Category Archives: FICTION

The Adventures Of The Moving Lump

By Damyanti Biswas

Omi remembered the summer he turned six for different reasons. He lost his first tooth, Grandpa died in a faraway Indian village, and Grandma came to live with them in their tiny apartment in Florida.

But of that summer, he remembered best the stories Grandma told him, speaking in a firm, clear voice over the sputtering of the air-cooler in her curtained alcove. Tales from myth, fables of wisdom, and the legends of the lump in her stomach.

Some days, it was the peanut she had swallowed as a child, that now wanted to grow into a watermelon. On others, it became a cask in which the frightened rabbit had taken shelter to hide from the cruel fox, or the beating heart of a princess kept safe from demons in her palace as she lay dreaming. Mingled with the adventures of the moving lump, she told him stories about souls that didn’t die, but floated off to rest on the clouds for a while before dressing up in new bodies and returning to earth.

When she died, Omi didn’t grieve. He missed touching the lump, the way it moved beneath his fingers in Grandma’s swollen stomach, but he had known that the lump lived inside her for only a while, and would one day go on its own journey. She had gone to rest on the clouds, and would return soon, wearing a new body.

Over the years, Omi thought often of Grandma, and the lump, of how those stories had taken him away from the humid, cramped rooms, the sweltering heat, and the poverty of his family that could only afford headache medicine to fight his Grandma’s pain.

Today he sat again in a darkened room, with the latest, most silent air-conditioner keeping him cool, near a bed he could crank up five different ways to keep his little daughter comfortable, and clear liquid flowing down a tube and into a cannula to keep her pain-free. He thought of the princess’s heart kept safe, the casket that protected the rabbit, wished for the same refuge for his daughter, and his wife who had fallen asleep, crumpled opposite him at the foot of the bed.

He would find that place for his family. He would make it for them, so that he, his daughter, her mother could curl up together, far away from this hospital room with its beeps, hum and swoosh, its smell of disinfectant, dried blood, room freshener.

When they woke up, he would take them there, with winding yarns about fairies changing bodies like people change clothes. He would tell them the truth, through tales of soldiers revolting against their own king, of battles lost and kingdoms won in small spaces. He would take them far away, like his Grandma.

He just had to get past the lump in his throat, get started on the stories.

Damyanti Biswas’s short fiction has been commended at the Bath Flash Fiction award. She’s published at Bluestem magazine, Griffith Review Australia, Lunch Ticket magazine, and other journals and anthologies in the USA, Malaysia and Singapore. Her debut novel in progress is longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, 2015.

 

For All The Men Who Slept With Her

By Damyanti Biswas

From a distance, she took him for a boy. But on looking closer, Laura knew him for a boy-sized man, one of those people nature chooses to sport with.

She felt a gush of rage. She wanted to gather him up in her soft arms and tell him he looked good in his charcoal blue librarian’s uniform, his pale moustache, his curly head of hair, the way he smiled at the girl in front of her in the queue. When the girl walked off, Laura stepped up to the counter, and gave the boy-man her best smile.

Jasper, his nametag said. No surname, just Jasper, looking lonely.

“I have a few problems I’d like your help with.” Laura leaned over the counter, hoping to give Jasper a good view of her cleavage.

He smiled, his gaze not sliding down from her face, and said, “Sure, how may I help you?”

He pronounced the word ‘help’ separately from the other words, with a pause before and after. So he had chastised her, asked her to take her boobs off the table and focus on the work at hand. She showed him the book she had reserved, the receipt, bearing her name, and the title, ‘Georges Seurat, 1859-1891: The Master of Pointillism.’

He looked at his computer and nodded, “Just give me a minute.”

Jasper rose, his eyes still on his screen. He didn’t ask her if she was an art student, or smile.

“No wait, Jasper,” she said, her voice low and hoarse, as if about to confess a secret, “I have another problem.”

“Sure, tell me.” Jasper sat down again, his head still bent towards the screen.

In the distance, Laura heard cars screech to a halt, sirens. A door opened and shut somewhere behind the counter.

“You see,” Laura rustled the pictures in her book, Degas’ ballerinas, all twisted and bump-curvy, “There’s a tear in this, I want to make sure it’s repaired.”

“Sure, I’ll see to it.”

“There won’t be any charges?”

“Did you cause the tear?” Jasper looked at her for the first time, his gaze like that of a pigeon, curious, side-eyed.

“No, of course not. I noticed it, and didn’t want to drop it back with the tear.”

On the torn page, a bare breast looked up at them, like a peach pudding, its nipple red like a maraschino cherry.

“I’ll get your book now.” Jasper swallowed and turned away.

Laura stood there, under the air-conditioning, surrounded by rustles of newspaper, the hushed laughter of children, the whistling of a call tune instantly smothered. She pictured herself a wife at home in a blue apron, baking. But instead of Rashid who warmed her bed these days, she saw Jasper enter the kitchen, the poor little boy-man.

A shrivelling happened to all the men who slept with her. She sucked them up, heart, innards and all, and spat them out. They diminished as her painting grew, their life-blood colored her canvases. A witch, that’s what she was, but she wouldn’t take this one. She marched off, leaving the torn book at the counter, the balled-up receipt of her reserved book in her hand.

As she walked out to the entrance, she heard a stage whisper behind her. “Laura,” the boy-man called back to her, like a hoarse talking bird, “Laura, come back.”

She didn’t stop. She would paint Jasper this morning, and using all of an artist’s witchery, she would give his handsome face a befitting body.

Damyanti Biswas’s short fiction has been commended at the Bath Flash Fiction award. She’s published at Bluestem magazine, Griffith Review Australia, Lunch Ticket magazine, and other journals and anthologies in the USA, Malaysia and Singapore. Her debut novel in progress is longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, 2015.

Vintage Binoculars

Vintage Binoculars by Leah Browning
Danny found them on a shelf at the back of the shop.  The thin leather strap was worn to a string on one side, and missing its snap, but someone had looped it through and tied it in a knot.  They were otherwise in good condition, for their age.
He took them to school the day of the class picnic.  His mother rubbed sunscreen on his nose and the back of his neck.  She was wearing a skirt even though they were going on a short hike before lunch.
At the top of the hill, Danny turned back.  He lifted the binoculars to his face and adjusted the knobs.  He could see Greg’s dad, walking alongside his mother.  As they walked, Greg’s dad placed his hand on the small of her back.
Wildflowers were growing along the trail.  Some other boys started a game of tag, and Danny ran after them, holding the binoculars to keep them from knocking against his chest.

 

Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens and three chapbooks. Her fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Chagrin River Review, Fiction Southeast, Toad, The Blue Hour Magazine, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Mud Season Review, and Glassworks Magazine.

GRAYSCALE

GRAYSCALE by Brian Burmeister

A month after Mom passed, I went back to the house to pack up.

In the corner of her closet, buried under a pile of blankets, was a box within a box.

Inside were dozens of aged, black-and-white photos of my mother with a man I didn’t know. There were no letters, no notes on the backs of the photos, nothing to indicate who they were of or when they were from.

I wondered: Did my father know she was happy once?

Brian Burmeister is Program Chair of English and Communication at Ashford University, and his writing has appeared in such publications as Cleaver Magazine, The Furious Gazelle, and Yellow Chair Review. He can be followed @bdburmeister.

Flight 2418

Flight 2418 By Paul Bergstraesser

“Sir?”

Was she talking to him? Who knew. He kept his eyes closed.

“Sir.”

Yeah, it was him. He took a deep breath and looked at the flight attendant. Her face was artificial-nice from corporate training but underneath he read sourness and disgust. Wasn’t the first time somebody had been repulsed by him.

“Sir, I hate to tell you this, but you’re going to have to disembark the plane. It’s just . . . we have weight restrictions on flights.” Her eyes moved to his stomach. They darted left and right, up and down, as though the landscape of his body was just too much to take in with a single glance. “We usually suggest that passengers of your stature purchase two seats. And the flight is full.”

Should he fight it? He refused to look down at himself, but he could feel everything: the armrests splayed out, digging into his hips; the seatbelt straining to hold tight his middle; the disgust seeping from the passengers on either side of him who had exaggeratedly pushed themselves against the window and out into the aisle.

Should he fight it? But then one of the pilots silently appeared behind the flight attendant, his cap full of authority.

“Okay,” he said. He rolled sideways a bit to extricate himself and everyone around him cleared out. When leaning to retrieve his bag from the overhead bin, his gut covered the side of the seat. It pushed into him. It hurt. What they didn’t realize was that he felt everything. Always.

Back at the gate, he surveyed the crowd. No one was really looking at him, but everyone was: he was the guy who had gotten kicked off the plane because he was just too fat. Hard to hide in a situation like that, but he tried his best, squeezing through a press of people and out into the open.

The next thing he did seemed too easy. She was distracted, looking down into her carry-on, digging for something, and he picked her phone right off the table and kept walking. He glanced around: no one had seen. He typed in the numbers.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“There’s a bomb on Flight—” he turned back toward his gate “—Flight 2418. Chicago to Cleveland. There’s a bomb on Flight 2418.”

“Where are you, sir?”

“I’m at O’Hare. The plane is gonna blow. Flight 2418.”

“Sir, could you please—”

He ended the call and dropped the phone into a trash can. And then he made his way over to a moving sidewalk and stepped on, the grooved rubber bowing under his feet. He thought: if I’m not going, they’re not either. He thought: this is what inconvenience is.

Paul Bergstraesser was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2012.  In addition, he has had his fiction published in Another Chicago Magazine, The Barcelona Review, Other Voices, Paradigm, and The Portland Review.  His nonfiction has been published in Sojourn.

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH TRAINS

BY HSIEN CHONG TAN

When I was a little girl in New York, I loved to ride the subway. Back then, I didn’t care about the grime or the roaches. And the weirdoes on board didn’t scare me. I liked how a bunch of buskers would just pop on the train, play a song, and pop off at the next stop. I was too young to analyze this, to say that dirt was culture, to weigh comfort against surprise. Sometimes I would watch a passenger force open the doors between carriages and squeeze his way out. I imagined him disappearing, like magic. I know now that he was only squeezing his way through a second set of doors and into the carriage beyond, walking further and further away.

Continue reading MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH TRAINS

HOLES

BY EMILY KOON

 
 

Loretta, the cleaning woman, went at the picture window in the living room with a bottle of Windex, wiping in hard slashes. She always makes faces while she cleans, as if we live like animals on the days she doesn’t come. When she was finished, she dusted her hands off and said, “I don’t think I can get this house no cleaner, Mrs. T.,” like that’s my fault.

I asked her once how she liked her work. She looked at me like I was asking how many men she’d been with. All I wanted to know was how she got into the cleaning business, whether she chose it or life chose for her, because I think Sherry could do work like that when she gets out.

Continue reading HOLES