by Lucie Bonvalet
by Lucie Bonvalet
My flesh is burned on my hands and my face. It happened when I tried to set the house on fire. I could’ve succeeded if you hadn’t intervened. After I came back from the hospital you had a present. I did not want a present. I was mad at you. But you showed me the beautiful gloves you’d made for me with goatskin leather, dyed red. They were perfect. You wanted to make a mask with the same leather. I refused. I wasn’t ready. I liked my scars too much. I chose to pierce the leather in a myriad of minuscule points, in circular patterns. Everyday I pierce a few more holes with a golden needle. I don’t want you to see my face. When I burn down the house – for we both know I’ll succeed, it’s just a matter of time – I’ll reveal my true face to you.
Lucie Bonvalet is a teacher, a visual artist, and an MFA student in nonfiction at Portland State University. Her writing appears in Cosmonauts Avenue, Catapult, Hobart, Word Riot, Women in Clothes(edited by Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton and Heidi Julavits) and Café Globulot, a French art & culture zine. Her drawings and paintings can be found at: lbonvalet.tumblr.com
A RETELLING OF THE HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF MARY TOFT
by L. W. Nicholson
A RETELLING OF THE HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF MARY TOFT
by L. W. Nicholson
A mother is an undertaker. When I was little, my brother shot a rabbit before he spotted her two babies a few yards away. He carried them to the house, and I placed them in a shoe box filled with ribbons. I read every book I could find in the town library about rabbits --Peter Rabbit, The Velveteen Rabbit, Bunnicula. I read them aloud each night before Dad decided they were ripe, and dinner was served.
He told me I had a neck like a heron. He twirled my long braid between his fingers, let loose the ribbon, hid himself in the canopy. Men always want touch my hair.
I was never much of one for paddling. As a child, I was sucked under some brush in the river while follow my brothers on an intertube. I was trapped in the bent light just below the water, beer cans smacking my reaching arms. Seems right my daughter would turn out like me. She didn’t have far to go, a journey as short as belly to bed, but things don’t have to be far to be hard. One more month, and she would have been fine. They would have carved rattles for her, and I would have wiped her muddy ass. More like a jellyfish, my mom said. Not what she should be - all gristle and pulse. Grimy and purple and covered in froth, they whispered iat school. They didn’t really believe in waiting around. There wasn’t time to mourn. Bury the baby. Get out of bed. Piss or get off the pot. I had exams and car insurance to pay. Someone had to pull the metal fry basket from the grease.
She was a beaut though.
All those wagging tongues.
There’s something still in there.
My father said rabbits were for meat. I had fed those bunnies clover from my hand. They crawled in soft limbo, ate delicate leaves. At night I carried them, one by one, to my bed. They burrowed in the quilts. My throat was filled with lullabies then. Only I could sing them to sleep. Only I could make them still when my father lifted his hatchet.
They didn’t believe me at first, not at first when I said that it was not over yet. They believed it even less when my mother told them about it, some strange miracle.
I feel them now, and I am Madonna. Mary Toft of Rabbits. Each kit is unearthed from my womb, tranquil darlings. These are my children, and all the men come running. They all want to meet the woman who gave birth to bunnies. They want to put my picture in the magazines. They want to scan my brain, attach me to wires. I pay them no mind. They cannot know what it is to be a mother. A mother is an undertaker. I hold the slick bodies of the tiny rabbits to my cheek, dip a small cloth in milk, and extend it like hyssop to their torpid mouths.
L.W. Nicholson is a librarian and homesteader in Southeast Missouri. Her work has appeared in Moon City Review, Passages North Bonus Content, and Sundog Lit. On Twitter @rhubarbarellas and : www.lwnicholson.com
by Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel
by Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel
Now, when the air smells like a question mark, I know the answer is snow.
I’m watching for the first flake when my four year old grabs hold of my arm. “My mind is magic,” she says. “I can see Asha. I see Rooney!”
These are friends we won’t see again, but I don't tell her that. I don't tell her that we’ll never go home, and I don’t tell her that her magic is called memory. Because she's right. It is magic. And she still has it.
“Eat your peas,” I try to say gently, but she can’t hear me. She’s gone into her mind, back to the forested neighborhood where we all lived. My wife and kids, my mom and me. Back to the house where I grew up. Where the street name is the same as the town’s. Where I write the return address, and it repeats: Home, Home.
The first snow’s about to drop. It fell in the past, but fuck. It's still present in me. It's in my head. The very first snow I remember.
“Who are you?” I whisper to the new smell. I’m four.
“Snow!” mom answers. By the time we put on our coats and gloves, hats and scarves, the street’s disappeared. The door opens to a flat white world. I try to adjust. Mom guides me.
She walks us to the edge of the neighborhood forest.
This is where we learned the names ponderosa and bitterroot. We learned the difference between the morel and the death cap. I look through the snow to find them. I can't. I feel shy. Even my boots hide.
The dirt I know is under there somewhere. It always makes me feel welcome. My toes root and grow into it. But in this snow, I'm a log on its side. A little push could set me rolling.
The neighbor comes out his front door. Ma calls him Farting Doe-Eyes. He’s waving at us. He likes to tell us things. “It's beautiful!” he yells. And it is, but that doesn’t stop me from shivering. He comes closer with his pickle for a nose. I wish a crow would come take a bite.
“I have something for you!” he yells. He holds out a puffy orange rectangle. “A hand warmer,” he says. Mom nods and takes it. “Crack it and it warms up! You put it in your pocket. Very useful.” He’s so loud. I cover my ears. What does he think we can't hear?
Mom smiles and starts reading the instructions. “No, no,” he points. “Your pocket!” She stops smiling to slip it into her coat. The neighbor sighs. He tilts his head way back at the sky and says, “Just look at that.” And we do. For a moment, it’s almost alright. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't ask the question he asks every time he sees my mom. Maybe he won’t.
“I bet you do well in school,” he says to me. I don't know what he means. I’m not in school. He doesn't wait for me to answer. “And good at violin.” I don't know. “Chess!” I don't know.
Mom shifts closer to me. She puts her arm around my shoulders.
He straightens his fat fingers. The lines on his knuckles shrug.
“Can I take…” he starts to say, and here it comes—the only question he ever asks. But before he can finish with “take you to dinner,” Mom says, “Snow!” She never lets the question land.
She waves goodbye with a peace sign and pulls me back to the erased street. I grab her hand. “Too hard!” she says. I try to let go but the snow is really starting to scare me. Everything familiar is so weird. The sky is the same color as the ground. The trees shake without wind. Without warning. The world is not the world. And my mother? She’s looking down at me. She locks eyes and points her chin back at the house. What will it look like, I wonder. But that isn’t what she wants me to see. The neighbor’s still watching from his porch. Not the snow. Us. He watches what we won't let him have.
Ma sticks out her tongue to catch the flakes. I watch them melt. I open my mouth too, following her as she walks us further on, down the street, so slowly.
We don’t make a sound.
In the quiet, I hear a deer whisper from the edge of the woods.
Ma hears it too. “Stomp your feet,” she says. “So the deer won't try to take you.”
Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel is the author of the essay collection Fear Icons, winner of the inaugural Gournay Prize. Her essays have appeared in journals such as Conjunctions, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast and the anthology Marry a Monster. A graduate of the University of Montana's Environmental Studies Program and the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program, she now teaches creative writing at Whitman College. Fear Icons comes out in October 2018. “Carry the Forest Home” is her first published short story.
by Kevin Hatch
by Kevin Hatch
Here is a place where you can breathe; a repurposed theater huddled between a drug store and a factory that makes coat hangers. The marquee can’t be read when it’s dark outside, like it is now, and this isn’t the type of place where you should spend time looking up.
A man outside the drug store calls a parking meter an angel. The streetlights move their bulbs around, dodging human forms. Tapes look like graves through the glass of a video rental store. This is Somewhere, Southern California.
The door to the theater has no knob. There’s a coin slot occupying the space instead. Deposit fifty cents and listen for the mechanism. Trace the quarter-sounds through the flaking wood. The door will eventually open. The inner walls are painted red. There are no windows. The only light comes from a flickering bulb hanging a few feet above a glass case.
This case is filled with flowers. It has brass tubing leading out from the corners, each piece expanding until it opens up like the bell of a trumpet. Look down and read the little golden plate. It says:
YOU ARE LOOKING AT A PERSON
A young girl walks up to reception and slaps down a stack of cash.
“Gimme some of that plaz-dik stuff,” she says. “I wanna be a caterpillar.” The girl’s nose and mouth hang limply from her face. She’s melting.
The receptionist is confused.
“Plaz-dik,” the girl yells, slamming her balled up fists against the counter. “Plaz-dik sugary. Plaz-dik.”
Everyone looks somewhere else.
The receptionist hands her a clipboard.
They don’t do plastic surgery in Here, New Mexico.
The man sitting closest to the receptionist has a gut full of pocket change. He’s doing Garfield crosswords with an orange colored pencil. He holds it in his fist and tightens the muscles on his face, wishing some combination of contortions could drown out the caterpillar girl’s screeching. A television reruns shows about real estate. It’s the most neutral programming available.
Anja sits off to one side of the T.V. The headaches are back. Her skull is filled with angry eels. Tiny people trapped back there with the eels, looking to escape, trying to not be eaten, banging like hell against her eyeballs, stomping on her optic nerves in miniature desperation. She can’t hear what they’re saying but she can feel their breaths tickling the backs of her eyes between throbs. She wishes she could help them, wishes she had the magic lantern on the seat beside her so she could talk to Baby Blue Jesus. She could ask him what was happening to her, to everyone else in this room.
The caterpillar girl’s mouth and nose hit the floor with a damp thud. No more plaz-dik. Coin-gut belches copper breath. Anja’s eyes pop out. Carnations bloom through the holes. The eyes dangle from little licorice ropes. They’re thinner than you’d expect. The carnations tilt upward toward the fluorescents, searching for something sun-like. Anja stands and stumbles toward the reception desk.
This is Anja.
She lights the magic lantern and bends forward to rest her forehead on the lens. Flowers smudge the glass.
“Come and visit.”
Baby Blue Jesus enters through the hole behind her left carnation. There He is. His arms are open.
“What is happening to me?”
Baby Blue Jesus is a fortuneteller that blinks but never prints a ticket. He takes her somewhere deep inside her guts. Her past sits there. It’s a dog tied to a post outside a grocery store. It’s so convinced someone’s coming back. It wags at every human.
Anja remembers standing in a crib, watching her parents force-feeding fruit to an elderly woman. Anja’s mother is trying to keep the woman quiet. The neighborhood is asleep.
“Just give us one easy night,” Anja’s father is saying.
Coin-gut claims Anja. He signs her father’s name on every form. It’s a name he guesses. “Gvozdika,” he says to Anja. “Can you hear me?” He’s sitting in a rolling chair parked against the wall, holding his orange colored pencil like a cigarette. Anja’s on her bed with her forehead resting against a glowing box. It projects a distorted image on her hospital gown.
Doctors and nurses shuffle in and out of the room like blind kittens. They pretend Anja isn’t there. Coin-gut gets the attention of a nurse. “Make sure she isn’t dead,” he says.
The nurse reaches out to check Anja’s pulse. Her fingertips tingle over the gentle rhythm of the flower girl’s blood pumps. An itch emerges below the third layer of skin on the nurse’s index and middle fingers. It turns to burning. Pressure builds, bubbling below the nurse’s ungloved hand, inflating her skin and smoothing out the fingerprints. All of this flesh, ballooning. The nurse sticks the fingers in her mouth to suck the pain away. As she pulls them back out to reexamine the damage, her skin erupts and yellow carnations grow from the holes. She’s leaking blood and puss all over the hospital floor. Now the itching is in her gums, on her tongue. She scrapes the swollen mass against her teeth, praying for relief. Her teeth feel the pressure. Like her jaw’s in a vise. She moves her hands around her face, trying to gauge what’s left.
Her teeth crack and send splinters to the floor with balled up bits of gumflesh. Coin-gut shields himself with his book of crosswords. The nurse is choking, her jaw and hands exploding into blood and flowers. Coin-gut hits the call-nurse button. He clicks off the light in Anja’s box. He’s careful not to touch her or the nurse that’s on the ground coughing up seeds and thick yellow fluid.
“Gvosdika, let us go.”
Deeper in her guts is a house fire. A candle caught a bouquet while the family was outside placing oranges on Grandma’s grave. Anja looks at the house from far out in the woods. It looks like it’s being tickled. The windowshapes laugh like eyes. Baby Blue Jesus is projected on the grave, His features shifting as the fog passes through Him. He is made new in every moisture-clouded moment. Sometimes He looks like a president, or a warrior, or Anja’s father. Other moments He looks like Himself. The fire color makes His image distant.
“Why did you take me back here?” Anja asks.
He is there. His arms are open.
“Why won’t you talk to me?”
He is there, his image flickering in flame rhythms.
She feels the warmth just under her jaw.
There’s a voice melting into the sky from the outside. “Gvosdika, let us go.” But she's kneeling now, in front of Baby Blue Jesus, knees six feet above her grandmother's face.
"You told me you would explain, but all you do is glow." Her fists bloom into flattened hands. She places her palms six feet above her grandmother's cheeks.
Anja thinks about last Christmas, when it seemed like the telephone was always ringing. Her mother would make sure she was in another room before answering. Phrases like it's for the best or just in case were common. Her parents thought they were being sneaky, as if the wrinkles in their faces were written in a language a child could never comprehend, as if she hadn't heard her father's voice through the crack in the door saying things like maybe we need to talk about our options and it's just too much and we never signed up for this.
There is only one video rental store left in Somewhere. Today it is crowded. Joe the Devout is the twenty-sixth person in line. The people around him talk about the videotape that has been circulating through the store for the last few weeks. They laugh and make jokes. Someone further back in line says, "Shit man, I don't know about you, but I think the flower girl is sexy." Joe thinks about punching the pervert in the throat. But then he'd miss his chance to meet her.
He watched the bootleg video on the television that sat on a black cart in the Sunday school room. At first it scared him; the jaundiced young girl sitting up in the bathtub fully clothed, the foreign man's voice asking her questions from behind the camera, the little flickering movements of the red flowers that grew from the girl's eye sockets as she answered in single syllables begging for a wooden box. He could hardly understand the man's voice. The accent was too thick, like sleeptalking through mouthfuls of gauze.
Joe spent that night trying to understand what he had watched. At first it felt like a secret, a little treat he gave himself. Grime settled underneath the pleasure. His eyes became filthy hands. He would never get the images out. They’d roll around in his mind moaning and dripping viscous fluids. He moaned alongside them.
But over time he became comfortable. The man behind the camera wasn't hurting the girl. She didn't seem frightened. So he kept watching. He wore down the tape trying to understand their words. The only things he had been able to understand were the words baby and Jesus.
Joe will get answers today. The flower girl is right here in the last video rental store in Somewhere, sitting on a folding metal chair in the Drama aisle. Joe has a pocket full of questions written on index cards.
When did you meet Jesus is one.
Can I meet him too is another.
Can you heal my leg is in the middle of the stack, wedged between What is your name and Why does a baby's head come out squishy.
The line now wraps around the side of the building. It is almost as long as the one Joe waited in to see the man that could heal. The man that could heal stopped at every arena in the country to tell the people about God. At the end of his sermon he’d invite members of the congregation onstage where he would lay his hands on them so they could walk or see or hear again. Joe had seen it himself, on television. He spent two paychecks on the ticket so he could be near the front. The man who could heal was called Pastor Timothy. He was shorter than Joe expected.
After the message, Pastor Timothy invited the crippled congregants to the stage. Joe was first in line. When he got onstage he towered over the pastor. He answered every question put forth to prepare him for healing. Pastor Timothy kicked the cane out of Joe’s hands and the crowd cheered at every stumbling step. Joe could walk again, limpless. His eyes drooled tears. He praised God and Timothy and the mechanics of the human body.
He walked back to the bus stop, caneless. By the time he reached home he was aching.
Baby Blue Jesus is gone. Anja is alone in what's left of her home. She cradles an orange, "I'm sorry, Baby Blue."
The sky fills with clouds.
They heard there was a funeral happening but they got sidetracked. They let their water loose in disappointment. Little drops land on Anja's skin. It cracks, her pores enlarge, her body blooms. The orange falls from her hands, rolls away. She is too tired to scream.
She falls deeper into her guts, guideless. She lands on a memory somewhere inside her intestines.
Grandma is inserting slides into the magic lantern. The image on the wall shows a man sitting on a chair. His wife is laid out old and dying on the bed beside him. Grandma explains the story:
"Her husband is writing everything down for her," Grandma says. "He wants to make sure he remembers her last words exactly as they are said, so he can spend the rest of his life rereading them. That way he can pretend she is still around."
Grandma adjusts the slide and the wife's soul rises up from her body and through the ceiling while her husband stands, astonished.
"Why does the body stay behind?" Anja asks.
"The spirit gets tired easily," Grandma says. "And the body is too heavy."
Grandma changes out the slide.
"This is what the wife sees," she continues. Jesus is projected on the wall. "His arms are open. He's been waiting for her all her life, and now here she is.
He is the color of sky.
Joe the Devout is given specific instructions to place a quarter on the foreign man's tongue. Then he can see the flower girl. Joe pretends he is administering communion. Coin-gut swallows.
"Five minutes with Great Gvosdika," he says. "No touch." Joe recognizes the voice from the videotape. For some reason when he imagined the voice's owner he didn't picture a human.
Joe approaches the flower girl. She's changed since the video was filmed. The flowers aren't just coming out of her eyes. Her arms and hands are covered in red and pink carnations. Her cheeks are made invisible by petals. Stems thread themselves around strands of her hair. He examines his index cards.
"When did you meet Jesus?" Joe asks.
"Gvosdika hears nothing," Coin-gut says, pointing to the girl's ears.
Joe moves closer to investigate. The flower girl's ears are dripping dark blood. A garden suffocates the tiny bones deeper within. The girl opens her mouth. Little gasps escape her throat. Her tongue is covered in little blossoms.
The index cards fall from Joe’s hands.
Her breath smells like spring.
Joe takes the flower girl’s hand and places it against his forehead. Something tickles behind his skin. It grows and wraps roots around his brain.
Kevin Hatch lives in California where he rehabilitates neglected stuffed animals at the Pacific branch of the Stuffed Animal Sanctuary. Find him at kevinhatchwrites.wordpress.com
These four stories suggest a strange world exists just beyond the forest, right under your skin. A world both bright and dark, flowering and furred, inviting and sinister all the same. There are scars and fires and deserts and blooming eyes and forests and snow and birth and rabbits, and something that will continue thrumming inside of you.
Thanks, always, for reading,
CB & LP