Now I Lay Me Down – December Lace

A withering Jesus affixed to a bronze cross
judges me from a crumbling plaster wall
as I cower, breadcrumb size in a mousetrap closet.

Used candles, long-extinguished worship the altar
with no light from their shriveled wicks, his pickled form
frozen in agony

while my devout other half
sleeps like the angel she is
in a cold bedroom two floors above me,

soft and silent unless I open my throat
for the screams to come out.
(Jesus gets a headache when you talk.)

The only thing I pray for
is to wake up on the other side
of the door, away from the carved icon eyes

that glow in judgement, their verdict already passed
on sins not yet committed coming
from the whispers in my head.

They can read my screaming and they don’t like what they hear,
the candles moving without my touch,
vanilla smoke boiling in the air.

 

December Lace (@TheMissDecember) is a former professional wrestler and pinup model from Chicago. She is a Best of the Net nominee and has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Pussy Magic Lit, The Cabinet of Heed, Vamp Cat, and Rhythm & Bones, among others. She loves Batman, cats, and horror movies.

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The Price of a Fairytale Ending – Jordana Connor

A bargain struck, a spell cast.

Sometimes, what you wish for you can have, but it costs you more than you think.

She came to the beach one summer, with a life behind her and a longed-for life promised. She clung to the edge of the world. Traces of her presence were fleeting, her footprints erased by the winds and gobbled up by waves. She slept curled up next to driftwood logs, or under bushes with sharp spines that tore at her clothes until they were ragged.

The salt wind took her pretty hair and whipped it into ropes. The sun blistered her soft skin, day by painful day, until it turned leathery and tough. Her delicate hands and her straight white teeth were her tools – she grabbed and gnashed until they curled and broke.

She learned to fight with the ocean and defy its dominion, planting her feet again and again, insisting.

She scraped out a shelter for herself in the dunes, miserable in size and comfort, digging as deeply into the sand as she could with a shell and her hands, until the cavity started to glisten with wet. Her hands ached and her fingers bled. She fought with curious crabs who pushed insistently through its wall, threatening it with collapse. She hauled driftwood to shore up the entrance.

From the north, the west, the south, it was invisible. Beach grass waved over it, and small avalanches of sand obscured detection from all but the sharpest of eyes.

From the east, staring down the hostile sea, it was a dingy, barely constructed hovel, the front littered with discarded shells and slimy remnants of fish, strands of kelp and tumbleweeds. Discarded fishing line tangled with flotsam and jetsam from boats – careless leavings of foragers and pleasure seekers.

She slept in her hole like a crab in its shell – tucked in tight, feet-first, packed around with kelp and seagrass, and once, for a while, (oh joy!) a striped blue and white beach towel abandoned on the shore by a thoughtless bather. But the towel left her eventually – gleefully snatched away by the wind as she shook it, evicting small skittering creatures who sought to take her comfort for their own. She watched the towel waltz with the wind – its stripes undulating in ecstasy as it climbed climbed climbed into the darkening sky, before finally the wind bowed out of the dance, dropping it down into the sea where it disappeared.

After that, her softest cover was her hair – grown long and matted, a haven for insects and beach debris, and aegis against intrusion by people. She did not welcome their curious gazes, but she did welcome the wide berth they gave her when they saw what she was. She bared her broken teeth at any who ventured too near, hissing and gurgling and howling and cursing, desiring them drowned. She no longer spoke any language they recognised. They assumed her mad and let her be.

By day she slept. When sunrise wavered on the water, turning it pink and orange, beautifully violent, she would hiss and hurry to her cave, prepare to hide and renew.

She dozed with one narrow green eye slit, scanning sand and dunes for enemies, seeing none but the malevolent ocean. She curled her dirty fingers into her hair, and drew it close, burrowing into it. She breathed deeply, ozone mixed with the scent of marine decay, filling her senses and soothing her.

Late in the afternoons, she kicked out of her shelter, walls tumbling incrementally with each movement, leaving sand fleas to bounce and winkles to burrow, seeking peace. She scuttled to the water’s edge, wading into the breakers, diving under them and swimming out to a small reef off-shore. There, she hunted.

Schools of tiny silver fish fled before her, moving as one, united in their distress as she snatched whole handfuls into her broken mouth. She pulled the undulating legs off starfish, crunching them as they wriggled, and swallowing whole jellyfish to wash them down. She growled as she fed, diving and reeling through rips that sought to upset her and drag her down, push her body into the coral, colonise it with mollusks, roll it in salt.

She foraged in the dunes, gnawing on beach grass and smashing eggs in their nests, drinking down yolk and slippery baby birds, still warm from their shells.

Once she found a lost dog in the dunes, whimpering as it wriggled away from her, back leg twisted strangely and tongue panting. She grasped its squirming body and ripped its throat out with a deep bite and one savage wrench. The blood stained her hands for days, but she slept deeply, her belly full.

When final rays of sun shot over the sand, and the sea turned from green to unfriendly grey, she would crouch near her sand cave. She crooned gently to herself as she stroked her feet with her hair. She scraped her toes with bits of shell, sawing savagely back and forth, drawing blood that oozed, thick and black in the last of the light.

When night finally conquered the beach, stealing colour and hiding its secrets, she would crawl out onto a small promontory of rock and coral. It cut her bleeding feet deeper, as she clambered to sit among its small rock pools. In the biggest pool she squatted, screaming at the ocean and shaking her fists, kicking crabs and stabbing her fingers into anemones, cackling as she watched them recoil.

Time passed and her feet grew calloused. She lost her toenails. Her hair grew still heavier. She could barely lift her head, and her forays down to the waves to find sustenance were an effort. Once, she let the water snatch her for a few seconds, waves rolling her and pushing her down, sucking her out into the bay to take her last breath from her. A gathering of savage strength, a kick off from the ocean floor, a ride back into shore from a passing turtle that struggled against her grip on its shell, mouth gaping in protest.

In the water she was lighter, and as the turtle towed her back to shore, she felt power surge back into her weary bones. She released it, kicked strongly and swallowed salt, brightening and hissing as she surfaced, renewed. She spat into the waves and watched the black phlegm dance on the surface before it was taken. An insult, or a gift. The sea relinquished her and the shore sullenly took her back. She crawled to the beach and slept.

On a sharp autumn afternoon, shivering and gasping in the frigid wind, she found a scale on her big toe. She screeched in triumph like the gulls above the bay, and pulled at her matted hair. Long strands were ripped from her head, and she flung them into the wind and screamed into the sky as they roiled and snaked through the swirling sand before they disappeared.

She squeezed back into the hut, one hand caressing her scale, the other gently stroking a thin-skinned place on her neck, where something new pulsed just under the surface. She ran a finger over the delicate edges of the scale as she cackled and crooned. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever known.

By morning, there was a second scale. By the time autumn had relinquished its grip to winter, all of one foot and half of the other was covered and it was harder for her to walk. She had to crawl down to the water, where she sat in the shallows, bathing her feet and turning them this way and that, admiring how the light glanced off her scales. They were pale green shot with gold and a delicate pink like the innermost spiral of a shell, emptied of its owner and washed clean.

By the end of that winter, the scales had reached her waist. Her legs had fused together weeks before, starting from the top and causing searing pain when she found she could no longer relieve herself. She had to rip into her morphing, writhing body with the sharp edge of a broken shell, and when a golden stream of urine splashed onto the sand, rivulets carving tiny lava flows through a miniature hellscape, she wept with joy.

Her toes eventually fused, the ugly calloused spaces between them replaced with delicate webbing that was irritated by sand but soothed by saltwater. She spent hours in the shallow rock pools, letting blood-warm water run over her body. With a sharp stick, she picked at matted sections of her hair. She hummed sometimes – wild, ringing sea shanties writ meek.

She fell asleep in the rock pool one morning, and slept peacefully. A cockle wriggled slowly into her hair and settled in, where it was joined by several small starfish and a bright red crab.

Her sand cave crouched empty now – a late winter storm had stoved in the top and the deluge had filled the pit. Debris from her battles and her meals spewed out, and what the ocean could reach at the next high tide, it took. Snatching its treasures back and spiriting them away to its depths. Vowing never again to allow their loss.

She awoke on her last afternoon on the beach, in early spring. From her rock pool, she squinted into hazy pink light, looking for storms, for wind, for the battle. But there were only gently lapping waves, and seagulls dancing joyfully in a breeze that played gently.

She pulled herself up out of the rock pool, and looked down into the ocean below. The delicate skin on the sides of her neck split, and she felt both longing and urgency for the depths. Her tail lashed with new power as she dived into the water, and when the next wave welcomed her, she disappeared.

 

Jordana Connor is a long-time scribbler and fledgling submitter of short stories and flash fiction. Her work has been published in takahē magazine, on Flash Frontier, and on 50-word Stories. She enjoys excruciatingly bad puns, delicious swear words, and the Oxford comma. She’s a Kiwi living in Brisbane.

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I Called You Last Night? Really? – Mike Nolan

In the safety of my cubicle, I set my sunglasses and coffee next to the keyboard and fell into my chair, firing up the computer and taking comfort in being able to dim the screen. I couldn’t do anything about the overhead lights. 

I’d consumed half a Nalgene bottle of carrot-ginger-tomato juice, a concoction I heard was the absolute best cure. Nothing beats simply going back to bed, but I couldn’t miss work.

Scrolling through e-mails, I banged away at the keyboard. I was halfway through my coffee when Beth’s eyes slowly peered over the cubicle wall. My hands froze above the keys. 

“You doing okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, hi, I mean, good morning.”

I shifted my tired eyes back to the screen, wondering if they looked as bloodshot as they felt.

“You’re all right then?”

My eyes returned to Beth, and I could feel them pulse slightly, keeping time with my heartbeat. I drained the last of my coffee. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“Well, after you called me last night—”

“I called—” Catching myself before I could complete the question, I changed gears. “Yeah . . . last night. I called.” 

Beth slipped around the cubicle wall and folded her arms across her chest. Perching on my desk, she lowered her head and searched my face, wearing the expression you make when you’re not sure if you should continue a conversation. “You remember calling me, right?”

“Of course,” I lied. 

“All right, I wasn’t sure. And . . . I was concerned. You sounded sort of sad.” Beth’s eyes radiated empathy. My heart stuttered. She was perfect—smart, beautiful, honest—and now that I was over Amy, I was ready to fall in love with someone else, like Beth. 

“Sad?” I forced the smile again, proving I was not sad. 

I was treading water and damn close to sinking. The only thing I remembered with any clarity about last night was celebrating the date, October twenty-third. I was proud of having survived a year since breaking up with Amy, although I wasn’t sure survived was the right word. Over the last few months, I’d been careful to use the phrase, “breaking up with Amy,” because it sounded mutual, like something we’d both agreed on. Truth was, Amy ended the relationship, and I’d been walking around with a gaping wound ever since. 

So last night, on the anniversary of our breakup, I decided to celebrate. To show how strong I had become, I watched Sleepless in Seattle, the old Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan vehicle that had been our go-to romantic comedy. Amy and I had the lines memorized. As a precaution, I deadened any possible pain with vodka. Normally, I wouldn’t do that; I didn’t even like vodka. But at the time, it made sense, in a self-abusive sort of way. I thought watching Sleepless in Seattle would be like me taking on the role of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, when Bogy asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By.” “Play it . . . if she can take it, I can take it.” It all turned out to be torture, just like it was for Bogart in the movie. He couldn’t take it, and neither could I.

I ended up flat on my back on the living room floor, semi-conscious, TV screen buzzing a monotone, and a half-empty bottle of vodka by my side. A tiny voice inside my head kept saying, “You know you still love Amy.” Which was why Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and I all got hammered drinking vodka.

“So we’re going out to dinner?” Beth asked.

“Right . . .” I was fishing, working hard to concentrate on the conversation and keep the smile on my face.

Amy walked by with a stack of files in her arms. Christ! Perfect timing. I froze for a second, trying to regain focus and remember what Beth just said. After missing a beat, I grinned. At some point this conversation was bound to crash and burn. I would die in a blazing fire.

“I’d like that,” Beth said.

This time I smiled for real, just like Tom Hanks. Maybe there would be a soft landing after all. For a second, neither of us were sure what to say next. 

I lowered my eyes. “I’ve got a confession to make.”

Beth drew closer. 

“I was, you know, just a little tipsy last night. I mean, when I called you.”

“But you meant to call me, right? You want to go out . . .”

“Oh, yes. Of course. Yes.”

Beth made a sympathetic “Mmmmm” sound, her eyes full of concern. I melted. She squeezed my arm, and I loved her even more. 

Beth leaned back on my desk. “And you’re doing okay now?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Really.” This was working.

“Well, we’ll talk about it at dinner, right?” She squeezed my arm again.

That sealed it. “It’ll be fun.” Now my smile was uncontrollable.

Before she returned to her own cubicle, Beth gave me a little hug, which actually made me shiver. 

Beth started to walk away and my breathing returned to normal. I focused on my computer as Amy walked by again, still carrying the same stack of files. Was she circling the office, waiting to talk without Beth around? Amy stopped next to my cubicle. I stood as she said, “You doing okay?” which made Beth stop and turn around.

“I’m fine. Ah, thanks for asking. How are you?” I fumbled for words as my eyes darted between Beth and Amy, and a hundred emotions—feelings that were supposed to be buried beneath a shallow pool of vodka—came rushing to the surface. Suddenly I was back to being Bogart, not Hanks. A sad, hungover Bogart.

“Good,” she said, nodding. “I just wanted to check, you know, after you called last night.”

 

Mike Nolan lives with his wife, Ann, in the little town of Port Angeles, in the far corner of Washington State, USA. He is the author of My Second Education, has a web presence at mikenolanstoryteller.com and can be reached at mikenolanstoryteller@olympus.net

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Is the Nighttime Like the Day, When We Do Things and Go Places? – Jeffrey Hermann

If you close the book and go to sleep the sentences will fall to pieces
the plots will come unresolved

If you live in New York a little screen in your apartment sees midnight
rain on the sidewalk, people eating noodles from a box

If you leave your teapot and stuffed grey whale out in the yard
then the planets become toys, your house as well

Those are delicate hours, like you were a delicate child at first
living on a dropper of milk, a thimble of breath
Your tubes and wiring were tendrils in a garden

Older now, you pull books from the shelf and read poems
writing down new last lines of your own in a little notebook

And later, after you’re asleep, Pluto seems so far away
I sometimes use the pencil I know you’ve touched

 

Jeffrey Hermann’s work has appeared in Hobart, Pank Magazine, Juked, Houseguest Magazine, and other publications. He lives and works in southeast Michigan.

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The Gharial Crocodile – Meg Horridge

There was a lens knocked out of Jonathan’s sunglasses. Whether it had fallen out or if it was an intentional fashion statement no one knew, but his left eye was forever obscured. His short black curls and deep-set frown made him look like the sort of kid who would argue back, but when teachers told him to take the glasses off, he would instead take a note from his back pocket and produce it like a cop did his badge. No one saw that note but the teachers, and none of them had given any indication of what it said.

Hari didn’t pay much attention to Jonathan. No more attention than anyone else, anyway. She spent most of her time with her head in her desk, drawing, trying her best to distract herself from the classroom around her.

An octopus’ tentacles curled around the edge of her notebook, and clownfish framed the date at the top of the page. In the centre, Hari was weaving flowers through the braid of an imaginary blonde girl, her loosely sketched smile nestled between two of the lines that littered the page.

“That looks like shit.”

She looked up. Jonathan was standing by her desk. His visible eye squinted down at her. He tossed down his textbook, slung his bag under the desk and sat down in the empty seat beside her. Hari watched him, her pencil hovering over a daisy she’d yet to finish drawing.

“Teach told me to sit here.”

“Why?” Hari said.

“I can’t sit by the window anymore.”

“Why?”

“’Cause.”

Jonathan nodded towards Hari’s drawing as he opened his textbook to a page they’d studied weeks ago. “Who’s that?”

“No one.” Hari closed her notebook and slid it under her own textbook. “Just something to draw.”

“You ought to give it up, you’re not very good.”

Jonathan hunched over his textbook; Hari assumed he was reading. She watched him take up his pencil and start circling random words dotted about the page. Then Mr Clark tapped his pen on the whiteboard, the lesson began, and all thought of the strange boy beside her drifted away.

“Who can tell me how many fish are in the sea?” Mr Clark began.

3.5 trillion.

Someone’s hand went up. Their answer was wrong. Another hand, and another wrong answer. The room went still, silent but for the light scribble of Jonathan’s pencil at Hari’s side.

“The correct answer was 3.5 trillion,” Mr Clark said. Hari lowered her head so he wouldn’t see her slight smile; she’d been chided for her silence before, so it was better to make out like she didn’t know the answers.

Hari glanced absent-mindedly over at Jonathan. The whole page of his textbook was scribbled on, leaving only the few words he’d circled. “Fish are just floating pebbles”, the words read. Hari didn’t know what it meant, but when Jonathan’s uncovered eye snapped up to catch hers, she knew it wasn’t meant for her to read.

*         *         *

Hari was drawing sea turtles. Their shells were wonky and misshaped. Their flippers looked more like flyswatters. She scrunched up her brow in concentration, but she couldn’t make the next turtle look any more convincing than the last. Her pencil laid motionless on top of her notebook long before Jonathan took his seat beside her.

“Why aren’t you drawing?” he said after surveying her.

“Nothing to draw.”

Jonathan dragged his textbook from his bag again and opened it on the table. Now that she was looking for it, Hari could tell that the first half of the book’s pages were crimpled, like they’d been scribbled all over. Jonathan opened it to an untouched page, and laid his chin on the book, his one eye darting across the words, his ppencil ready to single them out.

Mr Clark was still setting up his equipment on the teacher’s desk. Hari fiddled with her pencil. She didn’t know what to do if she wasn’t drawing, or answering class questions in her head.

Jonathan rose his head, but kept a hold of his pencil.

“Were you meant to be a boy?” he said.

“No,” Hari said. “Were you meant to be a girl?”

“Your name’s Hari. That’s a boy’s name.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Names aren’t gendered.”

“Yes they are.”

“My grandpa says all names are genderless. Like sea snails. They can be boys or girls.”

“Your grandpa’s wrong.”

Jonathan turned back to his textbook and circled another word. WRONG. Hari looked away. She didn’t want to read the rest of his words.

*         *         *

“My mum said I should apologise.”

Hari didn’t want to speak to Jonathan – she’d rather stare at the empty page of her notebook – but he persisted, his textbook left untouched in his bag as he spoke.

“I shouldn’t have said your grandpa was wrong. She said that was mean. And saying your drawing was bad. I thought it looked really bad, but apparently I’m not meant to tell you that.”

Hari said nothing.

“You’re meant to say thank you now.”

“Thank you.” She looked over at him, frowning. “Why am I thanking you?”

“For saying sorry.”

“You didn’t say sorry.”

“Well, I am.”

Jonathan took out his textbook and started on another page of circles and scribbles.

“Why do you do that?” Hari said.

He looked up. He’d just circled the word AMPHIBIAN. Hari knew what the word ‘amphibian’ meant, but she’d thought nobody else in her class knew.

“I like doing it,” Jonathan said, turning the page. “I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”

“It isn’t boring.” Hari pointed at a diagram in the top left of the open page. “That’s a plesiosaur. They don’t exist anymore. I drew a picture of one.”

Without thinking, she flipped open her notebook and pointed out the drawing.

“It’s not very good,” she said sheepishly, seeing the knot in Jonathan’s brow.

“Why do you draw badly?” he said.

“I don’t know how else to draw.”

“Why draw at all?”

Hari paused. She looked down at her notebook, its uniform lines coated in pencil grey.

“I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”

Jonathan smiled a little. Hari hadn’t seen him smile before, but this smile stretched up into his one visible eye and made it squint a little, just like it did when it caught the sun from the classroom window.

Jonathan turned back to his textbook, and Hari turned to Mr Clark at the front of the room.

*         *         *

Hari’s pencil curled around the smirk on a pirate’s lips. The pirate had short black hair and a patch obscuring his left eye. Waves spun around the base of his ship, which Hari had just started to sculpt when Jonathan slumped into the seat next to her.

“I forgot my book.”

“You can ask Mr Clark for a spare.”

“No, my book.”

Jonathan’s one eye was frowning. He slouched over his desk, half his face buried in his arms. He looked strangely lonely without a pencil in his hand and his eye scouring a textbook for words he could steal.

“You can use mine.”

Jonathan lifted his head as Hari handed him her textbook. His frown was lifting too.

“Just don’t use the aquatics chapter,” Hari said. “That’s my favourite.”

His gaze swept over her drawing, and his smile returned. “I know.”

Hari filled in the side of the pirate’s ship and gave it a sail. She drew fish in the ocean, a lighthouse in the distance, and a first-mate lurking on the deck who seemed to have the same dark curly mane and thick-rimmed glasses as Hari. The waves swirled like cursive letters. Hari didn’t know how to shade properly, but she mimicked Jonathan’s scribbling at the bottom of the ocean, where the crabs and seaweed lurked, casting dark shadows on the sea floor.

By the time class was over, Hari’s page was full. Jonathan smacked her textbook closed and pushed it over to her. She closed her notebook before he could comment on the jagged lines and uneven shading of her drawing.

“Thanks,” Jonathan said, and then he was gone.

Hari flicked through her textbook, looking for where lead was scribbled into paper. She found the wrinkled page in the reptile section, which she had neglected to mention was her second favourite. Her heart sunk as she saw the page on gharial crocodiles coated in grey. Even the title had been scribbled on, a few letters of the word ‘gharial’ snipped off either end.

But then Hari read the message nestled in the textbook page, and smiled.

HARI. IS. COOL.

*         *         *

Jonathan didn’t come into school the next day, with or without his textbook. The absence of pencil scratching on paper made it hard for Hari to concentrate on Mr Clark’s lesson. Instead she made scribbling sounds of her own, drawing crocodiles across the bottom of a fresh page.

*         *         *

Jonathan was already sat at their desk before Hari arrived, his head and his pencil already buried in his textbook. He didn’t look up when Hari sat down.

“Where were you yesterday?”

Jonathan screwed up his face and circled a word. “My glasses broke.”

“So?”

“I can’t leave home without my glasses.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t.”

Jonathan gripped his pencil tight. His sunglasses were a different colour than before, their frame blue where it had been green. The single lens was a reflective one; when Jonathan looked up at her, Hari could see her own face distorted in the space where his left eye should have been.

“What did you draw yesterday?” he asked her.

“How do you know I drew something?”

“You always draw something. What was it?”

Hari took her notebook from her bag and opened it on the table. The crocodiles were piled up at the bottom of the page, crawling over one another, webbed feet and pale claws scratching at scaled faces, jaws snapping at passing tails. Hari hunched in her seat. She noticed the crooked teeth of one of them, the unshaded belly of another, a tail too long for its body, a leg too short for its huge foot. But Jonathan was smiling.

“I like it,” he said. “Can you give it to me?”

Hari sat up straighter. “You think it’s good?”

“No, it’s terrible. That one looks more like a sausage dog.”

He pointed out the wiggly formation of a crocodile nearer the top of the pile and chuckled. Hari looked at the desk instead.

“But I prefer it like that.”

She thought he was joking again, but the sincerest curve of the mouth rested on his face when she looked up at him. The smile spread to her before she could help herself.

“So, can I have it?”

Hari nodded, and let Jonathan tear the drawing from her notebook.

It was only when class ended that Jonathan turned to her and said, “I forgot to thank you.”

“For what?” she said as she packed up her books.

“For the drawing.”

“Oh, ok. Go ahead.”

“Thank you for the drawing.”

“You’re welcome.”

*         *         *

Hari drew crocodiles every day for weeks. She practiced the same image over and over again, trying to get the proportions right, trying to keep her lines straight and not wiggly, trying to shade the right parts, until the drawings began to resemble the crocodiles in her textbook. She read the reptiles section of the textbook three times over and then ventured online, learning that crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal in the world, and gharial crocodiles in particular are one of the longest types. She drew crocodile after crocodile after crocodile in every class except biology, where she alternated between sketching boys in sunglasses and books soiled in pencil markings.

When she was ready, Hari drew her final crocodile. It lounged in the centre of its own page on a throne of sand, beside a pool where the water rippled and glistened in sunlight. She folded up the drawing and hid it between the pages of her notebook.

Jonathan had his pencil gripped between his teeth when he sat down beside her. He got out his textbook and didn’t say a word to her. Hari didn’t know what she was meant to say, so instead she took the folded drawing out from her notebook and flung it over to his side of the table.

Jonathan flinched like he’d been attacked. He unfolded the drawing and stared down at it for a moment before turning to Hari. “What’s this?”

“I drew it for you.”

“Why?”

“Because you liked the crocodiles I drew. This one’s better.”

Jonathan considered the drawing for a few more seconds, then refolded the page and tossed it back at her.

“It’s boring.”

Hari sunk into her chair. “What?”

“I said it’s boring. It looks like any other picture of a crocodile.” He snorted. “I bet I could find the same crocodile in my textbook.” He flicked through the book’s pages until he found the part on gharial crocodiles. “See. It’s right there! They’re the same!”

Hari didn’t respond. She slipped the folded drawing back into her notebook and put the notebook in her bag. She watched Mr Clark’s lesson with distant eyes, forgetting every word once it was over.

*         *         *

Jonathan tapped Hari on the shoulder at the start of class.

“I asked my mum if I should apologise for yesterday,” he said, “and she said yes. I’m sorry for saying your drawing was boring. And mum already told me off for it so you really should forgive me. I’ve already been punished enough.”

Hari stared at the front of the classroom. Her notebook sat shut on her desk.

“So, do you forgive me?”

Hari screwed up her lips, then finally gave in and looked over at him.

“I’ll forgive you

“What’s the condition?”

“Tell me what’s wrong with your eye.”

“My eye?” Jonathan’s hand went up to his face as though expecting something horrible to be there. Then his confusion faded and he laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with my eye.”

He lifted his sunglasses for the first time, and the single reflective lens stared up at the ceiling. Beneath, his left eye was intact, unharmed, and the same hazel brown as the right one.

“You said you needed your sunglasses on all the time,” Hari said.

“I never said that.”

“Yes you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Why do you wear them then?”

Jonathan shrugged, lowering the lens back over his eye.

“I like to make something interesting out of something boring.”

Hari smiled. “You’re not boring.”

“Maybe not, but I look way cooler with my glasses. Right?”

“OK.”

“So does that mean you forgive me?”

Hari opened her notebook, and took out the folded drawing that had been left neglected overnight.

“If you make the crocodile less boring.”

Jonathan huffed. “You can’t add extra conditions.”

“I just did.”

“OK, fine.”

Jonathan took the page and drew a pair of sunglasses on its face, only the left lens shaded in. He curled the crocodile’s rigid mouth into a smile, then pushed the drawing back to Hari.

“See?” he said. “It’s so much more interesting now.”

Hari took the page back, and scribbled out the drawing until only its head remained. Then she slipped it back into her notebook and pressed her pencil to a fresh page, ready to draw something new.

 

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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Drenched – Randee Silv

Drenched: I was rushing somewhere. Shouts from a megaphone could be heard. They were not in agreement. They were not going to relocate. Others just sat. A few argued in silence. He came towards me. I couldn’t miss him. He put his face close to mine with a cupped palm and mumbled that his contractor had gone bankrupt. Nobody noticed him slipping out. He’d simply put on his street clothes and walked off carrying some magazines with a novel tucked under his arm. No one followed. No one came after him. Seeing how easy it was he knew he should’ve done it sooner. He said he only had nightmares when he was up. When he’s sleeping he’s fine. I was in a pine forest, barefoot. Moonlight. Streetlights. I was pressing a doorbell, but then I wasn’t. I did what the wind did. But it didn’t stop the sounds, not the ones I thought I was hearing but the ones that hadn’t yet come. I started whistling. Throat dry. I stood out in the rain with my mouth wide open.

 

Randee Silv’s wordslabs have appeared in Posit, Urban Graffiti, Maudlin House, Bone Bouquet, Utsanga, Otoliths, and in her chapbooks, Farnessity (dancing girl press) and in Fifteen Collages/Fifteen Wordslabs/Mumtazz/Silv (Nextness Press). She’s the editor of Arteidolia and the journal swifts & slows: a quarterly of crisscrossings.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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Crane Fly – Dreena Collins

It’s Millie’s fourth birthday: I’m in my best dress. It makes no odds. Ever since the accident, no one will look at me.

I sit on the edge of the sofa, feet dangling. I am a broken puppet. I make no sound; my body stays still, stiff. Millie alone glances over, furtively, through sticky lashes – dark eyes flitting like a crane fly to a lamp. She is aware of my presence. Her papery nails scratch eczema into lace on her left arm. Perhaps she worries there will be a day when they ignore her, too. I imagine she is torn between her loyalty to me, and loyalty to the Millie of the future. She doesn’t want five-year-old Millie sitting in silence on a sofa, as I do.

So she says nothing.

I lean in and blow out the candles on her cake – I don’t know why I do it. It irritates them. There is a crackle in the air and then they shuffle their hands into match boxes to start the whole procedure again. Millie looks hesitant but she complies, blows, closes eyes, makes her wish. I can hear her whispered secrets pulse through my skin, a muscle deep tattoo. I know what she wants: I want the same thing.

We sing; we eat cake.

Then the room is packing up and I can feel myself winded, folding inwards. Pushed even further away. Time to leave, and I am snatched, desperate, hollow. But I will come back again; I won’t give up. Maybe next time they will see me – broken, dangling, stiff.

It’s my birthday next. I’ll wear my very best dress.

 

Dreena Collins is a writer who also works in education. She has been listed in numerous writing competitions, and published in her own collections, and anthologies such as the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Dreena’s hobbies include eating spicy food, and writing at 4 a.m.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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2018: a marriage odyssey – Matthew Daley

to let the air out I left
you couldn’t hear anymore
about the abundance of pillows
like I couldn’t hear about
walking around in dark rooms
when all the bills are paid
so I drove because that’s what
you have to do in LA and
paid $25 to see 2001
at 50 years old even though
I’ve owned it since 1997
knowing that when I confessed
on some future tomorrow you’d
mention the obvious things about
the movie not changing no matter
how many times I paid for it
and why couldn’t I care enough
about you to build a monolith

 

Matthew Daley has written commercials, documentaries, graphic novels, and a film that was never released. He has taught every level from 5th grade through Graduate School, always finding ways to sneak great poetry into his curriculum. He’s a father of three, husband of one, and a terrible singer/dancer who tries to turn many of his moments into a musical.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

Image via Pixabay

Bulletproof – Hannah Storm

When I go to war, I borrow a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them. Androgenised.

But I wear the body armour because I’m told it will keep me safe, if someone shoots from a distance. I wear it because I’m told these are cheaper than the ones for women. I wear it because I’m told there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight.

I wear it because the man in the equipment stores tells me all of this, and because he’s not the only one.

I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the newsdesk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, as if my gender might be classed as anything else.

Deep in the belly of the building, where they keep the cameras, tripods and satellite phones, the team first aid kits, generators and batteries, the man looks me up and down, hands me the canvas bag with the body armour and a helmet, and whistles through yellow teeth.

‘We don’t get many girls going to war.’ He stinks of fags and coffee, holds out a cracked biro in his fat, stained fingers.

‘I’ve checked the plates. They need to come back exactly as they are. Sign here.’

I press the pen hard and leave an imprint on the desk.

Later, I sit by the wall in the bowels of another building, where the stores have been looted, where nothing remains but rubble and the smell of shit and fear and sweat and how long will this last and I wonder if the scar of my name will still be there when I get back. I hear the crack of gun fire, and remember what he told me – that if I could still hear it, I would be fine.

The whistles and whines get closer and the ground starts to shake, but I wonder if it is just me shaking, in my too big turtle shell which creeps up my body and covers my mouth, muddling my senses, exposing my womb to the world.

I am silence.

I hear the sound of boots and deep voices, checking the doors. Opening, closing, opening, closing. I cross my legs, pull my helmet down to hide my face, hope the jacket shields my gender. I know none of this body armour will protect me if these men target me point blank.

 

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 30 Contents Link

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