Anthony Ashley: Coyotes

They sit aside one another, two brothers, cleaning dove as the last light stretches and dies. They sit on the porch in two worn metal chairs and work their hands, stopping only to drink from the bottles beside them. They make the same movements for each dove. Mirroring one another. Locked together in this. They pull and pluck the breast feathers until the dark purple of the meat appears. They grab the small knife from their laps and cut where the breast touches the bone. They pull, sliding their fingers into the bird’s chest and bringing them away so that they hold the delicate pearl of meat. Then they place it inside the bowl that sits between them, toss the waste, and take a drink before beginning again.

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Parker Fendler: Complimentary

As with so many next mornings, he contemplated the previous night’s mistakes. A lump shifted under the covers, twisting the sheet from him. He wrenched it back and wrapped it around his waist as he forced himself onto wobbly legs.

“Baby, it’s cold,” the lump said. Then it burrowed under the comforter and was quiet.

A sliver of light peaked through the seam in the blackout shade to guide him across the spinning hotel room until his feet found the cold marble of the bathroom floor. He let the sheet fall so that the only thing he was wearing was his wedding ring. A misfired stream of piss sprayed the tile. He dragged the sheet through it with his foot. The poor maid. Was there a grosser job than Las Vegas maid?

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W. T. Paterson: Barn Cat

Arlene awoke to the loud purring and uneasy shuffling of Purdy the pregnant barn cat ready to pop. She reached over with a chin scratch to calm the aches of the mother-to-be. Once Purdy gave birth, Mrs. Krieger promised Arlene a kitten to keep as an early eighth birthday present. She couldn’t wait to raise the baby animal the same way the Krieger’s had adopted and raised her on their Wisconsin cattle farm. Every day was a new chore, a new harvest, or a new blossom as the grass grazing field blended into the golden hay field, all rippling like water in the wind. When Arlene’s unwed mother got knocked up once again by a local, she was sent to live in a convent for wayward women near Chicago, where the land swelled with hardened brick and empty pavement. The concept of family wasn’t as black and white as other townspeople liked to preach.

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Barbara Kuessner Hughes: Parakeet Green

It’s always too late in the day to get through to Dylan, or too early.

‘Dylan . . .’ Annabeth says, going up to the sofa where he has sprawled for the past six months, and looking down at his clammy face.

Either he’s just had a drink and entered a parallel plane where he’s unreachable, or he needs a drink and can’t concentrate.  Annabeth feels like rapping on his skull with her knuckles.  Hello, is anybody home?

He surprises her by opening his eyes. ‘Going shopping?’ His voice is oiled with inebriation.  She looks into those dark pools, once bright, now brackish, searching for the slightest shine of affection. She might as well be gazing at a stranger in a tube train.

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Joel Hinman: Nobody Listens

Dekko Cahill is a bull of a man. His head has the girth and heft of a field stone. There are places where his skin even looks like pink granite, a dull tongue color flecked with gray patches underneath his eyes. Dekko grips the edges of the examination table with both hands. His shirt is off and his braces dangle down to his boot tops. The great silver shag of his chest rises and falls as he watches the doctor pace back and forth. Dekko looks down at the man’s tiny feet. He doesn’t want to be here nor hear what the doctor has to say. 

The doctor opens the medical folder theatrically. 

“You were supposed to come back and see me 18 months ago,” the Doctor says. 

Dekko kneads his scalp with thick fingers, knuckles raw from rough work. “When I feel poorly my wife gives me a pill,” Dekko says.

The Doctor glances over. “She’s a pharmacist?”

“A vet,” Dekko says. 

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Ron Hartley: Without a Helmet

I called him boyfriend as an endearment, like good morning boyfriend or I love you boyfriend; boy meaning he was much younger than me and friend because I desperately needed one. I was coming home from work at Best Buy, knowing his dyed blond hair would be punked up like always into a disarray of golden spiked ends, knowing he’d be waiting to teach me Texas Hold’em online, knowing he was hustling me and that duplicitous love was okay if it helped ease my pain. I was coming home from work at Best Buy knowing, knowing, knowing.

“Let’s go to Poker Planet,” he said, but as it turned out I couldn’t catch on to the math of loss to win ratios. “Just talk to me,” I said. “Tell me a story taller than Poker Planet.”

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Susan Dugan: My Funny Valentine

Jay Whitiker parked in a space outside the church and sat drawing deep breaths, hands over naval–left, over right for males, the way they taught in his tai chi classes. Outside the car window, the day shone like a page torn from a Colorado Bureau of Tourism magazine: blueberry skies and sugared mountains. A fresh coating of powdery snow steamed off the asphalt.

Jay glanced over at the roses he had picked up at King Soopers that were resting on the passenger seat beside his battered leather shoulder bag. A dozen red, a dozen white.

Angelica.

Even his voice teacher’s name suggested higher realms. Sometimes he would find himself suddenly repeating it over and over in his head like a string of prime numbers.

A rap on the window startled him. His hands flew up, palms out, as if expecting to confront a police officer demanding license and registration. But it was only Sheila, upstairs neighbor of his rented flat. Flustered, he grabbed the flowers and his bag, and climbed out of the car.

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Johanna da Rocha Abreu: Flash Floods

Vonnie eases up on the gas pedal and they coast the last couple of feet to the side of the road. A staccato burst of rain erupts on the body of the car as if it wants to dismantle every bit of glass, metal and rubber. Vonnie can just see them sitting in their seats after the storm, each lock, nut, bolt and gear of the “jalop,” as Paul called it, scattered around them. Worthless pieces not even a magpie would take to its nest.

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