Categories
Issue III Poetry

[GRETA HAYER]

Exposure

Inside of me, there
is hair, wound up and balled
And knotted tight.
It is the thing that fills me, makes my stomach soft.
It tickles against the underside of my skin when I laugh or cry.

Once I pulled out a hair from my eye.
I thought it was an eyelash, but it kept coming and coming.
I cut it off and tucked it back beneath my lid.
I barely feel it anymore.

I tell you this story
And you seem to listen
But you see a hair on my belly, poking through my skin.
It is still wet from my insides
Dark and thick as thread.
You pinch it between your fingers and pull.

I unravel quickly.
I deflate.
The hair pulls tight around my vocal chords
So I cannot even tell you to stop.
You don’t realize what you are doing.
It is just so fun to discover!

[about]

Greta Hayer received her MFA at the University of New Orleans and has work appearing or forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Booth, Maudlin House, Cossmass Infinites, and Flint Hills Review. She received a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of Wooster, where she studied fairy tales and medieval medicine. Her column, “In Search of the Dream World,” can be found at Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and their two alien cats.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[ANDRE F. PELTIER]

Injuries in Time and Space #3

One time,
playing at school,
I was young and
invincible.
There was a wasps’ nest
in the railroad ties
that terraced the grounds
creating a border garden
around the swings, monkey-bars,
teeter totters.
I stuck a stick
in their doorway;
they swarmed.
That morning at mass,
Mike turned and said,
“Your face is so big!”
Sister Mary Ann
dragged my stupid ass
to the office;
I was whisked to the ER.
Seventeen stingers
in neck and face.
Sometimes we learn
our modest
vulnerabilities early;
other times
we don’t learn
them at all.

[about]

Andre F. Peltier is a Lecturer III at Eastern Michigan University where he teaches literature and writing. He lives in Ypsilanti, MI, with his wife and children. His poetry has recently appeared in various publications like CP Quarterly, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Version 9 Magazine, About Place, Novus Review, Wingless Dreamer, and Fahmidan Journal, and most recently he has had a poem accepted by Lavender and Lime Literary. He has also published and presented papers at international conferences like AThe International Conference on Narrative, MMLA, Midwest PCA/ACA, and the Mid-Atlantic PCA/ACA relating to history, society, and politics as they interact with comic books. In his free time, he obsesses over soccer and comic books.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[DAMIEN POSTERINO]

This is no holiday

She hated her mother so joined a cult.
Just turned up one day in her thirties
and told us she had seen the light;
Be praised! No more holidays, birthdays
and no blood from another.
It reminded me of the day a heron swooped
into the garden and ate all the goldfish in the pond.
Within a few years her black hair turned white
like my mother’s Avon night cream;
I wondered if she was morphing into a ghost.

Her son and daughter,
bloated like pufferfish
and dressed in black
would sit on wooden chairs
devouring the good book.
Her husband only conversed to us drunk,
slurred the same question three times
then stumbled into suburbia to sleep it off.

I looked into her eyes
when she was talking about her rebirth-
I could see a small girl
inside those deep green pools .
She told me that she follows god’s law now.

[about]

Damien Posterino (he/him) is a Melbourne born poet in London. His poetry explores themes of characters, commentary and capturing moments in time. He has been published in recent editions of Fiery Scribe Review, Neuro Logical, Analogies & Allegories Literary Magazine, Abergavenny Small Press, BOMBFIRE, Jupiter Review, Fairy Piece Magazine, Poetic Sun Journal, Green Ink Poetry, Zero Readers and Melbourne Culture Corner. More are due to be published until January 2022. You can find him on Twitter at twitter.com/damienposterino

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[ALEXANDRA ARADAS]

K.F.C.

when i was eleven we got eight chickens.
cloud was my favorite, with only white feathers
in a year majority of them were killed
a lethal team—raccoon and possum
one morning before school my brother and i
had to let them out of the coop
the chicken wire was torn into and
we found one of my beloved birds
with its head torn right off. all i remember
is blood and feathers—my brother cried a lot.
my father shot the possum in our backyard
i sat with my mom in the living room
as she held my hand waiting for the gun shot
signifying the end to an animal’s life.
the racoon was next. i pitched a fit
we can't i said, it has a heart i said, a family i said.
so we put it in a cage. and my father—supposedly
took it away. five years later i found a picture
i had taken of the raccoon trapped in its cage
with nowhere to go. i felt bad, my family
seeing the creature as a monster
it killed my chickens—clawed their skin open
leaving nothing but feathers to clean up.
yet i wanted it to be my pet. i wanted to protect it.
change its instincts, my young mind not understanding
leave it alone. still trying to learn that some things
are just dangerous. the beginning of my toxic affection,
wanting to protect and care for
those who don't deserve it.

[about]

Alexandra Aradas a rising senior in the creative writing program at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. They enjoy exercising, rambling about Taylor Swift, collecting incense, being with their pets, watching Studio Ghibli/horror, and putting up Halloween decorations. They’re a poll worker and have previously written for Luxe Kurves Magazine as a Politics Contributor. Their artwork and photography have previously been put on display and won awards. They’ve been published in their former high school, Northwestern’s, literary magazine and received an honorable mention in the 2021 Ringling College “Storytellers of Tomorrow” Contest. In the summer of 2021, they were named Rock Hill’s Youth Poet Laureate and the first for South Carolina. Through this role, they’ve organized library tours that are associated with a branch of activism. For their main initiative, they’re planning and hosting a body positivity fashion show where each model will have a poem read for them that incorporates self-love.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[ZOE REAY-ELLERS]

Text Messages Sent from Traverse City to Hong Kong

Delivered 2:18 AM, EST

 |Sometimes the distance burrows
 |into my top-left-rib
 |because I can’t stop
<thinking

 |about seeing your fingers
 |splayed around a cup
 |of tea, fingernails
<bitten, maybe

 |jagged little half-moons
 |hung, weeping
 |at a hot mug, fingerprints
<molding back

  |into place
  |after quickly tapping
  |once. twice you told me
<that piano was an art:

  |ivories stretching
  |from week to week
  |but I play organ, riffing
<on appendixes
 
  |and appendices. ACGT,
  |TGCA, thread my paper
  |cuts above the space in-
<between, spacebar,

  |where’s my space-
  |suit, I want to steal
  |your crescents. Too
<bad, too far, you

  |and your ten slivers,
  |silvers, slip-up? I can’t
  |even scuba
<dive, deep-dive

  |into what-ifs, wikipedia instead
  |because sometimes I wonder
  |if time-travelers
<can be trusted, time-

  |zones, trains. twelve hours
  |behind, I’m tired
  |of being
<late, last place

  |is for losers,
  |am I losing
  |you? Here: critical failure
<turned fool
  
  |or massy mess
  |or messy mass
  |don’t go, going, gone
<this isn’t grand

  |piano this isn’t
  |perfect. Please
  |listen, I want to hear
<your voice.

[about]

Zoe Reay-Ellers is a 17 year old writer from Washington State. She edits for a host of literary magazines, and her work has appeared in a number of different places, including The Blue Marble Review and The Eunoia Review.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[JACK REID]

Birdman

Naked, you lay
in the kitchen floor’s crater,
your body spread

like a map: clusters
of black chicken feathers.
duct tape. and papier-mâché.

Shrapnel
crackles in the mouth:
“better. we can do it. fly higher”

and yet, I peel away
skin upon skin of hardened wing
to reveal

your back
swelling its bruise patterns: blue
as murdered birds. Icarus,

the unreachable wounds.

[about]

Jack Reid resides in Waterford where he currently studies English and Theatre at the local Institute of Technology. He began writing as a teenager and has remained dedicated to his craft ever since. His work often uses myth and legend to explore issues of identity, alienation, and strained relationships. Previous publications include celestite poetry.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[MAGGIE PETRELLA

soft

you’ve got the kind of heart
i could settle down in.
i don’t know why i said that.
i mean, really cozy into and let
myself be wrapped up in.

it takes a special kind of person
to get me to fold myself up into
a paper-pebble love note and tuck myself
into your breast pocket.

you’ve got a snowfall voice,
in that everything sounds gentler when
you’re saying it.

you soft thing. i don’t
know how to tell you
that when i wake in the middle of the night,
i put my hand on your chest
— just to check.

harbors

for baltimore

when i left home, i blinked fast.
i fought hard against the heart of it –
the churning, tugging, sinking.
i set myself in motion again and again,
woke up along new waters so often that waking felt unfamiliar
in familiar yards.

i loved my city and i know she loved me. back then,
she greeted me each morning with sweet
far-below beeps and golden arms
reaching to meet me. we tangled
in sheets of snow, rose each day together,
hummed harmonies effortlessly.

i’m stubborn in my chest now,
call this leathery shell home like the tortoise calls
his own. a bit of an echoey hull.
trudging along yet another foreign terrain of potholes
and gazing blindly across new garbaged harbors,
indifferent. i can make anywhere feel like home.

this city feels like a stretch. she reaches in every direction
away from me. the harbor cannot stop the city
from bending out over it, the highway from crawling
underneath. she’s nearly unstoppable. tenacious,
scrappy. she has a stubborn chest like me. she knows
how to dig her feet into the mud.

and i, foolish i, i thought i left my lungs
back in buffalo. never to feel rest again.
i should have guessed that this earnest body
would make a fool of me. i thought myself unanchorable
but god – i fall in love so easy.
i can make anywhere home.

[about]

Maggie Petrella (she/her) is a Buffalonian poet based in Baltimore, MD. Her work has appeared in Back Patio Press, Dwelling Literary, Variety Pack, Southchild Lit, and others. She is online at maggiepetrella.com or on Twitter @maggie_425.

Categories
Issue III Poetry

[LILA DUBOIS]

Quedo Blvd.

The boys in my
neighborhood
like to pick oranges
from trees in
their front yards
they throw them as
boys would
and boys do
and the oranges explode in
spectacular fashion
just the way
you’d expect
they would
and do
Glorious creamsicle pulp
flings through the air like
dynamite
or actually
maybe
like
moth wings
held up to dusk
because near dusk
makes kaleidoscopes
of pulp
so like moth wings
if moth wings
were oranges that grow on
streets without
sidewalks
with
yellow lawns
like wheat blonde hair
like my sister’s hair
and inflated plastic pools
of boys
who leap out
sopping of
hose-water cool to
throw oranges
and watch them explode
They’re sweet
7 or 8
but they could be 17
or 18
too, rattling
by with their friends
always
Pruis the color of pantyhose
that
can’t reach
85
suckling pens
pineapple
like veterans
suck cigars
laughing
always
with the reckless wreckage
of being 17
or 18
and knowing
sweet nothing
popping oranges beneath
tires
incidentally
for sopping boys
high-fiving
so awesome
wide-eyed at the future
which rattles off
again
as Priuses would
and Priuses do
always
The streets are left
plastered with ivory
rind
smashed so deep
into the
crags
the whole scene
will smell like heaven
for days
Then the sun falls
as suns
would
and
do,
incidentally,
behind the houses and the
freeways and the
lawns
till telephone wires hang
loose against a
purpling sky
always
purple
and never quite
black
or starry
its the San Fernando Valley
where
violet air and oranges
simmer into the blacktop
at the end of the day
like milk into a paper napkin
or like
stain glass
in a
melting church
boys run home with
citrus underneath their
fingernails
and
we all know its impossible
to be unhappy
falling asleep
with
citrus
smelling
fingers

[about]

Lila Dubois is an 19 year old waitress, musician, and student at the University of Pennsylvania who writes to explore the kaleidoscope of humanity in the seemingly mundane of everyday life (and also, for her own personal sanity). Her writing has been featured in various journals and recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards; her music can be found on all streaming services. She works out of Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Categories
Issue III Nonfiction

[ADAM CHABOT]

Rearview Mirror

I remember the gold bangle, its ovular ends clinging to her tanned, aged-spotted wrist. Around her neck dangled an opulent display of gold and silver chains, perhaps the gaudy byproducts of a retirement slush fund, years of frugality or hard work manifesting in strange hauteur. In her left hand, she clutched a plastic cup sloshing with Diet Coke. 

A firm voice: “Hi. Do you mind? Yeah?” she said. 

She wore a maroon corduroy blazer with angular shoulder pads draped over a black turtleneck Her short artificially dark hair gelled into an undercut pixie made her face look smaller, her chin pointed and prominent, and her cheeks, eyes, and forehead smoother, everything delicately accentuated by calculated applications of beige eyeshadow and rosy blush. 

My four-year-old son, Oscar, and I were seated in a hard-plastic booth at the McDonald’s in Farmington, Maine—it was a father-son day where I let him pick our lunch destination—when this woman strode to us, her footfalls slapping the gray quarry tile. 

“I just have to…” she said, stopping at our table. Then with her free hand, she spread her fingers like claws, reached toward my son, and coursed her fingers through his hair.  

“My… This boy could make you a lot of money,” she said, wide-eyed, incredulous. She believed this revelation of hers could change our lives. 

--- 

Later, my wife was mortified when I told her what happened. 

“You let her touch his hair?” she said. “She’s probably some sort of child sex slave groomer or something.” 

“A child sex slave groomer?” 

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“What was I supposed to do?” 

--- 

Knuckle-deep into my son’s hair, the woman stopped and made an “oh” sound like someone pleased by the turn of a well-crafted poem. Her gold bangle combed the top of Oscar’s head, her ringed fingers hooked strands of hair like dead leaves tangled in a rake. I didn’t know what to do. The woman’s insistence, appearance, her weighty approach suggested a rationale, an ethos behind her violated public etiquette. But, Oscar’s always been a ham: he smiles at everyone, fearless in his childhood naivete. Maybe this woman was just too friendly, anachronistically benevolent to a young boy out to lunch with his father. 

Oscar looked at me undeterred by this woman encroaching on his lunch. To this day, he has never brought it up, never inquired, and by now, he’s likely forgotten the whole experience. 

“Have you considered getting him into show business? TV? Commercials?” These questions must have been rhetorical. She guffawed in disbelief when I replied with a basic “no.”  

“For photos, does he sit well? Take direction? Smile on cue?” she added, releasing her fingers.  

I actually could have answered those questions: “absolutely.” Oscar is very photogenic. My mother has added photos of Oscar in droves to her many overstuffed commemorative photo albums dating back to my infancy. Each book is a collage of elementary school programs, Little League rosters, images from Halloweens, birthday parties, and Thanksgivings, secondhand memories kept alive by a parent who sees value in everything. Even now, she would regale anyone with stories from my childhood as she recalled them. I never have my own memory of the stories, so over the years, I’ve remembered her smile, the way her voice wavers during the story’s exposition or its rises during the climax, her arms gesticulating, flailing with each new phrase. She loved reflecting on her days of wagoning my brother and me as three-year-olds down Main Street in Gorham, New Hampshire where we grew up, a small town where she could relish in a proximal, micro-celebrity status: the mother of twins born on different days. I don’t remember these wagon rides, but I can imagine my mother. The pride. Who wouldn’t want that attention? 

“You boys were something,” my mother once said. “Everyone said so. Everyone knew you guys.”  

Oscar scratched his head while clutching a French fry. This time, the woman waited for my reply, expectant. I said something but I can’t remember what. I know it wasn’t the truth. 

“The boy’s a gold mine. You’d be crazy not to do something.”  

And then she left. The cashier announced an order for a Big Mac. Someone was filling a cup with ice. 

The woman’s claims meant nothing but they existed, audible inside a rural McDonald’s and lingering in my mind like a distant train horn, a story I would tell without a conclusion. On the car ride home, Oscar fell asleep. In the rearview mirror, I could see the top of his head bouncing with each bump of Route 41. I called my mother without a real agenda, just to talk, perhaps for advice, but she didn’t answer.

[about]

Adam Chabot is the English Department Chair at Kents Hill School, a private, independent high school located in central Maine. He has other work forthcoming or recently featured in rough diamond poetry, FEED, The Red Lemon Review, Moss Puppy Magazine, and Windows Facing Windows Review, among others. He can be found on Twitter @adam_chabot.

Categories
Fiction Issue III

[COREY DAVIS]

Go Forth, Christian Soldier

The first night, Drew comes home on foot at a quarter past three. Calvin and Madeline Dunn awaken to the sound of their son’s key in the front door, the security alarm chiming its thirty-second warning and then silencing at the competent touch of his fingertips on the keypad. For a split second, Madeline feels a surge of joy, of special pride.  

Unlike the other college-age children of the ladies in her Bible study and her garden club and her walking group, Drew hardly ever visits for anything less than a major holiday, and, even then, he is home for a day of festivities and gone the next, and, even then, he never drops in unannounced, he never surprises his parents. His brother Ben is the same, firmly rooted now in Sacramento, job-secure, married, raising Cal and Madeline’s first grandchild. The Dunn boys are lovers of independence, young men smitten with the lives they have built for themselves with their own two hands. So, for that initial split second, Madeline finds herself brimming with unmitigated delight.  

He drove there straight from Nashville, Drew says as he sits on the edge of the couch in the living room, his head in his hands, his knee bouncing frenetically. He left his car in a field on a backroad outside of town and walked the rest of the way home. He is scared, he says. He is sorry, he says. He tells it in that order: fear, then regret. As his trembling voice forms these words, Madeline sees a sudden vision of the past, of a little boy padding into she and Cal’s dark bedroom, reeling from a nightmare, tearfully penitent for asking once again if he can burrow under the covers between them and know peace.  

“Son, what on earth are you talking about?” Cal asks him, glancing with terror-wide eyes at Madeline. She meets them, feeling as if she is in a strikingly realistic veneer of a dream.

Drew swallows hard. He speaks a name in a whisper, “Hallie.”  

Hallie: his girlfriend coming up on a year now. Madeline has met her twice—once during Family Weekend on campus, once at Thanksgiving brunch in that very house. Hallie: a dark haired girl with slender, balletic limbs and a softly-twanging voice, a pre-law student to Drew’s artistic focuses. They were on a hike or a picnic or a canoeing trip—Madeline suddenly cannot register which her son says it is—in the state park near the university. Something happened. There was a comment, an insult hurled. There was an argument. There was a shove, a glancing blow. There was a struggle. Something happened. Something happened.  

A short while later, Cal and Madeline are leading their son up the attic steps. They are clearing space amongst the storage bins to make a pallet of blankets and pillows for him on the plywood floor.  

“Thank God it’s not summer,” Drew says, chuckling a bit, as he watches them. “Or it’d feel like a furnace up here.” 

An impulse that Madeline doesn’t understand jolts through her, and she suddenly wants to slap him, she wants to strike her child. Instead, her gaze bores into the shadows muddling the corners of the attic. Her gaze bores into the plastic tubs that hold the baby clothes of this boy here and his brother before him. 

“You get some rest now,” Cal says to Drew. “It’s all going to be okay. . . it’ll all be okay.” Madeline does the unthinkable when they return to their bedroom. She grabs her phone and checks the news. She scans for her son’s name. Nothing comes up. Drew isn’t yet a suspect. Hallie hasn’t yet been declared missing. The world is still ignorant of it all. For the rest of the night, she and Cal sit up in bed and stare in silence at the curtains faintly glowing in the moonlight. Then Cal begins to mumble his thoughts to her in a nervous, hungry voice. They have two days, he wagers. Maybe three. Drew said the place where it happened—the place where he left her—was deep into the park, but he hadn’t been sure how deep. When the police find his dorm room empty, the next place they will look is this house, Cal says. That’s why they need to act fast, to plan quickly and thoroughly. Does Madeline remember the cabin Cal’s father left him in the Davis Mountains, near the Mexican border? Does Madeline remember Cal’s old half-junked VW Jetta idling in the lot across town? If he pays his buddy Gary—the mechanic, Madeline, remember?—to work out the engine’s kinks, then it could run good as new again, it could run all the way to Texas and beyond.  

Then Cal whispers, “Where are you going?”  

Madeline doesn’t look at him as she shoves her feet into her slippers and thrusts her arms into her bathrobe sleeves. “Backyard. I need some air.” 

He lurches halfway out of bed. “Let me come with you.” 

“I just need a minute, Cal.”  

The razor edge on her voice makes him falter, and she hears his soft, paranoid call trail down the stairs after her: “Well, come right back in, okay?”  

On her way through the dark stagnant house, Madeline detours into the dining room, swipes one of the cloth napkins from its place setting, and slips it out of its decorative ring. Then she steps out onto the back patio. The cold night air, the wind testing the bare trees, the muffled roar of semis skating the distant freeway—it all accuses. 

I am his mother, she thinks. But is this her plea for mercy or her means of justification? Abruptly, she clamps the napkin over her face and stuffs it in her mouth, wailing. She does not know whose death she is crying for.

The next day exists in a stupor. After only a few hours of transfigured life, there is a routine in place that has already grown mindless: Cal and Madeline bring up food to the attic, they bring up water or coffee or cans of Coke, they bring down the bucket Drew uses as a toilet, they bring it back up empty and freshly cleaned. 
In between these tasks, Madeline can barely move herself to stand from the couch. But Cal cannot bring himself to stay still. He calls Gary, offers him a generous sum to expedite the Jetta fix-up under the guise that he needs it ready before the weekend so he can enter it in a car show. Gary informs him that it will still take at least a day or more to obtain the correct parts. Meanwhile, Cal takes Drew’s cell phone into the garage and smashes it with a hammer. Just to be safe, he smashes Drew’s smartwatch as well. He kicks both compromised devices into a storm drain on his afternoon walk through the neighborhood.  

The thought of action makes Madeline feel lightheaded, so that, when she climbs the attic stairs and sees her boy’s face rise up from his pillow, sees the glare of his glasses and the tousled spikes of his hair, she finds herself almost breathless at his smallness. He is so childlike that it hurts her bones. Then she blinks, and his familiar bedhead resembles a bramble of thorns, the matted fur of a wild animal. All of a sudden, his bright smile is a cave to her, his teeth stalagmites.  

How could he have done this in anger? she thinks. He is so gentle. He is so sensible. Still, despite her confusion, she cannot help but feel relieved. Anger: it was all just an accident, an unforeseen rupture of emotion and control. That’s what he said anyway, the night before: I didn’t mean to do it, I didn’t mean to do it, over and over again. And as they held his shaking body on the couch, she and Cal answered: We know, we know. Over and over again, like the response in a litany.  

Anger. A better sin than malice. A better sin than premeditation. But lying? Deception? Is this a better sin than the admission of an unforgivable truth? 

Drew says, “Thank you, Mom,” when she hands him his dinner on a tray. He does not say, “I took Hallie out there to kill her.” He does not say, “I liked killing her.” He does not say, “If you tell the police, I will kill you too,” although an intrusive voice in Madeline’s head reminds her that he could, that any previously inconceivable violence is now freely capable of coming out of his mouth. 

That night, Cal takes a sleeping pill. He offers one to Madeline but she waves him away. “I’m going to ask Drew if he wants one,” he says lowly, as if ashamed, and leaves their bedroom. A few hours later, while he snores beside her, Madeline gets out of bed. She takes the napkin from the dining room table with her again and cups it under her chin on the back patio, as if to catch an impending flood of words or vomit or blood. She thinks of Hallie—her limbs twisted, her hair tangled with mud, the skin of her throat or her chest or her stomach bruised with Drew’s fingerprints—and this makes her stomach lurch. She thinks of Ben, if she should call him in secret, confide in him or confess to him, beg him to come home. But even if she does, she knows that Drew will probably already be gone by the time he arrives. And she and Cal have not yet allowed themselves to voice the underlying truth of Drew’s coming departure: that if he runs and makes it, if he succeeds, they will never see their son again.  

Madeline balls the napkin into her mouth to scream and then immediately stops. There is a light at the fence to her left, not ten feet away from the patio. She almost mistakes it for a firefly, a rogue survivor of the winter out for some night air. Then the light fluctuates tellingly, dimming and intensifying again as it is pursed between wine-red lips. There is a woman smoking a cigarette against the fence, her trench coat arms spread out to either side of her, resting along the top of the white pickets. She’s out there in the dark, but Madeline can see in the faint moonlight that she is tall, rail-thin, and dressed in business-casual attire, as if Madeline’s backyard is simply a resting spot on the woman’s walk home from working late at the office or having a drink with her colleagues at the bar down the street.  

Madeline lowers the napkin from her face, hurries to the light switch by the patio doors, and flicks on the spotlights affixed to the roof at either end of the house. The woman neither winces nor moans at the sudden brightness; she isn’t drunk. Her hair is dark, Madeline can see now, and it’s arranged in a billowy yet disheveled updo. Her eyes have dull purple circles underneath them; she is tired. 

So am I, Madeline thinks, and even smiles a little. Tired women attract tired women. We must be homing devices for each other’s weariness.  

The woman watches Madeline watch her before taking another drag of her cigarette. “You, uh, you pray out here in the dark?” She blows smoke against the sky and shrugs. “Private. Quiet. Seems like a good place to do the deed.” 

Madeline doesn’t tell the woman that she has prayed every single moment of that day, that she prays in her eyelids when she blinks, she breathes in prayers and then breathes them back out in short panicked bursts, she swallows them gummy and tasteless so they can sink like stones in her stomach. Without words and without voice, she asks for things of which she has no comprehension. She asks for things which are not human and which can never be.  

The woman jerks her chin up at the house, at the shingles on the roof. “You know what you’re going to do?” 

Glaring at her, Madeline wrings the napkin with both hands until the very fibers must be crying out for mercy. I will steal the world’s forgiveness and heap it upon his head. I will wash him white as snow myself. I will help him to live. I will let him go.

“Honey, I didn’t ask what you want to do, I asked what you’re going to do.” The woman crosses one ankle over the other, her stylish black trousers rustling. “What you’re really going to do.”  

Before she knows it, Madeline has stepped off the patio and is charging through the dew moist grass toward the woman, clutching the napkin in her fist like the handle of a whip. The woman appears to be unconcerned. All she says is, “I’m not here to cause you pain.”  

It makes Madeline stop. She can feel her heart booming, and she can see her breath vacating rapidly into the cold. There is a chance that she will break down in front of this woman, this stranger. The threads of her composure are threatening to unravel.  

“Go ahead, sin,” the woman says. 

Madeline stares, mouth agape, prayers leaking out. 

“Forsake your child.” The woman takes a drag. “Do it.” The night is terribly silent in her pauses. “Permission granted, if that’s what you need. Sin.”  

Madeline closes her mouth and contorts her face into a snarl. “Get out of my yard,” she says, then stalks back to the patio, turns off the spotlights, and goes inside the house. 

The next evening, Hallie’s picture is on the news. There is live footage: a shady, leaf covered grove; a forest backdrop against which a reporter’s voiceover recounts information; a shot of the entrance to the state park and a mess of police vehicles, like toy cars abandoned by a toddler in a sudden stroke of boredom. 

Up in the attic, Drew’s face fills with fear for the first time since the night he came home. “They found the body,” Cal tells him in a short, gruff voice, and Madeline wonders why he does not say, “Hallie’s body,” or “her body.”

“Then we gotta go now,” Drew says, crouching under the low ceiling, folding up his pallet with a wild urgency.  

Not us, Madeline thinks before she can stop herself. Just you. But, still, it’s been us this whole time, hasn’t it?  

Gary dropped the Jetta off that afternoon, not even three hours before, and Drew leaves for Texas in it under the cover of night. Calvin and Madeline do not stand in the driveway and wave. They do not even watch from the window. They turn off all the lights in the house and sit beside each other on the couch, stock-still, unable to bear even accidentally touching knees. 

“They’ll come tomorrow morning, you know,” Cal says. Madeline supposes he might as well have said, “The world will end tomorrow morning, you know.” 
At seven A.M., they let the police into their home. Outside, the sun is high and burning like ice. A cordon has been erected around their front yard. Officers in uniform idle in their driveway while news vans and media personnel and curious neighbors crowd in the street beyond the police tape.  

Mr. and Mrs. Dunn, do you have any idea where your son Drew might be? 

No, they both agreed to say the night before. They have not seen him. He has not been home since the start of the semester, and they have not received a phone call or text from him since the past weekend.  

Are you both aware of what has happened to Hallie Clemmons?  

Through her own mask of numbness, Madeline hears Cal feign ignorance: “Oh my goodness, no—oh my goodness—are you sure it’s her? I can’t believe this . . . I can’t—wait, you don’t think Drew had anything to do with it, do you?” 

The police ask to search the house, and Cal acquiesces. Every square inch of the attic has been sanitized anyway, purged of any trace of their son. They spent the whole night cleaning and burying and burning, and Madeline is so exhausted that her hands are tremoring, although the police seem to mistake this for shock. 
She remains in the living room while two policemen follow Cal upstairs. A female officer stays behind, and Madeline can feel her hovering nearby. Sunlight trickles in through the curtains, and it looks so beautiful, so heavenly, that she almost forgets to breathe. 

“Mrs. Dunn, you don’t look well,” the female officer says. “Do you need some water?” Blindly, Madeline feels for the officer’s hand, grips it, and pulls her toward the kitchen herself. “Do you have any children?” she wants to ask, but she cannot speak. Please God, are you the mother of anyone? Are you the mother?  

She guides the officer to the back of the kitchen, to the computer desk where the junk mail is piled. There is a map tacked to the wall above it, colorful pins marking vacation spots and road-trip destinations reached. Madeline hears the softened footsteps of her husband and the two policemen wandering the bedroom above. She feels liquid running down her face, so she must be crying.  

The officer says something, but Madeline doesn’t register it. Her unsteady hand traces the veins of the map westward and then down to a browned bruise, an aberration on the smooth topography of the earth. 

She is on her knees now, and she feels the officer’s calloused palm cradle her cheek, and she knows that she is both the servant and the traitor, and she understands that she is not crying, she is bleeding. 

[about]

Corey Davis is a young, emerging writer from Jackson, Mississippi, and an honors graduate of the University of Mississippi, where her fiction work won the Ella Somerville Award and the Evans Harrington Creative Writing Scholarship. Her fiction and poetry have also appeared in Goat’s Milk, MudRoom, Brave Voices, and more.