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David Gialanella – Her Own Room

Her Own Room

The man stood at the window.  The sun was melting crimson onto the tree line, but instead he pecked at his phone with furrowed brow.  

The woman sat in a chair, overaggressive springs prodding upward beneath the vinyl.  Her soles fused to the floor, tacky and gleaming with disinfectant.   She rested her arm on the bedrail and stroked the girl, who was upright and looking far away.      

“Mommy?” the girl said. 

“Yes, honey,” Sueanne said, paging through the magazine in her lap.  ‘Nine tips to a shapelier bottom.’ 

“What did the doctor say?”  

“When?” 

“Before.  Just before, when he was in the hallway with you and Daddy.” 

“Haley honey, I’ve told you, you need to rest and let the grownups worry about doctor things.  It’ll only make you feel worse to worry.” 

“But I just want to understand.” 

“You’re too young to understand.  I mean, you’re very brave but it’s just big words that don’t mean anything.” 

Haley looked at her forearm.  It was gaunt and paled to translucence, the blue veins showing through.  Her mother’s red nails sailed across in a caress.  

“Are they going to do something else to me?” the girl said.  

Sueanne closed the magazine and leveled her head with her daughter’s.  

“Honey, you really need to rest now.  I know it’s been very hard and you have been a very brave girl.  I promise we are making sure Doctor Malhotra keeps you comfy and happy.  Blaine, tell her.” 

“What’s that?” the man called over from the window. 

“I said, we’re doing everything we can, aren’t we?” 

“Of course, sweetie,” Blaine said.  “And here we got you your own room.  Just look at that view.”  He cocked his head toward the tree line without looking up from the phone. 

“See honey?” Sueanne said, reopening the magazine.  “We’re doing everything we can.” 

The girl glanced over at the white board.  Your nurse today is: Isabelle, it said—a new one.  Isabelle spelled her name with a lowercase I and made a sunflower out of the dot.  

“Are you, though?” Haley said, inspecting her mother’s hair.  Done up that afternoon.  

Sueanne closed the magazine again – ‘Eight ways to spice up date night’ – and sighed.  “Haley, of course.  We just told you.  What’s this about?” 

“I saw something on channel seven last night.”  

“Saw what?  You’re supposed to go to sleep after we leave.  Blaine, we need to talk to the supervising nurse about making sure the TV is off in here at night.” 

“What’s that?” he said. 

“Mommy, just listen.  It was about a new treatment for people with what I have.  It’s a surgical pump they put into the abdomen.”  She annunciated each syllable: sur-gic-uhl.  “They even showed it, but blurred out some of the gross parts.” 

“What on earth were you watching?  Blaine?”  

“Yes, I’ll talk to the nurse on the way out,” he said. 

“Haley, the person you saw could have had any kind of condition,” Sueanne said. 

“No, Mommy, it was the same one as me.  The problem was, it’s new and the hospital wouldn’t pay for it.  Six thousand.  Or six million, I can’t remember.  How much money do we have?” 

“Honey, this is all guessing.” 

“But what if?” 

“Haley, that’s something your father and I would have to discuss.  What if?  What if it’s unsafe?  What if it’s untested?” 

“On TV the parents said they spent five months raising money for it at church and they even borrowed some from the bank.” 

“That’s a nice story, honey, but it’s TV.  You don’t know how they edit these things.  Maybe the people from channel four paid for it.  We can’t know how realistic any of these shows are.” 

“Are you saying you wouldn’t even try?”  

Sueanne scanned the ceiling, rubbed her face with both hands.  Blaine pocketed the phone and pumped his palms full of sanitizing lotion from the wall dispenser.  A medicine cart rumbled by out in the hall. 

“Honey, what I’m saying is, after this is all over we still have to live,” Sueanne said.  

Haley lowered her eyes, onto the gown’s floral pattern, the IV taped to her arm.  She looked ashamed at first but then nodded to herself as if she’d just solved a puzzle.  

“Sweetie, I mean, it’s going to fine—you’re going to be fine,” Sueanne said.  “Daddy and I haven’t really been home in three days, and I’m just tired and all mixed up.  Do you understand?”  

Calm settled over Haley’s face, and she looked at her mother for the first time as an equal.  

“I understand,” the girl said. 

“Haley honey, we’ll talk to Doctor Malhotra again in the morning.  It’s all very complicated, really.  But we’re doing everything we can.  Aren’t we, Blaine?”

 “What’s that?” he said, phone back under his nose. 

“Damn it, Blaine.  I said, we’re doing everything we can.” 

“Of course, honey,” he said.  “Just look at this view.” 

Outside the sky was purple above the sun, a sliver of red above the tree line.

 - David Gialanella

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Will Walawender – The Bird Suicide Grounds of Jatinga, India

The Bird Suicide Grounds of Jatinga, India

Every year in the small town of Jatinga, India, birds fly in from all over the world to kill themselves and tourists come to watch. It’s been going on for a hundred years, scientists say, in the months of September and October when the ground is still moist with little brown puddles from monsoon season. High above the sinking leaves of the jujube trees and damp wooden huts of the village, people line the street like they’re waiting for a parade in the dark. They watch their wrists as time ticks forward, glancing upward until the first bird appears against gray and heavy clouds like a black dot on a dirty canvas. The bird plummets like the first rain drop of a storm before splashing on the ground in a flurry of feathers. People gasp and cheer. A few people try to sprint into the lonely street to save the bird. They hold the little thing, dead, but still alive in their hands and really, they can’t tell if the dripping sound around them is rain or not. The air gets thick with tufts of feathery down until the 200 yard strip of dirt road clears of tourists drunk with dead stink.

A tiny Indian man with thick glasses and tall rubber boots waits until they leave before walking along the path. He picks up the birds with a trash pick-stick, stabbing at their hollow bones and putting them into an oversized trash bag with broken bottles and candy wrappers.

 - Will Walawender

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Jayanthi Rangan – The Big Picture

The Big Picture

Sylvie was barely six when her mother’s hand purposely blocked her face from seeing the horrendous sight of papa being taken away by the police. Through a narrow chink between her mother’s pinky and the ring finger, Sylvie’s questions poured out silently: Where was Papa going? Will he be back to take her for a swim? Mama spoke about it again and again in later years but nothing brought comfort to the question of why Papa was victimized by Stalin. Woolen gloves and eat-treats to Siberia brought no acknowledgement. Could they no longer communicate with Papa? Had he turned into a ghost?

If Sylvie had broken loose towards him would the police have allowed a last hug? Would Papa have said, “Little princess, I will be back for you.”

Papa stayed with her like a breath – essential for her being. He enveloped her through life’s rituals of marriage, emigration to USA and Anya’s graduation.

One day Sylvie would make a cathartic visit to independent Armenia, meet with her mother and come to terms with papa’s traumatic goodbye. Alas, the urgent situations postponed the Armenia trip which came about only after mama’s death. With weighty memory luggage and burdensome questions Sylvie walked through streets that were different now.  Finally, when she visited her mother’s grave the grief-bomb burst. The deluge washed her confusion and showed her it was Mama she had missed more. Papa’s image of bringing her ribbons and trinkets were fleshed and recreated by Mama. Her voice had turned a ghost into Sylvie’s unforgettable Papa.

Jayanthi Rangan 

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Lindsay Brader – Glance/The Other Side

Glance/The Other Side

Right now, you’re in India teaching English.

Later, you won’t be.

Last week, he was just another student who didn’t know the difference between us and them and going and gone, until yesterday, when after everyone else left the room, he wrote a Telugu word on the blackboard and looked at you. He had never looked at you that way before. Like a still life with chalk dust in afternoon light. Like a blue flame. As if a swell of water could blush and bite its lip. You asked him what it meant. He said darling and stared past everything that wasn’t you.

Today he’s wearing a pink t-shirt that says, “Enjoy Pussy” in the Coca Cola font and black slacks with no shoes. He’s playing cricket on the hot dust of the school grounds. You tell him what pussy means and he changes his shirt. You dream about him. You come saying his name.

Tomorrow you’ll tell yourself it’s taboo for a reason—he’s sixteen, think of the consequences. Then for several tomorrows your heart will pound like pouring rain. He’ll take your hand to show you how to pop your fingers one at a time. You’ll learn how to say when will you be back in Telugu and you’ll note that the first syllable is pronounced like ache. The power will go off during a class at night and you’ll feel him seeing you in the dark.

Eventually you won’t be in India. You’ll live with your sister and work at a diner and try to rebuild his face in your memory, but it will slip away until his glance is another one of your mind’s many photographs. Then it will go, the way a dream can leave a feeling without a trace of having happened.

You’ll roll the windows down on your drives to the diner and always look at the people in the cars at red lights. On the radio, a woman’s voice says something about the other side of the world.

- Lindsay Brader

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H.E. Saunders – Dry

Dry

In a morbid way he wished it were raining. It only seemed right that if he was mourning someone so beautiful, everything else breathing should too. The air, the earth, the sky, everything alive should be mourning with him. The sunshine that lightly warmed his perfectly black suit itched and angered him. Head bowed, the back of his neck was getting close to burning and the sunlight was mocking him. Mocking his pain. It’s a beautiful day to everyone else in the world, a day that people would never believe was full of loss. And sorrow. 

Watching her rosewood coffin being lowered into the ground he contemplated sorrow. The lack of tears at such somber events was finally evident to his dry eyes. Simple loss flowed from widow’s eyes, but sorrow, true pain at losing this fallen person, couldn’t even be recognized here. No, sorrow was something that settled inside you once you returned home, and touched all the things that would only be touched by you again. Sorrow was burned so deep inside your soul that you couldn’t even recognize it until a great time later. Tears were a show of pain. A cry for attention. Pity me. A mockery for the person who had actually gone. 

With dry eyes, in increasingly warming sunrays, he stood alone with the preacher. The slow mechanical hum of the lowering brace created a distinct awkwardness in the air, in some odd way making the whole event surreal and distant. Once she’d hit bottom, where she’d stay until she wasn’t anything anymore, the preacher gave a respectful nod and silently walked away. The holy man’s departing back flowed between the markers of the past deceased, the recently forgotten, and Terry’s eyes blurred. 

Looking back to her resting place, he swallowed hard, trying to force away the lump in his throat. He’d be damned if he was going to cry.

H.E. Saunders

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Annie Raab – The Story There

The Story There

I moaned again about writing. We crossed into the park and he was saying it will be OK and I was saying I don’t know. A woman and baby sat at the fountain in the park. He said, why don’t you start over? I said, I already have a story. I don’t need a new one. The woman glanced around and removed the baby’s shirt. She dipped her hand into the silvery pool as water shot from the mouth of the ocean god above. Her baby waved his naked arms, and she lifted her hand from the pool. What rose from the water was the oldest vessel on earth, a cup pressed together by the hands of women thousands of years before. Her terracotta skin poured the cool liquid onto her baby, as if upon turned soil. Poseidon, the sentry carved into white stone, held his trident above. His judgment came forth in waves. I was caught, unequivocally caught, in a fear I could not articulate. I forgot myself. He looked at me, not a trace of human shame in his eyes, “There’s your story right there.”

- Annie Raab

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Patricia Marquez

The Fire at Bastrop

The town of Bastrop looked as if a fire-breathing dragon had careened above the twenty mile stretch of land, incinerating everything below. To his right and left, he saw thousands of blackened and jagged stumps and half-trees, trailing into the distance as far as his eyes could see. The ground below was sable earth and ash.

Jon tried to imagine the fire, the highway empty and hot, the sky bright and smoking from flames. Not a living soul within a mile, nothing to be heard but the crackling and whirring of an inferno. The loud and constant sound of nothing, because no living thing would hear it.

How long did this go on behind the livings’ eyes, he wondered. When did the fire finally die, satiated?

It was the penultimate of if a tree falls in the forest, with no one around to hear, does it make a sound. For centuries, perhaps millennia, scholars had mulled over this question. It is the question of man’s existence; its answer answers all to intelligent life as we know it.

More likely than not there would never be one. Like the old farmer he interviewed, whose house was destroyed in the blaze, and whose wife died of a heart attack during the evacuation. What answers could he find in the final chapter of his life? Could any give him comfort this far down the line?

There were infinite questions. They overran the mind and drove one nearly to madness. The central one of late was whether he was making the right decisions. Early in adulthood, he learned quickly that no one could tell him this. There was no objective truth in the matter. He was entirely on his own.

The old man had flicked a cigarette onto his porch and said “Life goes on”. Life does, yes, but what about the rest of it, he wondered.

There was a legacy to think of, mistakes he knew were coming, and pain from which he knew one day he would suffer. And all these uncertainties were a certainty, as if someone somewhere already knew. And this made him more frightened than anything, with a consuming terror he had never known.

- Patricia Marquez

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