epilogue – Issue Three

It appeared on Charles Bridge
A canvas of wood, moonlit,
Wedging between the statues.
Those daring of us, we went near
And found these words within.

What does it do with the words it collects?
How affected is meaning
When leaning between
Voices from another register
And land?
What editorializing is this,
What unelected censorship?
Does it have a plan
This wooden confessor,
This multi-drawered dresser
Of strange design?
Where do I write to,
Who do I ask?
Do I dare include these here,
My niggling doubts,
My fears?
How easy it would be
To pull open an empty drawer,
Easing anxiety
Just by the asking?
It’s silent This Cabinet Of Heed
But It has some need.
I know It has a need.

I walk home.
I don’t know Its meaning
Or Its promise.
Dad thinks It’s learning from us.

 

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Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Extremities Or… – Sherri Turner

What a Broken Bone Does After M (eventually, if you’re lucky and don’t get the shit doctor I got who had to break it again because he didn’t set it right the first time) or

What Comes After Beginnings and Middles or

What Life Does When you Die or

What Divers Get After B or

What the Complaining Never Does When You Tell Your Wife You’ve Put the Bins Out But You Only Put the Normal Bin Out, Not the Recycling One and It Was Full and Where’s She Going To Put Next Week’s Newspapers Now? Or

The Weakest Point of Most Fiction

 

– Ends –

 

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SHERRI TURNER is a writer of short fiction and poetry and has won prizes in competitions including the Bridport Prize, the Bristol Prize, the Wells Literary Festival and the Stratford Literary Festival. Her stories have also appeared in a number of anthologies. She tweets at @STurner4077.

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Image: Ruben Rubio

 

A Picture of Time – Janelle Hardacre

I capture happiness for a living. Well, that’s how I like to think of it. When anything happens in Whatley Bridge, be it a birth, a red squirrel sighting or a pancake tossing world record attempt, I’ll be there, snapping.

I’d heard through the gossip brigade that a new ‘artisan’ cheese shop was open on the high street. Big news in the village. Naturally, off I went to get some photos. I was already composing them mentally. The treasure trove of Edams, Red Leicesters and Yorkshire Blues lined up like museum exhibits, the proprietor standing behind, a glint of pride in his eyes. I snapped a couple of exterior shots while the afternoon light was just so, then headed in, my Olympus E-P3 and Rolleiflex clacking around my neck. My heart near-ruptured when I clocked the lad behind the counter. He must’ve noticed my face crease into disbelief. I’d gone to school with this boy, forty years ago. It was him, clear as day. Ted. His emerald green eyes, muddy hair and elongated limbs.

“Er…ehm.” Well, at this point, full sentences had eluded me.

“You alright mister?” the lad said. It was an odd relief to hear that his voice definitely wasn’t Ted’s. It was bouncy, Southern. Foreign sounding round here.

“Oh yes. Sorry lad. It’s just. For a second I could’ve sworn…” The boy cocked his head slightly and nodded at me.

“You know Ted don’t you?” Hang on, I thought, how did he? “Grandaaaad,” he shouted like a circus ringmaster. “Another one of your old mates is heeere.”

“You what son?” came a bodiless voice from out back.

I was still befuddled when a tall fellow in a white coat lolloped through, wiping his hands on his green apron. A child would see him as Father Christmas. A jolly, pink face surrounded by bristly white. Those green eyes were unmistakeably Ted’s.

“B-blimey. Willie Naylor!” He said with the same stutter that had developed seemingly overnight all those years back.

“One and the same. How do Ted?”

We stood, wordless, for a few seconds, settling into the strangeness of the moment.

“By, when did I last see you? Must’ve been s-secondary school.”

The word school spiked in my gut. Momentarily hazy, I steadied myself on the glass counter, leaving a clammy hand-print. Ted squinted at me for a split second, then shifted to a new topic.

“S-so, snapper are you?” He said, nodding at my cameras.

We stood there like the two old codgers we now were, sharing snapshots, the details we were happy to air, the major milestones. He had to crack on, but promised me he’d let me take some candid portraits later on. A date was set for that evening at the Tap and Spile.

I left the shop feeling…out of sorts. The village square looked the same, yet unfamiliar. Everything too close, too loud. I was suddenly at my front door, with no solid memory of the walk home. I stumbled towards the sink and vomited, hands trembling as I searched for the nearest sturdy thing to grab. Pictures. More pictures. They flashed and changed. Young Ted skidding towards me playing cop to my robber, then hiding under the leafy strands of the willow tree. Then playgrounds, blackboards, that long wooden ruler, a hand with nails bitten to the quick.

I came to on the kitchen floor, my bag of bags having broken my fall. I blinked up at my Leeds Rhinos clock. Five thirty. Ted. He was expecting me at six. I held my forehead in my hand. I had no number to call and cancel last minute. The thought of my old friend, drumming his fingers on the table, watching the door, made me feel queasier still. I couldn’t just not show. I couldn’t.

I hoisted myself to a standing position and flexed creaky limbs to check for damage. Nothing to report. I breathed in as hard and deep as I could…and again…and again. I was still wearing my coat so I simply slung my camera over my shoulder and walked ten steps to the door. I locked it and just kept walking.

 

I arrived first. The fusty smell of the pub was a strange antidote, like familiar slippers. Safe. Yorkshire voices overlapped, the slot machine tinkled electronically and the fire sputtered in the corner. Jack, the broad-shouldered landlord who I’d known since he was a scruffy blonde-haired mite lifted his eyebrows in my direction.

“Pint of pale?” he said as a statement and a question.

“Please lad.”

I fretted that I looked as peaky as I felt, so I straightened my back and tried to make my eyes smile. I had sight of the door, a warm waft from the fire and all the antique teapots I could imagine to occupy my thoughts. I sipped, relieved when the ale stroked its way down, soothing my clenching stomach. Then, there was Ted, limping over sloshing the head of his pint onto his hand. It seemed natural to hug, the years disappearing like kindling in the fire.

“Come on. Let’s get a few snaps before we get merry,” I said, pointing the lens in his face before he could protest. I captured him, mid-chortle, then some more of his humble glance to the side. I’d caught him well. My best pictures were always taken before people had a chance to register the camera. “That’ll do nicely. Are you on that Facebook? I’ll upload them to the Whatley Bridge page. Let everyone know you’re back.”

“Oi! You’d b-better let me check ‘em first. You blighter.”

We supped our pints.

“So,” Ted started. “S-still in Whatley then fella? Sometimes wish I’d never left, like. G-god’s own country, eh?”

“Oh aye. I couldn’t leave. Never did find a missus, me. So I tell people I’m married to this place, like. Anyroad. Let’s hear what you’ve been up to for forty years, then.”

For someone with a speech impediment, Ted didn’t half like to talk. I was glad. I still felt drained. His hands flailed, he laughed from the pit of his stomach. He’d had a colourful life. A sad one too.

A pause opened up in his storytelling. He stared into his pint. “So, St. Mark’s eh? Seems like another lifetime. Still in t-touch with any of the old gang?” The air changed. I picked at a dent in the wooden table.

“There’s still a few about. No-one from our class I don’t think. Des passed. Did you hear? Heart attack…” Ted nodded. “And Peter Sanders? He sold up his barber’s shop not long back. Packed off to Spain or summat. Oh and Tony. Did you know him? He lives with Joan, up top.” Ted nodded again and made a few humming sounds. It went quiet. I picked at the varnish and avoided Ted’s eyes. A creeping feeling suggested we were headed somewhere.

“Any of the t-teachers still going? Or are they all…?” He tried to smile when he said it but a crease in his brow gave him away. “By…I’m glad that corporal punishment lark is a thing of the past now. To think of my Grandkid…” his voice trailed off. I looked up, then, straight into his face and saw a look of torment I’d seen in my own mirror many times. We held eye contact for long enough to confirm the issue we’d been steering around.

“Mr Richards?” I whispered. “You and all?”

Ted breathed in for an inordinate amount of time. Then finally exhaled. “Aye.” He shuffled his stool and walked to the bar. A few seconds for us each to compose ourselves.

“Have..d-did you…ever, tell anyone?” Ted leant closer to me, clearing his throat. I kept picking, feeling the flecks of varnish stick under my nail. I shook my head.

“You?”

“Yeah. Well. J-just my Sylv. B-before she passed. No one else, like. She were always adamant I should report him. Didn’t see the p-point. Didn’t think anyone would believe a word. No way to prove ‘owt.”

The same mental ground I’d trodden thousands of times. I toyed with a thought. Wondered whether to say it.

“You know…he’s still alive. In a home up Otley way, last I heard.” Ted went visibly pale. He rubbed his face with his hands.

“Another?” he said, standing up.

“Yeah. Go on. Pale.”

 

I didn’t notice it getting dark out, the punters thinning out. “Sometimes, I’ll realise a few whole weeks have gone by, where I haven’t had nightmares or swear I’ve walked past him on’t street. I’ll feel like any other chap. But then, summat small will trigger. Some scratchy fabric or someone with bitten nails. Then…” These thoughts. Out loud. It felt so alien, yet safe to articulate them to my old friend. They were finally outside of my head. And he believed me.

“Aye,” Ted said. “I know what you mean. I’ve managed to b-bury it somewhere to be honest. Like it was someone else. But I never really…”

The last orders bell pierced into our private world. The two of us jumped in unison. The two of us gathered our bits, stood and patted each other’s backs. The two of us were connected, now.

 

The BBC Panorama theme tune flooded my front room. I’d barely blinked or breathed for half an hour. A full, tepid brew was still on the footstool next to me. I walked straight to the phone in the hallway which started to ring before I got there.

“You s-see it?” Ted’s voice said before so much as a hello left my lips.

“Yeah. I did.”

“They b-believed them, Willie.”

“I know….Reckon, reckon there might be more, like?”

“There must b-be, kid. Just to think. He’s g-got away with it. All this time. Reckon it’s ab-bout time to…you know?”

“You know what, Ted? I do.” There was a long pause.

“Right. Right. Tomorrow, then?”

I swallowed, staring at the old school photo I’d dug out which was slotted into the corner of my cork board.

“Tomorrow then. Together. I’ll call you in’t morning.”

I placed the phone into its caddy. The word tomorrow echoing in the hallway.

 

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JANELLE HARDACRE lives in Manchester and writes short fiction when she’s not working in communications or singing. Her work is published in Spelk, Dear Damsels, Ellipsis Zine, Pygmy Giant, Paragraph Planet, FlashFlood Journal and Reflex Fiction. Her story Late appears in William Faulkner’s Typewriter, an anthology by students from Comma Press’ short story course. She blogs at janellehardacre.co.uk and tweets @jhardacre1.

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Image: Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

that’s what love is – linda m. crate

a chorus
of sunsets
sang to me of you,
as i thought perhaps this was the
last time your name
would swim
through my veins;
it was not—
you were the only woman
i ever loved,
and the one to wake in me the dreaming
when i thought it was dead;
i drove you away
because of my fear and my confusion
my anger was not for you but my inability to process
these feelings—
all my life i had been taught this was wrong
didn’t want to be wrong i only wanted to be right
i knew everyone already saw me as
a burden and a blight
on the family tree
just wanted to manage something right,
but perhaps it was my heart that was right and theirs wrong;
regardless i hurt you and for that i am sorry—
i remember how you always smelled
of roses
a pink sunset made me weep for missing you
because as tired as everyone is of hearing your name
it is your name that speaks to me loudest still
even if you never could or will feel the same once i love
i love forever
because that’s what love is
appreciation not ownership.

 

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Image: Tomas Jasovsky on Unsplash

How I Became A Star – Sharon Telfer

They will say it was the sway of my hip, my hair’s lustre, that gleam of sweat beading my spine. Or they will call me, only, beautiful. What more could you need to know of me, after all? In truth, I was a girl like any other, dipping my pitcher in the dappled river, dreaming those dawn-rubied droplets jewels, a burbling fool, babbling as the birds themselves fell silent, as even the water’s dimpled flow slowing, slowing … stopped.

Look! Look up! On the far bank – there – steam-snort of breath, the flehmen curl, branches that twist, then step from the tree. My heart beats once: magnificent creature! Twice; and I know the truth of him by the infinity in his black eye.

And crashes, shatters my pitcher as scrumble, stumble, I scramble – and the drenching wave of his plunge – and my toes sliding, mud sucks, slipping slime – he has come before – yessss, up, hah, running – come for my sisters, in his shifting shapes – oh my treacherous skirts snaring – and the thrud of hooves quakes the air – nothing, nothing to – ‘Mother…!’ – hold, throw, stab – ‘Help me, mother!’ – she snatched, I saw, seized their sweet selves from him, recast … iris swallow laurel … see … See! … she greens my fingers opening tips bud but too, now? no, too late, no, too his hot musk blasts my scalp tines tear my skin and I am down and the agony of his power roots me and I am splintered.

My tardy goddess gathers what is left and hangs me blazing in the cold sky. She means it as a kindness in her way, but now their ceaseless observation will not let me be. They tell my story, pin me to their maps, probe my glare with their bleak gaze as I circle through the mute, eternal dark.

It is not my fault I caught the eye of a god.

 

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SHARON TELFER lives near York, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Hysteria Flash Fiction competitions, and been nominated for Best Small Fictions in 2016 and 2017.

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Image: Dimitris Vetsikas

 

Who Needs An Invitation – Lori Cramer

Stu didn’t invite me to his wedding, but that isn’t going to keep me from going. No one means more to me than Stu.

On the day of the ceremony, I put on my best black dress and heels, sweep my hair into a sophisticated style, and drive thirty-eight miles so that I can witness Stu promising to love, honor, and cherish a beautiful woman I’ve never seen before. I try my best to hold my emotions in check, but the tears fall anyway.

At the reception, a man asks whether I’m a friend of the bride or the groom.

“Groom,” I say.

“Me too. Stu and I used to play baseball together. My name’s David.” He sticks out his hand.

“Jasmine.” I shake the man’s hand. Why would Stu ask some old acquaintance to share his special day, but not me? “I just can’t understand why I didn’t get an invitation,” I murmur.

David raises an eyebrow. “You weren’t invited?”

“Stu must’ve been worried that I’d disrupt his big day.”

Alarm registers on David’s face. “Does he know you’re here?”

“Not yet.” But he will. Soon. I scan the crowd. No sign of Stu. The wedding party must still be with the photographer. I should be in those photos.

“I could get a message to him for you, if you’d like,” David offers. “If you’d rather not stick around.”

Does this man think I’m stupid? He’s obviously trying to get rid of me. “Thanks anyway, but I’m not leaving until I speak to Stu face to face.”

A moment later, Stu and his new bride enter the banquet room. Everyone claps.

I take a few steps forward, out into the open, where Stu can see me.

Stu’s face blanches. “What are you doing here, Mom?”

 

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LORI CRAMER’s short prose has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream, Riggwelter, Unbroken Journal, and Whale Road Review, among others. Links to her writing can be found at https://loricramerfiction.wordpress.com. Twitter: @LCramer29.

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Image: Photo by Alex on Unsplash

A Little Salt in the Soil – Sarah Wheeler

Valencia brought home basil from the grocery store, the kind with soil in a flimsy plastic pot, and set the plant on the apartment kitchen window sill. She poured a little water in the soil and named the basil Bonnie. That night when Milo came home, she made pasta with cream sauce and strips of fresh basil.

“What is that amazing smell?” he asked from the living room.

“I got basil today.” She carried the whole plant to the doorway between the kitchen and living room and held it up for him to see. “This is Bonnie the Basil Plant,” she said.

“Nice to meet you, Bonnie. I think I’m in love with you,” Milo replied.

“Ha-ha,” Val said.

The next morning, Valencia grew conscious of the fact that Milo had been in the kitchen for a while and hadn’t brought her coffee yet. She flipped back the covers and tilted toward the door. In the kitchen she found Milo bending over the basil plant, whispering.

“Mi? What are you doing? Why haven’t you made coffee?”

“I got distracted, sorry.”

Val started the coffee.

A couple weeks later, she had a late shift at work, and when she got back at nine, Milo wasn’t home. She looked around the house for him but knew he wasn’t there. His car was gone. She texted him. His response: sorry had to run an errand.

In 20 minutes, he walked through the door carrying a small grow lamp and the basil plant. He saw her puzzled glance at the plant. “I didn’t want to leave her where the cat might eat her,” Milo said.

“Why didn’t you just put it in the cabinet?”

Milo shrugged.

Val didn’t say any more about it, even when Milo put the plant on his nightstand before bed.

The next morning, after Milo left for work, Val stood before the basil. She stared with her hands on her hips. “What is going on?” she said out loud.

I let him touch me.

Val thought she heard a crinkling sound in the room, but looked around, saw nothing odd. The cat made a ball in the middle of the bed, sound asleep. Val leaned over the leaves, examining; she lifted the pot to eye level.

He thinks he’s in love with me.

Val smelled the plant, still smelled like basil. She bit into one of the leaves, still tasted like basil.

The front door slammed and Val almost dropped the plant. She crept down the hallway, until her husband rounded the corner and collided with her.

“I forgot something. Just have to grab it and I’m gone,” Milo said.

She let him pass, but once he was in their room, she tiptoed back to the doorway and peeked around the corner. Milo was on his knees with his face very close to the plant, stroking the stems delicately. He had switched on the fluorescent lamp clipped to the pot. She could see his lips moving, but couldn’t hear any words. She returned to the kitchen and waited until Milo came out with a book of stamps.

“Found em!” he said, not meeting her eyes.

For the next few days, Val sprinkled a little salt into the soil just before watering. In a week, the tips of the leaves were browning.

“Valencia!” Milo called to her one day. “What’s wrong with Bonnie? Are you watering her, too?”

“I don’t touch it except when I’m cooking,” Val said.

“What have I missed? I’ve repotted her, watered just enough. Kept her under the grow lamp. I’ve done everything the guy at the nursery told me.”

Val maintained her regimen of salting and watering.

Finally, the leaves started falling off and not growing back. Milo left for work one morning, devastated.

“I’m taking Bonnie to the herb specialist this afternoon,” he said.

“It might be too late then,” Val said. “I’ll take it before I go to work.”

As soon as he left, she took the plant in the terra cotta pot and the grow lamp, and put them in a paper grocery bag. She grabbed the garden trowel. She took everything to the park near their house. Under a group of bushes, where the earth was bare and soft, she dug a hole and placed the packet there. Each scoop of black soil whispered over the crinkled bag.

Please. Stop. Please. Stop.

Val finished burying. “Goodbye, Bonnie,” she said.

As soon as he got home that night, Milo asked where the basil was. Val told him that the nursery had said there was no reviving the plant. Rotten roots.

“The roots! I never thought to check the roots.”

“A fungus,” Val added, patting Milo’s back.

They agreed not to try to raise basil again, as the herb proved too delicate for them. When they took walks, though, Val noticed that Milo always slowed down when they passed the spot where she’d buried the basil. When they saw herbs growing in their neighbors’ container gardens, she felt him tense. His gaze lingered a little too long on the oregano. Where rosemary bushes grew by the sidewalk, he ran his hands through the stalks as they passed.

 

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SARAH WHEELER’s work has earned a Glimmer Train honorable mention and is published at The Glass Coin, Bluestem Magazine, and Poplorish. She is also the flash fiction editor at Newfound.org and copyedits for Ruminate. She reads, writes, works with animals, and hangs out with her husband. She occasionally blogs at http://www.sarahjwheeler.com.

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Image: tookapic

The Willow Pattern Plate – Adam Sear

Having escaped from her well-meaning friends – we’ll take you out, cheer you up, take your mind off things – Carrie stood alone in the expertly organised and labelled scullery of Somewhere House, the ancestral home of the venerable Such-and-such-a-family.

Her medication made her vague, and, in any case, she hadn’t really been paying attention.

On a nearby sideboard, she spotted the unmistakeable blue of a willow pattern plate. Moving closer, she inspected the decoration. Birds flew to new roosts, a bridge crossed water flowing to unknown places.

Carrie closed her eyes and saw an identical plate falling in slow-motion to a granite floor; dropped by an unseen hand, the debris scattered wide across the spotless tiles.

She opened her eyes and wondered where Ben was. Her little boy. Twenty years old now, but still her boy.

She smiled. Her husband Tom holding him for the first time in the maternity unit, while she recovered from a day and a half in labour and emergency C-section. Trying to shove cereal in his chubby little face, as he wriggled in his high-chair. His quirks and fears. His inflexible mind; his inability to lie. On Tom’s shoulders laughing, striding across the Cumbrian landscape. His oversized sweatshirt on the first day of proper school. His terrifying lack of tact. Ed psychs, tests; a diagnosis. Trial by secondary school. A-levels. Cars. And gone.

A room guide had slipped noiselessly into the scullery. Noticing her, Carrie was suddenly aware of her tears. Embarrassed, she turned away, and dabbed her eyes with a greying tissue.

The room guide was a young woman, about Ben’s age. Carrie had often tried to imagine the girl Ben might one day bring home. Perhaps she’d be a bit like this. Slim, dark-haired, glasses that hid her brown eyes and made her look bookish. She saw the room guide in a wedding dress, standing next to Ben. He was older, his skinny frame filled-out, bearded. His father’s child. In her mind, his face morphed into Tom’s. Now, Tom was the groom, this young woman was the bride…

“No…” she said.

“Are you alright, madam?” asked the room guide. Her voice was low, gentle.

Carrie’s heart was thumping hard. She breathed, three seconds in, three seconds out… It calmed her a little, like her counsellor had said it would.

“I’m fine. Perfect, thanks,” said Carrie. Just like you, you cow.

The day it happened, she’d been shopping. Walked into the house laden down with cat food and loo rolls. The glamour. Tom and Ben were in the kitchen. As usual, Ben was in his Spiderman costume. He couldn’t be extracted from it without a screaming tantrum.

“Carrie, I’m so sorry, Ben had one of his moments… Your grandma’s plate got broken…”

In the scullery, as the guide watched, Carrie ran her index finger around the rim of the plate. As she traced the circle, she felt slight indentations where tiny chips had flaked away over the years. Tell me not to touch, I bloody dare you…

Carrie, snuggled on the sofa with Ben watching some animated movie for the seventeenth time.
“Daddy dropped it. Not me.”

It was the first lie to be exposed.

 

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ADAM SEAR lives in Northamptonshire. When not busy earning a living teaching, he writes short stories and creative non-fiction. He is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing with the OU. His interests include: cosmology, sci-fi, history and the natural world. Strong tea, no sugar.

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Image: Public Domain

Ellen’s Status – John Grey

She was the one who broke up the relationship,
and over a plate of his favorite
blueberry pancakes, overdosed with maple syrup.
Now she has her eye on someone at the office.
So what if he doesn’t notice her.
It’s better to have loved and lost
than kiss a man who tastes of trees.

Her apartment reminds her too much of her ex
so she’s thinking of moving,
down south if that part of the country will have her.
She longs for more sky than New England can provide,
and oranges like miniature suns.
So what if Florida’s tacky.
And, instead of her comfortable furniture,
she’s stuck with cheap rattan.
And the walls in every room are pink,
the color that makes her want to puke.
So what if the so-what’s keep adding up.

She buys a bikini
even though the local summers are hobbit-short.
It fits her well enough
and make her feel younger
She wears it around her rooms
as a protection against loneliness.

She seldom visits the local beaches
but swears to herself
that if he ever moved to where
the beach was hot and broad and sanded gold,
she’d never leave.
She might even go into the water up to her waist.
Her favorite move as a child was “The Little Mermaid.”
She would be Ariel, heart halfway between sea and shore.

Now she wonders if she should have ended the relationship.
He was good for her despite his uninhibited sweet tooth.
And though not as dreamy as that guy in the office
he was kind and considerate and reliable.
Nothing Ariel would have left her briny home for.
But comforting, like “It’s A Wonderful Life”, her other favorite film.

 

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JOHN GREY is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

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Image: Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

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