Whale Fall – Amie Souza Reilly

Far away from shore, a whale heaves herself up and out of the water for the last time, dying with a sigh so big it could tip a ship. Her body floats on the surface, big as an island but untethered to the earth. The nosy teeth and beaks of fish and birds begin to poke and prod at her fins, her glorious tail, and the rubbery skin of her sides, searching for the blubber that used to keep her warm. With each piece they pluck from her body she sinks a little further; her wide, pale belly parallel to the ocean floor as she falls toward the place where the sun’s rays can’t reach. When her body meets the sand there might be the soft thud of a finished journey, or maybe it is silent, only a shift of silt and darkness. Maybe tiny bubbles rise up around her, millions of glittering, perfect orbs of air floating upward, then getting bigger as they get closer to the light, so swollen that when they meet the surface they float away and become stars. Far below, the whale’s body becomes a universe, a planet, a country for an invasion of species that will survive because of her death. Crustaceans scuttle across her bones, eyeless shrimp scavenge the rot, and glowing pink worms wave their streamer-like bodies in the thick current. Twelve thousand species will live for as long as fifty years on the whale fall—a length of time that is likely as long as her living-life was. An ecosystem growing because of death, an endless cycle of pushing and pulling, dividing and falling, until there is nothing left of her but gas, invisible even to those that knew her as home.

*      *      *

In a mostly vacant hotel in February’s Newport, she sits next to the boyfriend she hasn’t known very long, inhaling the beer and floor wax smell of the bowling alley that clings to her damp sweater like barnacles. Her cheeks are flushed and young, and she falls onto the dark plush of the bedspread, letting him pull off more layers of her clothing, sinking until the darkness of the blanket becomes the sky, the blue glow from the television the moon. Their bodies become a collision, a rocking of muscles pulled against bone, a flash of light across the softest skin of her neck, a breath caught on its own escape, suspended until the air returns to the chill of absence. Perhaps it is too soon to feel the silent shift inside her. Maybe the feeling beneath her skin is from the beer, carbonation rising from the pocket of her stomach, making her feel both full and weightless, the way an astronaut must feel seeing the world small. Her hips sink low into the foam of the mattress; her body becomes a black hole, a cave, a sinkhole for an invasion of multitudes. A new collision, softer but heavier, begins to divide her body into lifetimes that would stretch beyond her own, a quivering electricity desperate to latch on, to use her blood and air in inconceivable ways. Female pink-streamer worms live on the bones of long-dead whales and hold within themselves the bodies of their male partners, invisible. She never wanted to become a body with a body inside her— life inside a life is also a death inside a death, endless in the ways they call each other home.



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Sun – Jeff Hill

You can’t wait for the end to come. But you have to. There is one minute left until everything changes forever. Your palms are sweaty. Your eyes are bulging. You can’t escape this reality. You have resigned yourself to this fate.

What will they remember you for? Will they consider you a hero? Will they understand why you did the things you did? Will your daughter remember your face or your laugh or even your voice or is she too young? Will your wife remarry or move on or just be inconsolable for the rest of her years without you?

You will have to watch over them, which will be easy. That’s how this works, you think to yourself. That’s why you did this. It’s not every day you find heaven. It’s not every day you get to where you’re going early. But here you are.

Space is lonely. Space is unforgiving. But space is space, and you’re here, and they’re there. And you’ve only got about thirty more seconds left of air before it starts.

Will it hurt? Of course it will. Will it last long? Supposedly it won’t. But look at the view. Your final image will be that of the sun. Not a sunset. Not a sunrise. But of the actual honest to God sun. How can you pass that up? How can you ever explain to anyone that it was all worth it, even though you’re a goner?

The mission doesn’t matter. The results are the same. The data gathered is inconsequential. The outcome is going to be the same. Time is limited. Love is not. And if you give enough while you’re here, whether it’s five years or ten years or one hundred and three, it’s enough. You know that now, as your oxygen tank reads zero.

You look into the sun as the pain sets in. You float over to the control center and pull up the keyboard. You type in the command and push send. You tell them you’ll wait for them. You’ll see them when you see them. You tell them to move on, to live, to love. But when you get there, you’ll be okay without them. Because time is meaningless. It’s only now that you get that. Only in your last few seconds do you truly understand.

Because when you have the opportunity to see the sun in a way that no other human being has ever seen the sun before, you look away. You close your eyes. And you see them.


Jeff Hill is a moderately reformed frat boy turned writer/teacher splitting his time between Nebraska and New York. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and his mom has a binder full of printed copies for any doubters. He is the Chief Creative Officer of ComicBooked.com and is currently pitching two novels. Jeff is a regular participant of the Sarah Lawrence College Summer Seminar for Writers and has served as a faculty member of the Writer’s Hotel since 2017. Follow him on Twitter at jeffhillwriter.

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Face Value – Duncan Hedges

Richard had been idly counting his change ready for a trip to the corner shop when he noticed the ongoing revision of the British monarch’s portrait on the nation’s legal tender. He created a chronological lineup of 20 pence coins on his palm, heads facing upwards. It was reassuring to see that even royalty suffered from the passing of time, Her Majesty’s jawline losing definition and her features becoming fractured by the lines of ageing. Being a catalogue model on the wrong side of forty, he was interested to note that a 20 pence coin from 2019 was still worth the same as a coin from 1997, despite the monarch’s increasingly mature appearance.

‘You know, the Queen’s face value doesn’t diminish with age,’ he said to his wife, who was preoccupied with correspondence and barely listening.


‘A 20 pence piece is still a 20 pence piece no matter which portrait it features.’

The realisation motivated him to search out his own personal collection of promotional images spanning the length of his modelling career. He ordered his side profiles into a line and then retrieved details of earnings for each individual year. Much as he suspected, there was a clear trend in the financial reward his portrait commanded over time; the peak years coming in his early 30s, followed by a depreciation in value thereafter.

‘Well, I’m not so lucky with my face value.’

His wife was still paying him minimal attention but knew enough of his current preoccupation to understand what he was doing.

‘Did you factor in inflation?’ she replied, not out of spite but through a commitment to correct procedure, being the holder of his accounts.

‘Of course, inflation!’ he yelped. ‘So the Queen’s face is losing value.’ It was not the response his wife had expected. ‘A 20 pence piece in 1997 was worth more than a 20 pence piece in 2007, which in turn was worth more than one in 2017,’ he continued. ‘As the Queen ages, these coins are coming to be worth less and less!’

‘So you’d better get on and spend’em quickly then,’ she replied, feeling insufficiently inspired to challenge his logic and knowing only too well his thrifty character.

Richard looked at the photographs lying on the carpet and with unashamed vanity admired the sharp lines of his jaw and brow, the pleasing curve of his cheekbones and the welcoming softness of his handsome brown eyes. He turned to his wife and striking his best catalogue pose asked:

‘Darling, would you consider it an act of generosity if I were to spend your money first?’

Evidently, the source of finance for that trip to the corner shop had suddenly been thrown into doubt.



Duncan Hedges lives and works in Leeds, West Yorkshire. He writes short stories in his spare time and has been published online at Ellipsis Zine, Spelk and Bending Genres. https://twitter.com/duncan_hedges

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Cliffhanger – Ronald Tobey

“She’ll howl like a dog”
my wife predicted laughing
at my evening phone query
from a hotel lobby pay booth,
what is performance art?
And the actress, it was in the script,
distressed by chemically poisoned rotting fish,
found no other way to express
but tear off her clothes
face the audience nude
howl at the moon hanging
from the stage fly tower
above a village, a bay, in Japan.
Show stopper.
Several Pasadena ladies leave their seats
and don’t return.
I should have smelled a clue
To night’s disastrous curtain.

A Southern California evening warm
I walk from the theater to Bonaventure Hotel
the route I know well
past a few restaurants
alley dumpsters bulging with food garbage
plump rats own the sidewalks
parade boldly
Spanish speaking streets
biggest Mexican shopping district
outside Mexico City
by darkened business offices
steel gates barricading vestibules
and fortified apartment buildings.

Gray sidewalks narrow from block to block
start out as 8-foot walkways
become 4
shrink to two curbs width.
I navigate by dead reckoning
counting blocks and intersections
the 35-story glass and steel cylinders
the Bonaventure hotel in view
four booster rockets strapped to a space craft
The noise became fierce the closer I came to the hotel
roar I remember of Niagara Falls
standing on a platform in the spray
a world dropping into a hole
I discover myself on a sheer cliff
top of a freeway concrete retaining wall
1-foot wide
abutting the gray concrete foundation
of an office building
I stand fifty feet above the Harbor Freeway
four lanes, each direction,
10:30 at night
river of headlights
cars ten feet apart 50 mph
late rush hour traffic.
I become dizzy
I feel vertigo pull me into the frenzy
my scrotum retracts in fear
sunken trench
Dante’s Ante Hell.
I looked away into the night sky.
I press myself into the building behind me
shuffle inch by inch to the left
not raising my feet.
5 yards.
Reality is an illusion, Sly,
which cannot be disbelieved.
My life burns at the edges
cellulose nitrate film in an overheated projector.


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Volume and Dirt – Jennifer Benningfield

Paradise: sprawled on a soft surface, hand underneath his shirt, fingers inattentively tracing designs on skin. Paperback in the other hand, turning pages with his thumb, reading until the book slipped from his fingers.

Brady thought of his uncle whenever he read fiction. Uncle Perry loved to read, loved to inform others of his love, before specifying–only nonfiction. Fiction represented a waste of his time, since it didn’t teach any useful lessons.

Brady argued with the thinner, dimmer version of his father–sometimes loudly, sometimes filthily–until he learned a quite useful lesson in distressing futility. Still, the teenager couldn’t help but resurrect the debate whenever the opportunity presented itself, since he viewed his uncle’s mindset as one to resist with the fury of Dwayne Hoover on an empty stomach.

Brady amazed himself with the angles each assertion could be twisted into. The week before Thanksgiving had been especially productive, a formidable barrage of carefully chosen words: Do you listen only to instrumentals? Do you watch only documentaries?

Brady never received the answers, since he never asked the questions, since he died.

Or didn’t. He couldn’t say with certainty.

Evidence he’d indeed Charleston’ed off the planet abounded in the room: the ceiling and walls were white and bare. Likewise the sheet over his spindly legs.

His legs…his legs?

A breathtaking thought–he’d lost his legs. In however many hours of blackness, the lower half of Brady’s body somehow disappeared. The brain’s insistence that his lower limbs remained did little to deter Brady’s doubts–no organ in the body was less trustworthy than the brain. One second it told him, young man, your lower body is perfectly intact. The next, A majority of amputees experience what is known as the “phantom limb” sensation.

He left the sheet alone. He just didn’t know if he could bear the disappointment.

He sat up and sent a sigh towards the ceiling. When the dimensions of the room failed to change, another followed.

T’was not Heaven; t’was a hospital.

He laughed aloud for suspecting otherwise. Not that Brady doubted the existence of an afterlife; he just never cottoned to the fanciful scenarios favored by fearless and fearful alike. Even purgatory, the fate supposedly reserved for no-hopers of his caliber, is represented by a mountain. If he had to guess (all he could do), Brady would bet the house on a disobedient plane populated by bisected bodies and intact souls–the opposite, to his mind, of life on Earth.

Such highfalutin’ thoughts, when left unattended, became inclined to gather. Their final shape depended entirely on how long the process of formation was permitted to continue. Brady’s ignorance of the creation left him unprepared when the runaway globe struck his skeleton. He wobbled in wonderment at the echo of the impact. Weariness, so tantalizingly close to absolute, urged Brady to assume the position.

The brain–or was it the mind?–kept him upright. Any rest he enjoyed would be short-lived due to the regularly-scheduled disturbing of a patient’s peace by beasts not easily beaten back to the antiseptic abyss from whence they came.

So, he decided to take some measure of control over the situation and summon them. Before he could turn and press the call button, though, he spied a feminine figure dressed in white lingering outside the doorway. The impatient young man went to yell, and learned a vital lesson: forming words with a mouth full of straw is impossible.

Panic sent his hands slipping along the bed rails. He sent profane encouragement at his labored breaths, to nudge the stalks towards the precipice. Unable to wait a second more, he jammed his fingers into his mouth–where they touched nothing but tongue and teeth.

His chest deflated. He wiggled his toes and fingers to save face. (Could the dead make their digits dance?) He went to take a deep breath, only to feel it stolen by a heat with some moves of its own to showcase. Persistence overcame clumsiness, and the threat expanded without a care for any tricks the young man tried to pull.

Now, he feared for the sanctity of his throat.

The skin did not burn. The view in front of him offered no relief, and the woman outside had moved on. With a groan, Brady extended his right arm and snatched a large styrofoam cup from the otherwise bare overbed table. Barely any liquid remained, and the rippling agony prevented him from finishing it off.

Once freed of responsibility, Brady’s hands began shaking. The consequences of survival struck at his core with the force of a renegade bumper car, leaving him in the unique position of giving a pep talk to a body part.

Words failed. His hands needed action; soothing action, specifically. Back to the side: a sink carved from oriental black marble, covered with bottles of hand sanitizer and boxes of latex gloves. Futile weapons against the germ of death which resides uneasily within all living creatures. But Jesus, they felt so cool against the skin.

He thought all that marble lovely to vomit upon. Perhaps the hospital could be cajoled into summoning a priest for an exorcism. Forget the bed and the sink; Brady wanted to splatter the TV screen and the wall clock. He wanted to laugh without gasping.

Smiling felt fine; he’d remember to smile.

*      *      *

Not quite nine. The time Brady normally awoke. Normally? Usually. Lately. He’d met the day even earlier yesterday. Was it yesterday? That day, then.

Had he thrown up? If so, the taste had faded away. Did doctors administer emergency breath mints or on-site brushings? He’d never know for sure, even if he asked. Who’d tell him? Certainly not the oxygen-sucker draped in plaid who’d entered the spartan room without so much as a knock against the door jamb.

“Hey Brades.”

Smile. Adjust top sheet. Raise hand.

“Ohhh, guess you can’t talk yet. Sorry.”

Uncle Perry stepped gingerly across the room, all the better to ambush the armchair furthest from the patient.

The pros of forced silence included the potential for improved listening. The cons of increased listening included relatives who didn’t let a little thing like complete ignorance get in the way of rambling solutions to his situation (which was, in reality, a series of situations, wearying in their complexities, but breaking that down for people who valued domestic discipline more than academic discipline redefined “futility.” Better their well-washed bromides smacked into him like birds against windows).

Before Brady could celebrate his guest’s eventual exhaustion, another body passed through the entryway. Not quite as sizable as the one preceding, nor as covered. Brady could see questions all over his mother’s lips, but the decency she lacked in dressing herself had spread to other areas.

He felt like wincing at the hesitance which staggered her every movement. He actually did wince when she started in on the state of his hair, bitching at both the hospital and the other man in the room for not having a brush handy, all while looking as though numberless suction cups were leeching out every happy thought she’d once been fortunate to call her own.

“Jeannie, sit down. The boy needs to relax.”

Brady felt an odd combination of relief and rejection as his mother left his side to wrap her arms around the indefatigably greasy man before joining him in the callous punishing of a poor armchair.

His mother and her brother were deep in shallow conversation. Every third word stabbed his nerves. Occasionally, his mother let loose with an extravagant sniff. Another torment for the young man’s young mind, as if the contrapuntal motions outside the room–the footsteps, voices, wheels, machines–weren’t sufficient.

He should apologize, he would, as soon as he pinpointed the reason why–the attempt, or the failure? He should’ve known, when fashioning a noose proved troublesome. Anyone flustered by rope didn’t deserve to have their last wish fulfilled. Option two, though, seemed foolproof. Damned if he wasn’t just the fool to prove it.

A cup of bleach, no matter how hastily swallowed, or how generously filled, did not guarantee a quick escape. With the gift of hindsight, Brady would have made a screwdriver.

Oh well, he thought, swallowing back a pebble. Live and learn. Surely a nurse would soon saunter in with a clipboard or a tray of liquids. Perhaps Auntie Jackie was next up on the familial carousel. (She reigned unchallenged as his favorite “sibling of a parent,” if solely for teaching him how to drive while wildly distracted).

The pros of forced silence included repentant looks beyond reproach. Included being left out of conversations about miraculous gas tanks.

“Brady. Look at me, baby. Sweetie. We found your pills.”

He squirmed as his stomach started an amateur somersault routine. His brilliant idea to transfer Ambien and Seconal into a Tylenol bottle. They’d probably be keeping the Tums under lock and key, now.

He knew she would return later, for some heartfelt one-on-one time with her troubled boy. In the meantime, he’d work on that apology. I’m so sorry, Mom. For being so clumsy I can’t even tie a noose, for my fear of guns, for becoming queasy at the sight of a paper cut. For triggering the gossip which even as they spoke (or not) shot around the town with dizzying speed, muddying the family name and rocking the foundations of otherwise happy homes.

She’d wipe his face, brush his hair, and profess undying love. She’d pummel his defenseless frame, intent on making him understand how valued, how loved a young man he was, and how fortunate he was to be surrounded by people who cared for his future. Why wouldn’t one so blessed look forward to higher education, extended family, and accumulated wealth? There was truly no dress code in God’s Kingdom, but the “weak and wrinkled” look earned the most respect, there was no denying that.

Meanwhile, he’d try not to cough forth flame onto the parade of hypocrisy and misdirected shame.

Brady wanted to ask how long he’d been indisposed. He wanted to ask if Tracy knew. Nearly the entire family considered her a verminous influence, the man sitting less than ten feet away most avidly, once averring, “That girl is a heart-smasher. If you’re lucky, she’ll set it on fire first. But you haven’t ever been too lucky.”

He wanted a book. He wanted to get up in his uncle’s overstuffed plastic bag of a face and explain to him the grand purpose of reading: to retreat from an untenable world.

“Do you think I should draw this shade, Jeannie? Maybe I should roll the kid over here so he can get some sun. Brades, you are so white, whenever you pass through a prism, it makes more prisms! And skinny, good Lord. I could swing by Tina’s and get’cha an ice cream cone. Although, you won’t be able to eat the cone. Not to mention the ice cream would probably melt by the time I got back.”

“You could just go to the store and pick up a quart of ice cream,” Brady’s mother suggested. “It doesn’t matter.” She turned to face her son. “They’ll be putting you upstairs soon, sweetheart. Once you regain your voice. Honey, please don’t get upset, you’ll just make yourself tired.”

Perry cleared his throat and stood at the foot of the bed. Brady made eye contact with him, just to stave off another indignity.

“All right, now I wanna say just this one thing before I go. Now I admit, mental health is not my forte.”

Brady gritted his teeth and pleaded with the fickle pile dawdling between his ears to buck up and send a telepathic message to a nurse–please pop in already and chide this frog-voiced fool for being loud and dumb and dirty and I promise I won’t abuse the call button.

“But one thing I do know, you’ve got a good brain in your head. You’ve just got to realize, knowing a lot doesn’t mean you know everything.”

Long after the adults had departed, he was still scowling at the wall. A second clock had appeared, its numbers the size of pinheads. If a song and dance were his heart’s desire, he’d rise from the bed, rip off the hospital gown, and do the barefoot shuffle along heart shards, drawing lines over scar-resistant skin while his sparse audience beamed with pride. Gnarled grips of a merciless infirmity be damned, the boy’s got moves.

Brady knew precisely what his heart yearned for. He knew only that his fate had been read as written, and no beaver, however eager, could construct a dam capable of staunching the poison’s flow.


Jennifer Benningfield’s stories have appeared in several publications, including Black Dandy, The Sonder Review, Fiction On the Web, and Maryland Literary Review. A lifelong Marylander who has been in the (mostly) benevolent thrall of words since receiving “Green Eggs and Ham” as a birthday present, her writings can also be found online at

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How They Devour Her – Michael Loveday

The sunset leaks behind her head, a clot of purple. Smile. She takes the selfie five times – still not right. Happiness shouldn’t be this hard to capture. An overweight pair further along the terrace crack up and clink beers – some private joke? The mood shifts.

A surge of guests, now, arriving in navy kimonos, gliding, schmoozing, and chattering like an outdated modem. She puts on her sunglasses, orders a mojito at the bar, and taps her finger distractedly at a menu. The bar’s TV blares showbiz news – another stale, red-carpet pageant, wannabes dazzled by photographers’ lights. No one she even knows. Then some too-pretty comedian is faking her own meltdown. The noise swells on the terrace, unceasing and urgent. Her breath tightens.

She flees towards the spa suite, striding down long labyrinths of passageways. Uniformed staff pass by, buffing the floor with contraptions that hum contentedly, clearing guests’ tracks. The hotel will accept no lingering trace of her presence; soon, her recovery will shrink to a residue of memories and botched photographs. Even when anonymous in a foreign country, the shadow of her old life will not leave her.

At the margin of the spa, guests skitter to and fro through glass doors. A keg-bellied man rasps a feral snore in a Lullaby Chair. A willowy blonde towels her limbs, bending a leg against a bench as if her thighs feel compelled to confess how lithe they are. Other guests buzz with war stories of vigorous treatments. She slips inside, shunning the hive.

She chooses a footbath and slides her heels in. The water is arctic-cold. Garra rufa fish gather round her feet, nibbling skin. At her heels, her toes, mobs of them congregate – little grey hunger-machines. Their tails ripple quickly side to side, squirming in gratification, relentless as they feed off her flesh. And yet she feels no more than a tickling. How they devour her, these affable parasites!

She withdraws her feet – tender, a raw shade of pink. She pats them with a towel, walks on virgin skin through the corridors back towards her room. What craving did those creatures have for her body? For once, desire was welcome. This is surely what retreat means: reduce, peel back, until the new version emerges, delicate and sore.

But soreness is already there, breath tensed in her chest like a throat-trapped bone. The paparazzi – would they have stopped, would they have flayed her till she bled?

As the passageway tilts, something flits about her, feasting, flicking its tail in pleasure.



Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011). Website: https://michaelloveday.com/

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What Stays With Her – Gay Degani

Mama placed small bags of popcorn on the coffee table while Father set up the new-fangled television—the first in this town of 113 citizens. Five-year-old Wendy skipped around the living room, dropping napkins on every seat until she fell over the footstool and into her father, almost toppling the Motorola off its stand. He grabbed her arm, smacked the back of her legs three times, and ordered her upstairs to bed.

She didn’t go to bed, and though she wasn’t allowed in her parents’ room, she stood at their window, clutching and twisting the curtain as chattering grown-ups crowded through the front door, their kids squeezing by them, shouting until her father’s voice boomed, and everyone quieted. Lively music chimed through the floor boards, the new TV switched on.

Wendy released the crumpled window lace and tiptoed into her own dark room to creep under the blankets. For her, there would be no playmates, no popcorn, no I Love Lucy.

*      *      *

After moving to Oregon, Wendy and her folks drove back over the Rockies each August, the Dodge sweltering with windows up, ice melting in the tiny air cooler. Still, she was glad. She would be ignored in the Midwest, her father thankfully distracted by relatives and long-time friends.

Inside her grandparents’ clapboard house, she slept in the attic, read books, drew pictures, and when her folks went visiting, she spent time with her grandmother, feeding wet laundry into the washing machine ringer while they sang “Are you sleeping, Brother John.” She trailed after her grandfather through rows of vegetables, feasting on peas straight from the pod, breathing in the rich smell of soil and tomatoes and corn.

But once in a while, her father insisted she go visiting with them. One of the families had a simple wood-frame swing set in the backyard, two plank seats on long chains. The kids challenged each other to see who could swing highest. Wendy took her turn against one of the boys. He was bigger, stronger, so she pumped with all her might, the breeze cooling her face, the chains beginning to jerk. The others cheered “higher, higher” until Wendy felt grass rushing toward her, the kids yelling “jump, jump.” She leapt off just as the wooden contraption tipped to the ground. The boy broke his arm. Her father blamed Wendy, his anger hurting more than the pulsing pain in her sprained ankle. Her mother sat silent.

*      *      *

Even in the kitchen, on the opposite side of the old Victorian from where her father slept, Wendy and her mother spoke in hushed tones about Wendy’s community college classes, her newly-made friends. Wendy washed the breakfast dishes, her mother dried, until a skillet slipped and clanged onto the tile floor. They froze, eyes locked.

He didn’t always wake to noise, but still, they held their breath until they heard him shuffling down the hallway. Wendy turned back to the sink, splashing water. Mama nudged glasses in the cupboard into precise rows.

“What the hell!” He was in his underwear, big hand swiping his bed-lined face, barking, “Can’t you two shut up?”

“I’m sorry. Clumsy me.” Mama gave a flustered laugh, then asked if he wanted coffee or a grilled cheese sandwich since he’d slept through breakfast.

His mouth twisted with disgust. “You pinheads are useless,” he said and scuffed back to bed.

Mama silently closed the cupboard door. Wendy drained the sink. They no longer talked.

*      *      *

Stalled on a railroad track, her parents were killed by a train, leaving Wendy alone in the thick forests of coastal Oregon where fog and cold seeped into their drafty Victorian.

Her father’s sister called from the Midwest after the funeral to see if Wendy wanted a box of her father’s memorabilia. “You know, pictures, diplomas, that kind of thing.”

Wendy surprised herself and said, “I have vacation time. What if I come for a visit?”

“That would be lovely.” Aunt Dinah was pleased.

“But I don’t want his stuff.”

In Indianapolis, in the small tract house where her aunt now lived, they reminisced about the farm, egg collecting, hiding in the hayloft, riding cows with her cousins.

“It was my favorite place,” said Wendy. “I always felt so free there.” They were sitting at the old oak table brought from the farmhouse.

Aunt Dinah reached out and took Wendy’s hand.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t go to the funeral,” she said. “My broken hip—”

“That’s okay,” said Wendy. “I didn’t expect you to come.”

The aunt leaned closer. “I loved your mother, you know. And I know how hard your father was on the two of you.”

Wendy felt her eyes prickle and asked a question she didn’t know she would ask. “Why was he so mean?”

Aunt Dina leaned back against the chair. Sighed. “He was always like that. He didn’t get along with me or your Aunt Eunice. I guess it was because he was the youngest and the only boy.”

“So, they doted on my father? Spoiled him?”

Aunt Dinah looked surprised. “No. Not that. It was the opposite. Your grandfather beat him every day of his life.”

Wendy frowned. “Beat him?” Her grandfather has always been so kind to her, she never suspected him of doing anything mean. She stared at her aunt. “Every day?”

The older woman shook her head. “Maybe not, but it felt that way. He never touched me, but he’d get drunk and pound on your dad.”

The sun streamed into the kitchen, a car horn honked on the street, and Wendy squeezed her aunt’s hand. “He never hit us, my mother or me.”

“There’s that, at least.”

“That’s a lot when you think about it.” Wendy studied the grain in the table, its dark and light golden swirls. Something was loosening. She glanced at Aunt Dinah and said, “Can we look at that box? The one with my father’s stuff?”


Gay Degani has a chapbook, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, and a suspense novel, What Came Before. Most of her publications have be published in online journals including Atticus Review, Smokelong Quarterly, 3 A.M., Yellow Mama, Gone Lawn, and Fictive Dream.

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Amazed At The Take – Michael Igoe

Coffee robs me, again,
teeth clenched at first light
to test out these projections
same night time visions;
I’m curled up with anemones.
Aptness moves in the balance
engaging in feuds
harbors lonesome beliefs.
Or, apprise the contours of a room,
you can hear a downstairs couple
lost in endless argument. I listen,
but I’m so weary of their logic,
I must have cash on the dollar,
an eagles‘ beak clenched
around branches and arrows.
I still test mayhem in curves,
sights and sounds, remaining,
the memory is a ghost of itself:
it’s daubed in blue ink forever.


The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 28 Contents Link

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Institutionalised – Rebecca Field

Week 1

Keith is woken by the bleeping of monitors. He must have nodded off for a second. Why do they make these rooms so stiflingly hot? For a second his brain fails to recognise where he is, then it all comes back with a gut punch: The ambulance, the blood, the bustle of people pushing him aside. The complex mixture of emotions; guilt that he wasn’t there, worry that it will be too late, the sheer helplessness of having no option but to give up his wife to a roomful of strangers. Kathleen’s still sleeping face is half covered beneath an oxygen mask. Keith hopes her brain has shut down into something like a low power mode. Conserving its energies for essential functions. He squeezes her hand. ‘Breathe,’ he whispers.

Week 2

Keith has moved out of the family accommodation. Their new home is on Fraser Ward; a bright bay down the far end of a mint-green corridor with six beds, each with a semi-conscious occupant. The nurses in their plastic aprons and bright blue tunics swish to and fro like damselflies, never alighting for long in any one spot. Kathleen sleeps most of the time, seemingly oblivious to Keith and her surroundings. Keith prefers this place; the pace here is more restful, less frantic than the cacophony of the ICU. There are visiting hours that must be observed, mealtimes and drug rounds that occur with reassuring regularity. Keith feels his shoulders relaxing, Kathleen has survived the stage of immediate danger, he reasons. If she was going to die she would have done it by now he reasons.

Week 3

Keith pulls into his parking spot opposite the yellow Mini. He has found it easiest to go straight to the furthest car park from the main building rather than spend time circling for a space. The walk allows him some exercise on his daily trip to Fraser ward. If ever there is another car occupying his space, an irrational sense of outrage sweeps over him. The yellow Mini is always there before him and acts as a landmark on his return journey. He has never seen the owner of this car. He wonders if maybe its former occupant parked up one day feeling unwell, went into the hospital and never came back out again. It would be easy to get lost in there, to follow the arrows down the windowless green tunnels, through doors and down stairwells, before collapsing exhausted into a side room labelled ‘sluice’.

Week 4

Keith eats on the move now. Evening meals are whatever packaged sandwiches are left in the shop. Lunches are Kathleen’s leftover sponge puddings, washed down with tea the colour of brick dust. The puddings come in lidded steel dishes, four varieties served in rotation: syrup, marmalade, chocolate and spotted dick. The lunch supervisors give one to Keith, knowing that Kathleen won’t eat hers. He knows them all by name now. His favourite is Jenna with the blue hair, her unconventional colours add some much needed gaiety to the surroundings. These are the things he notices now. He does not notice how his trousers hang from his frame, how his face has become drawn and tired. There is no one to remind him to visit the barber or to change his slowly greying shirt. If he looks into a mirror at all, it is only to reverse his car.

Week 8

Keith’s birthday has come and gone, unmarked. He does not take account of dates anymore. He registers the days of the week, but not how many have passed. He doesn’t notice that the car is beginning to smell like a bin that hasn’t been emptied in a while. The back footwells are filling with sandwich packets, coffee cups and parking tickets. A warning light flashes on the dashboard. Keith knows only that it is Wednesday. The library trolley comes through Fraser Ward on Wednesdays, usually pushed by Sheila who wears her glasses on a purple chain around her neck. Keith has been reading the latest Maeve Binchy to Kathleen, although she has slept through most of it. Lately he has taken to staying on the ward until 10pm, an hour past visiting hours, but nobody has commented.

Week 10

The nurses have started talking to Keith about moving on. This feels like a personal affront, like he has been caught busking outside the town hall, though they are quick to assure him this is not the case. There are visits from social workers and therapists, ‘assessments of needs’, and talk of placements, facilities, specialist rehabilitation. Keith does not know what to say to these people. His mind feels like it has been filled with expandable foam – it cannot process this new vocabulary. His heart beats faster when they approach with their folders. He nods and smiles in what he hopes are the right places, hoping they will see that neither of them are in a fit state to move anywhere.

Week 12

A new doctor visits Fraser Ward. She pulls up a high-backed chair and searches out Keith’s eye. She makes sure Keith has a cup of brick-dust tea when Cheryl comes by with the trolley. Keith cannot remember the words she uses, just that the irises of her blue eyes were ringed with a golden brown, like the colour of the tobacco he used to smoke before Kathleen decided he should stop. The doctor asks Keith to sign some papers about not resuscitating Kathleen in the case of cardiac arrest. There didn’t seem to be an option not to sign them.

Keith holds Kathleen’s cool hand on top on the bed sheet. There is an angry red bruise covering most of it where a new cannula was inserted yesterday. There were no sponge puddings today, but Keith found he didn’t have an appetite anyway.

Week 13

Mick the gay porter delivers a new patient to Fraser Ward only an hour after Nigel the surly porter took the previous occupant elsewhere. He says hello to Keith who raises a limp hand in response. The nurses and their assistants come and go. Barb comes round offering newspapers and snacks. Keith shakes his head. He wonders if anyone will notice if he does not go home tonight. After the last visitors leave for the day, he leans back in his chair, slips off his shoes, and closes his eyes. The bleeping of the monitors is strangely comforting.

Week 14

It is Monday morning and Staff Nurse Andrew is doing her last observations of the night shift. She reaches the last bay of Fraser Ward and checks her watch; her shift finishes in ten minutes. Kathleen Harris is sleeping. Nurse Andrew checks the drip and notes the observations on her chart. She registers that something is missing from this cubicle but cannot think what it is. But there is something extra that wasn’t there before. Next to the vinyl covered high-backed chair, is another chair; a dirty grey colour, the upholstery is worn and smells faintly of hospital dinners. Next to it is a pair of man’s shoes. Nurse Andrew wonders where the chair could have come from and makes a mental note to bring it out on the next hospital ‘dump the junk day’. She touches the forehead of Kathleen Harris and moves on to her final patient.


Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire. She has been published online by Riggwelter Press, Spelk fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Ellipsis Zine among others. Rebecca has work in the 2018 and 2019 UK National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies and tweets at @RebeccaFwrites

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 28 Contents Link

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