Things Will Never Be the Same by Chelsea Harris

Im eating breakfast at the kitchen counter when he comes in and says, Youre pregnant.”  He sets down a pregnancy test and I pick it up like its a slice of toast and I bring it into the bathroom and shut the door. It is negative. I splash water on my cheeks and I come out and I say, Oh my god, were having a baby, in my best surprised voice. I know, he says. I already bought a crib online.I watch his body move as he turns and opens the door. It is stiff. As stiff as the door. I go to the window and look out and I see him out in the yard. I see him digging a hole next to our failed attempt at a vegetable garden with a toy shovel that he stole from the turtle-shaped sandbox next door, and he is sweating.

When he comes back in Im asleep on the couch and he shakes me awake and he says Get dressed, were going to the hospital. You need to get an abortion. I just met with a banker and there is no way we can cover the costs of having a child.He is right. Were living in a studio apartment and our dishwasher is broken and our shower takes twenty minutes to heat up and I havent bought a new pair of shoes in a year and a half and he works at a call center and I take online surveys and I dont know the first thing about  properly installing a car seat and we dont even have a car. We go to the ER and he calmly explains our situation to the receptionist. I watch the stripes on the back of his shirt zig and zag as he speaks, like theyre dancing. She shakes her head and tells him to take a seat. I think she tells him to get out instead but I dont argue with what he says, I never do. It is easier that way. There is a lifetime movie about a couple who is about to have a baby playing on the TV in the corner. Except they have a two bedroom house and an SUV and a family who throws them a baby shower at a venue on the ocean, and there are little storks with blue and pink ribbons tied around their necks strung up everywhere, and a cake shaped like a baby stroller, and not one person has a pimple. I sink back into the chair and I pick up a brochure about Hand-Foot-and-Mouth disease and I only make it through the first panel when he tugs my arm and tells me that we have to go.

When we get home I notice a mound of dirt next to the hole he was digging earlier and he says, The baby has died.He says, We must bury it.He says, I will call a priest.I say, But you dont know any priests. And I am right, he doesnt. Weve never even been to church. He grabs his messenger bag off the chair by the door and he leaves. He doesnt come back for a very long time.

Weve been together since that time I was a taxi driver and I was driving him to his friend’s place on the west side of town and I never stopped. He said, You missed the turn.He said, I could be a murderer you know. I could be a rapist. I could be a psychopath.I said, That might be nice, Ive never met any of those kinds of people before. What do you think murderers eat for breakfast? Do you think they buy scratch tickets? Do you think they go to fairs? Do you think they like cotton candy? He said, I know where we can go.He said, Pull over and let me drive.And I did. And he took me to a dead end an hour away. And at that dead end he crawled into the backseat with me and he kissed me harder than anybody had ever kissed me and he said, You taste like melancholy which is also kind of like stale chocolateand he said, Take off your shirt I want to see your breasts in the moonlightand he said, Your nipples are as sharp as thumbtacksand then he fucked me and I fell asleep and when I woke up in the morning he was on top of me looking down at me and he said, Dont worry, and he held my face like I was the smallest thing in the world, like he just discovered me. Like I was always his.

I fall onto the couch and turn on the TV. The lifetime movie about the pregnant couple is still on. Theyre in the hospital and theyre about to have the baby and the woman isnt even sweating. Theyre wheeling her to her room and the man is by her side and hes rubbing her neck and she is smiling and holding her tummy and every time she passes someone they say Good luck! or You get em girl! or they give her a really exaggerated high five and I think, is this a football game or a maternity ward? I think, boy, this is the happiest hospital Ive ever seen. I think, is everyone getting paid extra to be this nice? And then I remember that this is a movie and they are just actors and I bet in real life this woman wanted to walk the red carpet but she was only good enough for the lifetime network and then I feel bad for her.Theyre in the room now and the woman is in the bed and her family is there and theyre holding balloons and one of them has a six-pack of cupcakes and all of them are radiating happiness. Like this is a game show and they all won six million dollars and four corvettes and a jet-ski and theyll never have to worry about paying their electricity bill again. Sometimes I think I want this. Sometimes I want this life with the Coach wallets full of cash and the Ferraris and a husband who works 9-5 Monday through Friday and on the weekends takes me and the kids out for ice cream, or to the beach, or on a vacation in the Alps because he can. Sometimes I want it. But then I remember that that life takes choices, takes decisions, and I think that this is easier. Being with him, here. Watching these other lives when I feel like I might want them, just to get a taste. Just to convince me I dont.  

He comes home and I am standing at the stove making a grilled cheese and he says, Pack your things. Were moving.I turn off the stove and open the fridge and begin throwing food into the trash can across the kitchen like its a game. He says, Dont you want to know why?I shrug. It doesnt really interest me. He says, The neighbors.He moves closer to me and he says, The neighbors know about the baby.He puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, I killed the baby.I try to look surprised but not too surprised, I dont want to give him the wrong impression, I dont want to freak him out. I put down the carton of eggs Im holding and I stand up with his hand balancing on my shoulder like a parrot and I cup his cheeks between my hands and I can feel them oozing through my fingers and his eyes are saying things that Im pretending not to see and I kiss the tip of his nose and I say, in my best soothing voice, I say, Dont worry.

————
Chelsea Harris received the Follet Graduate Merit Award to attend Columbia College Chicago, and received her MFA from the Department of Creative Writing. Chelsea was named to Glimmer Trains top 25 list for their Very Short Fiction Award and has had work published in Cigale Literary Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Habitat Magazine, and is forthcoming in Quaint Magazine. She is also the editorial assistant and event coordinator at Fifth Wednesday Journal.

Pornography’s Lesson | Anna Coppola

I was walking up my driveway on a frigid Friday night when I received a cryptic text from a good friend. I slid my phone open with gloved mitts and read the message:

I’m at the Ritz Carlton in Manhattan. Text me in the morning.

The words confused and concerned me, but I took the notice at face value. I knew Kate tended to make decisions on a whim. I would learn later on that she had made plans to meet a young German tourist at his hotel after they had gotten acquainted at a club in Brooklyn. But as they settled into his room and began hooking up, Kate felt uneasy. She shot me a text as Tobias stepped away from the bed to grab a condom. It comforted her to know someone would be checking her whereabouts the next morning. Continue reading “Pornography’s Lesson | Anna Coppola”

The Mythologies of Mother | Jai Hamid Bashir

In your living room, a sacred ordered space where everything has history in placement, I found an atlas. It was arranged next to the plate of cut apples and figs left by my Father. Ringing around the edge of the plate’s pattern, in the way you told me Lilith must have had curls sewing down to the v-lines in her nakedness. That is why and where Eve, without a shiver, eyes open, was stitched. Eve still holds the fire, you told me. She holds the fire in the softness of her palms like Durga. Like the boxes of matchsticks and thick wick candles you never let run out, or leave your bedside table. Even when I told you that in America we often don’t have electrical shortages. You would pace around the hallways after midnight, tending to the energy. Looking for the light that had never gone out. You never allowed me to have a shortage of coiling narratives on the origin of women like us, did you? Continue reading “The Mythologies of Mother | Jai Hamid Bashir”

A Pattern, Not a Destiny | B R Sanders

A team of three psychologists sat in front of me; two were residents while the lead specialized in post-partum psychological distress. One of my partners, Jon, sat beside me. I held my child, five months old at the time, in my lap. We sat in a room with a wall paneled in one-way mirrors where the team had just observed and videotaped my partner and I playing with our kid. The room was playful, appointed with mats and toys and bright colors. We sat on children’s chairs at a children’s table, all the furniture too small for all of us. The lead psychologist, an older woman with a slight German accent and round glasses, leaned forward.

“Can you tell me about a time your parents made you feel safe?” she asked. I unraveled. For what felt like the thousandth time since Zadie had been born, I fell apart in front of medical professionals. My unraveling was a still, silent thing. Tears slid down my face, and I stared at the psychologist with wide eyes–dumbstruck, frozen. Continue reading “A Pattern, Not a Destiny | B R Sanders”

Tamales | Amethyst Hope Hethcoat

Teresa Rojas sparked a match and lit a candle for her mother like she always did every evening before she went home—before she started work.  Illustrated on the candle was the portrait of a young and beautiful girl—the Virgin Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, of God.  Teresa and she looked like they could be sisters, maybe even twins, except that Teresa was a few shades darker. Continue reading “Tamales | Amethyst Hope Hethcoat”

Maxine | Dan Nielsen

Maxine is Head Timekeeper at Westward Printing. She arranges timecards in the rack and retrieves them from the slotted box. The workers fill out the cards with numbers indicating what they did and how long it took. There is a blank space on the back for Comments. Maxine is also in charge of Payroll. She copies down information from the timecards into a ledger book. This information determines what each worker will be paid for that week.

Westward Printing is a union shop. Everything goes according to the contract. Continue reading “Maxine | Dan Nielsen”

Miss Accidental Blonde | Carol Lynn Curchoe

Secretly our minders had each promised the judges the heart of the fairest mortal. The poor soap maker, the rattlesnake chaser, the inimitable Mr. B. Willard Sykes of the bushy eyebrows and double joints, they stare at us.

I try to will my nipples hard. My boobs have shrunk so much, they might resemble two eggs thrown against a wall, with wide comical nipples, like peach colored eyes staring back at you. Under the glaring lights I can barely see the judges, but believe me when I tell you that if it was up to them, we would never eat and they’d fuck us until our skeletons rattled. I pinch each wrinkled flap, stretching the labia, seeing how low I can pull them, winking at the judges. I make the edges swoop in and out like a like a giant bird of prey with each pinch.

Continue reading “Miss Accidental Blonde | Carol Lynn Curchoe”

Heat | Stephanie Butzer

It was barely spring and I was red-faced, sweaty and setting a new best time for the mile. But fear was at my throat, sweat stung my eyes and all I could think was how much longer I could hold on before something gave out.

It wasn’t too warm outside — the March sun in the Outer Banks wasn’t fierce yet — but I felt heat flowing through my body. My skin seemed too tight, the sun too hot on my bare shoulders. I pressed the pace, trying to exaggerate every liftoff and bounce instead of slam the road. I had to get home.

The black pickup truck was still behind me, too far to see the driver, close enough to hear the engine. Continue reading “Heat | Stephanie Butzer”

The Biscuit | Jette Harris

Josh Percival, Mr. Fahrenheit himself, stared at the photo in his live feed. The moment sprang clearly into his mind. He felt no shame or guilt, but the journalist’s words appeared to presume that he should.

This is going to be published in tomorrow’s edition of The Biscuit, the journalist warned. Feigning objectivity, he tagged his victim: Josh Percival, care to give us your side of the story before we go to press? Continue reading “The Biscuit | Jette Harris”