Literary as hell.

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Flash Fiction by Sandra Florence

“Tang and Atomic Fireballs”

Once we had Tang and although I never liked it, my brother and I drank it because we were told it was made for astronauts and other flyers. I remember that my family went to Vandenburg Air Force base to visit my mother’s friend Francis and her husband Major Fick. The Ficks were air force people who had travelled all over the world and seemed so exotic to me. I thought of Vandenburg AFB in a hazy blue light, of a dreaming place for rocket scientists, engineers, and astronauts.  The Ficks lived in family housing at Cape Hart. The housing was all very modest, long winding streets of small, low to the ground houses.  Houses almost like ours with its flat roof and slump block walls. I thought their home would be much grander because my father was not a Major in the air force, and we hadn’t travelled anywhere except to Nevada and over to the coast at Pismo beach. I thought of the geniuses who worked on the 86,000 acres at the base and the labs, and manufacturing hangers, where impossible to understand formulas, and fantastic-looking equipment was stored and hung, where brain-power kept the booster rockets burning, and where strange perfumes seeped into the skies, sulfuric and foul. When the day was over I imagined how the doors to hangars were shut tight and wives put on pearl earrings for their Majors, Colonels, and Generals and went to the building for cocktails and dancing.  The cocktails were named things like the Payload, Coffin Launcher, and Polar Orbit. Major Fick and my father went somewhere that night, but our mothers stayed at the house visiting in the kitchen over coffee and tea. Francis was a tea drinker. The Ficks had four children, two boys and two girls. We stayed in the bedrooms and had contests to see who could suck on their atomic fireball the longest before the heat of it became too much and one of us spit it out onto the rug. The rooms of the house were dark, and everything was a mess, clothes everywhere, toys scattered, dishes not done, beds not made. I knew what my mother was probably thinking about her best friend’s housekeeping. I knew I would hear about it on the way home. And yet, at the same time, their home was full of what was once called oriental art, beautiful hand carved sculpture of historical figures, small jade lions, woven bamboo, dragon tapestries, and paintings from their life in Taiwan.

“The Bird–Shaped Cloud”

 A bird shaped cloud drifts by with a cherub inside. Drafts of grey heat lift the tiny angel into the rafters where its wings become trapped inside and there is no getting down. The bird shaped cloud drifts through my window and a tiny bit of rain pours onto the floor where my space crawler and sky patrol flying saucers sit abandoned in the late spring light. My pajamas have space men on them and track moon dust all over the room, at night. I sleep but not without fear, not without tender tears and rowdy voices from next door, where these kids are hopping up and down on their beds. I see them through my window in the fading light; I hear their laughter and when one gets a little too rough and the other cries out and the mother runs up and yells, what’s going on? When she leaves, they pretend sleep and continue with their roughhousing but quietly in the moonlight. Occasionally my space men get distracted and turn their cameras on the window next door and it throws everything into white shadows, playing against the walls; the kids stop what they are doing and stare caught in the screen; they seem captured, afraid to move, their hollow eyes stare back as the space men move toward them on a current of air between our houses, our windows. They peer into the boys’ room. I can hear whimpering and realize one boy is crying. The older boy puts his arm around the smaller boy. After a long while their camera light begins to fade and once it does, the boys fall back onto their beds. I can no longer see them and the space men return to my room silently through the open window and they too begin to drift. They seem fatigued by this encounter. The space men beckon the cherub to hurry as they gather their instruments. The cherub is anxious, begins fluttering its wings, bustling like a tiny bird, its wings stuck in the soft cotton of the cloud. At one point the cherub flutters so hard to free itself of the cloud and falls on my bed where an invisible star burns. I am becoming warm from the heat of the invisible star, from the fluttering of cherub wings, and then suddenly, it lifts off, darts toward the growing light. One of the space men grabs the fleeing angel and hides it in his shadow. It’s too late to sleep, the firelight is upon everything and the bird-shaped cloud breaks apart. I can hear the kids next door yelling and laughing as they run down the stairs for breakfast.

______________

Sandra Florence has been writing and teaching in Tucson, Arizona for the last forty years. She taught at the University of Arizona, at Pima Community College, and in community education settings working with refugees, the homeless, adolescent parents, women in recovery, and juveniles at risk. She is the recipient of two NEH grants, The National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity, and the second in 2015 entitled Border Culture in the Classroom and in the Public Square. She has published scholarly articles on writing and healing and writing as a tool for public dialogue. She published a book of poems, entitled, The Radiant City, in 2015. In 2021, Midway Journal nominated Sandra for the Pushcart Prize for her short story “Café Metropole”.

“Word Slice” by Tamara Adelman

Letters are the details of words. They are the smallest unit that cannot be broken down further, but when combined together, make something larger than themselves. Bricks put together in just the right way make a building. Numbers work together to help us figure out important stuff, like how much of what ingredients makes a cake, or how many bananas can I buy with my dollar. Letters are like that to words. Letters build words and words build sentences and sentences express meaning. Life would be hard without words.
When you are able to say or write a word, you should thank the alphabet.

Some letters are curvy like S, and some have tails like Q and Z in cursive. M’s tend to know a lot because they have double mountaintops from which to see.

O’s generally round things out. Some are rotund, like D.

You can make a letter prettier if you have good handwriting.

* * *

Each letter has its own personality.

Z can tickle your tongue and tries to fit in with his buddies, the other letters, because by himself he is always sleeping: zzzzzz. But even then he’s not alone; he’s with his family.

* * *
Letters make different sounds, depending on how they are feeling. Sometimes they are loud and sometimes they are quiet.

C can be soft, like in “celebrate,” and hard, like in “candy.”

S’s are everywhere, always trying to fit in by keeping quiet.

Some letters get along better than others. Q is usually with U, like in “quick” and “quiet.”

I and C have an alliance: I before E except after C.

When a letter repeats itself in a word, it is really trying to tell you something: shhhh! You really ought to listen.

A’s are often self-starters, since they are the firstborn of the alphabet.

I is often successful alone as a capital, and we all know anything with a capital is important. Like you. You are your own I.

Think about states: they each have a capital, and they are very big and important.

* * *
The way the letters look can tell you something too. Small letters like j and i are seven-year-old basketball players, who want to be tall one day, always practicing their jump shots and hitting above where they stand. Their dots leave a fingerprint.

You can swing in the bottom of a y, j, or g.

Small e can look like a snail sideways.

Small r is like a hook: it has a flexible neck. R has peeked around the corner.

U’s and V’s: you could fall into. W’s are upside-down M’s.

* * *
In reading and writing, the page is the larger landscape. Words are the landmarks: the individual plants, the trees. Letters are the bees. They work hard to produce something larger than themselves, and when bunches of letters get together they form a colony, which is also known as a book.

__________________

Tamara Adelman is a former massage therapist, ironman triathlete, and now writer and golfer living in Rancho Mirage, CA, the playground of Presidents and the Adelmans. She have a certificate in Creative Nonfiction from UCLA.

Poems by Zebulon Huset

Transmogrifying Honey Battered

Muddily the morning crept.

Though rain often causes fowl lungs 

to top off with droplets, drowning so many 

of the raised-head dummies—

Chucky the chicken, rooster to some,

cocked his head, juked or jived

at a too-inopportune time

and startled a sting from the resting 

transmogrifying bee.

 

This was how Janet skipped 

into the scene upon waking:

the broken syringe, dangling

microscopic bits of bee belly-flesh, 

plugging the swell of purple—the sundered 

venom sac pulsing in toxins like an IV—

which caused Chucky’s clunky heart

too much issue with tissue constriction.

 

Janet wept for her perished pet,

mourned the morning, played 

devastated Dr. Frankenstein with two 9-volts

through lunchtime. Her cries even survived

as eggs and flour and honey and paprika

were whisked together for a batter

that could staunch any tears.

That would stop her tears.

 

No crying at dinner, Janet. Enough already.

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“A Mind Like a Steel Trap” By E.O. Connors

A few days ago, I scrubbed the sink clean and lifted the steel trap out. As I knocked the trap against the trash bin to dislodge the sopping wet food particles that had collected there, it occurred to me that I made an egregious error in judgment in August of 1995.

I’m quick like that sometimes.

It was three weeks after our wedding. My husband, Tim, was mercilessly scrubbing the kitchen sink of our new apartment. It was clear he was angry about something. He didn’t do anything vigorously. Except, perhaps, drink Diet Coke and program his computer. Anything that might cause him to break a sweat was anathema. Cleaning the kitchen fell into that category. 

It wasn’t laziness, exactly. He was generally tidy, avoiding the making of a mess so as not to have to clean one. But he was also raised by a lovely June Cleaver type. She kept house and said things like, “Oh, Timmy, leave those dishes for the women,” when, one year, he rinsed some mashed potatoes off his Thanksgiving plate and tried to put it in the dishwasher. 

Tim and I had already had the very first domestic squabble of our marriage that same sink-scrubbing morning. Standing in the galley kitchen in the light of the refrigerator, I plucked the orange juice carton from the door to accompany his breakfast cereal. Overnight, it would surely have settled. I didn’t want him to drink juice from the top that was too thin, nor from the bottom that was too thick. Only Goldilocks orange juice for my husband. 

So I shook it. Hard. Up and down for a solid five seconds to mix it perfectly. 

Tim’s face pinched with anger. “What did you do that for?” 

“What?”

“You just ruined it.” I looked at the carton trying to figure out what he meant. He let out a huff of disgust. “Now it’s all full of pulp and the junk that settled to the bottom. Why would you do that?” He said it with the same bewilderment and grief as though I had hit the gas pedal to commit vehicular rodent homicide on an innocent squirrel in the road.

So just before lunch when I saw him come dangerously close to breaking a sweat at the kitchen sink, I wondered, Now what?

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Poetry by Colin Webb

Refractory
spastic filter of branches

catching dusk clouds 

 

side-swiping indiscriminate thru 

a line of others more distinct in their 

 

trajectory—

then the obstructed lengths 

 

unpossessing downhill too, or the 

bristly blind of snow up to Here

 

that’ll curb your cigarette break bound 

by slush overlooked too, and the dirty 

 

distillation of static that’ll obscure all 

the breakup songs to come 

 

straining from car’s radio 

for you to love thru

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“Vignette” by Claire Fitzpatrick

The paths wove through the vignettes like veins, around the koi pond, the stone retaining walls, the avenue of white pebbled and sandstone pavers, and down to the creek, where an arched bridge linked to a small island with a treehouse encircled by hundreds of daisies. Rebecca and Stephen had no ambitious landscaping plans when she’d inherited the estate. But after close inspection, they’d discovered the bones of the existing garden, uncovered its harsh lines and soft curves, and, after three long years, had opened their botanical paradise to the public. 

Rebecca believed gardens created themselves. Where trees had grown over time and brought more shade, the plants struggling to prosper beneath were moved. Where seeds were dropped, self-sown, and thrived, they were left. Advertisement brochures referred to their garden as ‘a living work of art’. To her, the garden was a structure to sustain life and was in some ways more important than her own. And while she and Stephen won awards for their landscape designs, and were featured on gardening shows and in magazines, there was one vignette of their garden that visitors were forbidden to enter. 

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Poems by Danielle Hanson

How to Murder Rain

There’s no surprise 

attack—it has a bird’s-eye 

view. It will be all fight—dodge 

and parry, dodge, and parry. 

Rain is multitudinous and fast, unafraid 

to fall. It can shift

the ground out from under you, 

raise a breathless wave above 

your head, pin your shoulders 

down, crawl inside your body. Wait 

for it to spend itself—drive it into 

ground, use its body to raise 

an army of grasses, glinting 

their wet swords to sky.

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