Daniel W.K. Lee

Poetry, Summer 2013


I memorized the chapter with you
at age five, soup ladles for hands,
digging to Fujian for the starving ones
your mother swore would eat liver
without being asked twice,
because they knew obedience
made boys men.

You never met those sons
who grew up to be everything
you aren’t, did you?

I hear they have them in Spain now:
Moorish bachelors built like fortresses,
whose eyes are crusades
converting infidels like you—

who loved God more than me.


as in nearby:

a boy’s hand
shivering with longing
carves the air
just above
his slumbering crush
into a sarcophagus

he can never again
come that close

that vulnerable
to a man

as in almost:

knees flirt
a slice of thigh
then calves
get acquainted

mine are in their 30s
uncertain of whose
turn is it

or if anyone had
made a move


Daniel W.K. Lee is a Malaysian-born, Chinese American poet whose work has been
seen in various online and print publications, including the forthcoming issues of the
UK journals Agenda and Oxford Poetry. Lee is also a relationship/sex advice writer at
EmandLo.com and blogs at danielextra.net. He can be reached at

Peter Schireson

Poetry, Summer 2013


Man seeking
woman seeking man
wants to be your
one and only whole man
your heavy metal biker
be your introverted
soulful hypo-allergenic
Green Party Buddha,
your modern hungry ghost
your Russian fetish with a
tat, pierced, be the
brand new hot pink
thing you’re craving
sweeter than your last thing
bigger than your other thing
be the one who scrambles
up your eggs be your man seeking
solace and a woman seeking
refuge in a quiet little corner.
Call or write.


Last night I used up the world
Prowling through my medical charts,
Shambling around the house
Like a penguin till dawn
When I lay worn out
On the living room floor,
Another night of sleep elided.
The house, chaotic at bedtime,
Grew serene as you slept.
As daybreak clambered over the hilltop,
A score of sparrows fluttered
Into the sky, writing the secrets
Of the avian world in manic cursive.
I stopped charting stars,
Started the coffee, and emailed Dr. Eisenberg
For an appointment, hoping
For the dullness of a routine exam.


Peter Schireson is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher who lives in California. His writing (poems mostly) has appeared or is forthcoming in Post Road, Grey Sparrow Journal, New Delta Review, Naugatuck River Review, and other journals.

Nathan Knapp

Fiction, Summer 2013


Sometimes, you go to bed with a pillow to simulate a warm body sleeping next to you.

Sometimes, you catalogue objects, and where you got them, categorizing them: pre-Seattle,
Seattle-proper, post-Seattle.

Naturally, your bedroom is rich with Seattle: the charcoal gray coat on the wall peg, the lamp
you bought in the Goodwill on Broadway, the picture of you and Brad and the rest of your friends on the
beach at Golden Gardens—drunk, and happy, every last one of you.

Sometimes, when you’re feeling homesick, you wear one of Brad’s old flannels. You always
wake up sweaty, these times.

When you feel sexy, or want to, you sleep naked, wake up cold, and, wanting to feel at home,
you slip into that flannel, catalogue objects, pull a pillow over to your body, masturbate.

The night wears on while you wear his shirt, half-sleep never seems to slip into whole-sleep, you
wake in the wee hours, make yourself a bowl of Wheat-Thins in milk, cry a little for salt, and catalogue
objects. The kitchen, naturally, is mostly post-Seattle, excepting the wok, which hangs big and round
and rusted on its peg.

When the day comes, you go outside, watch the sun rising like an infected cut on the horizon.
You say Hello, go back to bed, catalogue objects, slide into half-sleep.

When you finally rise, late-morning, your hair pointing eight or nine different directions, you
take last night’s half-finished mug of black coffee, zap it, and settle onto the sofa. A blanket pulled up
around your legs, you take your sharpie and your notebook, take a sip of coffee, inhale sharply, and

(and still maintain your dignity)

and exhale. You know plenty about the first line. Not so much about the second. Intending to write at
least 500 words, or at least, two full notebook pages, you fall asleep a mere paragraph after your (very
tentative) title.

When you wake up a couple hours later, you feel ashamed. But shame is normal. You are used to

You’re beginning to suspect that you’re a narcoleptic, but you know that it’s really just that
you’d like to be able to say, “Hey. I suffer narcolepsy. What’s wrong with you?” When you were
younger you wanted to be an epileptic, were even jealous of your friend Jenna, who was one. But then
one night you slept over at her house, and when she started twitching, moaning, and foaming at the
mouth, you decided that being epileptic had its drawbacks. Even so, and in the absence of acquiring a
job necessitating the operation of heavy machinery, which you don’t see happening any time soon, being
a narcoleptic doesn’t sound bad.

At the very least, it’s a good excuse for not writing. Maybe there is even a way to work your
suspected narcolepsy into your essay. You decide to ask Brad about this when he comes.

Brad—he’ll be here tonight, coming in on an evening flight from Seattle with a stop off in
Denver. You don’t want Brad to be the real reason you’re still a virgin. You really don’t. Because to
admit such would be to feel more pathetic than you already do, and it’s not like there haven’t been
chances. There have been chances. Both before Brad, and “after.” “After Brad” is an artificial term you
use to make yourself feel less bad. You never dated him, never exchanged a single sloppy kiss.

There was that time, “after Brad,” on Orcas Island, up in the San Juan’s. You were at the
clothing optional sauna with soaking tubs that overlooked a private beach on Puget Sound. If there was
an opportunity to lose your V-card, that was it.

A cute, hairy guy with a beard asked if you wanted to walk down the trail to the beach. You’d
been flirting with him, and you knew that the beach was unlit except for the moon on the water. It was a
warm early August night and you were, of course, already naked, having taken a long appraising look at
yourself in the floor-length mirror in the bathroom after undressing. (Too much belly. Not enough
breasts.) And you might’ve gone with him, too. But you’d already seen his dong, long enough it
could’ve been the longest and largest on a chain of linked knackwursts, and you thought about your vagina,
seal-unbroken, and thought: NOT ENOUGH ROOM, declined the offer. Back in your tent you smoked a
spliff and felt miserable, lying on your back in your zipped-tight bag on the hard bony ground, felt like a
chunk of cheese sitting in the open for too long.

You hoped then that you were a lesbian, that your inaction was explainable. Later, an awkward
make-out session with a curious girlfriend would cure you of that.

Now, after a two-hour Craigslist/Facebook binge, you realize your apartment has gone almost
completely dark. Even though Brad will be here later, you rush around your house turning on lights.
Turning on lights is important. It keeps the loneliness and despair out.

Lights on and standing before your refrigerator, you experience a moment of panic. A memory
of Brad, remarking that sometimes, it doesn’t even seem like you’re really a girl. You almost never
forgave him for that.

It was the kind of comment that caused you once again appraise yourself critically in your fulllength mirror.
And again: too much belly. Not enough breasts.

It was the kind of comment you liked when you were reading plenty of bell hooks. You were not
reading plenty of bell hooks. You did not and do not feel man enough—woman enough?—to be the kind
of feminist your undergrad professors wanted you to be, or that your postgrad colleagues are, even here
in Red Dirt, USA.

You’re the kind of feminist whose refrigerator consists solely of ruined chicken breasts three
days past the expiration date, hot dogs, condiments, peanut butter (and not the organic kind); the kind of
feminist whose cupboard contains two boxes of instant mac-and-cheese, Cheezits, Wheat Thins,
strawberry Pop-tarts, never ending Pop-tarts.

You’re the kind of feminist who decides to hide some things. The Pop-tarts, non-organic peanut
butter, Cheezits, all of these must be locked away, down in the bottom dresser drawer where you used to
keep your dildo, which is now perched permanently on its base on your nightstand, the very definition of
tact. The dildo, too, must be put away—you can’t afford to look that lonely. You are a woman, a normal
woman, and you want Brad to know it when he arrives.

After a trip to the grocery store, some strategically purchased Greek yogurt and kale now placed
prominently in your fridge, you try to decide what to wear. A dress? You “outgrew” the only one you
like in the great Pop-tart darkness of the winter semester. A T-shirt, hot-shorts? Define “hot.”

Your eyes rove the floor, eventually you see it. Brad’s flannel, the one you wear while you touch
yourself. A Seattle object. And you think of how it came to be in your possession: simply, boringly left
behind by Brad in your old Queen Anne Avenue apartment. He’d come over to watch The Office with
you during a heatwave and taken it off, favoring his undershirt. You’d sat on opposite ends of the sofa.

You can see that apartment now, too, and that sofa. How many hours spent watching it rain, cars
going up and down the north side of the hill, students with friends going up to Kerry Park on the other
side to pair up and make-out, overlooking the Space Needle, posing for pictures.

No, you decide, you can’t wear his shirt. How could you make your desperation, your
lonesomeness, anymore obvious?

But as you get ready to drive to Tulsa to pick him up, the T-shirt you’ve chosen doesn’t feel right
at all. It’s not that it’s too tight—you appraise yourself in the mirror once more—and at least this time:
enough breasts, not too much belly.

But this shirt does not say what you want it to say. And you want it to say something. It has to
say something. Somebody does.

That person has to be you.

Off the T-shirt comes. On with Brad’s flannel. Even though you’ll sweat like a motherfucker.
Even though you’ll feel ridiculous standing there in it, waiting for him to emerge from the terminal.
It’s time to go. You take a deep breath, scan the living room, and realize it’s a mess. But you
decide not to care. You’ve spent so much time pretending not to care that it shouldn’t be too hard.
Outside, sitting in your car, still hot even in the early-evening twilight, you confirm this notion as
true. It is not too hard not to care about your apartment.

One last time, before starting the engine, you glance around the interior of your car, catalogue
objects. Your travel mug, your empty Chinese takeout cartons, your orange flip-flops—all are postSeattle objects.
You try and smile to yourself in the rearview mirror. You succeed.

You don’t know yet what you will say to him, but it will come.


Nathan Knapp’s stories, poems, and reviews have been published or are forthcoming from HTMLgiant, elimae, The Battered Suitcase, Spilled Coffee, Lark(!), The Fiddleback, and others. He’s currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Oklahoma State University.

Kelly Miller

Fiction, Summer 2013


The summer of ’69. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. A gallon of gas cost
thirty-two cents. Abraham, Martin, and John made even twelve-year old Donny cry. We
three boys never missed an episode of Land of the Giants. And our thirteen-year old
cousin Christie yanked down her shorts, spread her thighs and showed us her crotch.
“Medusa Pussy,” Donnie called it when we were back in our pup tent, zipped
tight, flaps tied.

“I had to look away,” he explained. “Before I turned to stone.” He laughed twice
as hard as usual, thinking Dennis and I wouldn’t get the joke.

Donny had been having mighty erections for a year and even a couple wet dreams
that he’d dramatized in great detail for me and eight year old Dennis. At ten, I still
thought my plumbing was for watering weeds, spelling my name in the snow.

I figured reunion week at Grandma’s would be more of the usual. Fishing with
red and white bobbers and catching little but logs and turtles. Playing ball in the only
field Grandpa still mowed. Sailing our plastic boats down the creek and through the
culvert, racing across the gravel and sliding down the hill, hoping to beat the boats to the
other side. And never making it.

After two days of this routine, Christie and twelve-year old Bobby were
bored. They invented The Onion Club. All the cousins were invited to join. The first
meeting would be after supper in the deep ditch on the far side of the barn. Christie said,
“Bring an onion. We’ll tell you more then.”

Everyone came. Donny, Dennis, me. Bobby and Christie. Jimmy, who was born
just a month after me. And nine-year old Melinda holding hands with her eight-year old
sister May, both wide-eyed and blinking too fast.

We jumped and slid into the ditch. Bobby lined the girls up on one side, the guys
on the other, and told everyone to take a bite of their onion, chew and swallow it, without
spitting, if we wanted to be in the club and see something really cool. Melinda and May
coughed chunks. Bobby let it slide.

He said the onions were Christie’s idea because the tears would make it harder for
us to see. But after watching the way she whipped down her shorts and proudly presented
herself, I knew what she really wanted was for us to think of her whenever we picked
onions off our pizza, ordered extra on a hot dog.

After Christie we took turns, oldest to youngest, britches staying at the ankles
until everyone was exposed. Bobby, Donny and Jimmy proudly showed. When it was my
turn I wanted to bail, but I knew it was too late. I dropped my pants, thinking this can’t
last forever. Dennis tugged down his shorts and grabbed himself, nothing but his little
peanuts dangling beneath his clenched fingers. The little girls huddled and cried. Bobby
said they could pass, but he’d gut their dolls if they told.

We dressed and climbed out. And pretended nothing strange had happened. May
and Melinda ran for the house. Christie climbed astride the tire swing and rode it like a

Bobby hollered us guys to the creek, passed us our boats. He knew we needed to
get our hands in that cold water, splash some on us and chase those boats.

At dark we gathered for a game of tag. As usual the security light was base. Just
one change, Christie was It and whoever she tagged had to go with her behind the barn
and stay there for three minutes. No other rules. I wasn’t worried. Christie wouldn’t
bother with me when she could have Bobby or Donny or even Jimmy.

She ran straight for me, grabbed my shirt, and said, “You’re It!”

I could have pulled away and run like a wimp, but I had four more days to spend
with these guys. I followed without a struggle, but silently prayed for a face-saving UFO
abduction or a call of Fire! from inside the house.

The bit of light that reached us behind the barn turned our bodies to shadow. We
became whispers of our everyday selves.

I leaned one hand on the barn; the other guarded my crotch. Christie popped the
snap on her cutoffs, dragged down the zipper and let them fall. She pulled my hand from
the barn and shoved it between her legs, nested it there in her warm curls.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to be feeling or finding there. I thought about
Mr. Armstrong, his boots in moon dirt, and all that odd possibility spread out before him.
I knew how his heart skipped and thumped and how he had to fight the urge to look over
his shoulder and see if the mother ship was still near by.


Kelly Miller’s work has appeared in Flashquake, Nano Fiction, Word Riot and Others. Writing Flash Fiction is one of my passions. When not writing she works with children on the Autism spectrum.

Shawndra Miller

NonFiction, Summer 2013


Dad brings me basil from his garden, wrapped in a damp paper towel, a voluminous green
bouquet of it. I sit him down at my kitchen table and offer him lunch, not commenting on his
cough. “I’m not all that hungry, sorry,” he says, removing his glasses to knuckle his eyes, swipe
at his beard.

“I know, but try a little.” The chemo having sapped his appetite, he now eats in accordance with
the childhood dictum: Clean your plate, remember the starving children in Biafra. He chews and
swallows a portion of potato salad with cherry tomato halves and herbs. He tries a small bowl of
bean soup, and nibbles a rye cracker with olive oil. “It’s not bad,” he says.

The outdoorsy sweat smell of him, his dirt-soiled T-shirt, the muddy work boots he left at the
door, all tell me he’s just fine: It’s a normal day for this hardy retiree who has gardens to tend all
over town. One of many such normal days yet to come.

But then he needs to lie down, and I offer him the guest bed. The chemo, intended not to save
him but to preserve some quality of life in his remaining months, has done nothing but strip his
energy and collapse his appetite.

I hear him coughing behind the bedroom door, then quieting, and I’m gripped by a sudden terror:
What if he dies in there? I slip to the door and listen, willing the room to expand and contract
with his breath like a giant lung. A momentary shuffling sound tells me he’s all right.

To counter the sense of doom accompanying the terminal diagnosis of this man I adore, I start to
process the basil, stripping each leaf from its stem and placing in a colander. Dad’s basil is
surpassingly healthy, unlike mine—outside my back door are plants pockmarked from stress, the
leaves shriveled, pulling sparse nutrients from my inferior garden soil. These leaves are a deep
green, smooth between my fingers.

The nails of my index finger and thumb blacken as I pinch each leaf from its stem. A sharp smell
a bit reminiscent of cat pee infuses my kitchen. How can something that smells so rank taste so

Dad has planted basil in his home garden for years, and has made pesto every summer. His
version of the spread incorporates a bizarre mishmash of whatever herbs he needs to use up that
week—cilantro, dill, garlic chives, basil, shiso, mint perhaps—with plasticky soy cheese subbed
for the parmesan, in a nod to Mom’s halfhearted veganism. I’m more of a purist in my
pestomaking, preferring the traditional basil-parsley combo. So I usually steer clear of his

concoctions, disliking their stringy mouthfeel and discordant flavors.

Still it’s always cute to see him truck some out and park it on the table at family dinners or
potlucks. “Pesto? Anybody want pesto?” He’d hold it out, his bushy eyebrows up in invitation,
and demonstrate its tastiness by mashing some onto a cracker and popping the whole thing into
his mouth, in defiance of its grassy appearance. Every summer he froze massive amounts of
herbal glop in tiny containers to pull out all winter long.

When the basil started coming along well this summer, he offered it to me, saying, “I’m just not
interested in doing anything with it anymore.” Which prompted a surge of the sick feeling I’d
been pushing down in my belly ever since that day in the oncologist’s office. Here was an ending
before the big ending. One of many, as it would turn out.

I fought it, this little death. I said, “What if I pick it and make pesto over here in your food
processor? And you can hang out with me in the kitchen.” Hoping to preserve some of his
interest, and create some sort of memory together. He shrugged. The scene I envisioned—
father-daughter time with leisurely food prep and lots of teasing and tasting—never happened.

Instead he’s brought me the basil and gone to bed. So here I am alone, picking the leaves off,
while he rests between outdoor tasks that are more and more difficult for him, but higher on the
passion scale than processing herbs into food that may or may not taste good on his tongue—that
he may or may not even be around to eat.

The caustic scent of the herb adds to my throat’s burning. This can’t be happening, I think for the
umpteenth time. I must have fallen into someone else’s life, some daughter of a man who
smoked or breathed asbestos or otherwise abused the beautiful pink tissue of his lungs. I don’t
believe that bad things only happen to bad people, or that people who get cancer somehow
deserve it, but some part of me wants to see the logic here, and I don’t. I am holding my jaw
tight, tight, not letting in the thought that Dad might not make it. He’s got this great food, he’s
got love, he’s got a body that’s always been healthy as a horse’s. Surely all that will play in his
favor. He will defy the odds.

I lift my shoulder to swipe at a tear threatening to fall, keeping my hands moving. Tired of the
repetitive leaf-pinching, I attack the garlic, and the papery skin sticks to my fingers. I get mad at
it, whack my hand on the edge of the compost bucket. Wonder if I should be saving the skins to
put into vegetable stock, then think, Whatever.

I have some Indian music on Pandora, softly so as not to disturb him, and the bouncy Bollywood
rhythms jumble my thoughts while I collect a full colander of leaves. It takes a long time, and
when it strikes me that Mom might be wondering where he is, I wash my hands to give her a call.

“He’s napping,” I tell her in low tones, as if he were a child, our shared charge. He emerges a
few minutes later, just as I’m measuring how many cups of basil leaves I actually have—enough
for a double batch of lemon-basil drizzle (recipe courtesy of a cancer cookbook), as well as a
double batch of regular pesto. I’ve zested a lemon, using a little square grater and crossing my
fingers that no pesticides are in this particular lemon rind. I’ve taken the denuded lemon half and
pressed it onto the glass dome of the juicer. Splashing the juice into the blender, fishing out
errant seeds, adding salt—presto, lemon-basil drizzle, a phenomenal taste explosion. After
sampling, I pour it into two containers—a small one for me, a large one for Dad.

He sits and rubs his face blearily while I finish up with pesto, for which I sub white miso—with
live cultures! reads the lid—for the traditional parmesan cheese, in hopes of reducing the mucus
factor and increasing his healthy gut flora. He shakes his head, oh my, oh my, as I set him up with
a little cooler filled with leftovers from my fridge as well as these newly made delicacies. He
doesn’t want a fuss made, nor do I want to be a fusser. To let him know he’s not beholden, I
remind him, “It’s your basil.”

I myself have a hard time remembering, from one time to the next, the amount of effort such
projects require. Hand stripping basil leaves, for example. A recipe might call for two cups of
leaves, thrown in a food processor with a few other ingredients, and I will think, That’ll be a
snap, should take 10 minutes, tops—forgetting that the bulk of the time in cooking, as in painting
a room, is involved in prep work. Not to mention cleanup.

But I don’t say this to Dad. That little lick of lemon-basil drizzle I had? It was full of life. They
don’t call it zest for nothing.

He’s not hungry—he never is, anymore—but I wish Dad would eat some right now in front of
me so I can see his momentary slump of pleasure, hear the involuntary “mmm” I hope he will

And maybe it will do the trick, maybe this food will turn the key. I envision him spooning the
drizzle on soups that go down like silk. I see him spreading the pesto thick on a rye cracker,
downing it with gusto and asking for more. I see him returning to eating as a delight. No more
dutiful chewing, no more putting food into his mouth out of pure mechanics.

I see him reviving, his very cells greening up and growing, rooted in his own soil, for good.

Shawndra Miller’s work has appeared in Lavender Review, Kiwanis
Magazine, Edible Indy, Indiana Living Green, and Angie’s List Magazine. Currently she’s
working on a nonfiction book interweaving her personal journey with profiles of communities
working toward resilience. She blogs about the community resilience movement at shawndramiller.com.

J. Davis

NonFiction, Summer 2013


I never wanted to tell a story, just show you something.

I lay at my brothers’ feet, tight and trussed by blankets. Burnt maroon seats guarded me, timeless
in a ninety’s conversion van, safe in the sequestered solitude, the natural roll of the road. Desert
heat seeped through metal, plastic, carpet and rug, blanket and body—a cotton cocoon. Above,
my brothers spoke of shotguns and soldiers.

Our waitress smiled, thanking us for the rain like we were gods. Candle light soothed her sharp
jaw while lashes cast wispy shadows on her brow. People will believe anything that satisfies, but
I didn’t want to think we brought the rain from the east coast, even to a thirsty land, even if we
ate for free because the storm knocked out power and dad never carried cash.

Water pooled in low places, and when the dry earth couldn’t swallow quickly enough, I slept
with nature. Nighttime rain disappeared in my hair and mingled in hollow spaces, beneath the
small of my back, between the angle of my thighs. My sister woke me before the sun had a
chance. Slinging our navy sleeping bags, sodden over an Arizona Walnut branch, it wasn’t far to
the edge, so we walked.

Our feet dangled over the rim, while the sun peered, petulant over the Kaibab cap, and at the
bottom of the aged sediments, the river twisted fast like a thin, agitated snake. We left the canyon
dry, all lit with accent shadows hiding behind jutting rock and inside cracked crevices.

The heat inside the rock walls wrapped skin dangerously like a wet, electric blanket. Water
quickly evaporates there and my feet kicked up dust as I took two steps for every one of my
father’s. My family stretched back, in switching order, except for my mom, always left behind.

Red, rectangle signs worried our way, dotting the path with white letters that warned, DO NOT
attempt to hike from rim to river and back in one day. Next to one of these, I stood, sucking in
air. Sweat congregated in the thin blonde hairs of my brow, and when it grew too heavy, slid
down to mingle with a few jealous tears. But my oldest brother, Don, his red hair, longer on top,
looked almost orange in the sun’s glare while he promised me we’d climb down and boat out
someday, skimming on rafts across the smooth reflective snake skin.

I scurried up packed red clay until Mom’s voice would reach through the shimmering heat,
dropping me, exhausted on some rock until her plodding pace drew her near, but then I’d dart
off; we played this again and again, a game at least to me. Cresting the rim, my legs trembled
like a dry leaf in wind, barely hanging onto life. My throat felt like the dusty air, and I trailed at
my mother’s heels.

My skinny arms rose against the cool underbelly of a balanced rock. I’m squinting hard, pulling
in a smile, taking my turn as superman. Darren’s white shirt is shaped over his skull and tied in
the back. We were all there, shaded, protected, together, perfect.

I soar on scorched air, far back to Arizona heat, level land, backseat cocoons, and a trip that
drained us good and tired. This is one place I go—that second week where each member of my
family moved, weary but happy.

I paint these memory places and climb beneath their canvases. Under here, the truth doesn’t
matter. So maybe my brothers argued instead of spoke and water came every night and drove us
to a hotel. Maybe the waitress didn’t smile, but these spaces are mine, and no one else will know
that clouds hid the sun the morning my sister woke me up and we slipped to the edge together—
unless I tell, but I like the sun rising, burning rocks crimson, rising, rising, and illuminating my
sister’s smile.


J. Davis recently finished an Language Arts Education degree at Cedarville University. Still sequestered in the tiny Midwestern village where her university is located, she is scheduled to return to the life and landscape she loves best in Denver, Colorado. With too few publications to brag, you can check out her work in Heavy Feather Review or S/tick magazine.

Eman Hassan

Poetry, Summer 2013

FOR For2

Eman Hassan received an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Illuminations, Blue Guitar, Psychic Meatloaf, The American Literary, Ilonot Review, and was the recipient of a first honorable mention during the CALYX 2010 Louis Cranston Memorial Prize.

Abe Gaustad

Flash Contest, Summer 2013


Aiden, my sister’s kid, saw ducks at the pond and now everything is ducks. I keep him Thursdays when she works the late shift and his white pajamas are lined with yellow ducks. “The doctor said to go full steam ahead with his obsession,” she said when I rolled my eyes.

He takes his pills like a champ, then tells me that my breath smells like medicine. “Did you know that ducks get their legs hurt and then they need shots? It’s called hot leg.”

“Of course I knew that.”

“Did you know if they get too muddy their feathers won’t dry out and then they get sad?”

“Yes. Now, my turn. Did you know that every five years all the ducks in the world keep flying south until they meet at the South Pole?” He smiles like it’s a joke. “You probably don’t remember the last time since you were so young.”

Panic sets in. He insists I Google this new-found information. I type “Ducks in Antarctica” and the first picture I see is of a flock on white snow by the shore of a mirror lake. They’re hunched and cold, their wings pulled into their bodies.

“See? They’re having a meeting.”

“Ducks don’t have meetings.”

“They do,” I said. “They’re discussing all the pollution in the air and water and if they ever want to come back to live with people again. Don’t they look mad?” The snow in the picture is catching some of the blue from the sky. I shrug and sip my drink.
He disappears into his room. My sister’s fridge is mostly empty. In her kitchen all I find is a bag of peanuts. Her dishtowels have ducks on them. When we were kids she held me as I tried to go to sleep. She told me mom and dad would be home any time. She told me that until I was in middle school and I told her to go fuck herself.

Aiden brings me a note written to all ducks. “I hope you come back,” it reads. His S is backwards. It’s going to be a tough life for the little guy, long and lonely.

“Sweet, kid.” I shake my head. ”But ducks can’t read.”

Time for bed. He’s shivering, but it isn’t very cold in the house. I hug him and his heart is going wild, like some frightened bird leaving the human world. Out go the lights. I breathe hard in his face with my medicine breath. “Good night,” I say. He closes his eyes and all the ducks on his pajamas stare up at me as if their meeting is over and there’s nothing more to say.


Abe Gaustad’s fiction and flash fiction have appeared in Camera Obscura, Smokelong Quarterly, New Orleans Review and many other places.

Ann Stewart McBee

Fiction, Flash Contest, Summer 2013


Not counting an unfortunate run-in with a psychotic older kid at Camp Au Sable in seventh grade, the men’s varsity basketball coach, Bruce Ryan, was the first man I was intimate with. He was nothing to look at. He reminded us of some character from an old black-and-white horror flick: bug-eyed and pasty, with a hunchback and receding gums that turned his teeth into fangs. But he was a good coach, gave us two straight winning seasons, and he did it without screeching and calling us pussies. He was generous with advice too, so I went to him, ostensibly to talk about my girl of the moment, Angel, who was far from it. Horrifying: a flat-chested, speckled tooth-grinder with a heart suffering from hypothermia. But she did have lovely toes. She was popular only because her father owned the town’s Big Boy, and she had a pool. I feared her wrath.

Coach gave me the one piece of adult counsel I now wish I’d listened to. He told me that, before I knew it, it would be just like none of this high school silliness ever happened. You’ll mourn the days you wasted on a girl you didn’t love. Of course he was right. Nothing that went down in that town was worth being remembered. Not making it to the all-state championship. Not snagging “Best Smile” in the senior yearbook. Not even that time I did three tabs of X and then broke into the school after hours, stealing the principal’s ergonomic desk chair. None of it. I get utterly drained from jogging on a treadmill. I put wrinkle serum on my crow’s feet. I get completely polluted after two light beers.

Coach was a wise man, but at the time I wasn’t listening. I felt him zoning in on me as we sat side by side on a bench in his office, just upwind of the locker room and all its piquancy. When he leaned in to give me a hard pat/hug, I grabbed the guy’s thigh, and I wouldn’t let go, even when he jolted away from me and stared me up and down, slack-jawed. He was an adult, and I was not yet eighteen, so the wisest thing for him to do would’ve been to say something like “Hold on there, buddy,” or “Whoa, tiger, not so fast,” and walk away. And that’s what he did. Until days later when I developed a bad arch in my left foot.

There are ways of putting people in a situation where it’s too inconvenient to say no. I had no idea that a thing such as a foot fetish even existed. I thought everyone got shivers on the top of their heads from the application of a firm thumb joint in the deep pit of a sore arch. The ball of the thumb, of course, does even more than that. Coach Ryan had the most sublime thumb, and I howled like a cocker spaniel, not just at how it felt, but at the realization that everyone has little buttons, tiny triggers in their bodies and in their minds if you can only find them.


Ann Stewart McBee received her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where she has taught literature and creative writing and served as Editor-in-Chief for UWM’s literary journal cream city review. Her work has been published in Spittoon, Blue Earth Review, Ellipsis, At Length, and So to Speak. She teaches composition at UWM and Concordia University Wisconsin. You can find more of her work here.