TAXED ON AFFECTION — SARAH ESTIME

Experience disgust so intense that you are deprived and thirsty yet feel undeserving for affection or for love or anything. Experience anger so emotional that there are no lyrics to relate; there is no one to pick you up; there's no time that could mitigate it. Experience resentment so full you declare it wasn't love at all because a lover wouldn't deny you and provoke you to deny him back, reasoning that it was probably meant to be; that it was probably just lust. The silly things are vivid in hindsight. Regretful begrudging is valid. Dilute it and reduce it so you don't feel so inane.

Experience the fear that David J. Rosen wrote about on pages five and six. Experience the guilt of making love under the crucifix. Experience the thrill. Experience the bliss blocked off. Experience never getting a chance to be fully exposed, agreeing that you revealed yourself enough. No. That was mere juvenility. And there was always a peremptory hand craning and guiding and controlling, and you were stupid for believing you would prove your womanhood. You belong back at home, sheltered beneath the authoritarian shaking heads of mom and dad. You belong back home where you thought it wasn't home at all because the ground was made of ice and the ceiling dripped of resentment. You were born into tension and will probably die that way, too.


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Sarah Estime is an Aircraft Mechanic in the Air Force. When she is not working her day job, she is composing works related to literary fiction. She has been published by Cardinal Sins, O-Dark-Thirty, and The Charles Carter.

PEACE TALKS — JOE HALSTEAD

My wife is making smoothies in the NutriBullet.
             “I need you to give me a list of groceries you want,” she says.
             I start listing the things we usually eat for dinner. My wife hasn’t been eating—something’s going on—so she shakes her head and sighs and tells me to forget it. I stand up slowly and ominously, and I say, “Next time don’t ask me.” I start to add something else about the amount of money she spent on groceries the last time she went to the store, no doubt some petty, childish expression of fiscal responsibility that I will regret.
             She says: “Well, I’ve been cooking every day for the past three months, and I make these smoothies every morning, so I must buy something useful.” A pause when I want it stopped. “You know I’m on a diet. You know I can’t eat that stuff.”
             “You have to control everything lately,” I say.
             It’s all I can manage. It’s a long pause. So long that you might not know the meaning of “control everything,” as though I spoke the words into oblivion and am observing their effect in another dimension, because in this dimension, they mean nothing.
             My wife’s face twitches on the brink of something, of crying. “OK,” she says. “Whatever.” She runs upstairs, and I hear her start crying, her breath shaky and shallow.
             I put in my earbuds and turn the volume up to the max and start listening to Fleetwood Mac. I think about a woman from work, and this image leaps into my mind: 
             We’re dancing in a club somewhere, the woman and I. It might be Cuba, or somewhere tropical. Her body is hard in all the right places and we’re sweating. She laughs and stumbles—because she’s a sitcom character. Our passion knows no midnight, and by the time we finish our dance my shirt is unbuttoned and her spaghetti straps have fallen. We look at each other and we laugh because we’re both answered for. And then we dress each other. She buttons my shirt. I fix her spaghetti straps. I have to become him so hard that I’m suddenly all gone, because that one doesn’t believe I exist, even in his very imagination. It’s just him and the woman from work. Now I’m either dead or dreaming and I can’t tell you which. But I’m tired of dreaming.
             My wife comes back downstairs. She’s crying. She gives me a hug and then says she’s sorry and waits for my apology. When it doesn’t come, she looks at me. Steadily, I begin to understand. I begin to understand that I am just one of many terrible lives I have lived. I sometimes believe so, imagining myself dancing somewhere tropical, at my dining room table, writing stories in the rain. 


Joe Halstead is the author of West Virginia, a novel available from Unnamed Press.

FRAGMENTS OF EVOLUTION — CAVIN BRYCE

Oxudercinae

A lot of creatures look like they’re right in-between step one and step two of the evolutionary process; like apes compared to man. The neatest example is the mudskipper. It's a lard of a creature with bulbous eyes plopped right on the top of its head. Imagine a fish transforming into a lizard; right before it sprouts legs, after it’s developed lungs, that’s the form of a mudskipper. I wonder for how many thousands of years those dingus fish flew out of the water and suffocated on the shores of an unknown world before the first of them possessed functioning lungs. How many millions of them died without ever knowing why they wanted to get onto land?

Crocodylians

There are swarms of alligators in Florida—banks of rivers piled with writhing monsters. Images don’t do them justice. You have got to see them in person, in the wild, with their yellow eyes glaring at your limbs. In the space between your gaze and theirs exists only a carnivorous lust and a knowing, on their behalf, that you are nothing more than food. I wonder, when did the subconscious groupmind of their ancestors realize that they were indestructible? Camen. Crocodiles. Alligators. They’ve gone unchanged, for millions of years, without ever being choked out of the ecosystem.

Homo Sapien

Evolution is strange because we see billion-year long timelines that track the growth of legs and what not but sometimes it will occur instantaneously. One day you're a fish and the next you’re a lizard. That’s how it happened with my best friend. He was a kid. Then he was a man. It took no time at all. Like that—a synapse snapped in half and his curious playful tendencies evaporated and were replaced with the drive to sustain himself as best possible. He stopped skipping stones and started picking up shifts. One fertilized egg later and he evolved even further. It took 5 years for the entire metamorphosis to take place. Others refuse to evolve. Similar to lemmings, and their infatuation with plummeting off the side of cliffs, these beings were dedicated to extinction. While Darwin’s finches were cracking the shells of nuts and hunting for insects these pitiful bastards were failing to carve out a niche in the modern food chain. They didn’t breathe or suffocate, hunt or be hunted, they just fossilized behind gas stations and inside of cubicles.


Cavin Bryce is an emerging writer from the University of Central Florida. He eats his steak rare and drinks exclusively from the middle shelf. When he isn’t scribbling words you can find him on his back porch, sitting on a stoop, or behind a gas station. 

IT'S SHAPED LIKE A GRIN, THEY SAY — K.C. MEAD-BREWER

There’s a crooked bridge where all the kiddies go to jump. It isn’t about death or the moon or the pines that keep crowding in and crowding in, their black night robes making them look like pointed witches’ hats. It isn’t about the parents who’ve said their prayers and drunk their drinks and hit or kissed or both their kids. It’s about that crooked bridge and the hard-eyed water beneath it. Sweet Uncle Steve said it’s where we all go down to drink. It’s where we drag back our collective inspiration, our ghosts our dreams our boogeymen, The Dark Man, The Shadow Man, The Man in the Hat Standing at the Foot of Your Bed. You look down into that big glassy face, The Water, and you see the rabbits going tharn, scarecrows shambling off their crosses, lagoon monsters waving webbed hands and fluttering slimy gills, all the monsters flashing past you, headlights on a highway. And who can say no to that? Even if it spooks you. Your hands are already sweaty on the bars, the support beam, that last inch of rope. You’re all alone when you’re on the crooked bridge, even if a party drove you to it. Your girlfriend, your boyfriend, they just got their license, their new car, and oh, it smells good, don’t it? Squeaking leather, cold windows, knuckles flexing on the wheel. Even if you all come together, holding hands, a sacred promise, your fingers cut and bleeding into each other, maybe you did it sitting around a campfire, maybe the smoke’s still pinkening your eyes. But the crooked bridge knows you, it gets you alone. It has corners, the crooked bridge, and dips. You won’t leave without looking away lost into that water, the kind that stretches down deeper and deeper as if the bottom were a slingshot pulling back and pulling back and you can’t look away because when it finally snaps forward to hit you– Oh, that big black eye. The Water. The water that opens up its arms to you, grabbing, drawing, a hug, a hand around your ankle, and says, Come on home, baby. Come on home.


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K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her writing appears in Carve Magazine, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and elsewhere. As a reader, she loves everything weird—surrealism, sci-fi, horror, all the good stuff that shows change is not only possible, but inevitable. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com or follow her @meadwriter

HOW TO EXPLOIT YOUR ANCESTORS — ARAM MRJOIAN

Begin by orienting yourself to the genocide that most closely aligns with your cultural identity. In this case, let’s say Armenia. Learn your family history. Ask relatives for their passed down stories and recollections, the artifacts buried in basement storage closets and notes scrawled across the margins of moldy bibles. Soak up every obscure detail of your family tree. Create a geography of displacement. Fill in the blanks with facts derived from academic texts. Research is key. Upon introduction, do not correct people when they add an ethnic cadence to your first name, and smile politely when they don’t bother to attempt your last. In school, when teachers take roll call, shout here before they even make a go at it. This will happen several times a day. Identify telemarketers by their mispronunciation. Tell them Mr. Joian no longer lives here. Whether at the grocery store or another shopping outlet, make a point of reading the tag on every item you buy to confirm it is not a product of Turkey. This is especially important when purchasing apricots, bathroom linens, and Haribo gummy bears. At cafes, never order Turkish coffee, regardless of the roast’s country of origin. Learn to cook garlic-heavy ethnic food. Fill your kitchen with fresh lavash and fragrant rice pilaf. Season your lamb with abandon. Make baklava from scratch, even though you lack the delicate touch to work with phyllo dough. Add lahmajoon and torshi to your short stories. When the girl you date briefly after college refers to you as caramel-colored, do not remind her you’re both Polish. Never give her the opportunity to compare your pasty thighs to your much tanner face. Let imaginations run wild at your ethnic ambiguity. Make strangers guess a few times. Once, they’ve pinned you down, remind them often that your ancestors suffered and survived. Write the stories of your distant relatives as if you have ownership of them. Use the word disembowel to describe the death of your pregnant great aunt. Fill your writing with bloodstained bayonets and torrid deserts and death marches. Include words like atrocity and annihilation as much as possible. Steal Peter Balakian’s ideas about the transmission of trauma. Provide personal context to your transgenerational grief. Show them you’re still pissed off. Tell them too. Write about it again and again until it becomes your niche, the ethnic signature of your artistic vision. At readings, tell your audience the notorious Hitler quote, the one that goes, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Inform your listeners Turkey still jails journalists to this day. When all is said and done, you’ll feel no closer to figuring out who you are. You will still feel separated from the past. You will think yourself a coward, a pretender, a boy using his funny name as a crutch. But remember, you are a product of survival. You are the living proof. How you live is up to you. Isn’t it?


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Aram Mrjoian is a contributor at Book Riot and the Chicago Review of Books. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Millions, Kenyon Review online, Joyland, Colorado Review, Gigantic Sequins, Tahoma Literary Review, The Masters Review, and many other publications. He is currently working toward his MFA in creative writing at Northwestern University, where he is the Assistant Managing Editor at TriQuarterly. Find his work at arammrjoian.com 

NEW SUBMISSION PERIODS / PUBLICATION SCHEDULE

Hello, friends!

We're excited to announce a streamlined submissions and publication schedule! (But, 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.)

Starting in 2018, CHEAP POP will have (2) consistent publication seasons. This also means we'll have (2) consistent submission periods. We hope this consistent schedule helps you as your write, edit, and finalize your pieces for submission.

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.

Submission Periods

  • Open the month of June Only (to be published August and September that same year)
  • Open October and November (to run starting in January of the next year)

Publication Schedule

  • Season 1: Pieces run mid-January to end of March/into April
  • Season 2: Pieces run August and September 

That means submissions will be opening in a few short months, for the month of June, so start getting your pieces ready! For all other info, click here!

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ENAMEL — CAROLYN OLIVER

Eugene Dunderforth, DDS, did not expect his wife to titter when he told her about the affair with his accountant one Sunday morning over eggs, fruit salad, bacon, and coffee.

 “Oh Gene! What a joke, today of all days. And Gwen is such a nice person—maybe we should have her over for dinner. Do you think she’s a vegetarian? So many young people are, these days.”

He laughed halfheartedly, stunned by his own daring. “No, I don’t think she is,” he muttered, unfurling the newspaper that he’d crushed in his hand. It had escaped his notice that this particular Sunday in June was their wedding anniversary—thirty-two years. After he registered the date, smudged with sweat, his face relaxed into its usual expression of mild boredom. He idly wondered where he might buy his wife some flowers. Would she care if he had a bouquet wrapped up at the supermarket? He speared a piece of melon, which dripped pale green juice onto the lace tablecloth.

Mabel Whitcombe—she had, thank God, kept her name, despite the talk it had caused—caught her breath and pushed a starched napkin underneath the blossoming stain. Nothing escaped her notice, including thirty-two years’ worth of emergency root canals on Saturday nights and crown fittings after office hours. For the best patients, the ones who paid promptly, he’d assured her, waving at the quiet, inviting rooms of their four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath colonial, which Mabel tastefully updated every few years.

She considered marriage as rather like a visit to the dentist: salutary to both parties, likely painful to one, and temporary. For some years she had cultivated a faith in statistics, believing that once Eugene blundered off around seventy-six, she’d have fifteen years or so to enjoy alone the fruits of his denture placements and pain-free fillings. But as the years without orange juice and ice cream and raisins (notorious enablers of decay) had passed, it became clear that her faith—and her husband—might very well outlast her patience.

She sipped her black coffee, avoiding Eugene’s infrequent glances and watching orange-yellow egg ooze toward the edge of her plate. It was a good plate, part of a set she’d bought without consulting him. Porcelain with a thin gold band around the rim. All these years she’d been so careful not to nick them, scooping each piece out of soapy dishpans and drying them by hand. If she looked closely she might find a nest of tiny cracks, but from this distance the surface was smooth as cream. Except for the encroaching yolk.

After the day’s stock report had transfixed Eugene, she scraped up the egg with her knife’s edge and licked the blade clean, immediately chastising herself for risking damage to the plate. At least she had avoided one of his gratingly cheerful lectures on endangering her enamel.


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Carolyn Oliver’s fiction has appeared in Day One, Tin House’s Open Bar, Slush Pile Magazine, matchbook, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.

BETWEEN THE SKY AND THE SURFACE OF THE WATER — ROCCO RIVETTI

On my back, in the smooth depth of the green hull, I was rocked gently back and forth as the rowboat turned slowly counter-clockwise.

Circling there, experiencing the unique tension of buoyancy occurring beneath me, it felt as if the boat was performing a miracle, some kind of impossible balancing act between the sky and the surface of the water.

Evening sunlight pressed against the branches of a willow tree overhead. My stomach felt warm to the touch, though my shorts were still damp from an hour’s swim at four. As I spun away from shore, patches of light defined by shadow splashed upon the bare skin of my torso before spilling from the boat into the water below.

The scent of wild sagebrush hung above me like a cloud while the boat pushed further outwards. Then night fell.

I could hardly make out the shore on the other side. As I floated towards the center of the lake the boat continued to spiral, turning backwards to face the willow tree on the receding shoreline.

I saw you standing there in your green dress, your left hand gripping the cloth below your waist, raising the hemline slightly upwards of your ankles already submerged in water.

You looked perfect, as if you’d just emerged from the lake.

I raised my hand to wave. You started to smile, growing smaller by the minute. Water lapped against the sides of the rowboat as a sparrow crossed between us. It may have landed in the willow tree but I couldn’t be sure before the boat’s rotation swept you out of my sight.

I’d brought with me half a bottle of red wine.

It seemed useless to me now.

You called to me, and as your voice carried across the lake it passed through the last rays of twilight, willow bows and foxtails, over ripples, tadpoles, and scurrying crayfish, beneath the slowly turning stars over head. Only as your voice reached me through the night did I realize I was cold.

I turned my head to find you, and caught you spinning.

Spinning along with the fish and the plants and the crumbling lake house and trees that covered the shoreline. Spinning with the hills in the distance and the quickly darkening sky with no moon. Everything was spinning now, except for me.

I had never spun like you. You made it seem so easy, turning along with the rest of the world. Before long the spinning picked up, you and your surroundings churning together, boundaries absorbing each other until everything was combined into one dizzying, terrifying whir.

I held my breath, then sank slowly into the night.


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Rocco Rivetti has lived in various towns up and down the coast of California his whole life. As a graduate of UC Berkeley, Rocco studied under authors Joyce Carol Oates, and Namwali Serpell. When not writing, Rocco makes music videos for bands, and his video work has appeared in publications like PitchforkSpinThe FaderDazed Magazine, and Stereogum