NEW LEADER — CLAIRE POLDERS

After Bernhard Christiansen’s Nieuwe Paus (New Pope)

This morning, I invented a new leader. I was tired of the old one and thought: I want a leader who is as loyal as my watchdog, Jodie, and as fierce as my cat, Joelle, and who possesses some magical power, such as breathing underwater like my goldfish, Jojo. The new leader would be a woman, of course, either resembling my favorite aunt, or that clever lady I often see on TV, and whose eyes keep me standing each time I feel tempted to fall into despair. She would have a lovely smile, my leader, a smile that she would never show unless she meant to give it to you as a present. All men would fear her fingernails. Not because they were painted or as sharp as weapons, but because they made her fingers longer, and therefore her accusations more acute. My new leader would have wild hair, as in untamed, as in free. She would love to dance and shake her body in a triumph of force. Her voice, too, would be uncaged, allowing her to shout and whisper and sing whenever she felt like making a point, and even when she felt like making nothing. Traveling, for my new leader, would be as easy as spreading her wings like my parrot, Jorinde. And she would never sleep; sleep would be unnecessary. My new leader would absorb what she needed from the opposition, sucking their vapid energy into her pure wakefulness. Would she have hardened teeth? Nuanced arms? I tried to imagine what dog-eared books she would read in secret, and drew a blank, perhaps because she would carry all the books inside her head, even the ones that had yet to be written. The only complaint you could make about my new leader was that she would be difficult to approach. But that’s forgivable, at least in my house. Jodie, Joelle, Jojo, and Jorinde never let me pet them either. Even so, my respect for them is boundless.


Claire Polders is a Dutch author. Her debut in English, A Whale in Paris (Atheneum/Simon&Schuster), is a novel for younger readers about a heroic girl who saves a lost whale during World War II. It was released in May 2018. Her short prose is published wherever it is appreciated. Read more of her work online at www.clairepolders.com or follow her @clairepolders

OURSELF — BRIAN RANDALL

He is wanting us to do things. Us to touch ourself. He is showing us himself, abandoned light falling through the broken window. He pushes, grabs. We slash. Shards of glass. He retreats, cradling a tattered face. After, we shuffle through empty rooms. Write our words in the dust. Set fire to the old mattress.

At school the others watch us from a distance. Try to decipher our language. Knock our books from our hands in the hall. We make a list.

We find two dead birds. Necks broken. They are husband and wife. We give them a room in the dollhouse. They lead grand lives. Many acquaintances.

Our parents are afraid. Tell us not to speak our language. Too much time spent in seclusion. Door shut. We make doll shows. Set fire to the dollhouse. Some of them survive.

Hospital. White space. Lip-chewers and shit-smearers. “Whose choice was it to set the fires?” she asks. Who? Choice? Our language does not hold these words.

Separate rooms. We go blank.

“Isolation doesn’t seem a viable option,” she says. “Twins often form a special bond.”

Twins. Twine. Two. Our language doesn’t separate. We try their language. It is like sand on our tongues.

An hour a day in the courtyard. Bird sounds. Creaking wheelchairs. Mutterings. Orderlies steer away. We have only ourself. Our lives will never run to other horizons. They will only collide. We are the only ones to know our language. It is a vise. It works tighter if we resist. There is only one way out.

She cannot understand us anymore, nor we her. Our words are snared in the air between, fuzzed out, shredded. Nothing can split this cocoon we have wound around ourself. We must make a choice.

Eyes thickening. Slackened shadows. Crawling tubes. “We can’t discern what is wrong with her. A sudden slowing of the heart. No cause.” I try to tell them but they can’t know my words; part of us must wilt so that the rest of us may grow.


DSC_9476workin.jpg

Brian Randall is a poet and writer living in Santa Cruz, California. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Rust+Moth, Jelly Bucket, and Roanoke Review. Find more of his work online at www.brianrandallwriter.com

THE PERILS OF PAPERBOY — EMILY STEPHAN

As kids, we screamed with laughter whenever the kid in Paperboy got killed. We’d sit in front of that old TV and that little grey box, the carpet reddening our knees, one of us embedding the square sides of the controller into our palms while we stared at the pixelated images.

Amusing, how many ways there are to die on a paper route: rocks, vicious dogs, rogue tires, possessed lawn mowers, suspicious men exercising in inconvenient places. Everyday life trying its best to destroy you.

We cracked ourselves up so much we never made it beyond the second stage. We’d pass the controller around. We’d laugh in the face of constant failure.

I wish I still could.


Emily Stephan is a writer, reader, film buff, and Louisiana native. Her poetry has recently been featured in Louisiana's Best Emerging Poets by Z Publishing House.

US — LEONORA DESAR

My husband is cheating on me with me. It’s simple. It’s the younger me. The me when we first met.
             I find them christening the curtains. That’s their thing. Drapery. They’re too lazy to walk over to the couch. It makes them feel it. Wild. They pull the fabric out and spread out on the floor. I find them like that, tangled in Ikea. I say, what’s gotten into you? My younger self looks at me. I think that’s obvious, she says. He’s gotten into me.
             She’s cheeky, my younger self. Maybe that’s why he still loves her. He covers her and walks away. He shuts the door. I follow him. His head’s down. He won’t look at me. This is the problem. Even when we were younger we never looked. Not really. We always saw that more interesting spot on the chin, or just between the eyes, the turtleneck that reminded us (okay, me) of Uncle Ralph, but not in a pervy way, in a safe way. We thought, he wears red turtlenecks, so he must be able to keep me safe.
             And he thought, she wears dresses, and sometimes goes without underwear. She must like the feeling of the wind. She must like doing it on the kitchen tile and will never complain of lumbar problems. He never realized I was just too lazy to go shopping.
             And that’s the thing: One minute you are free and the next you are just lazy. The shift happens in a second. I ask her about it, my younger self. Sometimes when my husband’s gone I crawl on top. I whisper things. I tickle. I sing us that song we both like, by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I say, come on, let’s do it, and she rolls her eyes. She doesn’t want to. But she can’t resist me. Not because I’m hot but because she has to try it. Something different. I take advantage. I say, I am the sexy older woman and you are my seduction. She likes it. She plays with my sagging boobs, and I pretend I am him, my husband, that I am deep inside her and it feels amazing, the way I own myself and him, all at the same time.
             I pretend this. I tell her to run away with me. I say it, run away with me. She smells like wine, like us, her teeth are stained with it. She smears some on my lip. I lick it and taste all of us.


Leonora Desar’s writing can be found or is forthcoming in River StyxPassages NorthBlack Warrior Review (online), Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Quarter After Eight, among others. She recently won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest and TSS Publishing's Flash 400, and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She lives in Brooklyn and writes a column for New Flash Fiction Review—Dear Leo.

CASUALLY HUMAN — EVAN JAMES SHELDON

On a recent flight to Los Angeles, a young girl, maybe three or four, sat beside me, her father in the aisle seat. After looking at me with open curiosity for about half an hour, she said, “I like your tattoos. They’re pretty.” It had been a long time, perhaps too long, since I had thought of my body in relation to the word pretty. She showed me a temporary tattoo of a heart on the inside of her left wrist that was about to fade away.
             We compared books, and together decided hers was definitely prettier. I told her that mine—Dan Chaon’s Ill Will—was filled with pretty words, but I could see she didn’t believe me. She asked me what it was about. I tried to find something among the deceit, violence, and sexuality that would convince her. I told her it was about two brothers who don't get along, and she looked at me triumphantly.
             She asked if my parents were taking me to Disneyland, too.
             She asked if I liked movies.
             She asked if I was going to California, too.
             When I told her that we all were going to California, everyone on the plane, she got quiet. I wondered what she was thinking and if I, by my simple statement, had irrevocably changed her world, shrunken it somehow.
             As we began to descend, light poured through the airplane window, so I closed the plastic shutter and was quickly admonished. You can’t see when we’re in the sky when you do that. Don’t you want to see when we are flying? I pushed up the shutter back up. Did I want to see when we were flying? The plane had been swallowed by clouds, the brightness muted but I knew the landscape was getting closer and closer, and I waited to break through.


Evan James Sheldon's work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in SpelkRoanoke ReviewFlash Fiction Magazine, and Poetry Super Highway, among others. He is a junior editor forF(r)iction. 

SHE PAINTS IT PYROTECHNIC YELLOW THESE DAYS — KATHRYN McMAHON

I know a girl with a scorpion tail, and you’d think she’d use this against her lovers, but she doesn’t. It curls out of her back where a tramp stamp would be, and it isn’t some implant, though she has magnets in her fingertips to sense electricity. She said she could feel mine. She could tell I was alive. I asked her what she was talking about, of course, I am alive; I am breathing, eating, arguing. She hooked my chin. I can feel you touching the world. Your cells and the divinity of them falling apart. We did not break up right after that, though everyone said I should; after all, she had a scorpion tail. I liked that tail. I used to stroke its brittle segments and know that love could hunt me down.


KMcMahon Author Photo 2018.jpg

Kathryn McMahon is a queer American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in places such as Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Split Lip, and right here in CHEAP POP. Her work has received nominations for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart, and has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. She was also a finalist for the first-ever SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com.

I WANNA BE ADORED — MELISSA GOODE

You move closer towards me and you are not a zombie or anything like that, although your face is wrapped in grayish cloth. I don’t know how you aren’t bumping into the furniture. I haven’t moved anything in our house, but still. You don’t walk unsteadily or hold out your hands to protect yourself. It is seven P.M. You could have just arrived home from work and now walk towards me where I wait. I wait. How was your day? No, let’s not do that. I won’t ask you, and you won’t ever fucking ask me. Let’s do this instead—I sing my favorite song and you keep getting closer. I tell myself the mantra from my therapist—I have a feeling. I am not a feeling. You are so close now. Only two feet away. One foot. Your breath is warm coming through the cloth and there is the clean heat of your cologne. It is you. I grip your upper arm—solid, hot, alive—if I could move my hand, would I feel a pulse at your wrist? I have sadness. I am not sad. “You love that fucking song,” you say, and your voice is low, so low, scraping down the inside of my veins. If I could speak, I would say, “Talk, keep talking, scrape away at me.” Or, “Of course I still love that song. You know nothing has changed, right?” Nothing and Everything. Stop. You lean down and I raise my face. Your height, my height—it is right. My stomach is somersaulting and I am breathing hard and all the rest of it. Like the first time (and yes, like the last, too, my beautiful). I feel the cloth already, although we have not yet kissed—the coarse weave, stiff, cotton, tight. And I can taste it—hospital, institutional, before it gets to you. The cloth does not bother me. I know the precise place where your mouth is, where it always was.


Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in WigleafSmokeLong QuarterlyWhiskeyPaperSplit Lip MagazineForge Literary MagazineFRiGG and matchbook, among others. Her story "It falls" (Jellyfish Review) was recently chosen by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018 (Braddock Avenue Books). She lives in Australia. You can find her here:www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter

SANCTUS SPIRITUS, 1512 — SARAH ARANTZA AMADOR

They brought her down the mountain the afternoon before the earth shook and the sea retreated and then returned four times stronger and taller. It was dry winter, and the camp was bored; the captain sent a troop of soldiers to push a slave up into the hills in search of gold. The further they climbed, the more desperate they all became, and when they found her half-frozen in the icy damp of a high cave, a shock of iridescent scales and bare breasts and buttocks, they forgot about the gold completely and stole her instead. As they wound their way through the camp, people stopped and stared at the woman tightly bound in horsehair rope. She was locked into a livestock crate brought off one of the ships after she attacked a cook who had reached out to touch the opaline spines along her back, and there she sat unblinking, slow pulse, as slaves, soldiers, and mistresses alike delighted in the way she changed colors when they poked her with sticks through the bars. After the disaster, the dead were disentangled from the mangroves and piled with trash into mounds along the beaches. The camp cried and prayed, and she sat in her cage, focused on the smell of sea brine and the cook’s meaty neck.


Sarah Arantza Amador is a graduate of the Creative Writing BA program at UC Santa Cruz and is a former Ph.D. Candidate in Spanish and Latin American Literatures at NYU. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her dog Roscoe. She's most recently had fiction and poetry published in FIVE:2:ONE's #sideshow, sPARKLE + bLINK, Vending Machine Press, The Airgonaut, and Word Riot. You can find more examples of her fiction, scribbles, and oddities at cheapfruits.tumblr.com. She tweets @ArantzaSarah.