POPEYE — ULRICA HUME

In one of the cartoons I watched as a child, Popeye the Sailor gives Olive Oyl a bouquet of flowers. She is thrilled, he walks on air, thinking they will marry. His one-eyed heroism is soon challenged by Bluto however, who pours cement into Popeye’s bath. It goes on—one disaster after another. The message is that love is hard. How crafty men are! And women, too.

At Whole Foods a man stands behind me in line. He holds a bouquet of roses. He is gruff, but charming, a throwback to another era, perhaps a spirit. He shoves the cellophaned roses my way. Whaddya think? he asks.

I inspect the hopeful clump. The individual petals are pink, or rather salmon, with notched brown edges. The roses are in distress. This is almost an embarrassment, the flower heads fallen away, each from the other, a mania of foliage.

Aren’t they wilted? I tactfully ask.

They’ll get me in the door, he answers.

I yam what I yam, Popeye would boast. Because he accepted himself, his one eye seeing the world aslant, his cans of spinach giving him superpowers. He started out as a crewmember on a ship destined to a casino on Dice Island. His life was rough, catastrophic, his surreal brawls the stuff of dreams. As a child I was mesmerized by this porthole to the world of grownups. Bluto (or Brutus, as he was later known) was Popeye’s nemesis. He was a sharp point on the love triangle that involved Popeye and the hysterical damsel, Olive Oyl, who was her own woman, who faltered, but briefly, who gathered in her swift affections, remained enigmatic.

I’m sure she’ll like the roses, I say to the man at Whole Foods. He beams, he is one of those overconfident fools who steps off ledges, gets up, pats himself off, and does it again. His laugh like a chainsaw. I’m good at it, he winks—but good at what? I wonder. Superimposing his corrupt positivity on a lady’s better judgment, for favors of sympathy. It is a metaphysical assurance.

Frank “Rocky” Fiegel was the real-life inspiration for the Popeye character. Not much is known about him, except that he was a one-eyed, pipe-smoking, rabble-rouser who happened to like children. He lived and died in the comic book creator’s hometown of Chester, Illinois; an image of Popeye marks his grave.

And so the magical sea shanty played, and love was taught to me as hardship, persecution, a false exuberance. But how to keep exploiting one’s heart, to wait with frozen spinach, these coins of complicity. I watch the man waltz off, with his air of bedraggled kismet. He will knock on a door with his subpar roses. This small gesture of sober incompleteness.

I brung you some flowers.

In 1939, Margie Hines, voice of Olive Oyl, married Jack Mercer, voice of Popeye. That they had stars in their eyes should not be faulted. They later divorced.


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Ulrica Hume is the author of An Uncertain Age, a “wickedly sophisticated” spiritual mystery novel, and House of Miracles, a collection of tales about love, one of which was selected by PEN and broadcast on NPR. Her flash pieces appear at Ellipsis Zine, FanzineLitroNecessary Fiction100 Word Story, and in the Nothing Short Of and Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road anthologies. Find her on Twitter at @uhume.

EVERYONE WAS IN ON IT EXCEPT YOU — NEIL CLARK

We staged a fake apocalypse, and everyone was in on it except you.
             For months, while you’d be sleeping, we’d be planning for ‘The End,’ concocting the next bogus seed to plant in your head.
             We plastered your social media with “satellite images” of electromagnetic space vacuums sucking birds and aircraft and clouds clean out of Earth’s atmosphere. Remorseful articles from reputable science journals appeared everywhere, advising to please forget everything they ever wrote. The Bermuda Triangle was re-named The Bermuda Globe. “Unexplained” power cuts occurred with increasing frequency, and the price of tinfoil went through the roof. Every film released—from Hollywood blockbuster to moody indie flick—featured species-ending obliteration out of which nobody rose up to save the day. The end title sequences were full of obituaries of the cast and crew - reason for death: sucked-out-of-Earth’s-atmosphere-related complications.
             Then the night of our false Armageddon came.
             We donned our space-suits and said our genuine goodbyes to the planet. For a meticulously rehearsed hoax, emotions ran high.
             This was really happening. Too late to go back. Way too much work had gone in.

While you were in the land of nod, seven-and-a-half-billion of us snuck out and boarded seven-hundred-million spacecraft. Destination: The Moon, where we were to hide and take our view of Earth—new population: you.
             On the lunar surface, we unpacked our telescope-cam and rigged up our football-pitch-sized screens to watch your reaction back home. We thought you’d be panicking by then, screaming “Hello?!” into every void. We’d dreamt of the moment we’d finally get to laugh at you falling for it—hook, line and sinker. We expected to be patting each other on the collective back for a job well executed; celebrating into the astral night awash with stray champagne blobs floating sideways across the carnival atmosphere.
             Alas, no space-magnums were popped.
             You never panicked.
             You screamed into no void.
             You did not scream at all.
             We watched you, perfectly content in your new-found isolation, gazing at the moon in awe like an inverse Apollo astronaut. The surface of our bone-white exosphere was already scarring. Its new population was turning on itself. Firing shots. Clamoring for territory.
             And you were witnessing it all from afar.
             You watched flags get flown. Borders form. Walls get built. You observed low-gravity mass hysteria—our people questioning why we’d come here, why nobody had thought about how we’d get ever back.
             Amidst all the chaos, we watched you watching us. We saw you enjoying your plush Earthen surroundings. The trees. The oceans. The gravity. The planet breathing a colossal sigh of relief. Most of all, the solitude. We saw you sit back with your feet up, a pot of coffee, a slice of cake, the bubble of personal space around you as vast and stunning as the sky above you.
             “I did it,” we saw your mouth. “I can’t believe they fell for it.”


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Neil Clark is a writer from Edinburgh, Scotland. His work has been published in Okay Donkey, Five:2:One, formercactus and other great places. Find him at neilclarkwrites.wordpress.com or say 'hi' on Twitter @NeilRClark.

FEVER DREAM, DREAM CITY — ANDREA LOPEZ

Even the way she smokes tells a different story. The way she smiles around her Marlboro, breathing out a tar-like cloud like it won’t eventually find its way to clot the sky, but you know better. You offer her another one when she’s done with it, but she declines. Asks, instead, how to say, “I’m full” in your language. It’s more boredom than benevolence that you demonstrate, rolling the vowels around your mouth and watching the way she parrots the sound and the way the afternoon light around her dims a little from osmosis, the energy gathering inside her, unspooling into delirious laughter.

You’ve seen this before, this strange tourist fever—“I’m not from here.” And yup, there it is: twenty-something, says she left her 9-to-5 to see the world, ride her Julia Roberts great escape into the spicy winds of Third-World Landia. “Maybe even fall in love,” she sighs, and God, you already know she’s seen the ad, the one your government paid big, big money for. In it, your city sits on a high stool, hip jutted out, eyes stormy with promise, well-dressed and charming and every desirable thing. Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to love a city like that, this city you know behind your eyes, by the sound of its footfalls?

Raised on Catholic principles, you know judging her wouldn’t be polite. Still, you wonder what the view is like on the other side of the split screen. Hardly anything extraordinary happens here. Already 1PM and the city still drags its feet. Surely, she can see the gaps; big blue alien eyes like that, surely she can see everything: hear its old bones shifting, rattling, sense the danger on its way. This you know too well; stay long enough, and the roots of this place grab you by the ankles and it’s over—next thing you know it’s been years and you can’t leave. It won’t let you.

“Look,” she keeps saying, all windowpane eyes and the curtains drawn, then, “Amazing,” and, “It’s more than I ever imagined,” as her juvenile touristy delirium takes hold, so fiercely unmarred it shoves you outside yourself. Stumbling, you look up at your body and start to shake. You imagine, for a moment, what  it would be like to possess that nearsightedness again: to see the rain and count each gray window, to track the flight pattern of small brown birds. To see everything, like children do—all this city’s DNA-rooted potential, still warring against sleep-gummed eyes, still shouting, still here, still in you.


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Andrea Lopez lives and writes in the Philippines. Her work has been published in Cyberriot, Heights Ateneo, The Thing Magazine, and other magazines and anthologies. 


BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY NOMINATIONS — 2018

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We’re so excited to announce our nominations for one more award in 2018: Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. This is the very first time we’ve ever nominated stories for this particular award, but we feel these three pieces are absolutely perfect for it.

Best of luck to these three talented writers, and a huge thank you to everyone who submits to our site. We wouldn’t be CHEAP POP without you!

Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy:

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AWARD NOMINATIONS — 2018

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We’re stoked to announce our nominations for three additional awards in 2018: Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best Micro Fictions (400 words or less). We owe everything to all of our wonderful contributors, and every time awards come around, it feels impossible to decide which stories to choose, but we felt these pieces really highlighted our focus and drive here at CHEAP POP.  

Best of luck to these talented folks, and a huge thank you to everyone who submits to our site. We wouldn’t be CHEAP POP without you!

Pushcart Prize:

Best Small Fictions:

Best Micro Fictions (400 words or less):

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SUBS OPEN NOVEMBER 2018 (+FEEDBACK WITH DONATION)

Hello, friends!

We had a heckuva Season 1 and 2 in 2018, and we hope you were able to follow along.

We’re excited to announce that SUBMISSIONS will be open for the month of NOVEMBER 2018. We will be actively reading for Season 1 of 2019—these pieces will run mid-January through the end of March and/or into April 2019.

(As always, for more information on what we're looking for, or how to submit—when we're open!—please check out our submissions page.)

Additionally, we’re doing something a little different this time: For the month of November 2018, you have the option of

(1) a regular submissions, or
(2) you can submit + SHOW PROOF OF A DONATION (to one of the charities below in any amount). With proof of donation (a screenshot of the receipt or email confirmation), we will provide feedback in the event your piece is not accepted for publication.

Charities:

We all feel very strongly about these charities, and as the saying goes: Any amount helps at all.

Please note: We will not respond (accept/reject) pieces until after a submissions period is closed. You are free to query us, but our method is to read every piece we get, even ones submitted at 11:59 PM on the last day. It's important to us that every piece gets the same care and attention. This also means we generally need a small buffer of time after submissions close to read and gauge pieces.

We’re excited to read your work! For additional info, click here!

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I DON'T KNOW WHERE EXACTLY HIS GRAVE IS — JANET FRISHBERG

And where does gratitude, unexpressed, go? I’m not interested in washing it from my body like sand on skin after hours at the ocean. What I want is a place to put it: public. Or, semi-public. Maybe we could make it password-protected. People could go if they needed to be around some gratitude. Could ask a friend for the entry code, like the hot tubs near Ashby where I would’ve wanted to bring him. Where I try to get so boiling that I stop thinking for a few minutes. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between gratitude, longing, and hate. It needs a somewhere, besides inside me where it bubbles, too much to contain. A parklet or a secret bar or an underground cathedral. All of which are, I guess, already effigies.


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Janet Frishberg is currently at work on a memoir about grief, writing, and friendship. Her work has been published in Catapult, Electric Literature, and The Rumpus, among othersYou can find her on Twitter @jfrishberg.

FOREVER AND EVER AMEN — KORI LINN

The first time was an accident. One minute they were just walking, taking a shortcut through Myrtle Timmins, the lush green trees of late spring crowding all around them, and the next, her back was up against a gravestone, and his breath was hot on her neck. They could hear the voice of a preacher cataloging the many virtues of a recently deceased dentist, and, in a way that nothing ever had before, the booming cadence of the religious man’s speech sent Marianne’s eyes heavenward. It was difficult to explain, really. She was spiritual, yes, but not religious. She hadn’t been to church in sixteen years. And yet, here she was, a grown woman, pinned to a granite slab, whispering more, more, more into the ear of a man who was not her husband. The man began a series of tiny bites leading from her earlobe to her collarbone. She closed her eyes, focused on the sensation, delighting in the preacher’s voice—both somber and enthusiastic—as he declared, “and let us not forget that this is a man who showered his mercy on those in need again and again!” Yes, she thought, again and again and again. The man began to peel back her blouse, exposing her pale flesh to the bright southern sun hanging over their heads. Her fingers curled into his hair, and her back arched as the preacher’s words rang out, rich and flowing, like honey. The preacher began to speak of sin. Of the fire and the brimstone and the many natural and just punishments that would come to those who were not so virtuous as the man who lay before them. His voice sank deeper, and he sounded truly sorrowful as he laid out the many ways in which one could invoke the wrath of the Lord our God. The list went on and on, and Marianne grew dizzy with every mention of death and judgment and the watchful gaze of the one and only Lord above. And she smiled as waves of pleasure washed over her, saying only “my god, my god.”

 


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Kori Linn is a life coach who uses her storytelling skills to help clients build lives they love. Before that, she designed corporate communications (and even had fun doing it). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington. You can find her work in Nailed Magazine and The Monarch Review. Come say hi at www.korilinn.com