SEPARATION ANXIETY — BECKY ROBISON

I left him there because she’s the only other thing he took to. Not his father, not his brother. Only the sheep’s dirty pink belly, and me.
             Eighteen months and he’d still scream when well-meaning people tried to touch him, to coochy-coo his buttery lump of a chin. No toy would satisfy him, no blanket, no diaper. He’d flinch and squall like the whole world was a lit stove. He refused to crawl or walk. The doctor chided me whenever I brought him in, as if I were the one who needed to stop clinging.
             It was him, though, the baby, always clinging. Not to me, but to my skin, soft sticky hands wriggling beneath my shirt, past my waistband, into my mouth. And the nursing. Eighteen months and my milk was still all he would take. After his teeth grew in, he chomped down like he wanted to brand me, so no one else could have me.
             His brother was never this way—couldn’t wait to toddle into mishaps. His father, well. His father was sympathetic, but his father slept through the night.
             The county fair was his brother’s idea—he was finally tall enough for the rides. I used to love thrill rides—The Zipper, The Tilt-A-Whirl—my hips slammed into metal or squeezed by the lap belt, my hair flying everywhere, trying to escape my skull.
             Because the naked little darling wouldn’t leave his mother’s arms, his father accompanied his brother on the rides. While they got their thrills, I walked him through the barns to see the blue ribbon winners. Pigs labeled Pork, cows labeled Beef and Milk. The sheep were just labeled Sheep.
             One of the sheep had recently given birth. She lay on her side, bloated with nourishment for her new litter. The still-slick lambs scrambled for her, shoving one another aside to get their fill. The mother didn’t look at her brood. She kept her head steady, her eyes closed for minutes at a time.
             I don’t know whether it was the scuffling of the lambs’ contest, or the smell of another creature’s dung, or something I did that caused him to turn. But turn he did, blinked his lashes at the scene in the pen, reached his pink fist toward the animals.
             Nothing had ever fascinated him besides my body, and what mother would deny her child what he wants? I nestled him in the thick wool at the sheep’s back. He didn’t scream—nor did he stay. His legs were weak, but his arms were strong from constantly pulling himself closer to me. Instead of crawling, he dragged himself to her stomach, bulldozing the hay before him and leaving a trail of dirt in his wake. He squirmed between the other mother’s children, and being significantly larger, he easily found a nipple for himself.
             The other mother didn’t seem to mind.
             He took to her and I took off, leaving him well-fed and cared for.
             I bought a ticket for the Kamikaze.


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Becky Robison masquerades as a corporate employee in Chicago, but at heart she is a writer and a world traveler. A graduate of University of Nevada Las Vegas’ Creative Writing MFA program, she’s currently working on a novel and serving as Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Split Lip Magazine. Her fiction has appeared in [PANK], Paper DartsMidwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter: @Rebb003

GRAND MOTEL — TRIA WOOD

Before we moved here, I swam in rivers. Now, it’s the little pool at the Grand Motel for a dollar a day, no lifeguard but the concrete steer atop the Palmetto Steakhouse across the street. Tracy brings Nicole, and we lean our bikes on the cyclone fence before stripping off our fathers’ tee shirts. We always ride together because Tracy says the Panty Man will knock you from your bike, and steal your panties right off if you ever ride alone. Where’s the grownup who’ll stop him? I wonder, not sure if I believe her. I do know she once kissed the boy whose name fills my diary, and all summer long we croon That Boy’s name to every love song on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 until her momma hollers up the stairs that she’ll blister our butts if we don’t shut up and be quiet. Tell me again, I beg Tracy, Tell me about the kiss, but all she’ll say is he has a really Frenchy tongue, and we giggle as we count up all the girls he’s kissed—Amy, Donna, Lori, Raquel—so I can believe my turn’s coming up. That Boy never comes to the pool, though every time Tracy calls to ask him, he says yeah maybe, and so she gets Nicole and me and we three go and wait, sipping Sprites and rubbing Hawaiian Tropic on each other’s backs. Now that we’re thirteen, we never swim. We sit at the edge and dip our feet, talking and talking about That Boy, but still hoping the other boys will notice our new swimsuits. Those boys dive and flip, push each other into the deep end, splashing and screaming. Ryan waits for one of us to look, then shouts Gimme head! Arms up, fingers pointing down to where his wet swim trunks cling. All the boys have started doing this, the summer filled with shouts of Gimme head! It makes no sense to me, sounds like something the Red Queen might demand, but the way the boys laugh makes my stomach curl up into itself. Tracy raises one eyebrow and declares Ryan gross, but Nicole just laughs, her tan shoulders cocked just so, then reaches out with one finger to flip up my chin before my gaping mouth can form the question. Why do you gotta be such a homegirl? she asks me, meaning the one who writes in her diary at home while everyone else gets kissed. I look down and kick at imaginary minnows, watch the ripples circle out, bounce off the boys to smack the algae-stained tile.


Tria Wood is a writer and educator who helps children and teachers become confident creative writers through the Writers in the Schools program in Houston, Texas. Her work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, and Literary Mama, as well as in public art installations.

DR. DAD — BENJAMIN NIESPODZIANY

The boy's father was a harvest jar overflowing with ground beef and sock lint. The boy called him Dr. Dad. He sticky-tacked marathon medals to his office ceiling. The open-door policy windchimed his victories.

Dr. Dad was a desert locust. Spent his boy's childhood outside. While the boy drew snakes in dirt, Dr. Dad battled cows for high grass, up in the carob trees, shirtless, shouting about chocolate. He read sports.

Dr. Dad lasered warts, warned diabetics. Told golf jokes. Asked about updates on the wedding, on Kathy's First Communion. A heart throb is not always a good thing, he joked, wrote down the best cardiologist in town.

Dr. Dad told his son about an angry patient who had a hole in his foot. The man noticed the doom back in spring, spent four months with a marker making his wound a mouth. Fed it cigarettes, Mountain Dew, gin, gave it teeth, watched it grow.

Dr. Dad was Indiana's chief meteorologist small-talking tornadoes over Lidocaine and Coumadin prescriptions, his handwriting so bad the pharmacists needed a second opinion, half convinced the script read “amputate.”

The boy's father removed his own toes every night. With each pluck, he promised himself a better tomorrow. A jump-higher, fly-longer tomorrow. A listen and climb and tighten tomorrow. To proudly display every Froot Loops necklace his son made without eating it first.


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Benjamin Niespodziany is a night librarian at the University of Chicago. He runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas] and has had work published in Ghost City Press, Pithead Chapel (forthcoming), HOOT Review (forthcoming), Occulum, and formercactus.

PAROXYSM — GEORGIANA NELSEN

When we were eight, your dad loved baseball and wanted to coach. Boys and girls could play on the same team then, so we sat in the outfield and made chains of clover, tying tiny knots in the stem of one around the blossom of the next. Afternoon stretched to evening without anyone ever hitting a ball our way. We swatted our gloves instead at honey bees swarming the clover on our necklaces and crowns. The flies we caught at dusk blinked to light our fingers: fleeting, precious jewels.
             When we were ten, I waited while you cut the grass wearing shorts and no shirt. The mower echoed between oak and maple; the songbirds quieted. I heard your yelp over the machine’s growl, and you slapped at the air as you ran to the house. A splatter of bees smeared against the glass door into ooze. Your pale skin swelled into crimson pillows across your bare chest where the stingers pierced. Neither you nor the bees noticed me watching. You put on your blue flannel shirt, jeans and shoes, and poured gasoline into the nest in the ground. You dropped a match and the bees, some flaming, rose into the smoke. The birds sang.
             When we were twelve, we sold flags for the Fourth, a fundraiser for Little League. Rubina lived in the house between us, and signed our order form in her garden. Musk of red geraniums blended with citrus of white daisies into an exotic perfume, mellowed by the sweetness of blue forget-me-nots. Rubina smiled and shaded her eyes. “I’m happy here,” she told us, smoothing her headscarf. “No one tells me what to do, where to pray, how to dress. I’m proud to be American now.”
             We found her there when we returned with the flag, her face swollen, clasping a bouquet of dead-headed geraniums, the barbed stinger of a yellow jacket deep in her palm.
             When we turned eighteen, my birthday only a day behind yours, we registered to vote. We’d be old enough next election. Your parents drove you to the base and let me ride along. You wore crisp fatigues and scratched at the stubble where your hair had been, like an insect bite you couldn’t ignore. Heading down our street, mounds of red, white, and blue flowers bloomed. We passed the Little League flags in the lawns, and you sat taller. “It’s worth fighting for,” you said. Your mother’s eyes glassed with tears.
             Then you kissed me goodbye.
             You write of the beige sand and buildings. The only color you see bleeds from your injured friends. The only scent you breathe a perfume with the acrid tinge of sulfur. Bombs burst in the air and you are afraid.
             I hope you take care and come back whole, unstung. I hope you remember crowns of sweet clover and catching fireflies. I hope you remember me.


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Georgiana Nelsen is a business lawyer in Houston, Texas. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online in several publications, most recently in Tiferet Journal and Bending Genres. She spends her writing time mostly wrangling with the characters of her novel. Find her at @rosespringvale on Twitter, gsnelsen on Instagram, Georgiana Steele Nelsen on Facebook and occasional updates and book reviews at sunrisesandsuch.blogspot.com.

NOMINATIONS — BEST OF THE NET 2018

We are pleased to announce our nominations for Best of the Net 2018:

"Half-Life" by Dina L. Relles
“How to Exploit Your Ancestors” by Aram Mrjoian

We owe everything to all of our wonderful contributors, and it was a challenge to select just two, but we felt these pieces really highlighted our focus and drive here at CHEAP POP.

We wish Dina and Aram the best of luck, and if you haven't already, now's a great time to read these pieces. 

MONSTROUS, CHAOTIC THINGS — MAUREEN LANGLOSS

Sarah gave me an ornithology guide. I didn’t even know what ornithology was. We’d just decided to stop her chemo once and for all; the last thing I needed was some dumb bird book. I’d never shown interest in a bird our entire twenty-three years together. Not one fucking bird. So I asked her, is this the part of the story when you start to go crazy? Her skin was already gray, but she turned even grayer, like I’d made her sick to her stomach again. Sometimes I could still joke with her the same as before. We could tease each other and say true stuff. As a couple, we were big into teasing. But not that day. That day was a cancer day. You’ll understand in a month or two, she said, and wrapped her college sweatshirt tight around herself. It was dingy and frayed at the cuffs, but I remembered when it was new, how I wanted to tear it off her during late-night study sessions.
             The kids and I have seen purple sandpipers and grasshopper sparrows, tundra swans and common loons. Little Bess is the best at spotting them. She tells me to keep my breath quiet and listen for the bird noises. Yank-yanks. Trills. Burbling, bubbling blips. Don’t blink so much, she says. Care more. You have to care more. If I keep still, sometimes I can sense the slightest motion outside myself. Flutters of color, of sound. Miniscule shifts of weight. When we find a piping plover or a kingfisher, the big kids write the date and time and take notes in the blank lines of the ornithology book. Wears blue hat. Lonely-looking. Beak like Uncle Stu’s nose. Where the book says “paste photo here,” we paste a photo—if we catch one. We splurge on a long-range lens for Sarah’s old camera. Bess gazes at treetops through 8x power. She says she wants to be an osprey because they spread their wings wide and mate for life and build enormous nests way up high. Closer to heaven. She’s always drawing osprey strongholds—monstrous, chaotic things with sticks and bits of litter pointing out in all directions. Sometimes, late at night when I can’t sleep, I study her sketches. I add a twig or two, then erase them, afraid of what I might damage.
             Before she gave me the guide, Sarah drew circles in red ink around the tufted titmouse, the bobolink, the vermilion flycatcher. We don’t know why. The kids think it’s because of their funny names, but I believe Sarah was on to something more. We still haven’t come across these species. But we’ve taken long trips from home, climbed switchbacks up hills covered with blueberry thicket and candy wrappers. We’ve passed binoculars back and forth, walked in slow, silent motion through valleys split by streams. According to Sarah’s book, we might find them there.


Maureen Langloss is a lawyer-turned-writer living in New York City. She serves as the Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Gulf CoastJellyfish ReviewNew Delta ReviewPithead ChapelSonora ReviewWigleaf, and elsewhere. In 2017, her work was nominated for Best of the Net, and she was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Contest, as well as the Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest. Find her online at maureenlangloss.com or on Twitter @maureenlangloss.

WELCOME, ASSISTANT EDITORS DUSTIN & NOA!

It was an intensive search, and we can't thank you all enough for your interest in the Assistant Editor position, but we're excited to introduce our new Assistant Editors, DUSTIN PETZOLD and NOA SIVAN!

These two bring with them a wealth of experience, and we are so excited to welcome them to the CHEAP POP family. 

Get to know about them below! 


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Dustin Petzold is a writer and editor based in Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of George Washington University's creative writing program and has assembled various combinations of words that are floating around somewhere on the internet. 


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Noa Sivan was born and raised in Israel and is currently living in Granada, Spain. She is a graphic designer and a writer. In 2016, she started writing in English. Her first story, "Plaza Trinidad," was published in Jellyfish Review and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She read for R.kv.r.y. Quarterly and was a guest editor for Formercactus on their 10th issue. Her little words appear in Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Wigleaf, FRiGG and more. She has a soft spot for well-chiseled micro-fiction and indifferent dogs. You can find her here and here.


SAYING GOODBYE TO ASSISTANT EDITOR LETISIA CRUZ

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Since 2016, we've had the honor of working with Letisia Cruz. Since coming on board, she's been such an integral part of CHEAP POP. Her talent, insight, and kindness have allowed us to grow stronger, both as a journal and as a team. 

We're sad to see her go, of course, but we're so excited to see what she accomplishes next.

For starters, you can purchase Letisia's book, The Lost Girls Book of Divination, here

Letisia—thank you so, so much for your hard work and dedication to CHEAP POP. You'll always be a part of our family. ❤❤

Love,

Rob, Elizabeth, & Hannah