Laura Manardo

Whole Milk


I had just given too much blood when I first met him, had to lie down on a stretcher and drink Martinelli’s apple juice until they asked me if what I saw was dark blue anymore. And he was next to me, his hair all tufted to one side as he lay there staring.

            “What’s your name, kid?” he asked me. And I went off about how we weren’t in some romantic comedy with some bullshit name like “The Sun’s Kisses” and were probably the same age. He looked younger than me, though-–his skin like whole milk–he introduced himself as Tommy. I reached my hand out toward his stretcher and he looked at it for a long while before receiving it. 

            “I’m Lucy,” I said. He had the saddest eyes I’d ever seen, and he pointed to a smaller, thinner version of himself sitting across the elementary school gymnasium. 

            “That’s my brother,” he said. And I knew he was sick, could tell by the grey-blue underneath his eyes, the lack of fullness in his cheeks. Tommy passed me his apple juice.

            “They won’t let me leave until I finish it,” he said. And so I drank and watched the nurses carefully walk around with bags of blood. 

            “That’s yours,” I said, pointing to one of the bags held underneath the arm of a nurse passing by. She stared at the apple juice in my hand. She was on to us.

            “How do you know?” he asked. 

            “It looks just like the others,” I said. 

            Tommy was allowed to leave before me and passed me his phone. 

            “Can I have your number?” he asked, and I put myself in his phone as a syringe emoji.

            “I’ll text you,” he said, and smiled before grabbing his brother and leaving.

            It was December in Detroit and the parking lot was iced over by the time I was allowed to leave.

            “Thank you for donating,” the man at the door said as I walked out the back of the school.


Tommy texted me, asking me to get dim sum the next week. I said yes, even though I had been taught by my mother to never say yes right away. He seemed perfect. 

            “You’ve never had dim sum before, have you?” Tommy asked when I missed my mouth with the chopsticks and the steamed shrimp dumpling. 

            I said, “Yeah, I’m usually better with my chopsticks.”

            I imagined what it would be like to hold him.


We were stuck in my car when Tommy and I first kissed. It was February and the snowstorm had us stuck on Jefferson for hours. He kept exhaling onto his hands and then rubbing mine up and down and we just sat there like that, the snow piling onto my windshield. 

            “I can’t see anything,” I told him. 

            “You can see me,” he said, and it was corny, but I could. 

            Tommy looked at me with the widest green eyes I had ever seen and I wanted to squeeze his cheeks, to tell him that I loved him even though I didn’t. I didn’t love him then.

            I wanted to say that I was sorry about his brother, that I wanted to mend something in him, but I didn’t know how. Instead I only said, “I do see you.” That was enough. Tommy pressed his thumb to my cheek and smiled without showing his teeth like he always did after that. And he kissed me. I remember feeling like that kiss was exactly how it was supposed to feel: like nearly drowning.


We were at the Saint Joan of Arc fair when Tommy got the call that Michael had passed. He had just won a person-sized stuffed whale and we had cumulatively eaten three elephant ears. He got the call and I watched him throw his phone off the carousel. We had to wait until the music stopped, until our pastel horses ceased their up and down motion. His phone hit a kid and he had to apologize between sobs saying, “I’m sorry… my brother.” The kid seemed fine, handed Tommy his cracked phone. 


The funeral was open casket and I remember us both looking at Michael for so long. Tommy was probably going through all of the memories in his head of growing up with this great little brother, of them riding bikes with no helmets to Jerry’s for red slushes, of getting into fights over girls on the block. I remember thinking about the logistics of emptying the dead body of its blood and filling it with saline. 


Later that evening after his mother had cried into my hair, Tommy told me that he didn’t have any good memories with Michael before he was sick, that he was a bad guy before.

            “You weren’t,” I said. “You weren’t bad.”

            “I need to tell you something,” he said.

            We lay down next to each other in Tommy’s bed and I held him.

            “Lucy,” he said. “When Michael got sick, I wanted to be a better person. It made me realize some shit. . . .”

            “Like?” I probed.

            “I couldn’t keep living the way that I was,” he said. “Let’s just say it was really bad.”

I said, “Let’s not just say that. Let’s say what we mean. . . .”

            “Okay,” he started, making eyes at the ceiling. “Let me just give it to you plain and simple. I have this ex-girlfriend. Megan. She got pregnant when we were nineteen, okay? And, I mean, I didn’t have a stable job. I was living in my parents’ basement so, like, I couldn’t have a baby.”

            I pressed my body tighter against Tommy’s. It was okay.

            “Okay,” I said. “You were nineteen. You couldn’t have a baby.”

            “Please just let me finish,” he said. “I didn’t just suggest that she get an abortion. She didn’t want to. I begged her. I pleaded. I fucking got on my knees one night and lied to her. I told her that it wasn’t our time to have babies yet, but in the future once we had our shit together we could try, like really try.”

            I stared into his eyes. I was looking for something. I needed him to look back at me, to make me feel like he was still there, the Tommy that I had met after Michael got sick.

            “I lied to her, though. And I brought her to the clinic and held her fucking hand and brought her home and when she called me that night I didn’t answer. And when I ended things a couple of days later, I told her the truth: the only thing that would make her hate me. I told her that I didn’t want children with her. Ever.”

            He was silent for some time and I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t imagine him acting this way. I couldn’t imagine him hurting someone. 

            “What changed?” I asked. “I don’t get it.”

            He finally looked at me, tears in his eyes, and said, “Michael got sick.”

            And it didn’t make much sense to me, but I held Tommy all night and hoped that he would never hurt me. I prayed for it to no god in particular. 


I was at the hospital when I found out that I was pregnant four months after Tommy had told me about Megan. I had sliced my finger pretty badly while dicing carrots for soup for his mother. She wasn’t feeling well. And the doctor came in and relayed to me the news. I guess I should have known, should have felt something growing in me somehow. I always thought I would. 

            “When can I get it taken care of?” I asked the doctor. His eyes narrowed. Why would a woman in her mid-twenties, fully capable of caring for another human want to get it taken care of? That’s what he thought. I knew it. 

            “Okay,” he said, putting his clipboard onto the bed near my feet. “I assume that you’re aware of your options?”

            “I’m aware.” 

            I always thought that I would want a baby more than I would want Tommy. But I wanted him. 

            Anyway, the doctor gave me my options. I remembered pulling at the paper sheet below me on the table at the hospital. I remembered hurting and wishing that Tommy was there holding my hand, but I didn’t want to be like Megan. I couldn’t be like Megan.  I felt the baby leave my body and sobbed into my arm.


“Move in with me?” Tommy asked before leaving my apartment the morning after our one-year anniversary dinner.

            “Me?” I asked, looking around my apartment, imagining whose bedspread we would keep, how I’d never have to use my body pillow in place of Tommy after a fight.

            “No,” he said, laughing. “My other girlfriend.”

            It had been five months since I got rid of our baby.


I moved in slowly. It took weeks. And we sold Tommy’s bed because mine was newer. The two men who came to pick it up wore hoodies and white-washed jeans. They smelled intensely of body odor and had a difficult time getting the bed down the stairs.

            “You guys really have a nice place,” the one with the bluer eyes said. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, leaning against the bannister. 

            “Thanks,” I said. “I’m a fan.”

            “How long have you lived here?” he asked. 

            “Oh, I’ve been in Detroit my whole life,” I said. “But I’m just moving into this place now.”

            “It’s nice,” he said and walked out the front door.

            I wasn’t sure why I remembered that conversation so well. I didn’t tell Tommy about it. 

            The man’s eyes were so blue.


We were in our bed when Tommy told me during sex that he wanted to try.

            “Try, yeah,” he said. “I’m sick of waiting for the perfect time. Now is perfect.”

            And I let him cum inside of me that night and he propped my ass up onto a pillow.

            “That should help, I think,” he said. 

            And Tommy kissed me all over and prayed out loud to some god that I didn’t know he believed in. 

            We weren’t married, but that was something that we didn’t want. He didn’t want. I wanted him.


            It was four days before Christmas and I was almost three months pregnant when Tommy and I heard banging noises downstairs.

            “Here,” he whispered. “Stay here, I’ll be back.” He passed me my phone from the charging dock and closed the bedroom door after him.

            I sat up as he walked down the creaking stairs and then I stood up when I heard him scream. I opened the bedroom door and called to him, “Tommy!” I yelled. I kept yelling his name. 

            “Hello, what’s your emergency?” answered the dispatcher after two rings. 

            “There’s someone in my home!” I whispered. “Please send someone right now!”

            The dispatcher instructed me to get into a room and lock the door. We had no locks on our doors. I shut the bedroom door and climbed into the closet, but when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs I knew it wasn’t Tommy. 

            I remembered seeing his blue eyes first between the crack in the door and I knew him. He had been in our home before, leaning against the bannister. It wasn’t the bed that he wanted this time, and it was never just the house that he liked. 

            “I know you’re in there,” he said, and I held my stomach. He opened the closet door slowly. 

            “Hi,” he said. And I wanted to scream, to ask why he was in my home, to kick him in the groin and to tell him that the police were on the way. 

            Instead, I said nothing as he pushed me onto the bed. I said nothing as he hurt me. He kept hurting me. I didn’t cry. I just closed my eyes and hoped that the baby would make it. I prayed for it to any god. 

            When the front door opened again, he climbed off of me and tried escaping through the window, but was caught halfway down the drain pipe by the police. I wasn’t okay. Tommy had been hit so hard on the head that he was unconscious when they found him. I wish I had been unconscious, too.


Tommy spoon-fed me ginger tea after I got home from the hospital and I didn’t want to leave the couch. I didn’t want to see our bedroom. He understood, didn’t make me walk upstairs. I was thankful.

            I woke him up in the middle of the night. He looked happy to be there for me, his eyes hazy with sleep. They looked greener than usual, like lake water.

I said, “I’m really sad.”

            “Me too,” Tommy said. “But I’m here. We can be sad together.”

            He reached his arms across my body, landing his thumb on my cheek.

            “I’m in love with your cheeks,” he said, and I cried. 

            “Do you think this is punishment?” he asked. “For Megan?”

            Tommy hadn’t said her name since the night he told me, and I flinched.

            “No,” I said. “And this isn’t about you. This isn’t about your mistakes.”

            He couldn’t really understand what I had said. His eyes were huge and full of grief. 

            And I could tell that Tommy had wanted that baby.


We were yelling about the air conditioning when I almost told Tommy about what I had done. He wanted the goddamn thing off and I was sweating through my underwear. It had been fourteen months since I got rid of the baby. It had been six months since I lost the baby. 

            “We don’t need to spend more money!” he yelled. “We have a fan.”

            I shrieked, “I’m so sick of this. I’m so sick of fighting about this with you. I want it on.”

            “Well,” he said. “I want it off.”

            “Fine,” I said. “I didn’t know you wanted babies.” It felt normal to me. It felt like what needed to be said.

            “What?” he seemed calmer now as he asked me. 

            “I didn’t know you wanted babies. Not with me.”

            “I told you I did. That night,” he said. “I told you that I wanted to try.”

            “But Megan,” I said.

            “Megan wasn’t the one,” he said, a certainty in his voice. “You are. You knowthat.” He stood closer to me and fingered my hair and his voice seemed sweet then. “What’s going on?”

            I said, “I just thought that since we never talked about it, and since you didn’t want children with her, that you wouldn’t want that with me.”

            “Doyouwant children?” Tommy asked, watching me with the sad eyes that I recognized from the blood drive.

            “I want you.”

            “That doesn’t answer it,” he said, and I wanted to tell him in that moment that I didn’t want to try again, that this whole thing, this relationship felt like we would be trying forever. I couldn’t try anymore. I couldn’t hold a life inside of me anymore.

            “I lost our baby,” I said, and hunched over, crying. 

            “It wasn’t your fault,” he said, holding onto me.

            “And what if it was?”





Laura Manardo is a current MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago studying fiction. You can find her recent publications in the online lit magazines, Bone Parade and Cacti Fur. Earlier this year, she published a poetry chapbook titled “Lemon Water in Lake Michigan” through Grandma Moses Press which is available for purchase on their website.


Katherine Martin



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Stephanie Mark

In Medias Res


“I can’t believe there’s four years of Latin textbooks on the shelves,” she says.

            “And you shouldn’t,” I say. “Because there are way more than four years.”

            “I thought you did four years with Mrs. Johnson in high school,” she says.

            “I did. And then another three years with Professors Donovan and Ray in college.” 

            After selling the television, the faded armchair, and the clothes I shudder to see, let alone put near my body, I was able to move the shelves my old roommate abandoned into the apartment living room. I thought about the best way to arrange the hundreds of books I would put onto these shelves. These were anything from texts I’d gotten in middle school to recent releases I’d bought the previous month. They spanned genres, and more importantly, dimensions and colors whose contrast could overpower the eye, the mind, the aesthetic appreciation of the arrangement.

            I stroll to the shelf on the far left, where she stands. I stretch my hand to point at a series of glossy, hardcover texts when I realize I can’t contort far enough over her body. With a series of exaggerated moans and wails, I shove my body against hers. She mewls and whines, more feline than human, as she stomps to the side. 

            She pouts. She looks pretty when she does this: I’ve told her to do it in pictures. Then she bends over, boobs thrust forward, ass thrust backward. She looks pretty when she does this too, though I wouldn’t tell her that. I turn back to the books before me so that my eyes don’t linger.

            Although she’s reading the names on the spines, she’s also attending to me, because when I now reach toward a book, she flicks my right shoulder with her finger. I do the same to her left shoulder. She tugs at the hem of my dress; I do the same to hers. She recoils.

            “Hey now,” she says. “I didn’t get mine at H+M, like yours. I actually spent serious money on this one. Don’t go all Mr. Powell’s tenth grade biology class on me.”

            “You totally started it that day.”

            “I did not,” she says. “Because you definitely didn’t wear any dresses back then. Let alone fancy ones.”

            “But you were giving me shit for reading Latin in my free time. Which, incidentally, I still do.” Finally she turns to the book I’ve indicated. “Grad student friend didn’t want her workbooks on Catullus.”

            “And here I thought you spent all these years after high school getting away from what made you miserable. Should’ve considered dumping the declension charts.”

            “I should’ve considered starting this process before high school.”

            She strolls away from the foreign language shelf and onto the one for classical literature. She doesn’t get past the A section of last names before stopping.

            “This is new, though.” 

            “I had Mrs. Johnson for four years, after all,” I say. 

            She rolls her eyes. “And she was a caring mentor, who taught you about both Latin and life, and who listened to your problems whenever you both had free lunch periods.” She did, of course. She listened when I raved about some literary classic I’d just finished for the first time. She listened when I cried about my parents banning makeup. She listened when I swore about how I couldn’t share my feelings with the girl I fancied.

            “She also inspired me to broaden my horizons. Her giving me Murakami when I graduated is why I started reading the surrealists.”

            “The surrealists and Jane Austen?”

            “Bitch did love her some Jane Austen. And now so do I.”

            “You’re telling me,” she says. “Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Wow. Many of her fans can’t even name those. I know you like cutesy shit, but this is excessive even for you.”

            “It’s not like this happened two weeks ago. It interested me back in high school, before I was okay with myself. But then again, imagine that version of me liking cutesy shit.”

            “Yeah,” she says, “people would’ve been shitty to you for liking that. Except for me.”

            “You’d be shitty to me for saying your dad’s taste in music was better than yours, right?” 

            She turns to me, makes an obscene gesture, and smiles. If I weren’t an unnaturally tall, unnaturally broad colossus, onlookers might’ve mistaken us for sisters. We share the dramatic facial expressions, the rich amber eyes, the comfortable combat that both of us knows the other can endure. Nonetheless, I try to think of us as sisters so I don’t think of us any other way. 

            She pauses, taps her foot, scratches her head. Some memory has wrenched her away from the next part of the bookshelf.

            “Jokes aside,” she says, “I’m still really glad you trusted me with that. Especially when I was the only one at the time.”

            “Shit,” I say, “you were the only one for a year.” 

            Nodding at my contentment, at my thanks, and at my lack of offense, she smiles. “Good,” she says, “my opinions are insightful enough you need to think about them for a year before chatting up the riffraff.”

            Now freed from this recollection, this concern, this sentiment, she pulls Persuasion from the shelf, looks through it, sees the pencil marking that the used book store put into the edition I purchased. 

            “Trust me,” I say, “it’s good.”

            “Captain of the cheerleading team good?”

            “She wasn’t that pretty.”

            “Then why’d you ask her to prom?” 

            I make the obscene gesture this time.

            “Because I was too scared to ask you. Was that what you wanted to hear?”

            “I mean, I wanted to hear that I was prettier than her. But she got super fat, so I guess I won that.” 

            She looks from the shelf, to me, to the book she’s extracted. It looks like evidence in a trial now, something a prosecutor has put before me, whose existence I must explain to avoid a conviction. “I guess I’ll read this. You were close enough.” 

            Rather than stay steady, her tone rises at the end, making this statement interrogative even without the question mark. She’s not asking me to confirm whether she’s read it, she’s asking me the question her statement implies. All the while, she leaves the text bent on the shelf, mostly freed from the aperture that its removal has created as if waiting for orders on what she should do with it.

            “You can borrow it,” I say. “Read it, and see for yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it.”

            “Are you sure?” she says. This time her question has the appropriate structure, bluntness, punctuation. “You go through years of trouble to get these books, and then more trouble to make your living room into this library that’s all neatly organized. I wouldn’t want to disrupt it.”

            Her heart-shaped face is serious now, as if this offense were graver than it was. She’s looked at me this way every breakup I described to her, every girl I dated but didn’t desire, every girl except the one I couldn’t find the courage to ask. 

            “Why do you think you were the first one I showed it to? I hoped you’d disrupt it.”


            “I mean, I don’t want you to knock the shelves over, or throw all my mystery novels out the window. But I’m not going to refuse to lend you a book now that I’ve arranged it nicely.” 

            She looks at me with her eyes narrowed and head tilted. It’s the expression she’s given whenever I talked about my loathing and despair but before I could identify its cause, before I had the words to describe its cause.

            I need to explain more of my rationale before she thinks it disingenuous. “Books can say a lot about what people like and believe, even if they don’t know it. You would never have gotten near cyberpunk unless I’d bought you Snow Crash.”

            “Hacker swordsmen and girls on high-tech skateboards are an easier sell than Jane fucking Austen.”

            “And once you’ve read Persuasion and taken back all the things you said about Jane fucking Austen, you’ll agree with me that books are meant to be shared. They’re meant to be given.”

            Her sigh is as pronounced and protracted as when I’d mention my parents using words like “lifestyle”, “confusion”, and “choice” when describing what I did with my own body.

            “You’re going to talk about your Latin teacher again, aren’t you? How Johnson got you Murakami, and you’d never heard of Murakami, and that’s why you read all these incomprehensible books about disaffected Japanese men.”

            “For my graduation, I got some clothes I never wore, some money I blew on concerts for hacks I thought were good back then, and an e-reader, which clearly isn’t the way I enjoy reading books. But the only gift I kept, aside from the signed version of The Night Circus you got me that’s on one of these shelves, was the copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that she got me.

            “She wrote this wonderful note on one of the cover pages, talking about how she loved having me as a student. It was the only message I got that wasn’t perfunctory, even the ones on cards that friends and family gave to me.”

            “So that’s why you wrote the note on the cover page of American Gods when you gave it to me.”

            “And Lolita.” 

            She tilts her head to the other side. This time, both eyes and mouth are open: her expression when I told her who I really was, revealed to her everything I had kept secret, illuminated a dark patch between us that looked irrevocably different. 

            “Shit, really?” she says. “I thought you just got that for me because I lost my copy.” She flares her nostrils and clenches her fists, seething at the recalled memory she will now describe.

            “I’d told that fucker I was dating that I lost it, and that it was my favorite book, and that I wanted a copy, and instead for Christmas he gets me The Alchemist.” She pulls her fists toward her body while stewing about her least favorite book and ex-boyfriend. 

            “So thank you,” she says, “for getting me an amazing gift, and then writing your own wonderful note on top of it.”

            “Calling it ‘wonderful’ would be too kind. But you should read it. And then you should read Persuasion.” 

            She sighs. “Fine. I’ll take it.” She removes it, places it beneath one of her arms, and moves from the classics section to the science fiction one. I pause when she does. “This is almost like penance. Everything by Jane Austen, but nothing from that violent space marine series you raved about. The one where every man’s rifle and every woman’s breasts got a paragraph of description.” 

            I shake my head. “People have lots of delusions when they’re in high school,” I say. She nods to acknowledge the breadth of delusions to which I refer. 

            “Part of that delusion was thinking that stuff like weddings, social engagements, all that shit in Jane Austen novels, were frivolous. I didn’t think there was any literature worth reading that didn’t have plasma cannons and women in jumpsuits. If I didn’t get that copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I’d probably only have trite macho shit on these shelves.”

            “Well, that explains why you’ve got this feminist sci-fi canon here. The Parable of the SowerThe Left Hand of Darkness–you’re failing at being a good postcolonial reader, though, because I’m not seeing The Fifth Season anywhere.”

            “You still have my copy.”

            “Allegedly.” The quick laugh that rises plummets into the silence. She tilts her head so that she doesn’t avoid me but refuses to make eye contact. This reaction I could never forget. I saw it when I explained my feelings for her, when I had the confidence to voice them, and when it was too late to do so.

            “But more importantly,” she says, “where did you put all those space marine books? Under your mattress?”

            “I burned them.”

            “Are you serious?”

            “No. But I gave them all to my cousin.”

            “I thought they didn’t talk to you anymore?”

            “None of the first cousins do. But one of my second cousins escaped their Florida conservatism after he ran the gamut of the queer community. Fell in love with a girl who was trans, then a girl who was bi, then–”

            “Let me guess,” she interrupts, “a girl who was gay.”

            “No,” I say, “a guy who was.” 

            She shakes her head, chuckles, turns back to the shelf.

            She fingers two thick volumes near the bottom of the shelf whose covers are worn enough they look perforated. These versions are next to replicas without the damage, pristine and immaculate, their pages unbent and unsullied because fingers have not yet opened them. I’ve considered sleeves for them, the kind I’ve wrapped around the Ms. Marvel and Spider-Gwen first editions she got me, if only there were sleeves that were large enough.

            “Oh god, Book of the New Sun?” she says, pointing at both the damaged and the clean copies. “That’s that tedium with all the obscure words and Latin terms. I’m sure that’s why you and your favorite professor both love it, but has anybody else in the world ever read it?”

            “I’ve heard it called the sci-fi Ulysses,” I say, “in that more people have it on their bookshelf than have read it.”

            “Is it even really sci-fi, though? I remember reading it, and it was all feudal. They have like guilds and shit. Swords and duels and horse travel. No blaster pistols.”

            “You didn’t get far enough into the story.” 

            “I couldn’t, not with that narrator. Look, I’m sorry if I’m a boring straight girl, but I don’t need to hear about a woman’s breasts every other page.”

            “I always interpreted that as the narrator being so warped that boobs were the primary way he could perceive other women. But I suppose you are right.”


            “About you being boring at least.” 

            She makes a different obscene gesture this time.

            “All right, joking aside, I will go to bat for the series. But this one is actually really good. Once you get far enough, you realize it’s not the kind of story you think. The truth isn’t what you expect, but it makes sense once you learn it.” 

            Now she has the simpler smirk, the easier display of cheekiness. “I can understand why you like that kind of story.” 

            She continues to smirk as I roll my eyes. I put both of the books atop the copy of Persuasion she’s taken. She rises from the ground, turns her eyes, looks at the other shelves.

            She pushes her body to one side as she sashays past me. To counterbalance her antics, I shove in the opposite direction. We teeter a bit before she laughs, cheekily and quickly, and then crosses the room to where I’ve stored the modern fiction.

            I shouldn’t stare at her from behind, but my eyes linger for a moment. Although my mind knows that we cannot work out, a different organ, an unfortunate vestige I haven’t been able to remove, remembers about when we could have.

            That body I thought magnificent most of my classmates found adequate, attractive even, but not stunning. Hers was the figure I wanted but could never attain, much as I tried, much as I begged my female friends to experiment with my hair, makeup, and general style. Even now I’m not much like her. I’m too tall. My figure will always be too straight to have her expansive ass; my body will either be too pudgy, as then, or too toned, as it is now, to have her lithe softness. Though not large enough to turn heads at bars, her boobs are bigger than the ones I’ve managed to grow, which are small enough to elicit pity. 

            In contrast, hers was the most feminine figure I could imagine–in an archetypal and archaic sense of the word, more about petticoats than pink pastels. Her makeup was subtle and understated rather than extravagant and exaggerated. Pale and brunette, thin but not particularly toned, she looked more appropriate for a nineteenth century painting than a high school. I knew her form was slender, her hips wide, her breasts heavy, from the boudoir photos she’d gotten done and showed me. Hers were the wet lips I imagined kissing on late nights when we’d gotten close to each other while we chatted, teased, drank. 

            She ends this reverie with a question.

            “A Clockwork Orange is good, too, right?”

            I nod. She stares at it, expectant but hesitant, like a woman assessing whether the gift her husband gave her at a birthday party is too salacious for her to unwrap in public. I remove it from the shelf.

            “Another Johnson recommendation?”            

            “She thought it was excessive. We argued for a whole lunch period. She made some great points. It is, in fact, a pretty grim book that almost tries to be difficult to read. That’s why I don’t usually recommend it. That, and because too many people like it for creepy reasons. But I really like it, for whatever that’s worth.”

            “I’ll take it then.” 

            I reach forward, extract the sable slip, and deposit it on top of the three books she already has. As if to justify its addition, its physical presence before her, she says: 

            “I wouldn’t have thought you were creepy. Then again, I didn’t realize you were into me, so perhaps I’m not the best judge.”

            “Considering I didn’t realize you were into me, I wasn’t any better.”

            After craning her arm up and to the side to examine my copy of White Noise, she wobbles backward with the stack of books. I put my arm around her back to steady her. She puts the books on my couch.

            “Do you ever think about what would have happened,” I say, “if we had?”

            “I mean, I told you about the sex dreams about you. You back then, of course.”

            “Yeah,” I say, “that’s not how the sex would go now.”

            “Right,” she says. It’s an assessment and an admission, a partial answer, even if indirectly, to the previous question. It’s a fragment she doesn’t complete, a note she abandons after one paragraph. 

            As if taking all the focus of her conscious mind, her fingers drift in silence over to the Atwood collection. Her fingers stop on Oryx and Crake. We’ve debated whether it’s science fiction, and could renew that debate, but neither of us speaks. Neither of us can speak. She pulls out Cat’s Eye, stares at the cover, holds it over the books she’s stacked on the couch. 

            Unable to contemplate a segue, let alone an apropos response, I dash into the kitchen to retrieve a plastic container she can use to ferry her loot back home. When I bring it to her, I consider getting a second one, because she’s added The Blind AssassinThe Robber Bride, and Alias Grace to the pile. 

            She’s squatting in the corner, near the bottom shelf, looking at the row of books by Murakami. She tells me she read 1Q84 over the course of months. Liking it, but wanting something shorter, she grabs Kakfa on the Shore and throws it on the pile. She does the same with Norwegian Wood. Then she pulls my weather-beaten and dog-eared copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle from the shelf.

            “No,” I say. She shivers at my sudden loudness, forcefulness, restriction. “I mean, it’s a great book. But I can’t give you my copy.” 

            As if suspecting blood from a cultic ritual inside it, she begins to open it. “No,” I say again.

            “Okay, I get this might have sentimental value, but are you really not going to let me open it?” When I strain my hand toward it, she places it on the nearest shelf, leaning it against works by both Tana French and Gillian Flynn.

            “That was the one Mrs. Johnson gave to me,” I say. I see her questions I haven’t answered, the secrets she knows are buried but has yet to deracinate. “It was the one with the message about the years of Latin I took with her. How I was one of her favorite students that year, and that she’d miss having me the next year. Because I’d just graduated high school.” 

            Her face tilts far enough to the side that I fear her headband will fall to the floor.

            “I bet it’s very touching,” she says, “very personal, all that. But is this any more personal than the shit we told each other? The shit we were just talking about?”

            “It’s painful,” I say.

            “You don’t think it’s fucking painful for me to talk about that memory?”

            Shivering with anger, I open the page. With a single finger, I point to that first word, that solitary salutation, that painful memento. 

            “She addressed it to me. Before she knew who I really was.” 

            Her eyes, then her brow, then all the lines on her face retract. Then she marches into my kitchen. She extracts from my junk drawer a thick, black Sharpie. I let her open to the page bearing the secret that remains written there, the word she already knows but I wish she didn’t. She scribbles over not only the name but also the space to the left and right, blotting even the length. Someone would guess a longer name, or stranger name, a name not so painfully familiar to me. 

            It hurts me until I feel her embrace. It’s soothing rather than perfunctory: not the kind we give when greeting each other, but the kind she gave me when my last boyfriend dumped me, the kind I gave her when her grandfather passed away. 

            She presents the page to me. She’s written my current, legal, feminine name, the talisman against all creeping dysphoria. 

            “That’s what would’ve happened if we’d gotten together,” she says. “Because that’s who you are.”

            I speak through tears.

            “That’s a wonderful note.”


Stephanie Marklives in Denver, Colorado. Her work has been published in The Festival Reviewand will be published in Progenitor Art & Literary Journal,and a Thorntree Press anthology. She was also shortlisted for the Into the Void 2018 Fiction Prize. She hosts various creative projects at


Shaniece Rattler

Nutritional Yeast


Lane leaves church early Sunday morning. Her heel gets stuck in a patch of gum just between the curb and a pile of dog shit sifted through the grass. Lane hates church. This is the place where she is always likely to get stuck in something smelly, that drags its way through the rest of her day, the rest of her life. Lane’s hair is not thoroughly brushed, and her only decent dress is in the wash, so Lane wears jeans. No one wears jeans to Sunday Mass. Lanes mother would be extremely ashamed. Lane should not attend church to appease her mother. Lane should not not wear jeans to appease her mother. Lane has to remind herself that she is an adult, married woman.  But Lane can’t think about that now. She’s in a hurry because if she doesn’t get to Dot soon enough he’ll sell his food stamps to her sister for half the price because Dot has always favored Tracey.  Even though he calls Lane the good cousin. Lane doesn’t try to understand Dot. 

             Lane imagines the kind of horrible person that he is, the kind of deplorable things she’d heard he’d done to his ex-wife (the cheating with teenage strippers, the drinking, the unnerving antics he attributed to his bipolar disorder) before she took the girls and left to another state. Lane wants to displace the feathers coming from the hood of his coat, into a perfect bow around his neck, that she could pull into a choker, and squeeze. She’s concluded that he’s another kind of person that she can just think away. She blinks and he’s gone.

            At his apartment, a government funded studio above a convenience store in the wrong part of town, Dot is still standing there with his hand on her shoulder, thinking about how much of a bitch she’s always been to everyone. Constantly keeping her own family at a distance, as if she’s too good for the people that know the real her. He pushes his fingers a little bit to dig into her skin, because everyone knows how Lane is about being touched. He knows the twisted direction her mind will go to no matter what. He wants the unrealness of her hatred for him to be grounded. He’s not some sicko, just because he and her sister have always been closer, just because Tracey is less socially inept. Just because his marriage had turned out to be a joke.  

            Lane stands waiting. Lane would prefer to sit, but Dot’s only furniture is a pull-out bed that he hasn’t made in days.  

            She maneuvers herself away and starts stretching like an uncomfortable cat trapped under a dresser. Her voice comes in a mumble, asking about the EBT card. Her cousin responds in a variety of self-affirmed body language expressions. They are not very good with each other. Just noises and movements and a runaway type of feeling filling up the spaces between them.

            Lane thinks about her husband Samuel, and how embarrassed he would be by this very stupid transaction if he found out. It’s fraud to sell or buy government issued food stamp cards from your cousin, especially the ones you don’t even like. 

            “You’re quick. Another minute or two and Tres woulda had em.” 

            “Yeah, I figured it,” Lane responds with a shrug.

            “How ya been”

            “Good yeah, just church and Samuel and school, thinking about going back to school.” 

            “Yeah, that’s what’s up. You always were the smart one”

            Lane makes a noise with her throat that’s supposed to be a laugh, but she’s nervous. Even around family she’s terrified of being complimented. 

            “Sit down, take a load off”

            “No, I actually I have to get going, you know”

            “That’s too bad” 

            Dot puts his hand on her shoulder again and squeezes there. The squeeze, at first painful, turns into a massage. Lane’s heart rate elevates. She thinks of a time on the playground when she was younger an older boy pushed her into the pile of wood chips across from the sandbox, just because he was bigger, and he could. 



            “The card?”

            Lane turns her neck a bit, does some faux stretches, and taps her foot impatiently. 

            “It’s just Samuel, yeah you probably can’t see but he’s out, he’s in the car waiting. It’s so fucking cold, you know”

            Dot nods, and tilts his head. 

            “The money?”

            “Oh, shit, yeah, hold on,” Lane reaches into her purse and pulls out two twenties and a ten. 

            “That’s good for a hundred, the pin is my birthday.”

            “Okay, cool, great, yeah, yeah good seeing you. We have to do something sometime? Like a cookout or something?”


            Lane makes her way to the door. 

            “Wait, Lane you mind dropping me at the spot?”

            “Umm, well….. I, ha, ha, yeah, sure, yeah come on.” Lane waves him over and they go down the rickety stairs until they reach the bottom. The sun spits sweat onto her forehead, even through the snow. Lane buckles herself into the seat and starts driving before the car warms up. Neither of them bring up Samuel’s obvious absence. They ride to a local smoke shop five blocks away and Dot gets out to talk to the other alkies. They all huddle together and pitch in dirty quarters and dimes for a few bottles. Dot pulls out half of the money Lane has just given him. He is popular with the crowd every month when he brings in his only earnings, the fruits of trading his EBT for cash. Lane expects him to call her in less than a week after he’s drank himself silly and is finally hunger again. 

            Lane wants to become vegan. Actually, Lane’s husband wants to become vegan. It’s all he talks to her about. It’s the only thing left that excites him. Lane wants him to stay as excited as possible. Lane will bring him vegan food, but Lane will not pay full price for it, because she knows that by dinnertime he’ll want meat again, and Lane will have budgeted that too. 

            Lane takes the EBT card to the grocery store and assembles everything Samuel has mentioned on his list from unsweetened coconut chips to some cheese substitute called nutritional yeast (a flakey foodstuff she instantly doesn’t trust) and loads of avocado-avocado everything-into a cart with squeaky wheels. Lane fears Samuel’s diet will be deficient in protein. She sneaks a can of tuna into the cart and hides it under romaine hearts. 

             Lane imagines Samuel’s excitement over her choice of non-dairy cashew milk. She pictures him kissing her with strands of spaghetti squash still on his lips. There they are in the tv room nibbling on pita chips covered in hummus and artichoke. She wishes that he would eat meat again. That he would curdle her up and smooth her with olive oil until her toes and fingers are slippery and dip her into a chai seed egg wash, until she’s smothered in a crumble of crushed almond flour and bake at four hundred degrees. 

             In line, Lane stacks all of her items in a neat row and asks that the can of tuna be bagged separately. 

             “Cash or card?” The lady at the checkout asked between munching on chewing gum and pushing her neon orange colored hair behind one ear.

              Lane slides the card. There’s a beeping noise. She stares blankly at the cashier and slides it through again. The screen should have prompted her to enter her pin, but there’s nothing. She swipes for the third time. 

              “I’m sorry ma’am, this card has insufficient funds.”

              Lane lifts her eyes to the people in line, some staring, some waiting impatiently, some just smiling along in long conversation, their carts: props with barely any items, enjoying the heat of being inside out of the cold. Lane returns her eyes to the lady holding her vegan goods hostage. Lane is not surprised at this woman, or Dot. But, Lane wishes she would release them to her out of some goodness in her heart, but Lane knows that people are not good. Dot is not good. Samuel is not good. Lane only tries to be. 

               Lane wants desperately to believe in change. She wants to believe in her marriage, in Samuel. Samuel is the only thing that makes her feel safe. She wants to believe in the vegans. And although Lane had made it clear to Samuel that his indecision over meat was not something that they could reasonably afford- that to constantly trash perfectly good meat, and then stack up on substitutes that would never measure up (that he would never even eat) was wasteful, and that she would no longer be indebted to his miscalculations- she pulls out the last of her cash from her purse and pays full price. 

Shaniece Rattler is a first year graduate student at Columbia College Chicago who is busy writing non-stop. In her free time she likes to read new short stories recommended to her and she daydreams about getting the novel she’s working on published. “Nutritional Yeast” is her first publication. 


Daniel Bartkowiak

Once in Many Blue Moons


Read full story here

Daniel Bartkowiak lives in Chicago. His work has been featured in issues of The Write Launch and Thrice Literary


Alexis Bowe

A Mother’s Love


Alice’s mother, Leila, leans in close to her daughter and plucks a stray hair from in between her eyebrows, causing Alice to flinch slightly. She studies Alice’s pale face and finds a few more imperfections to pluck away.

“There,” she says when she’s finished. “Much better.”

Alice lets out a deep sigh as her mother trades out her pair of tweezers for a hairbrush and begins gently brushing out Alice’s glossy golden hair.

This is Leila’s favorite part of the nightly routine that she has with her daughter. She loves Alice’s hair, loves the honey blonde color, one of the few things passed down to her from her father. She’d inherited her mother’s dainty nose, almond-shaped hazel eyes, but her hair was one hundred percent her father’s.

“I can do this myself, you know,” Alice tells her.

“I know,” her mother replies. “But I don’t mind doing it for you. Besides, whenever you brush out your hair, you do it too quick, too hard, and you give yourself split ends. You don’t take your time with it like I do.”

She continues brushing, a small content smile resting on her lips, until Alice’s hair is silky and tangle-free. She runs a hand through her daughter’s hair, letting it waterfall down her nightgown-clad back.

It’s been like this for all of Alice’s life—just her and her mother. She has no siblings and never got the chance to meet her father. He died before Alice was born.

Alice’s mother doesn’t like to talk about her father. She doesn’t like to talk about anything that reminds her of that awful night when that masked man broke into her house and took her husband away from her. She doesn’t like to remember how dark the man’s eyes were—black almost—as they looked at her through those two tiny slits, lying there in bed, trembling hands clasped over her pregnant belly. She knew that if she hadn’t been pregnant, he would have killed her too. She could sense it in the way he stood there, hesitating, before finally turning and walking away, stepping over her husband’s crumpled, bleeding body, laying in the doorway to their bedroom. In a way, Alice had saved her life.

She could hardly believe it when Alice was finally born two months later. A beautiful, healthy baby girl. So soft and pure. She knew she had to keep Alice safe the way that Alice had done for her.

Alice watches as her mother puts the brush and the tweezers back in their designated spots on her vanity.

“Hey, mom,” she says.

“Yes, dear?” Leila replies.

Alice breathes in deeply, her heart fluttering anxiously in her chest, before she begins. “Julie, from school, is having a couple girls sleep over at her house Friday night and she invited me to come.”

The sentence comes out in one single breath. Alice watches as her mother’s back tenses up. For a moment, she says nothing.

“Mom?” Alice says.

Her mother turns around now to face her, an unreadable expression on her face. “Sweetheart, you know how I feel about you spending the night out.”

What little hope Alice had built up drains immediately and is replaced by the sinking feeling she’s become so familiar with. This isn’t the first time Alice’s mother has turned her down. There have been birthday parties, trips to the mall, other sleepovers, and even school field trips that Leila refused to let Alice attend.

It only got harder as she grew older. Every time Alice would go to school on Monday morning and hear all the girls in her classes talking about what they did over the weekend, envy would prickle under skin, constricting her throat and tightening around her chest. All the girls at school got to go to the mall on their own or go see movies on their own. Meanwhile, Alice’s mother didn’t even allow her to have access to cable or the internet. “Too many ugly things out there,” Leila had said when Alice asked why she kept these things from her.

“But mom,” she pleads. “I’m sixteen. Everyone else gets to spend the night out. Why can’t I?”

“Just because other people do things doesn’t mean that you should too,” Leila remarks evenly. “I don’t even know this Julie or her parents. How can I possibly allow you to spend the night in the home of people I’ve never met? What kind of parent would I be then?”

She moves away from the vanity to pick up the cardigan Alice had thrown on her bed. As she moves to the closet to hang it up, Alice rises from her seat and follows her.

“Well what if you meet her parents?” she asks. “Then could I go?”

Leila hangs up the cardigan, avoiding her daughter’s gaze, then turns and walks back towards the vanity, her narrow shoulders squared and rigid.

“Mom?” Alice says, continuing to follow her around the room.

Leila comes to an abrupt halt in front of the vanity, her hands clenched into tight fists at her sides.

“Alice, I am done discussing this with you,” she says firmly. “The answer is no. Do not bring it up again.” She turns on her heel and walks out of the room, shutting the door behind her. Alice hears the clickof her mother locking it from the other side.

Alice’s chest begins to grow tight. Her teeth grit together behind closed lips and angry tears well up behind her eyes. She wants to scream. She’s sick of being stuck in this house with her mother all the time. The only time she ever gets to leave is to go to school or to flute lessons or on her daily walks around the neighborhood, which would be wonderful if they weren’t always accompanied by her mother.

But Leila would never let Alice go out walking alone. She tells her it’s because Alice is a young, beautiful girl and bad things tend to happen to young, beautiful girls like her. She tells her it’s for her own good, for her safety, but Alice doesn’t think that all these rules and restrictions were put in place for her benefit.

When she was younger, she trusted her mother when she told her that going outside alone was too dangerous or when she told her that she kept her door locked so that no bad guys could break in and take her in the middle of the night. She assumed that it was normal to have a lock on the outside of her door, that all little girls’ parents locked their doors to protect them from bad guys. But as she grew older, she began to wonder if the lock was to keep bad guys out or if it was to keep her in.

Once, her freshman year, she met a girl named Haley in her algebra class. Haley had an older brother and he was planning to throw a party one weekend because their parents were going to be out of town. She invited Alice to the party, but Alice declined the invitation, telling her that there was no way her mother would ever allow her to go, so Haley suggested that she sneak out of the house. This was when Alice mentioned the lock that her mother had put on the outside of her bedroom door. Haley stopped talking to Alice after that.

A lot of girls eventually stopped talking to Alice when they realized that she’d never be able to hang out with them outside of school. Julie was different though. She was a transfer student who had just moved here this year, and she didn’t know about Alice yet. She didn’t know her as the weird girl whose mom always drops her off and picks her up from school or the girl who is never seen by any of the students outside of the walls of their high school. To Julie, Alice was just a normal girl. And Alice was determined to keep it that way.


The next day at school, Alice told Julie that her mom wouldn’t let her sleep over unless she talked to her parents, so Julie wrote down her mom’s cell phone number on a piece of paper that she tore out of her notebook and gave it to Alice to take home to her mother.

That night, Alice made sure not to flinch or pull away when her mother plucked a stray hair above her lip. She held her hand out straight and flat while her mother filed her nails so that the tops formed smooth little half-moon shapes, and she sat perfectly still, shoulders back, while her mother ran her brush through her long blonde hair over and over again.

Now, as her mother finishes up with their nightly routine and turns to walk out of Alice’s room, Alice rises from the stool at her vanity.

“Mom,” she says. Leila stops in her tracks, pausing for a moment before turning around.

“Yes, dear?” she replies.

Alice goes over to her backpack and pulls the slip of paper with Julie’s mother’s phone number on it out of the front pocket. She walks over to her mother and holds the paper out in front of her.

“This is Julie’s mom’s phone number. I thought that maybe if you gave her a call and talked to her that you’d be more comfortable letting me spend the night there tomorrow.”

Leila stares down at the piece of paper in her daughter’s hand, her thin lips set into a hard line. She sucks in a deep breath through her nose and snatches the paper up.

“Alice,” she begins, her voice chillingly calm, “I told you last night not to bring this up again. If you don’t want to listen to me then not only will you not be spending the night at Julie’s; you also will not be going to school tomorrow. I’ll call your school to let them know you’re sick and I’ll bring your work home for you to do.”

Alice’s heart sinks like a rock into her stomach. She can’t do this. School is the only time away from her mother that Alice gets. It’s the only time Alice ever really feels free. She can’t take that away from her.

“Mom, no! That’s not fair! I have to go to school!” she cries. Tears begin to well in the back of her throat.

Her mother crumples the piece of paper up into a ball inside her boney hand. “Well maybe next time you will listen to me when I ask you not to bring something up again.”

She turns on her heel, her silky pink robe billowing out behind her, and walks out of the room. “But mom!” Alice shouts, following behind her. Leila slams the door and Alice’s hands fall onto the white painted wood.


 “Mom!” Alice shouts, banging on the door with balled up fists. She jiggles the handle, but it doesn’t budge. “Mom!” she shouts again, louder this time, the words like sandpaper in her throat.

Classical music floats up from downstairs, the volume increasing until it drowns out her screams. She kicks at the door, her bare toe instantly throbbing as she does so. She lets out a guttural cry and turns around, her arms shaking at her sides.

Alice pushes over the stool that sits at her vanity, throws the brush and the tweezers and the lotion and the nail clippers and file all to the carpeted floor. She tears the pink, frilly comforter off of her bed, followed by the pressed white sheets. Takes all of her neatly folded clothes out of the drawers of her dresser and tosses them on the ground. Removes all of the shirts and sweaters and dresses from their hangers.

When she’s finished, she looks around at the mess she’s created, sweat prickling in the pits of her arms, on the back of her neck, causing her nightgown to stick to her skin. It isn’t enough. All of this stuff can be cleaned up, put back in it’s place as if it was never out of place to begin with. It isn’t enough.

Alice walks over to her closet and kneels down, pulling out her box of art supplies from the back corner of it. Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 fills the pastel pink walls of her room, the walls of the house. She takes the scissors from the box and goes over to the vanity, turning the stool upright and sitting down on it.

She stares at herself in the mirror, at all of her beautiful blonde hair, long and silky and smooth. The hair her mother loves. The hair her mother brushes each night. The hair that’s just like her father’s. She grabs a chunk of it and begins cutting. She cuts and cuts until it falls just below her ears, jagged and ugly.

She stares into the mirror and smiles.