2019 Poetry

Shannon Sankey


In those days, we could not afford a
couch. We sat on wooden chairs til our
asses were sore, then we moved to the
floor and made extraordinary shapes.
When we found two recliners on the
street, we rocked and spun ecstatic. We
kissed our knees, knees waxy as apples,
four apples just for us. When the futon
from a catalogue came in the mail, we
threw ourselves down. We ate fifty-cent
cupcakes off the cushions, our curls
bathed in static. We lay our black
footprints up the walls. We climbed
straight out of our clothes. We ran
rapturous from the ache, ache, ache of
no soft place.


My father and I
climbed this hill
to watch the buffalo.

Make me a giant.
Make me to kiss clean
my sweet calf.

He called back to me,
the white rain running
from his young wrists.

Let me be the gull
who circled above us.
Give me her gull errands.

In the pool of his hands,
he lifted twin tadpoles
from a green fissure.

Give me the death
of sudden legs, death
of two thousand sisters.

Here, I was once
the lucky creature
he lifted in the air.

Show me this on the last day,
how he laughed with his teeth
at my untied shoes.

Shannon Sankey’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming at Academy of American Poets, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Barrelhouse, Sugar House Review, Storyscape, SWWIM, Visible Poetry Project, Rogue Agent, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2017 Academy of American Poets Prize. She holds an MFA from Chatham University, where she was the Whitford Fellow. She is the founder of Stranded Oak Press.

2019 Poetry

Julia C. Alter


O make me a vessel, make me
more boat on ocean than hollow
container. Contain the thunder-
gray ocean. Make me more ocean
than shipwreck. Wreck me less.

Oblong green, stop my blood-
stream from emptying
the glitter out of my brain,
like so many mornings after
the rave is over. The rage is over—
sticky dizziness, an eye’s
bewitched twitching.

O make the ache
stop snaking through
my bleak thoughts and I
swear I will bow down
to every earthworm, and finally
learn the names of the flowers.


Even/after/all this time/ the sun never says to the earth/you owe me/look/what happens/with a love like that/it lights the whole sky

When I burn a photo of myself
in too-pale makeup, red nailed
graceful fingers laced
around the long neck of a bong

When the baby comes, I am purple
butterfly wings, pinned

When I burn a letter to my maiden
self and give the girl that would slink
into cars with strange men to the fire

When the linea negra recedes
and my belly is bone
white again

When I dance and don’t think
about the baby for two hours it feels
like fireworks. Not blowing
something into oblivion,
but making a darkness
sharpen and pulse

When I learn that fireworks were invented
in medieval times to ward off evil spirits

When thoughts about the baby are evil spirits

When thoughts about the baby light the whole sky—
a love like that

When I give him the first blowjob since the baby
that isn’t for him, but for me—a love like that

When I feel my mother’s colon
cancer already a phantom bee
that won’t quit buzzing in my gut

When I learn to step away from the mirror
to see myself more clearly, my own breath
no longer smudging up the glass

When I can’t get my mother to quit
buying shit for the baby. I see her mind
tricks her into thinking she has nothing
else to offer, and she buys it

When my mother becomes a mirror
I can’t step away from

When she told me you don’t have the body
for short skirts
at twelve years old, and I didn’t
put one on again until this morning

When my therapist asks, does your mother love you
unconditionally? and I say of course, but…

When my mother becomes clear glass
I look through

When my mother becomes clear glass
I shatter

Julia C. Alter lives and writes in Burlington, Vermont. Recent poems have found homes in Rogue Agent, CALYX, and SWWIM Every Day.

2019 NonFiction

Rowan Lucas


There is a stone that lies just below the hollow of my throat. Suspended above my heart by bile and blood. A bezoar I crafted out of what was given to me. Whole, I pushed it down a reddened gullet. Down to weigh down my stomach. Down into the places my body sinks. Down to anchor me to earth.

When I was twelve, my great-aunt Miranda gave me a pink coral cameo. It was her mother’s, she said. Written in yellow ivory was the face of a strange woman crowned in flowers—her edges surrounded by twisted gold filigree that no longer shone. She looked away from us, smiling down at what we couldn’t see. Great-aunt Miranda told me she wanted me to have her and pressed her into my cupped palm.

Thank you, I said.

My grandmother’s belly swelled and stretched with her daughter before she became an adult. As penance for their sin, my grandfather married her. Her daughter was wrenched from between her legs and given a name honey sweet to match her hair. Her daughter inherited everything.

My grandmother says that my grandfather is a lot of things and so they broke.

Long before I was born people would dose themselves with small slivers of poison to build immunity. Increasing their doses bit by bit, until it was that which would have been fatal otherwise. They made their bodies learn. Learn to take the small bits and attack. To break. To nullify what could stop your heart; to make it harmless.

Once, tradition held that a bezoar dropped into a cup full of poison would make the poison as safe to drink as water. The word “bezoar” comes from either the Arabic “badzehr” or the Persian “panzehr.” Both these words mean “counterpoison.” In the 11th century the knowledge was brought to Europe. It was used when there was nothing else.

My mother liked to tell me with wine stained lips and cigarette teeth that I was my father’s child. She spat it like a curse. It flowed freely through clenched teeth and fingers until I drowned.

My mother says that my father is a lot of things and so they broke.

Bezoars were so prized and cherished that some were decorated with gold or silver or gemstones and turned into jewelry and charms. Formed into special things. Trinkets meant to protect. And if the time came, desperate hands would crush bezoars to powder and add them to wine. Then gulp them down and plead for salvation.

I swallowed my mother’s venom for her as she went to different men that did not love her. I spat it back as it burned my gums. I spat at the violence they hid beneath the whites of their eyes. The secret they kept carefully clutched away from their children. But I was my father’s child.

When I was eight, my father hit a deer with his truck. I watched him as he walked to where it crumpled. I watched as it gasped through a broken neck. I watched as its body jerked, its legs swimming against the red ground. A struggle for something solid. I looked away when my father grabbed his gun.

Poor thing, I heard him say.

Bezoars were taken from either the intestines or stomachs of goats, oxen, and deer. They are made of what the animal could not digest—rocks or too hard plant matter. Over time, calcium and other minerals collect around the object, making it grow while muscles smooth it out. If it grew too large, the animal would die.

All my great-grandmother’s children live on the same road, with the cemetery at the corner, across from the church. The family’s roots have been there so long that both road and church carry its name. My mother was the only one who left, heavy with the weight of her womb.

My mother told us as children that if not for us, she would still be with the family. She said this with her poisoned breath and we tried to swallow it around what air she didn’t take from us. I swallowed what my brothers could not. I breathed it all in and felt it take shape.

My mother had a box full of her grandmother’s jewelry. None of the rings fit her fingers, but she would open the box sometimes and look at them. She sometimes let me look too, but never touch. They were too precious for me.

Bezoars can also grow in the stomachs and intestines of humans. They too are made of what humans cannot digest. And like animals, if a human’s bezoar grows too large, they will die.

The family whispers to itself while pretending not to see past their road and their church. They whispered as my mother continued to poison herself. They whispered as her poison seeped into her children. They whispered as I swallowed it bit by bit, to spare my brothers. Trying to make my body learn. I was my father’s child.

My father is a lot of things. He married another woman and had new daughters with her. I imagine they live a happy life. A life I do not know.

Your mother is a lot of things, he said before he left.

My mother once gave me a small heart-shaped box of tarnished silver. The heart’s top layer had worn away—beaten and chipped by time and the jostling of being unused. But inside lay bright pink velvet. It was new there. It was raw. She pressed it to me when I was six and said, Be careful.

My brothers’ father bit syrup lies to my mother. Sweet to match her hair. Sweet to soothe the sting of him finding another woman. The family reminded my mother that she left them.  

I swallowed what remained of the bottles on the floor. The secret my mother gave me. I felt her hands close around my throat as I stared at where she swam—her glass spilling red onto her hand while she slept.

My brothers’ father is a lot of things. I watched them as they broke.

In the 16th century, a French physician poisoned a prisoner and gave him a bezoar as an antidote. It did not work, and the prisoner choked as his heart stopped. The bezoar crumbled away out of favor and into nothing.

My brothers’ father took my mother’s box of jewelry and never gave it back. I see it lying in a ditch collecting leaves and dust. I see it next to the tarnished heart my mother gave me—a tarnished heart that hides a cameo framed in raw velvet. Never touched.

There is a stone I keep just below the hollow of my throat. At times, I feel the waters of my body push it up. I feel it as it scrapes against the backs of my teeth until I bleed. The acid of what I cannot swallow comes back up and mixes with my blood. The bezoar absorbs it all. I curl my palms around it and press it back in. Back in to weigh me down to earth. The flood of what I was made to carry seeping through my fingers.

Rowan Lucas lives on the top of a hill in Richmond, Virginia. She likes to collect tea and plants, and when she’s not writing she hikes around the James River. She holds a M.A. from Virginia Commonwealth University in English Literature and Composition. Her fiction and creative nonfiction work have been published in Amendment and Ghost Parachute.

2019 Poetry

Jennifer Funk


You unshuckable masterpiece of conviction and collapse, I shiver
in the light of your particular eclipse. You have a way
of pickling my tongue and rubbing out all my best
learned lessons: now, is when I walk away, now, is when
I knit my lips together and keep myself clothed, oh,
but the plummy succor of your mouth
and the fractured shadow of your breath
raking hesitation from my limbs: here is how
I ruin in a field and flatten the cornstalks. Madman, you call
the full force of my attention into your palms that follow
the swoon of my jaw. I am a foolish animal. I should burn
for this. I do: for mischief and skin and the sight
of the night’s bruised submission to morning. How much
of what I lie down with do I take with me when I rise?

Jennifer Funk is a native Californian, but believes she has enough salt to be a proper New Englander (one day).  A graduate of Bennington College and the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, she is currently enrolled in the counseling psychology program at Lesley University (she loves self-transformation…and debt). She has received scholarships from The Frost Place and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee.  You can find her work at SWWIM, Four Way Review and elsewhere on the interwebs.  

2019 Poetry

Rachel Hinton


Stupid tree shit-ass land got hit in the head
now it’s cropped up a few organelles without cells and should we even
barring the loss of a whole other spring spare this
Is it even a good idea Can we be doing this right now
Can the life of this spike ground in sepsis, create vitamins
in the light Has it shot before it thought
Orange pink silver blue maybe we shouldn’t
have done all 4 colors today
Can I trust the raw moon cloud push
on the branch it flaps like I’ll create
Though our sky gave just 1 tree’s worth
of chemical churchlight tonight and now it is
done dislodged running to some dumb field else

Originally from Vermont, Rachel Hinton lives in Chicago, where she works as an editor and teacher. Her poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, SOFTBLOW, the Denver Quarterly, Apt, and other journals.

2019 Poetry

Nathan Lipps


He awakes each day
to eggs, coffee
the lack of being seen by another
and what makes the line of sight
define our boundary of kindness.

A sermon of poplars.
Finger-taps on the pulpit of wood
echoing through the sanctuary
of morning. Holy and alone.

The many winds turning
dried leaves against the window.
The window and the leaves.
The cracked shells and coffee grounds
each day turned into heap
steadily, glory and decay.

Nathan Lipps lives in Binghamton, New York, where is he is currently a PhD candidate and teaches creative writing. His work has been published in the Best New Poets of 2017, BOAAT, Colorado Review, Third Coast, Typo, and elsewhere. 

2019 Fiction

Claire Robbins


Shay and I drove North to Muskegeon for Sweatfest. Shay’s burned CD, titled Motivational Mamas in sharpie, played over twice during the drive. We were going to see If He Dies He Dies, Lorelei, and The Nain Rouge. For Shay, it was about the music and also a bassist she had a crush on, a beefy man who played in If He Dies He Dies. For me, it was about drinking rum and coke on the drive up and slam dancing buzzed. It was also about Shay, who let me kiss her when we were drinking and paraded me around like a poorly trained puppy.

Shay sipped her rum and coke slowly. She was the driver and had to keep a little sober for the ride home, but I could drink my brains out all night. We had gone through the McDonalds drive-through for a large coke, half of which Shay dumped out in the parking lot. We left the empty half pint of Captain Morgan’s on the pavement. This was our routine. We might ask the beefy man to buy us more liquor once we got to Sweatfest, or Shay might befriend boys with beer.

I had recently pierced my eyebrow on the night of my eighteenth birthday. Shay had gone along, she had turned eighteen almost a full year before, and had pierced her belly button a few months earlier. Don’t get too many facial piercings, Shay had warned. She didn’t want me to end up like Tackle-Box, someone we knew from going to shows.

You look hardcore, Shay said, taking her eyes from the road for just a beat too long, jerking the steering wheel straight when she finally put her eyes back on the road. I was wearing the usual, a thrift store D.A.R.E. tee-shirt, black jeans cut off at the knee, and a pair of work boots. I glared at Shay.

What do you mean?

Your hair, asshole, it looks sexy. Shay reached over and grabbed a handful of my hair, which sent shivers down my spine. I had thought about cutting my hair, to look less like a girl, but I loved it when people touched my hair.

You look sexy too, babe. Shay was wearing ripped fishnets, and a lacy dress that was sold as lingerie.

Oh these? She said, running the fingers of one hand over her cleavage. These are for Alex.

Alex was the beefy man. Shay was always doing this to me, teasing because she knew I would do anything for her, but if I ever wanted to go farther than kissing, she would tell me that we were just friends, and that I was too good of a friend to lose.

Sweatfest was held in the conference room of a seedy motel. It was a three-day festival, but we were only up for the night because Shay had to work the following day at noon restocking shelves at the grocery store. I was working for a house cleaning company, but didn’t have to go in until Monday. Shay and I had moved into a two-bedroom apartment together as soon as we graduated from high school, while I was still seventeen. My mom didn’t mind, the move just meant I was one less person for her to keep track of.

Shay pulled her Dodge Avenger into the parking lot of the motel. We’re here, we’re here. She took a long pull of the rum and coke; it was just about gone. I felt warm. Love radiated from my body, or maybe it was sex. I couldn’t tell the difference. We opened the car doors and I pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes, which Shay had convinced me to start buying and I had given in, even though they were more expensive than the Marlboro reds I used to smoke. I lit Shay’s cigarette, and then my own. The Lucky Strikes did taste good, so good after the rum and coke. I leaned my body against the car, and Shay put her arm around my shoulder. I figured I would hold off kissing her until she got a little more drunk, but I wanted to right then, in the parking lot.

Ready to go in? Shay asked, dropping her cigarette butt onto the asphalt. She picked up her purse from the driver’s seat and watched me take two more drags.

Can I hold your hand? I wasn’t slurring my words yet, I didn’t think, but I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the day, with the anticipation of dancing and drinking the rest of the day. It was strange feeling buzzed in the sunshine, I thought; it was still only mid-afternoon. Shay looked at me.

Don’t get too worked up, Cam, we’ve got the whole night together. But she took my hand, and we walked past boys in mohawks, clustered around the front doors, smoking cigarettes and joints. The boys looked at Shay’s cleavage, they looked at the steel toes on my boots, and I looked at the knives tucked into their pockets and hanging on their beltloops. I wondered if they’d hit me as hard as I wanted once I started dancing.

We walked into the conference room. There were cigarette butts ground into the carpet and empty red cups and beer cans from the night before. A band was setting up on stage, tangled cords crisscrossed, and a thin boy carrying a snare drum almost tripped. Other kids were standing in groups and the excitement was a heavy skin hanging over everyone. Alex stood at one end of the room, with a can of beer and the guys from The Nain Rouge. Shay pointed in their direction just as I spotted them. I wished the music would start.

Alex looks so good in those jeans.

I looked down at my own pants. I look good in my jeans. I tried to thrust my right hip to the side. Shay rolled her eyes at me and walked over to Alex, wrapped her arms around him. When they pulled apart, Alex looked her up and down. Alex was twenty-eight and had a fiancé. Maybe she was there, I hoped. I stood rooted to the carpet until someone put a Ramones CD on, and then I let my hair fall over my face as I shook my head slowly to the music.

Cam’s being an asshole, I told myself in Shay’s voice over and over in my head, until Shay walked back over and pulled me by my hand to where Alex and the guys stood. They all looked at the tangle of un brushed hair partially covering my face, they looked at my boots.

Hey man, The Nain Rouge’s drummer reached out to slap my shoulder.

Cammie, right? Alex asked even though I had spent at least a dozen drunken nights trying to maneuver my body between his and Shay’s bodies. He should have known my name.

Cam, actually, I glared at Alex.

Right, he said too slowly, smiling and shaking his head at Shay. Maybe their plan was to get me so drunk I passed out in a corner. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, they felt like planets orbiting around my torso. I shoved them into my pockets, then pulled out a lighter and my pack of cigarettes.

Can we smoke in here? I asked Shay.

I’m going to, Shay answered, pulling a Lucky Strike out of my pack. I held up the lighter to light the smoke in her mouth, but she moved her head to the side and took the lighter out of my hands, lighting her own cigarette before passing the lighter back to me. I lit my cigarette and let it dangle out of the corner of my mouth for a few puffs, lifting my face up to the fluorescent lights. I shook my hair back so it wouldn’t catch fire.

I met Shay at bible camp, which was the cheapest sleepaway camp my mother could find but Shay’s family really believed. The camp was called HEARTTS, which stood for Heavenly Ever After Retreat To The Savior, an acronym that didn’t make sense even to fifth graders. Nothing about camp made sense to me except for Shay, who at eleven already painted her fingernails black and had breasts. I had not eaten much all summer because I didn’t want to start my period and I didn’t want to grow breasts, a strategy that only worked for so long.

It was an all-girls camp, which I later told myself was the reason Shay had befriended me—I was the closest person to a boy she could find, and she was desperate for a boyfriend. She let me hold her hand underwater during swimming hole time, and share a table with her at mealtimes. I would put a small amount of food on my plate and watch Shay eat her fill. We had chapel before dinner, a two-hour session during which I would pray that god not give me a period. At the end of chapel, the speaker would invite us forward to the front of the room to receive the holy spirit.

Slowly one or two campers would walk up and kneel in the front of the chapel, arms reaching up as if to catch whatever god dumped on them, well, I didn’t want anything god had for me.

The Nain Rouge’s drummer tossed me a can of beer. I caught it, considered it in my hands for a second before cracking the tab and passing the can to Shay. She smiled at me and took a long drink. I looked to the drummer, who tossed another can my way. I opened my beer and poured the sweet liquid into my mouth. The band that had been setting up began their set. I didn’t recognize them, and they weren’t great, but I shook my head slowly to their music.

I felt Shay’s heat radiating next to me. I wanted to grab her hand, lean in towards her body. I wanted to dance slowly with her, but she was looking at Alex, whose fiancé had stayed home from Sweatfest. She had been in a bad mood Alex said, winking at Shay.

The unrecognizable band played out their set and my joints loosened up from another beer. The person I was inside seemed to peer out from under my hair. I felt better drunk, like who I actually was joined up with the sensations of my body. If He Dies He Dies moved their drums onto the stage. The unrecognizable band unplugged their amps.

If He Dies He Dies opened with Feels Like the First Time. The bass shook my spine. The other kids in the room moved closer to the stage and I could see from their energy that it was only a moment before they began pushing. I turned to Shay, thinking that maybe I could kiss her before I moved up closer to the stage. She stood looking up at Alex, his hand moving along the neck of his bass. It was just energy coursing through my body, or alcohol.

I wasn’t angry as I pushed my body closer to the stage and began wheeling my arms. I could become a part of the crowd, which began to circle. The Nain Rouge’s drummer had followed me up and was slamming his shoulders into other dancers, who pushed back with their arms. The only rule in the pit was to lift people back up to their feet if they fell, because falling would be a type of death under the weight of the crowd.

On the last night of camp, I had accepted the pastor’s call to come up to the altar. About half of the campers were already kneeling in front of the room, arms out-stretched, mouthing prayers or repeating the same words over and over in a kind of ecstasy. Halleluiah—halle—halleluiah, they stuttered before the spirit entered them and strange sounds pulled out of their throats.

Shay was on her back, speaking in tongues. I knelt down next to her and tried praying inside my head. Lord, show me the way. Next to me a counselor knelt down, placing her hand on my back, Lord Jesus, heavenly father, pour your blessings on Cammie, fill her body with your spirit. I pushed my fingers into the carpet, creating ten impressions in its surface. The words, her body, ran through my head over and over, and then my face was in the carpet and words were coming out of my mouth. I was scared but I knew, even as the words left my mouth, that I was faking. I knew that god hadn’t entered me, wouldn’t ever enter someone as mixed up and hungry as me. The counselor seemed to know I was faking too, she gave me a stern look before moving on to another camper.

The thing about slam dancing is that once you get into the circle, it’s hard to pull away from the motion. I was so close to the other bodies, their movements propelling me around and around. I kept moving my legs long past the point of exhaustion. And then the set ended and the dancing slowed and I was able to pull back.

I sat against the wall, smoking. Shay slumped down next to me, took the cigarette that I held out to her, even let me light it for her. She exhaled and leaned her head onto my shoulder.

Where’s lover boy? I asked.

He went into the band room.

Are they doing lines?

Yeah, I think. He wouldn’t let me go in with him. Fuck his ass. Shay reached up and moved the tangle of sweaty hair out of my face. Lover boy, she said, giggling. A power coursed through my body, and I grabbed Shay’s hand.

Do you remember camp? I asked.

Yeah, I remember you got the holy spirit.

So did you, Shay.

No, I didn’t, Cam. I just wanted attention. I was faking.

I leaned over and kissed Shay soft on the lips. She pressed into the kiss and pressed into me, whispering, but I couldn’t hear what she said because a wall of music pushed over the room.

Claire Robbins serves as the guest creative non-fiction editor for Third Coast Magazine, holds an MFA in fiction from Western Michigan University, teaches college writing, and has published work in Nimrod, Muse/A Journal, and American Short Fiction.

2019 Fiction

Mehdi M. Kashani


When I was dating Ariana, I never asked if she had any siblings, so it was quite natural to mistake her for her twin sister long after we’d broken up. As a way of correcting me, she introduced herself: Becky. I told Becky how seeing her brought back memories of her sister and, in return, she patted my shoulder. That gesture of sudden intimacy propelled me to invite her for a coffee, which led to a dinner, then another meal, and before I knew it I woke up with her in my arms. Ariana had left me a roster of all the things she didn’t like about me, which she thought was the takeaway from our relationship, though she didn’t give me a chance to address her concerns. With Becky, I tried to be Ariana’s ideal boyfriend. I bought Becky flowers, opened the doors for her and was gentle in bed. None of this left an impression on Becky as she dumped me, magnanimously leaving me with a list of what I wasn’t. A few months passed, where I mulled over her comments until I met Celine and found the sisters were triplets. I’m not who you think I am, she said when she saw my confusion. With Celine it took some time to break the ice, but when it happened it was hard to define boundaries. Unlike her sisters, she wanted me involved (her word) in every aspect of her life and she in mine. It was hard to keep up. After a few failures at involving her in my micro decisions—barhopping with friends without her, for example—she made a macro decision without my input and called it off. As part of the healing process, I went on vacation and was surprised to see Celine—or Becky, or Ariana—in the flight attendant outfit hovering over me. She asked whether I liked chicken or pasta and my eyes bulged open. Whoever you think I am, she said, I’m her sister. Then, she repeated her chicken-pasta question, and, in response, I asked for her name. Diane was fun and charming and didn’t take life as seriously as her sisters did which meant she didn’t mind sleeping with guys on her cross-continental trips. I played it cool for a while until I couldn’t. By that point, I was convinced that Ariana must have other sisters, that if Diane ever left me—which she did because I didn’t respect her freedom—I wouldn’t end up alone. So, running into Erica was nothing unexpected, neither was meeting Franny and Gina and Helen and Irene and Jane and Karen and Leila and Monica and Natalie and Olin and Penny and Quinn and Renee and Sonya and Tanya and Ursula and Veronica and Willa and Xena and Yuko and Zoey. They breezed in and out, leaving traces in my heart and a scrap of paper in my pocket brimming with their likes and dislikes.

When I see Ariana, I recognize her immediately. She’s aged, no doubt. She moves slower and dark lines sit around her mouth, crow’s feet under her eyes. She’s also shrunk in size as if she’s shed away part of herself with the years. I have no difficulty deciding that she’s Ariana, thanks to her sisters who’ve helped me to stumble through the trapeze of time. Myself, I’ve changed too. I introduce myself and keep talking for a while until her eyes shine with recognition. I remember you, she says. You never told me you have sisters, I say. Because I don’t is her answer. I smile as I crunch a jumble of papers in my pocket, twenty-six lists of nice-to-bes and not-so-nice-to-bes. Got time for a walk, I ask. She nods, bringing out the smile I’ve grown so familiar with. I throw my arm around the small of her back, tossing the crumpled papers away with my other hand.

Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. His fiction and nonfiction can be found in Passages North, The Rumpus, Catapult, The Malahat Review, Wigleaf, Four Way Review, The Walrus, Bellevue Literary Review, among others. He has work forthcoming in Emrys Journal (for which he won 2019 Sue Lile Inman Fiction Award), The Fiddlehead and The Minnesota Review. To learn more about him, visit his website.