Early October

By Brandon Lipkowski

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Affixed to your bedpost was
some mask I had made you
for Halloween maybe three years
ago, before I started to
scare you and before
I ruined holidays and important dates
and made you want to start
taking down all of your calendars
and reminders from your walls.

I spent an entire afternoon
thinking of you and of the sentimental
value in making something by hand
that would coincidentally outlast
our relationship,
and I got very caught up in the music
I had on and how much I
adored you,
and that the mask looked
sort of silly in the end,
like someone much younger had
been painting and adding shapes,
though it was coming from
a part of me only you came to understand.


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On the Other Side

By Shae Moloney

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My father used to drown family dogs in the lake on our property. When the dog would get too old, beyond its years of usefulness, he would take it on one last walk across the fields.

He was not a cruel or punitive man; when asked, my father would explain that the reason he did what he did was that “the old boy’s taking up space and don’t do nothin’ for us anymore” and  “we only got so much and can’t afford to waste a thing” and “it’s better to put it out of its misery.”

“If we got a new puppy, what would it eat? Where would it sleep?” He’d say.

Rationale aside, I never slept well the night after a drowning.

Every drowning was the same, almost ritualistic. Looking the elderly animal in the eye, with one last pat on the head he’s say gruffly, “Thanks for everything. See you on the other side.” Then he’d straighten up, slide the cinder block looped around its neck into the lake, and watch as it dragged the aging dog downward. This method ensured a swift and definitive death, the dog unable to release even a whimper. In a moment the ripples on the lake would subside and only the rapidly decreasing bubbles would give any sign that something had happened.

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On Reading the Old Stuff

By James Valvis

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I forget when I first came across William Saroyan. I was young, maybe seven or eight years old, and he had just died. His writing by that time had fallen completely out of favor and all his best work was decades in the past. He no longer wrote much fiction and instead had taken to writing short autobiographical pieces, but I was interested in his fiction.

I didn’t read much by him, maybe a story or six, but that was enough for me to go around telling people that William Saroyan was my favorite writer. This was odd for a kid from Jersey City in 1981. It was unlikely any of my friends had ever heard of him.

Despite Saroyan being my favorite writer, I wouldn’t read his stories in earnest until I was enlisted in the army. I figured out by then that if a person is going to have a favorite author, he probably ought to read him, and so I visited my local library and pulled out of there every book by Saroyan I could find, which by then – early 1990’s – there wasn’t much. The William Saroyan Reader, My Name is Aram, The Human Comedy.

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American Dream

By Richard Jennis

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Mornings, Penelope awakes to an inexplicable pain in her thighs, as if her legs have been stretched in opposite directions. Nights, she is convinced the loneliness will swallow her, but, like the morning aches, the feeling fades when she rouses herself from bed.

On her mantle is a picture of one of her two children, a daughter, smiling reluctantly, face blotched with pimply youth. She keeps Jeanine encapsulated in her picture frame, frozen in time, seven years prior. Mitchell has earned nothing more than one small photo from high school graduation, tucked into her wallet.

Nighttime, her children are very real to her. She wonders if Mitchell, that rambunctious child always running, the winds stirring in his passage and blowing her taxes off the kitchen table, has finally settled down. She hopes that Jeanine’s amorphous boyfriend musters more enthusiasm and tenderness when the two are in private than when they are visiting.

By morning, they are memories to accompany other faded memories. Her children two stretch marks, pulled tight across her body, from the times she ripped herself open so that they could live. Her children two sets of blinking eyes on an ultrasound screen, full of roundness and hope. Her former husband a salary that temporarily supported them, until the first layoff.

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Simon

By Brandon Lipkowski

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We sat together
on opposites ends of
a booth near the window
of a fast food chain,
miraculously open on
Christmas Day,
for those in the services,
those who drive trucks,
and those who find
themselves alone,
together,
on opposite ends
of the booths.

We’re nearly sixty
years apart,
he’s lived my life
four times,
but our jokes are
timeless, and our
timing is youthful
and exciting.


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