Darren Montufar: Nothing Changes but the End

“I’m tired,” Ramona said to Henrietta. “It’s my heart arrhythmia.” 

That was the diagnosis of her doctor back home. Ramona’s once-estranged daughter, Carrie, had scheduled this meeting with a practitioner, Henrietta, hoping to ease her mom’s symptoms. The appointment had been made as a sign of goodwill, but also of love.

“Consider this stuffed bear,” Henrietta said, setting a stuffed bear on a table within reach.

Ramona looked at the stuffed bear. “What kind of doctor are you, again?”

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Christie Cochrell: Release

“Where’s she going?” Denny’s cousin Jayden demanded.

“I’m just going,” Georgiana furiously answered Jayden’s incredulous snort, as he and Denny stood together in the doorway, looking all but twins, from buzz cut down to Naked Pig Pale Ale bottle in each frat-ringed right hand, to the Look they were giving her, in perfect unison.  They filled the sharp-edged doorway of the Airbnb kitchen she referred to inwardly as heavy metal—floor to ceiling stainless steel, in her mind like the lifeless steel of a morgue in one of those crime shows they watched way too often.

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P. M. Baird: Weary

He looked up from his phone and stopped, his hand on the glass of the building’s door, cool at first, then, as he stood there, he felt the heat of the day pressing in or his own heat pushing out. He was trying to formulate something that didn’t entail walking right by her. He wouldn’t know what to say if there was anything to say. What was there to say? Why would he say anything? It had been at least two hours since he’d watched her leave Jenn’s office crying. Had she been sitting there with her legs tucked up under herself on the edge of the company parking lot since then?

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Don Stoll: The Honest World

Maggie Dalton with me? In my dreams, you might think. You might think, not in my league. Like she’s Alabama and I’m some weak sister school from California. Stanford, let’s say. No chance. But why not try? Nothing to lose anymore. She says no, she says no. Not like worse hasn’t happened to me. Anyway, shit I’ve been through, who’s to say what she’s been through doesn’t have me beat? So maybe she needs a friend, even if it’s just one night.

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Ed Hack: Again

( For A. P.)

What now do all the numbers say, the so-
called values doctors judge our bodies by—
our bodies, not the life we used to know,
the easy years when each day seemed to fly?
What do the numbers say about my mate,
the coffee-sweetened morning air we’ve known
the many years we’ve been each other’s fate,
discovering in love we shared the home
we didn’t dare to dream about? What were
the odds, since so much was a storm of loss,
so what I knew was pain, what pain conferred,
that everything meant nothing but its cost?
I’m waiting in the waiting room again.
The ocean pounding sand will never end. 

For more on Ed Hack, please see our Authors page.

Bucky Rea: Migration

Oklahoma dust migrated 
through clouds and jetstreams 
over prairies and the shoulders 
of glass and metal towers. 
It rests, exhausted dirt hitched 
onto truck beds, snuggled 
into chrome, Gulf bound. 
Louisiana swamp rain, pure 
as clouds and more clever, 
rumbles in tongue-hot to splatter 
and splatter flat drops against
every steel roof, sideview mirror, 
ball hitch, and license plate,
to push down the dust
into sewers, and grillwork, 
and dandylion yards. 
The rain moves across rice farms,
Hill Country, and pastures of cows. 
Behind, it leaves the Okie dust
broken, strangled in mud, 
and gasping by the roadside 
to bake.

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Liza Langrall: First Frost

From his hospital bed Dad told me,
Grapes are sweeter after the first frost.
He was fretting for his vines,
dreaming of them as nurses
preyed on his veins.
Late September there was no frost,
only a cold snap one night.
I stopped at his house to bring in his mail
and, on a whim, cut him a cluster—
carried the dark purple globes, bleeding,
down the hospital hall.
His eyes closed at the flavor. Perfect.
Spitting the seeds into the top of his fist.
Cut me some and I’ll make juice.
He was prone in bed with a blood drip
in his arm. He could not stay warm
or walk without help. I did not cut
him any more grapes,
nor tell him what I thought
would become of his vines
this year and next.
But I had not accounted 
for an Indian Summer.
Sunday, he came home to eat meatloaf
in yellow hospital socks and plastic wristbands.
His chewing was slow; we all waited.
Go pick me a bucket of grapes, he said.
The afternoon was a hot 84, but fall
had tinged the leaves of the walnuts
and sycamores. Under the grapevines,
the cloying fragrance was heavy.
Bees hummed, glutted with nectar,
their heads so buried in the flesh,
they had to be shaken free.
Dropping like rotten grapes,
they revived before hitting the ground
and flew off to a new cluster.
Our bucket grew heavy. Our feet crushed
the grapes the profligate vines
had cast off. We dragged our reaping
back to my father. His eyes gleamed.
Tomorrow, when I get my strength back—
I see now what we were living then:
the first frost of his last winter,
those golden afternoons, sweet pickings.
I still feel his sun-warmed cheek
receiving my kiss as he slept,
the grapes slowly molding in the fridge.
We drank all we could of him
until the hard, cold nights came,
and even then we had to be shaken free. 

For more on Liza Langrall, please see our Authors page.

Mahailey Oliver: Steak and Shake: A Swapping of Teacher War Stories

The diner booths are dingy, red and cracked.
The flies are swarming. Smattered french fry grease
is splat on counters. Flat-screens fade to black.
It’s noontime and the conversations cease
as truckers stuff their faces with The Works.
Though I’ve been here three quarters of an hour
the staff all side-eye me—humongous jerks!
A boy trips by, his milkshake smelling sour.
Then there she is—the lady I’m waiting
to see: a former teachermotherfriend.
We eat and swap war stories, updating
until she must go back home. Lunch must end.
I guess it is the moments that we want
that pass much quicker than the ones we don’t.

For more on Mahailey Oliver, please see our Authors page.

Joshua Hamilton: Skinning

Rest my head on the memory
of your lap
during the week
of your absence – appetites
and logics enter, mingle.
Only when willed.
Hard, candy-like shell
crystallizes a dome
over slow anguish
intestinal compost.
Hours tempered in rainbow
then drip thin and expose
tire-skidded streaks of gravel.
Skin and sinew tear off,
hunter knife scraping edgewise
flattens evening.
Bleached cranium drops
into cotton folds.

For more on Joshua Hamilton, please see our Authors page.