On the morning commute I’m trying to be anywhere but here, trying to imagine myself on a bus, perhaps, at 6:30 as the sun rises sluggishly over the M3, feathering the sign on the verge with an exotic golden-pink. Birdworld, it reads, suggesting the bus veer off its assigned route toward Heathrow—and explore an avian playground.  Parrots? Macaws?  Cockatiels?  All screeching, imitating words, imitating life. Perhaps peacocks would welcome us into the carpark, strutting with tails fanned, all eyes on us. But I’m not on that bus, not on the M3 anywhere near Heathrow or this fantasy; I’m in my car surrounded by another dingy December morning, driving into another slog at work, and the only bird I see on the way, up ahead, is a stark-headed eagle unfolding its wings to drop from a tree-limb perch onto some unsuspecting field mouse like the harbinger of doom it is. © 2015 Anne Britting Oleson

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Untitled and My Heart is on My Socks


I wish Anorexic me wouldn’t leave

she’s such a strong girl

that potent eye

aware of everything

that goes in



She’s poised, breath, free

of all failings


Anorexic me is that bad

ass who let’s nothing slide


She’s got so much going for her

focused, determined

people could only ever say


I’ll never be good enough for her,

for that girl. Let’s grab coffee.


© 2015 Lindsey Lewis Smithson



My Heart is on My Socks

It’s time I start flossing

the realization set in

that these teeth aren’t permanent—

I started using wrinkle cream

before floss, don’t tell the dentist


These teeth can’t get better

nothing grows back

at least not the same way


Like my leg hair

I left it long until eighth grade

Gold and soft. It stopped

getting longer, it wasn’t dark,

it curled in towards my legs


But you can’t get hairy

in a sports bra and polo shirt

and not eventually cry in the eighth grade.

© 2015 Lindsey Lewis Smithson

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Bread Knives

Aunt Bianca treated her nails as though she were a typist, as though the sound of her nails against the keyboard was important to the harmony of the world, but she didn’t work. She kept her nails filed perfectly and painted them the same red color every Sunday morning before church, taking the previous coat off first before applying the paint again. When she looked at them, each nail aligned with the other, they used to scare me.If I wanted to be close to Aunt Bianca, I had to be close to those bread knives at the end of her hands. When I held her hand, they dug in, creating half-circles in my skin. When I laid my head on her lap while she watched TV, they’d pop my pimples during the commercials, inspecting my pores. When she did my hair, they scraped the scalp as she wove the locks into braids.

They were sharp and precise, and I don’t ever remember them breaking except for one time when Aunt Bianca picked me up from school.

I was in middle school and had decided Chase Murphy was the boy I was going to marry, even though he didn’t know my name yet. He was tall and had red hair that he spiked up. He always wore button-up shirts with ties and his brother’s old letterman jacket. Chase was a part of the football team, honor society, and debate team. He never spoke up in class, but teachers left him alone because he always got straight A’s. He was perfect.

I had joined the debate team just to be near him, though I wasn’t very good at it. We met after school every Thursday, and often Chase and I were the only ones left waiting for our parents in the afternoon. We’d sit on the grass on the side of the building and do our homework in silence. I’d count the spikes in his hair when he wasn’t looking.

One afternoon he caught me. “You want to touch them?” he asked, pointing to the spikes.

I nodded.

He stood up and walked over.

I stood up too and touched the spikes. They weren’t as soft as I had thought but hard from too much hair gel. I pulled my hands away and looked at the sticky substance on my fingers.

“My turn,” he said. He pushed me into the brick wall, and I felt his erection against my legs. His whole body covered me up in shadow so no one could see me from the street. His hands went up my blouse. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. His hands moved lower.

Aunt Bianca’s cutlass nails dug into Chase’s shoulders and collarbone, and she threw him with momma grizzly force onto the ground.

“You ever touch her again, and I will kill you,” she said calmly.

She put an arm around me and practically pushed me to the car. I looked at my fingers. Gel stuck under a fingernail.

Aunt Bianca sat in the front seat and drove us home. Turning the steering wheel, she noticed her hands. “Damn it,” she said. “Damn bastard broke my nail.”

I wanted to say I was sorry, that I didn’t mean for that to happen, that the nail would grow back. But I didn’t. I looked at the back of her seat and thought about the rough spikes, working to get the gel out from under my fingernail. I reached too far, and my finger bled under the nail.

When we got home, Aunt Bianca sat me at the table and gave me some orange juice. I choked. “What is this?”

“Knox gelatin powder and orange juice.” She put her nail file, buffer, and nail polish on the table next to me. “It’s time you got yourself some claws,” she said.

© 2015 Mandy Alyss Brown

Previously appeared in First Stop Fiction, March 2013

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I Am Chinese and In Vivo

I Am Chinese
I am Chinese, sort of
Since my nephew married
A Chinese girl
And our families united,
That’s what she said
Yanmei is my Chinese name
Picked for the fruit
It means Beijing Plum
I like plums,
Sour skin, sweet meat
It fits somehow.

Yanmei kneels by the river
Knees shimmering under
A winter moon hungry for reflection
The water laps at her feet
Her pause is long
Her wind is short
For she has traveled far
Beyond the grit and
Dirt of the city.
A splash makes tiny
Ripples, sliced silver
Perhaps a plump trout
Inviting her into his chamber
An icy chamber.
She stands tall and unwinds
Her scarf of plums and cherries
Cast to the moon,
Now a nymph of silver and light

2015 Laurel Dean

In Vivo

Before I met her
I knew her, more
than a stranger
an acquaintance
of sorts. We shared
the same tastes:
a hankering
for avocados, potatoes
plain, lightly salted
a whisper
of pepper.
Carol King concert
summer ’89,
I stood up
gingerly, demanding
encores, her bravos
muffled and percussive.
Recently going
through my vinyl
she came across
Tapestry. We spun
it, I knew every song,
she listened
to the hit parade
again for the first time.

© 2015 Laurel Dean

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An Ascot for Freddie

Last night, I swallowed part of a moth ball, mistaking it for a xanax. It was a natural mistake. Usually when I find a small white hard object wedged between my couch cushions it’s xanax. When I first get my prescription, I feel rich and I’m careless with it. I think, “You know what would be really great? How about I take a xanax , have a little drinky and sit back and watch some bad reality tv. It SOUNDS like a great idea but it always ends the same way. Although, I start out sitting, I awake in the opposite position, my legs up on the back of the couch, my head on the floor, my hair sticky and stained pink by that last vodka cranberry I made for myself before passing out and spilling it. Next to the empty glass will be the topless prescription bottle which I refill with whatever pills are in plain sight, knowing that when I finish the bottle and REALLY need one, I’ll be able to fish some out of the couch or pry one out of a gap in the wood floor. It’s like money in the bank. Well, last night I REALLY needed one. I just swallowed the first pill like object I could find.

The problem is my girlfriend, Trudie Von Muggenthal. She is driving me insane. A couple of weeks ago, we went to see the movie version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the RosendaleTheater down the street. We had a huge fight, after which she stormed off and we basically broke up. It all had to do with her insecurity. She played Columbia, in the Bardavon Theater’s production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show a year ago. In the movie, Columbia was played by the actress/dancer, Nell Campbell AKA Little Nell. Back when Trudie was playing the part, she always felt that she didn’t quite measure up to Little Nell. For one thing, she kept messing up the tap dancing bit. For another she didn’t think she had Little Nell’s great figure. Not realizing this, I made the mistake of mentioning that Little Nell had a great booty and it probably was from tap dancing. That didn’t go over well. She stormed out of the theater. She even threw her popcorn at me, first.

So, when she called and told me she had been using the time apart to get to know herself and get some therapy, I was pleased and ever so supportive. She told me that she had come to terms with her inability to tap dance and apologized for overreacting about it and I , in turn, told her that perhaps I had been insensitive. She told me she had learned that tap dancing is just not who she is and that just because she can’t tap dance doesn’t mean she should feel inadequate. She has learned to separate that from her ego. I can totally relate. I mean, when I was in high school, I had to take French and I practically flunked. It was humiliating. But now I just accept that foreign languages are simply not my forte’. I was in Norway for 6 months and all I learned to say is, “Where can I buy vodka?” which, honestly, is all I really needed to know. But, I digress. Back to Trudie. So, just as I think all is going really well, she suddenly starts projecting all kind of negative energy on ME! She starts telling me that I’M super competitive and condescending and that I was dismissive of her ‘art’. By art, she meant her doodles of LOL cats, which she would caption with kitteh talk, and ponies. OK, sorry but I don’t consider doodles of LOL cats riding ponies high art. Still, I admitted maybe I shouldn’t have made so many jokes about her being a closet Pegasister . Also, I did use the back of one of her doodles to write a grocery list. That was disrespectful. But, then instead of accepting my apology, she gets really insulting. She starts telling me that, if I want to make it as an artist, I need to stop painting dead guinea hens and photo realistic pieces of meat and, either paint stuff that sells or get some sort of real job because she is sick of paying for all of the PETA t shirts and herbal tea. So I just said, fine, whatever. I can buy my own herbal tea and I have enough PETA shirts. So then she starts crying. She tells me she misses Freddie, my three legged dog, and just bought him a really expensive evening ascot and she really wants to see it on him. I was touched. This was quite thoughtful of her. Freddie is a very elegant looking dog even with a leg missing, slender, mostly black with white paws and chest. Like a tuxedo. We once put a bandana around his neck like people do. It just looked wrong, like watching Martha Stewart drink milk straight out of the carton. Then she starts telling me she feels so conflicted about, once again, spending all the money and maybe I should reimburse her for it since he is MY dog. I pointed out that there is no way I would ever spend $200 on an ascot, even for Freddie. A casual daytime ascot for 50 bucks would have done just fine. Then, suddenly she goes from crying to screaming again and so I asked her if maybe she was feeling hormonal.

Well, she hung up on me and, by then, I was having such an anxiety attack that I ran straight to the couch and swallowed the first white hard thing I could find.     The second it went down my throat, I knew what it was. In a Proustian moment, I was transported to my grandmother’s closet in 19 seventy something, going through her clothing, trying on her patent leather heels and exciting black lace and mesh veils that she had put away since whenever women wore them, stored in boxes with sparkly little white balls emitting a distinct odor that saved the lace from being eaten by moths. If I am going to stay in this relationship, the first thing I need to do is write down the number of poison control on the side of one of the couch cushions. I should probably put some towels on the floor, too.

© 2015 Gretchen Mahnkopf 

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It was U

And I

At your pink beach house

Clamming on the sandbars- one bit me! I laughed, absurd, shocked.

So gray a sky; you with your green sweater to warm you from the damp;

So unusual for Pensacola, the late- spring storm, cold;

We chased rabbits in that powder-blue jeep-

Was it ’93 Spring Break? A

Scanty sun

Came out and we played

Like children in thick sandy batter.


Peeled down your top

And the under tow pulled me to you;

(We nestled in the warm currents).

Later, I

Cut my foot on a bottle, blamed you, yelled- /youth and ego…/

Bled red through mounds and wavy brush up the hills to the house

Streaked the leaves with

black in the moon’s light.

It got bandaged, but hadn’t healed before we separated.


Fix for those times

Some days, (i) recline in a salted bath,

Sinking both arms

To my sides.

And- it remarkable the similarity- the burn

When I score my arms.

And to watch the swirl, red to


With this tub drain taking me

Diluted back out to sea.


Will be with you again on the beach some day;

/Think and craven/

thin in the shallows where the clams roam.

You will not know that I am with you,

But I will have earned my forgiveness.

© 2015 Nathan Johnson

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CSI – Christmas Season Investigation

Saturday, December 13

Attacks against obnoxious but nevertheless defenseless inflatables occur daily in the streets of our great city. These are the stories of the dedicated men and women of the Christmas Season Crime Squad who investigate these hideous crimes against these helpless…whatever you wanna call them. This is what they do.

When investigator Bob Sawyer arrived at the crime scene, he found his partner Judy Brown already there.
“What do we have here, Judy?” he asked, surveying the area as he spoke.
“It looks like a massacre, if you ask me,” she responded.
“How many vics do we have?”
“Three. They’re all in a pile over here.”
She led Sawyer to a pile of what appeared to be stack of official NFPA/CSFM Fire Retardant, weather resistant PVC coated rip stop nylon crap of all different colors but mostly blood red.
“Can we I.D. any of them?”
“I won’t know for sure until we get them back to the lab and I’m able to pump some air into them. But I’m guessing that this one is Santa and this one’s probably some kind of a snowman.”
“How many kinds of snowman are there?” he asked, trying to relieve the tension.
She ignored him so he got back to business.
“Do we know what took the wind out of their sails?”
She wanted to ignore him again but this was a fairly legitimate question, given the circumstances.
“Someone pulled the plug would be my guess. But who would do this? And why?”
“Who called it in?”
“A mailman. Said he was driving through the neighborhood and something just didn’t seem right. And then he saw them…just lying there…slumped over in a heap.
“I take it we don’t have any witnesses.”
“No one’s talking but we’ve got some uniforms canvassing the neighborhood. The family wasn’t much help. They said that the last time they saw them, around three hours ago, everything looked fine. They were bouncing around, had big smiles on their faces, looked real cheery, you know…all Christmassy.”
“You believe them?”
“I don’t know. You know as well as I that it’s usually someone close to the victim. But why would they do it? This neighborhood is pretty heavily decorated. Why would anyone take out their own Santa?”
“That’s our job to find out.”
“I know one thing for sure.”
“What’s that?”
“They’ll be no rockin’ round the Christmas tree, tonight.” ”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get the scrooges who did this.”
Sawyer directed the uniforms to put plastic caution tape around the plastic crime scene and went into the house to talk to the family. Judy Brown loaded the victims into her trunk and proceeded downtown to continue her investigation.
Several hours later Sawyer returned to headquarters. He entered the room where Lab Tech Brown was poised over one of the victims.
“It’s funny,” she said, “but I couldn’t help thinking…” her voice trailed off as if unable to organize her thoughts.
“What is it, Judy?”
“Well, I was just thinking how when I work on a human I put plastic gloves on to protect me…and I guess to protect the evidence and here I am working on a piece of plastic and I’m still putting on plastic gloves for whatever reason…I don’t know…you know.”
She looked quizzedly at Sawyer who looked just as confused as she did.
“I got a feeling that this is just the beginning of many strange things we are going to encounter with this case,” Sawyer said, sensing that she might be letting the case get the better of her. “It’s not going to be easy on any of us but our job is to speak for the victims. These guys will tell us what we need to know. We’ve just got to go where the evidence takes us. So what have we got so far?”
“I was right about Santa and the snowman. The other one appears to be a reindeer.”
“I don’t think so. Look here,” she said holding up the limp, lifeless plastic remains of what was once a charming fantasy deer.
Sawyer tightened his lips and nodded, obviously impressed with his partner.
“No red nose. Good work.”
Suddenly the phone rang. Sawyer picked it up and Judy watched him grimace and shake his head as he listened. He put the phone down and just stared at the floor.
“What is it?”
“I think—” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Sometimes, even for a seasoned Christmas Season veteran, it all gets to be too much.
“Come on, tell me. We’re a team aren’t we? So let me help.”
“I think…I think we have a serial killer on our hands. We won’t know for sure until we get all the facts but it looks like two more Santa’s, another reindeer, some elves and an Easter bunny.”
“An Easter bunny!”
“Yeah, go figure. All I know is we got to stop this insanity before no inflatable individual feels safe in suburbia.”
“I don’t know? An Easter bunny at Christmas time. We may already be at that point.”
“Is there anything else we know, anything at all that can help us get to the bottom of this massacre?”
“Well there doesn’t appear to be any cuts or tears. They don’t appear to be shot and I’m ruling out poison—just because. I think my first hunch may have been right. Someone pulled the plug on these guys—but who—and why?”
“If ever there was a case for a case going cold it would be this one. There just doesn’t seem to be much to go on.”
Just then, a patrolman burst in, ran over to a television set and turned it on.
“Sawyer, you gotta see this.”
Fox News was highlighting a rally just a few blocks from the crime scene. An evangelical minister, standing in front of a manger scene and holding up a Bible was protesting what he called the ongoing war on Christmas. He was calling for Christians to unite and fight back.
“Stand up for what you believe in,” he urged the crowd of spectators. “We have to take Christmas back and put it where it belongs—in the churches. We have to put Jesus back into Christmas and take Santa Claus and Rudolph and those lazy freeloading elves out. We have to rid our department stores of the false gods of Christmas.
“Once we succeed in saving Christmas we have to take back Easter…and All Saint’s Day too.”
“Did you hear that, Judy? I understand where he’s coming from but honestly no one else is even thinking about taking Easter back—not with twelve more shopping days to go in the Christmas season.”
“You might have something there, Bob. No one would even be talking about saving Easter in December unless they’d just recently had an encounter with an Easter bunny. I think we’re going to have to pay a visit to this community terrorist…ask him a few questions.”
“Well, if we’re right about the guy, I know one thing for sure. We won’t have to trick a confession out of him. My guess is he’ll be squealing like a pig about to become an Easter ham just to claim credit for this crime.”
“The stupid ones always do,” Judy agreed, shaking her head in disbelief.

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