elsewhere / 17


We were young, the power was out. And the baby was asleep. We were sweating, sitting naked in the dead of valley summer, pooling lifeless on the couch. Wearing underwear—not naked—we were parents now. To think! She was staring at her phone, the light a ghostly pale blue. When she held it to her breast the room went dark. “Go hide,” she said. We’d been drinking. “Go and hide,” she said. “I’ll count.”

Our home then had a crawlspace—a vast, low place with carpet where we kept the tent and propane. An indiscreet space to hide in, but I went there. Like a sauna, but I went, and soon she came: “Knock knock,” her fingers tickling the door. I was lying on my back, feeling sweat crawl like roaches. “Alright, then,” she said. “I’ll just lock you in.” Her voice soft and quite lovely. Then a click. Still I lay there in the heat. A brief silence and the door slunk open. On the walls her shifty phone’s blue light. “Ah!” she breathed, and threw herself at me. We’d been drinking. I made sounds and she hushed me, pulled the door closed in the dark. We made love—we’d been drinking, we were young. And the baby was asleep.

It defied all sense, but the door wouldn’t open. She was crying. I threw a shoulder at the thing and produced only noise, a cardinal sin. In the end we called her brother, nearly two hours south though his was the only spare key. She was crying as she listened for the baby, whom we no longer could reach, the heat pulsating. Awaiting rescue in our sweat-slicked skivvies. It was obvious what we’d done in there.

Waking Life

Where are any of us headed? Last night, at last, I met the woman of my dreams. Late twenties, brunette, blood spilling out of an empty eye socket, her mouth like a lamprey’s. Reeking of sewage, she hissed when she spoke and was covered in blackflies. I’m quite certain it was her, that the line between nightmare and reason has been finally expunged. Sleep is no longer feasible, which means, at least, that I won’t have to see her again. She was only in town for a conference and claimed to hate California, that she’d die before ever returning.

Paul Barrett is a writer, book designer, and woodworker living in Sacramento, California.

A Little Thing

Hurtle felt a ghost flickering beside her. How it paled and trembled. You can often know a ghost from a shadow, Winsome read, by whether it is alight with longing. Take care, though. Not all ghosts are bright. Some are dismal. Some bear portents as though bearing gifts, they know no better. There is a science behind them. They are, like everything, electricity. Put your hand in one, you can feel the hum of the current. If it doesn’t give you a right jolt, Silven sneered. Such ghosts may haunt one person, Winsome continued, and stay with them all their days. Flickering animal, Hurtle said, and pressed her forefinger against the ghost’s buzzing edge. There’s no way to contain such love, Winsome concluded, closing the book.

When It Moves

Do you know the parts of a bird? Gable asked. Oh, here was a test Sunder was ready for. Two stubs—sometimes four, wainscoting, flurries, the plenitude. He was sentimental about his birds. He lived with them in an orrery. Each bird nested in a different planet. Sunder bedded down in the sun. How does it work, Gable smarted. He showed her that the planets, moons, and sun were all hollow. Here was his little bed, little pillow. Only trouble comes when it moves, he said. But these cycles and revolutions and squeakings of gears must be forsworn—I mean, forborne. Does it hurt? Gable asked. Sunder crinkled. I mean, when it moves. Sunder regarded her. Everything hurts. Everything.

Rebecca Cross works as an editor in an art museum. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Qu, Hobart, Harpur Palate, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Image.

Waiting in Line

They are standing outside a theater, the handsome couple. He is wearing a blue scarf and tweed coat, she a short black jacket. He rode to the theater in a cab, a yellow cab with a sign on the roof: Sabor Salem. His apartment had been robbed, one of his car windows broken. He wants to tell the woman how he feels, but he senses that she is thinking of someone else. A young woman approaches, her face flushed. The train was crowded, a man on the train was rude. This is New York, she thinks, I’ve always been afraid of New York. Two men are standing next to her, waiting in line. One is unwashed, hairy, ill-kempt. The other well-dressed, business suit, gold watch, cigar-box smile. They share a smoke and talk about rattlesnakes, King Kong, wolves in sheep’s clothing, a fire in a paper mill, the muscle car that ran out of gas. “The Pope is coming tomorrow,” the hairy man says. “He has no place to stay.” They laugh and slap each other on the back. A door opens in the building behind them. A woman and two Chihuahuas rush onto the sidewalk. A car stops. Horns blare. A huge black dog on the other side of the street opens its mouth like a cavern.

Michael Malan is editor of Cloudbank, a literary journal in Corvallis, Oregon. He is the author of Overland Park (Blue Light Press, 2017), a collection of his poetry and flash fiction. His work has appeared in Epoch, Washington Square, Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry East, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other journals.

Unguided Meditation in the Hertz Rental Office

There is no clean way to eat a croissant. Why are we not more adequately awed by our bodies, their knowing how precisely to die? There are still many beers in this world I haven’t tried. Milk in most parts of this country is associated with children, or alcoholic abstinence. I wonder how long a city block is in spider miles. The watered-down sunlight of midmorning is a great time to be alive. I keep gaining weight, but I think it’s muscle. I feel a strength inside me, a gun’s recoil, hard-shelled beetle carrying something many times its size. Time in this office is molasses. I need assistance. I need a car soon, so I can collect my daughters for tashlikh drive to the beach before bedtime. We will stand in the sun and say look, a bright lemon. We will cake our hands in sand and breadcrumbs; the fish and pelicans will dutifully eat our sins, like selfishness or inaction. Day will become a crust on the horizon by the time we head home. Nick, is it? Tell me, when can I expect the Infinity you promised me.

Quinn Rennerfeldt studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder and currently lives in San Francisco with her daughters and partner. Her heart is equally wed to the Pacific and the Rocky Mountains. Her work can be found in Utterance, Mothers Always Write, Punchdrunk Press, and is forthcoming in SAND.

Crimson Tide

Call me Alabama, I say, but I’m talking to the wrong person—a magician! a genie! Suddenly, I am Alabama, with its marvelous college football teams and its serpentine waterways. I am the Spur filling station in Mt. Willing, and the Northport Piggly Wiggly on Lurleen Wallace Boulevard, and all the churches everywhere, big and brick, white and wood. At my megachurch in Birmingham, they call me Pastor Alabama. My parishioners ask for forgiveness, but all I can offer are bromides and T-shirts. Let us pray together, I tell them, then dash out the pastorium door when their eyes are closed.

after Masaaki

Color no. 20

The royal yellow of an emperor’s loose robes.

Color no. 34

A shade darker than the persimmons in his mother’s garden.

Color no. 39

This Spanish blue can also be seen in evening light on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Color no. 51

Avocado, with an inkling of yellow, a memory of blue.

Color no. 56

Teal, like a flash of duck feathers at sunrise.

Color no. 93

The petals of an African violet kept on the windowsill of an apartment in Setagaya.

Color no. 106

True blue, but with a hint of blueberry and a soupçon of periwinkle.

Color no. 132

Cinnabar, tomato, bittersweet.

David Starkey served as Santa Barbara’s 2009-2011 Poet Laureate and is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Santa Barbara City College. His poetry has appeared in many journals and in seven full-length collections, most recently Like a Soprano (Serving House, 2014), an episode-by-episode revisioning of The Sopranos television series.

The Giant Frog Is Back!

They built a makeshift ramp to extend out over the frog’s mouth, everyone eager with offerings cramming up and on to deliver their armfuls, all things to go in. The children watch from the rocky precipice above the grotto, shouting and pointing and dancing little dances as they throw down their clothes—robes and overshirts and underwear and sandals and even bandages—right off the body. A crowd stands in the water massaging its slickish body, a host of palms and elbows kneading its soft gut in and out. Buckets of water are roped up and dumped on its yellow globe-eyes. The elderly ring bells and laugh.

A woman carries every dish she owns, pushes her way up the ramp, through the fevered crowd—and opens her arms. The porcelain disappears in a shower of torn books, half-eaten meats, dirty rags, and spoiled vegetables going over. They heave a junk-laden cart up the grade, tip it on its side, every smell-bad thing toppling in a heap and swallowed up in the frog’s throat. The crowd is all cheers. Then everyone parts for a herd of pigs, goats, sheep egged forward by men with wooden shields. They hoop and shove the animals over the edge, each one bleating and flailing as it is sucked down the gullet. The crowd is inconsolable.

There is a drunk man, drunk as he has always been. No one sees him moving through the throng, walking up the ramp gripping his screaming toddler son by the ankle. No one notices until he stumbles forward, slings the child over the edge in an easy arc—ploop—straight down into the slippery pink, swallowed alongside half a chair and scraps of leather. Some screams, a shout, silence. The man’s eyes wide with sudden, sober realization. They pull him back and beat him. They hold each other as they lean over the edge to look down the throat. Overhead, the eyes of children peering over their knuckles.

Suddenly the frog body quivers and jolts. Everyone scatters. The frog squirms, shivers, snaps its body sideways and upright. It hunches and stares. Its underbody one great sac of thing bulging into the water. It is hunched and it is staring, still. All watching and stillness. Then a hork. A hawk. A brap. Brap. BROCK—and it all, all of it, comes out from its mouth in a ball of slime that slaps to the ground with a schlick.

It flicks its tongue, blinks. It leaps up to the ledge—which sends a few children bouncing—and launches into the night with finality.

And there it all is, everything restored and added upon: a complete set of ornate dishware, not a furnace but a stove, ancient tomes neatly bound, and those same horrible beef shanks and hams, salamis and fish steaks that went in now whole and individually wrapped and salted. And the pigs and goats and sheep come braying out somehow cleaner and fatter and with docile hearts. Golden beer sealed in barrels, dresses laced and tailored, torn shirts stitched, garden tools unbent, leather saddles softened, and tall candles, pure honeys and jams, bundles of dried herbs, wheelbarrows and fishing rods, a single perfect flower, and riding out of it all on a surprisingly amenable hog, the child.

The father runs over bleeding and slobbering and scoops the child right off the hog in a flurry of kissing and hugging and saying oh and oh and oh. And the child holds the father’s face with tiny hands and kisses him on the cheek—and the crowd erupts with celebration as the whole of them rush forward to pick up this and that returned and new thing from the pile, owning everything again beloved, and they feel that this really is the beautiful thing of the world, a thing that gives and gives.

Will is a copywriter living in Utah. His work has been published in Inscape, Alexandria Quarterly, and The Southampton Review, and he was recently chosen to be included in Best Microfiction 2019.