And I remembered all of the stuffed animal plushies I had as a kid. Most of them were of turtles. Sea turtles specifically. I loved those stuffed animals, cried if I were ever without one. I thought about how the baby turtles survived scavengers and predators and made it to the ocean based on instinct and chance. So I cut up the ringlet. She was very impressed. We had sloppy, drunk sex and fell asleep. It was very peaceful. For the first time in my adult life, I thought that monogamy was genius. Monogamy was a blood oath. Exclusivity was a treasure. We were each others people, so we weren’t ever alone anymore.

Three weeks later I found out that she had fucked the guitar player of a local band, indie, probably, if you care, because on the night that she fucked the guitar player we got in a fight. Our first fight. Only fight, really, and it wasn’t even a fight. Just a misunderstanding.

Part of me hopes he gave her an incurable form of the clap. A strain evolved to be resistant to antibiotics and creams and lasers. Part of me hopes that he is an okay guy, because I want guys to be okay, you know? And I hope she didn’t hurt him. And I hope he didn’t hurt her. But I’ll tell you what: I still cut those ringlets. Every single time. Because whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy or whether I initially cut them to impress a girl or not, the sea turtles still exist. They were here before me and they will be here after me. They are innocent bystanders in all of our human games. And I love them for that, for their innocence, so I cut up the ringlets.


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Cavin Bryce Gonzalez is a twenty-one year old graduate from the University of Central Florida. He is the prose editor for SOFT CARTEL and book reviewer for Pidgeonholes. He's on twitter and his available work is located here: provolonesinatra.wordpress.com.

SOMETHING BETWEEN THEM — K.B. CARLE

A knife lies between the woman and the mouse.
             The woman drums the tips of her fingers upon the surface of her kitchen table, a gift from her mother who buries cigarette butts in the pots where the woman plants her tulips. She imagines the fires her mother starts, the way the roots curl and evaporate beneath poisoned soil while smoke rises and the woman wonders, if a mouse is caught in a fire, would their heart rate remain the same with so many ways to escape
             Or would it increase, sensing impending death?
             310 beats per minute.
             The mouse, Mrs. Crumb, sniffs the air for the piece of cheese she abandons her home for. A tiny hole she worked hours, in mouse time of course, to carve behind the woman’s bed. Mrs. Crumb thinks of her triplets, who she and her husband, Mr. Crumb, lovingly called their mouselings. Thinks back to her mouselings the day before, cuddled on a piece of cloth that she and her husband nipped from an orange dress with white flowers left by a woman, not this woman, but one who smelled of sangria and peppermint. Their little hearts beating 310 beats per minute, increased to 840 beats per minute when the man saw Mr. Crumb skitter from their hole, ready to nip another piece of the dress to perhaps make a blanket. Mrs. Crumb only knows her husband always wanted more no matter the risk, gripping the dress between his paws.
             Mrs. Crumb struggled to hear her husband’s I love you squeaks mixed within the other woman’s screams, the way the dress’s skirt flared as it soared through the air, stealing Mr. Crumb away.
             The woman, before she encounters Mrs. Crumb, found the orange dress under her bed while she cleaned, held it to her body and traced the white petals and the jagged edges of the bit of cloth missing from the skirt. Noticed how the waist was too small. She threw the dress on her bed, retreated to the kitchen for a snack and to think of better things. Sliced cheese squares on Ritz crackers, the meal her father prepared for nights her mother preferred to spend with other men in other places. 
             That’s when the woman sees Mrs. Crumb standing on her kitchen table and thinks back upon her reflection. Looks past the beauty of the white petals and focuses on the orange poking through. The woman can’t stand the color orange and repeats every conversation with her husband reminding him of this simple fact.
             Mrs. Crumb sees how the woman trembles, the same way she did watching Mr. Crumb form an arc over the bed, his small body hitting the opposite wall. Remembers how her own body shivered hearing Mr. Crumb’s bones shatter, his body a small heap on the floor for the man to sweep into a dustpan and throw away.
             The same man they both know should be returning home soon.
             And a knife lies between them.



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K.B. Carle lives outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned her MFA from Spalding University’s Low-Residency program in Kentucky. When she is not exploring the realms of speculative, jazz, and historical fiction, K.B. avidly pursues misspelled words, botched plot lines, and rudimentary characters. Her stories have appeared in FlashBack Fiction, Pidgeonholes, Barrelhouse, formercactus, and elsewhere. She can be found online at http://kbcarle.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @kbcarle.

MERCURY — MATILDA HARJUNPÄÄ

We were home alone, the two of us and the dog, while our parents went to see our great-aunt Irma in the hospital. Her skin was all papery and bath-wrinkled, and she smelled of lemons and rotting wood. My brother and I had said our good-byes and we didn’t have to go anymore.

I was watching TV when my brother came to me and put my hand on his forehead, his eyes soft and filmy, a flush on the cheeks.

“You have a fever,” I said, like our mother would say.

I dragged a chair against the kitchen counter and climbed on it, reaching in the back of the small cabinet closest to the ceiling, my fingers searching blind for the ancient thermometer, great-aunt Irma’s, whose cabinets they used to be. I found the glass tube with the metal tip and clumsily wedged it between my middle and index finger, and as I started to climb back down, it slipped from my hand and shattered on the floor, the round scatter of a rung bell, tiny silver beads of mercury spilling out. My brother stood in the doorway with the dog and I yelled my throat raw, get out, close the door, don’t let the dog near it, go upstairs, don’t come down until I say it’s okay. When I was sick our mother would put the thermometer under my arm and tell me you don’t ever break it, because mercury is toxic; it will give you a disease that will make you lose your mind and die. She said the Mad Hatter had it and that night I dreamed of a million Mad Hatters with no eyes, their mouths laughing upside down, in birdsong.

I used a broom to brush the beads into a trash bag and put everything outside, my heart beating fast in my fingers and toes. I found the dog on the carpet of my brother’s room, and my brother in his bed under the covers. I gave him orange soda and a paracetamol.

“It’s okay,” I said and stroked his hair until he fell asleep, and for some time after, until my hand was damp and warm. I picked up the dog and went back downstairs, back to the armchair in the living room, in front of the open TV. I watched but saw nothing, waited for lights in the driveway, and for lemons and wood and birdsong.


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Matilda Harjunpää writes in Helsinki, Finland. You can find her on Twitter @matildahrjnp.


WITCHES — ADAM GNUSE

Last night the witches came again to my house, and this time my mother was with them. Their faces filled my window as they tap-tapped on the glass.
             “Evelyn, come with us,” they all said.
             But then my father came home, and he thundered through the hall. I locked my door and turned to the window, but the witches had already left.
             Today I went to the parish priest. I told him about my witches, and he rubbed his chin with his long fingers. Gave me one of his lingering looks.
             “Pray that God saves you,” he said and leaned in close, rested his palm on my thigh.
             “Say four Our Fathers,” he said, felt the pleats of my skirt. “Pray the Lord keeps you in his hands.”
             People say different things about witches.
             People say at night witches fly like geese, breasts bare in the moonlight.
             That they swoop around the world on a whim.
             They trick emperors, Tsars, and senators into doing whatever it is they want.
             Others say they are half-formed shadows on a nighttime sidewalk.
             At parties, they are incorporeal.
             When the bedroom door clacks shut, and the light turns out, hands press their flesh and go right on through.
             Others say when the witches go home, they go to live under cypress roots. That they work all day and sleep in their ovens. That they have children, too many, who have only tree bark to eat.
             They say that there’s no escape for them either, because witches are the Devil's wives. And he finds them every night with a sordid look and a red-hot poker.
             And that, when witches come to your window, they cannot be trying to help.
             How could they?
             Tired and eroded as any woman, who needs a place, outside the light, to curl away.
             Tonight, as I’m falling asleep, I hear hammering at my bedroom door.
             “Open the door,” my father shouts. “I know you’re talking to them. Open the fucking door or, by God, you’ll regret it.”
             I hear that the priest is with him.
             “Open the door,” the priest says. “Do as your father tells you.”
             I look to the window and see gaunt faces of the witches, watching me.
             I run to the window, open it, and ask the witches if all what the people say about them is true.
             “Are you the Devil’s wives? Do your children starve?”
             For a long time, they say nothing. Soon, my father begins to break my bedroom door down.
             “Tell me,” I say, pushing myself up on the window frame. “Please!”
             But the witches are only shadows. Tired and stooped.
             Hungry as any witch might be.
             They tell me, “Just a little farther.”


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Adam Gnuse is a 2018 Kenyon Review Summer Workshop Peter Taylor fellow and an MFA fiction candidate at UNC Wilmington. His writing has appeared in Bodega, decomP, Guernica, The Los Angeles Review, New South, The Wisconsin Review, and other magazines.

LATE BABIES — MARVIN SHACKELFORD

Once his older son decided to become a marine biologist, to study the waters and their fishes and all their less imaginable contents, Arnaldo began working to convince his younger son to train as an astronaut. They were late babies, children from a third marriage, and he already felt himself an old man when they were born. He retired early and wore a long beard and white trousers. Attended all their school plays and baseball games. He loved the thought of doddering through his golden years having placed sons at points as high and low as earthly possible. They vacationed near oceans and airbases. While the older dove in heated pools and shallow coves he and the younger built model rockets beneath wilting, potted palm trees. They toured aerospace museums and viewed shuttle launches. Arnaldo paid for his younger boy to ride in the cockpit of a decommissioned Russian fighter jet, sent him up into a white European sky and as far from earth as he knew how to send him. He descended to the ground again in tears, covered in his own vomit. And so the space race ceased. In the waning years of their childhood Arnaldo paid for camps and shows and fairs and meetings, but it did no good. He sent his older son to college and then the sea, but the younger drifted only so high. He studied acting in New York, sent home tapes of himself dancing across the stage. He traveled west and began appearing on TV, in commercials and guest roles on weekly sitcoms and police procedurals. He was a dead body once, and his mother invited all their family and friends over to watch him lie beneath a pale green sheet. Strangulation, a detective said. Cut short in his prime. Arnaldo played at the idea of a fourth wife, a third son, but he settled into the rest of his life contentedly enough. His older son traveled island to island across the seas, dove great glass and steel machines into the darkest reaches, sent postcards and shells from exotic coastlines. The younger appeared more and more often on their TV screen, occasionally shot up large at the multiplex cinema. In a way, he joked, he reached the brightest of the stars. It wasn’t enough, but who could have expected it? They came home for the holidays, sat to either side of Arnaldo on the couch and explained the years ahead of them. He patted their knees and smiled, pleased. He pulled them close. He held tightly, for as long as his grip allowed, and then released. Then they launched out into the world again, free.


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Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies' Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in The Kenyon Review, Pithead Chapel, Split Lip Magazine, Juked and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.

CADAVER — MATT BRODERICK

We’d been fighting all month, all week, all weekend, and for today had gone on without saying a word to each other through our dinner of reheated leftovers, which we’d eaten in separate rooms. Alan broke the standoff. “Do you want to see the cadaver?” he asked. Since mentioning that he’d been performing a human autopsy in his anatomy class, I’d bugged Alan about taking me to see the body, to which he always replied with a vague brush off. And even though I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of winning me over now, he’d found his in. “Sure,” I said, like I was the one doing him a favor.           
             When we arrived at Alan’s medical school, he handed me a white coat, latex gloves, and a pair of safety goggles. “In case anything pops out,” he said with a grin. He led me across the bright room, past rows of stainless-steel operating tables. On top of each, a body bag laid still, like a human eggshell. Reaching Alan’s cadaver, he rested a hand on the tables edge, and before revealing the corpse, said, “Sure you’re fine, Paul? He’s pretty chopped up.”
             “It’s okay, I’ve seen a dead body before,” I lied, not wanting to say anything that would jeopardize my viewing.
             Alan unzipped the bag and I braced myself for a stringent smell, but none materialized. The man’s skin was pale and covered in ridges where a knife had sliced him. “Can I touch it?” I asked. “Him,” Alan replied and moved my hand to the man’s still furry chest, guiding my fingers down a deep ridge in the sternum. “We had to use the bone saw for this.”
             Inside, the man had been hollowed out, robbed of most his organs. I pinched the flaps of his pulled back skin and applied a little pressure to his ribs, testing their resistance. It amazed me how sturdy everything felt. I’d always viewed the body as such a fragile vessel.
             There were a collection of cut-off arteries and veins in the chest and I asked, “Where’s the heart?” Alan bent down under the table and rustled around in a plastic bag. When he stood up, he was holding the heart in two pieces, dripping with formaldehyde. “I bisected it,” he said, and placed a half in each of my hands.
             I looked back and forth between the identical parts, entranced with the beauty of their intricate design, and after a while, brought them together, curious to view the organ as a whole. But to my surprise, I found that the halves would not match up. I tried turning one and then the other, flipping them around, upside down, but each attempt resulted in an uneven merge. Unsure of how I’d managed such a bungle, I turned, seeking Alan for his support, but he wasn’t behind me. He’d already gone.


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Matt Broderick is a writer and artist, currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Rutgers Newark. He is an Assistant Editor for The Review Review and has served as a fiction reader for both Ploughshares and Wyvern Lit. In 2016, he placed 1st in the Boston Book Festival Writer Idol for his short fiction. His work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Redivider, The Review Review, and Turning Art. Find him on IG/Twitter: @NotMyDayOff.

GOOD GUYS — KATE FINEGAN

Teacher tells us in the event of a nuclear attack, we have to fight our natural urge to run to windows and watch. We’re like that, curious. That’s why we practice duck and cover, duck and cover, duck and cover. We don’t know, ever, if it’s real or fake, so I guess even the real time will feel fake, and I’m sure there’ll be a real time because my family watches TV from supper to bed, me and Mom on the couch, Dad in his recliner, all of us with our little metal trays of meatloaf or hot dish, and all that news of the bad guys launching hunks of metal into space.
             Mom makes supper every night but hardly eats a bite. I’m not allowed to waste food because of poor starving children somewhere, but Mom slides so much of her meal into the garbage then goes to the bathroom for what seems like forever. I guess that bathroom’s maybe like her fallout shelter. I know that because she told me she goes in there to think, to get some peace and quiet. But I know the TV’s loud enough you can hear it in the bathroom. You can hear it everywhere. I hear it as I fall asleep.
             We’ve got a little fallout shelter. Dad insisted. Mom said she wouldn’t want to live in a world of nuclear winter. Dad said we live in northern Minnesota—how much worse could winter get?
             He’s always got some question like that, every time Mom says something silly. I’m learning from him, what to say when girls are silly. I guess I believe Teacher when she says we’d watch the nuclear blast because I can’t help watching from the top of the stairs when Dad slaps Mom.
             Mom and Dad and Teacher and the news all say we’re the good guys. But I wonder how good we can be if we need a fallout shelter in the backyard and another in the bathroom just for Mom, if so much food goes to waste as Mom’s stomach rumbles on the couch. I wonder if we’re the good guys, but the adults say we are, and the other boys are sure, so I believe them.


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Kate Finegan recently published the chapbook The Size of Texas with Penrose Press. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead, and been runner-up for The Puritan's Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and Synaesthesia Flash Fiction Prize, and longlisted by Room. She is Assistant Fiction Editor at Longleaf Review. You can find her at katefinegan.ink and twitter.com/@kehfinegan.

A PATIENT ACT OF LOVE — JARED POVANDA

As soon as Adam knelt by the shore of the pond, tears streaking his face, moisture soaked his jeans. Cold gripped his knees, and his fillings hummed in his mouth. The taste of salt wouldn’t leave his tongue. When Adam looked to the bank of trees across the water, though, through the dark and the half-gone leaves, he imagined he saw a hint of her, and his heart began to calm.
             Abigail.
             Abigail.
             Drums upon drums upon drums, her name was.
             And he was lost to the music of her.
             Adam scrubbed a hand over his features, then through his thinning hair, wasting the action as well as the time. He knew he should get up and walk back the way he came—self-preservation singing a final warning in his ear, but he didn’t. He stayed and knelt and listened to the nightbirds. He knelt, and heard her, too, twined between their cries.
             Abigail had loved the forest—the sun-warmed stones and the budding flowers dripping with nectar. The clusters of bees around their hives. She would watch a swarm for hours, sketchbook in hand, drawing thousands of tiny bodies threading through the honeycomb.
             She sprang from her mother with clay under her fingernails and landscape paintings tattooed on her skin. With a dirty smock tied around the slim vine of her waist. Her words, not his. He was honestly surprised he still remembered them.
             The erosion of a mind, especially one with dementia, was a patient act. Though, so were Abigail’s paintings. Her rendering of the umber ducks on their mantle was composed of a million brushstrokes.
             Both were acts of love.
             The goal of painting was to create something from nothing, and the erosion, he believed—he so needed to believe—was to save his mind the pain of those many somethings by becoming nothing. By blanking and going white. Pleasure at its apex, the forgetting of grief. And he was forgetting. More and more every day.
             And Adam didn’t want to die not knowing her.
             He took one final breath of the forest—the winter still clasped tight to the pine, and there was the fragrant soil at his feet, rich with worms, and, beneath it all, he thought, a perfuming echo of Abigail’s lemongrass and verbena—before slumping slow into the water to follow his late wife wherever her illness took her, creating no bigger splash than a smallmouth bass hunting midges on the surface of the starry water.


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Jared Povanda is a writer, freelance editor, and avid reader from upstate New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Silver Needle Press, Sky Island Journal, Vestal Review, the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing), and Tiferet Journal, among others. The winner of multiple literary awards, he also holds a B.A. from Ithaca College in Creative Writing.