Annunciation

Annunciation
by Alicia Cusano-Weissenbach

You ain’t supposed to see stuff like that, so you just pretend you don’t. It ain’t so weird, y’know. There’s lots of stuff like that—normal stuff that you ain’t supposed to see—so you just keep walking.

Y’know what I mean, don’t you? Like when some fat bitch smacks her kid upside the face in a store and you feel bad, ’cause y’know, you been that kid. Or when you’re walking home and you see some guy tweaking, and it’s the middle of the day and he’s on the sidewalk in front of his building, but you just keep walking.

This is like that, but it ain’t. Difference is that other people see them things and y’know it ’cause they’re trying so hard not to, but with this, no one but me and Benny see it. I saw it first, and then Benny did, but not ’til I pointed and made him look at it.

Well, actually, that ain’t entirely true, ’cause y’see, I think my intestines felt it first. They sorta clenched up and got all wiggly­feeling, like they was bursting, and that’s how I knew to look.

Benny says it’s probably ’cause I got a worm, like the one we saw at the Mütter Museum when his parents took us to Philly. That place was all full of messed-up shit, like body parts in jars and the original Siamese twins. Wish I could be stuck on Benny like that. Guess you’d get tired of being together like that after a while, though.

Still, I had to show Benny, ’cause nothing impresses him. He’s too smart for school, and he gets A’s even though he cuts class. He comes down to see me ’cause it really ain’t that far away from where his parents live. They’re the richest people I ever saw, and they live in the good part of the borough. We don’t go there ’cause people stare at us.

People here stare at Benny, too, but no one ever tried to jump him. He’s asthmatic and thin, and he’s got skin like cream. Wears a Rolex at age 14 and has his little suit like a little business person ’cause his school makes him wear it—and he walks down the street alone!

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Road Kill

Road Kill
by R. Y. Brockway

I’d been working with Leon for a week when I noticed he had a knack for identifying roadkill.

“’Possum,” he’d call 500 feet before we passed the carcass, or “’coon.” When business took us south, the occasional “’dillo” entered the mix. No matter what it was, he never missed.

I played along for a time, learning how to identify the tell-tale markings of matted fur. But after six months of spider-webbing our way across the map, my taste for the game and Leon’s company began to wane.

Leon’s peculiarities weren’t limited to just roadkill. He was anal about always having to drive—which was fine by me, because he chattered nonstop whenever his hands weren’t busy, complaining endlessly about the engineered decking company that employed us or the shoppers who frequented the big-box hardware stores where we set up displays. His grousing wasn’t limited to the car, either.

On more than one occasion, he’d stop working to lean over and whisper to me, “Hey, Ryan, you see that guy?”

I’d turn to find a man reading a can of weed killer, or a woman navigating a cart through the obstacle strewn aisles.

“Punk thinks he’s better than us.”

It was dumbfounding; those customers barely even registered our existence. But when I’d point that out to Leon, he would only sneer and remind me of the years he held over me both in life and on the road. He knew, he’d say, and in time, so would I.

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A Burden of Memories

A Burden of Memories
by Tamoha Sengupta

I was 16 when I was born. The cold of the table beneath my bare back was the first thing that touched my consciousness. And then a man clothed me in a dress whose color, he told me, was dark blue. I had no memories of my own, only those that belonged to Sheila, now dead.

For weeks, the wires were planted deep into my mind, and I soaked up Sheila’s memories like a sponge. I realized that the man was Sheila’s—my—father. I soaked up memories of the day her mother—my mother—died in a car accident. The picnics she attended became the ones I went to. I had never seen the hills, yet I already remembered seeing them, snow-capped, glittering in the sunlight.

I also had a capsule given to me by Father. It was inserted into me at around the same time he installed my heart.

“Now no diseases will snatch you away from me again,” he said to me, pulling me into a hug. The hug was nothing new in my memory, but the feel of his warm arms around me was.

I was officially Sheila now. When people I knew saw me for the first time, they asked how I had survived.

“Oh, the method’s not important. She’s alive; that’s all that matters,” Father said to them, with a laugh that was as hollow as his words.

Each night, Father tucked the blanket around me when I went to bed. I remembered how secure I felt when he kissed my forehead, but that’s all there was. I just remembered; I didn’t feel it now.

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I Dated Mother Nature

I Dated Mother Nature
by Joshua Harding

I guess the ex I remember most is Mother Nature—or Gaia, as she prefers to be called. What more could a man want, really? She was fertility incarnate, a living Venus of Willendorf, a walking, talking cornucopia of procreation. Her hips were rolling hillocks, alive with the sound of music. Her auburn hair would whisk against her smooth shoulders with the hush of a Montana wheat field.

She was a jealous bitch, though. She’d flood my apartment with heavy rains or drop a tree in front of me if I so much as looked at another woman. Our relationship was, to use a cliché, a little stormy at times. But God, did she have great tits!

My older sister had dragged me to a party in the Jersey suburbs so I could meet some people and maybe find a job and maybe become more responsible. I’d just graduated from Colgate in the class of ’58 with a degree in literature (or “filth,” according to my mother), and I realized the moment the hostess took my coat that I didn’t fit in and never would. I was an artist—a poet—with a spine-cracked copy of A Coney Island of the Mind in my pocket. I had nothing in common with those workaday types. You could practically scrape their quiet desperation off the floor.

I happened to notice a book strategically placed on the coffee table: Henry Miller’s Under the Roofs of Paris. Its title peeked out furtively from beneath the latest issue of Woman’s Day. The hostess, a childless suburban housewife and high school friend of my sister’s, was trying very hard to advertise that she was into banned books. Too bad no one at the party (including her) had actually read the thing and knew the saucy nuances contained inside.

I looked at the book and then at the room full of people all wearing their Chanel and Dior with the sable fur trim, and thought: These ladies think of themselves as worldly and scandalous. They wish they were having affairs (with Henry Miller in Paris) while their husbands are out playing golf. They need to get out more. And I wondered how many of the husbands were doing just that to their wives—screwing someone at the office or the trade show or the regional sales meeting.

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Stuck

Stuck
by Andrew Atkinson

The alarm started blaring promptly at 7:00 a.m., just as it had every morning for the last eight years. Alan was already awake; his internal body clock had gotten so used to waking up at that time it had started rousing him five minutes before the alarm sounded.

He climbed out of bed, stretched, and hobbled over to the food replicator.

“Morning, Foody,” he said. “What’ve we got for breakfast today?”

“We have fried eggs and bacon, or cornflakes,” the electronic voice of the food replicator replied.

“Eggs and bacon, I think.”

Alan ate his breakfast quickly and crossed to the other side of the room. Filling the whole wall was the Information Network Super Computer; a large screen dominated most of the computer, with a few lights and buttons on either side.

“And good morning to you, Ms. Knowledge.” Alan punched a few buttons on the left side of the computer and the face of a young woman appeared onscreen.

“Good morning, Alan,” Ms. Knowledge replied. “I hope you are feeling well?”

For eight years, Alan had been going through this routine, and in all that time, he had never been able to figure out why the computer’s programmers had seen fit to give the computer the face of Marilyn Monroe and the voice of Vivien Leigh. It was such a weird combination.

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The Whole Tooth

The Whole Tooth
by Steven P. Bouchard

Two kids were studying the grotesque doll in front of Earnest’s carnival tent.

“It might grant you a wish if you’re worthy,” the carny said, straightening his tie.

“Yeah, right.” The girl was maybe 11, the boy, a few years younger. He stared in awe, while she had a typical preteen look of disdain.

The old carny came around the doll’s footlocker. “Right as rain. Push that little button, and if he loses a tooth, you get your wish.”

The doll was four feet tall and dressed in a suave ringmaster’s suit. If it weren’t for his bulging, bloodshot eyes and the set of oversized teeth protruding from his blackened gums, he might have been considered dapper. But Granddaddy never was a dapper man, and he’d have thrashed anyone who even suggested it.

“He’s ugly,” said the boy, making a face.

“Yep. Just as ugly as in life.”

“He’s not alive.” Again, that head-wagging attitude. Granddaddy would hate the girl.

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Unfurled

Unfurled
by Kiya Krier

“No home toys at school, Rylan,” I said, folding myself into the preschool-sized chair.

He pulled the orange figurine from his pocket. His pants were on backward. Again.

“She’s not a toy,” he said. “She’s a real, live dragon.” The model stood, head held high, front foot cocked off Rylan’s scabbed palm, little wings unfurled slightly.

“Beautiful. Put the toy in your cubby.”

His dark brows drew together. “Ms. Kathy, she doesn’t like when people call her that.”

I glanced at my watch. Three minutes late. “Of course, just put it away.”

I followed Rylan with my eyes as I sang the circle-welcoming song to the rest of the class. His ankles showed between his shoes and pant hems. The scabs were back. If only he would stop picking them.

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