SIXTY-SIX — JEFFREY RICKER

Darryl didn’t start out intending to be a thief. He didn’t think “Maybe I’ll make my living by taking other people’s things and running from the law,” when he started sneaking quarters, nickels, and dimes from his dad’s change jar. It never occurred to him that he might get caught.

Every time he took some, Darryl headed straight down to Pic ’n’ Save to buy more Star Wars cards. There were seven in a pack, along with a sticker, and a piece of bubble gum that he always threw out. A complete set was sixty-six cards plus eleven stickers. He had all the stickers and sixty-five of the cards. He just needed one more. 

It was 1977. The packs sold for a quarter.

The change jar was on top of a bookshelf in his dad’s den, a dark room that smelled of pipe tobacco and something stale and alien. Darryl’s eyes were level with the bottom of the old Mason jar, filled halfway with coins. He had to pick up the jar and bring it down to himself in order to dip his hand in. Usually there was a quarter on top, but sometimes he had to hunt for one, the change rattling and the pennies making his fingers smell like copper, like blood.

As time went on, he had to dig deeper. It didn’t occur to him that his dad might notice when the change in the jar was more copper than silver. But every time he biked down to the Pic ’n’ Save and handed over the change that was not his change, he opened the pack of cards to find the same ones he’d already collected.

He never did get the sixty-sixth card. What he did get, when his dad finally realized Darryl was stealing the change, was yelled at, smacked, and grounded. He learned something in the process, though: take the pennies. People cared more about one quarter than they did about twenty-five pennies.

That knowledge served him well over the next eleven years. He stole pennies and left quarters, took singles but left twenties, socks but not jeans, gum but not candy bars. When he stole the three twenties from his dad’s wallet, he figured it would be a while before his dad noticed their absence, considering he also stole the keys to his parents’ Blazer. His dad might have said Darryl stole the Blazer itself, but that wasn’t true: he kept the keys, but he left the car at the bus station.

No one could say Darryl hadn’t learned his lesson.


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Jeffrey Ricker is the author of Detours (2011) and the YA fantasy The Unwanted (2014). His stories and essays have appeared in anthologies and magazines including Foglifter, Phoebe, Little Fiction, The Citron Review, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. A 2014 Lambda Literary Fellow and recipient of a 2015 Vermont Studio Center residency, he has an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia.

PEAK CUTE — KATHERINE HEATH

All year I hold my phone up to the small airbus window, tilt the screen and film wings fluttering as the plane descends. All year, noise cancelling headphones filter out the rattling of a drink cart and sound of a newborn’s first flight. 

All year he texts “make it ok?” and waits for a response as I enter the focus group facility, where all year, I stand in front of a two-way mirror unveiling new products to moms and children, asking, what do you like about it? Does it seem new? Fun? Special? What do you imagine the play experience to be like? All year ‘the ones’ listening behind the glass pass me notes under the door—“Little girl in green—and I casually move behind the child with undesirable opinions, the child who says the pony doll is not cute enough, not special; standing there, all year, in order to redirect the conversation; in order to sacrifice empathy for market research. 

All year I wear a continuum of gray: slate tinted boots and an over-sized sack dress to conceal abnormal bloating, a body cocooned for safekeeping. All year he sends hydrangeas to the hotel when it’s that time of the month. 

All year I walk down the aisles of drug-store chains at night, indulging in the miracle of stuff; lifting nonessentials from the shelf, cradling the smooth plastic bottles, tracing silky labels with fingertips; tiny bottles of shampoo, face wash, night cream, hair spray, lotion. 

All year I line up miniature toiletries, shoulder to shoulder, like siblings, look how cute, oh look at them, next to the more adult prescription canisters for sleep and anxiety and the cramps. All year I think about things that are small and cute, things I carry with me from city to city. Things I carry with me all year, like secrets. Like how I brush with the brand of toothpaste he hates, eat the cheese-dusted chips outside his diet, chew the wintergreen gum he refuses. All year, I fall asleep next to empty soda cans and unread messages, “Still up? Wish you were here.”

All year I don’t want to be in a hotel. But I don’t want to be home either, ending each day at the same neighborhood bistro, enjoying two variations on chicken until one glimpse of a family leads to reexamining work schedules. All year he waits for me to say: I’m coming home. I’m ready.  

But instead, I tell him about the kids in my studies who also love anything cute. I tell him about the girl whose superpower is “camping.” My side nearly splits as I describe the room of 6-year-olds who asked I exit and return so they could “play dead.” 

I exhaust him with focus group anecdotes all year, that year before Dr. Huang removes my uterine lining, before the weekly couples’ appointments, before the ultimatums and vows undone. That year, when all I managed to text back was: wish I was there too.


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Katherine Heath is an essayist and journalist from Saint Joseph, Missouri. Her work has previously appeared in The Paragon Journal, Breadcrumbs Magazine, No. 2 Magazine, and others. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and is an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College.

🚨 (SHORT) HIATUS UNTIL 2020 🚨

Friends!

First, we are GRATEFUL to you readers and writers, everyone and anyone who engages with CHEAP POP in some way. We do this FOR YOU and for no other reason than because we love publishing and editing and curating work and important, diverse voices.

That being said: WE WILL BE TAKING A (SHORT) HIATUS UNTIL 2020.

This means that submissions will open back up again in 2020 (tbd).

There will be no 2020 Season 1 stories.

2019 Season 2 stories are still going live on Tuesday, August 13.

Stay tuned for more information on when we’ll be coming back officially (along with some other really special projects we can’t wait to announce).

Thank you for understanding, and, as always, you can check out FULL archive here (and for free, obviously).

We’ll be back soon, we promise. ♥️

SUBS OPEN JUNE 2019

Hi, friends!

We adored our Season 1 stories from this year, and are stoked to announce that SUBMISSIONS will be open for the month of JUNE 2019. We will be actively reading for Season 2 of 2019—these pieces will run August into October 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.)

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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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.