"Oatmeal Dinner" by Brendan Thomas
The mother watched the small army of children kick up stones in the dirt, jump over stools, and chase each other between the tents of the camp. They were happy the way children can be for an hour or day, carefree and unburdened, when they forget who they are, and where they live.
She couldn’t. Dinner would be oatmeal again, unless her husband and older son scored an avocado where they were picking. She imagined cutting it in half, dicing the flesh, and arranging the cubes on a chipped plate with sprigs of cilantro.
She corralled her youngest boy and used spittle and her sleeve to wipe dirt from his cheek. He trotted away and disappeared into the melee. She wondered when his laughter would stop.
She remembered skipping to her house from school when she was seven.
Her mother served warm milk and freshly baked bread at the dining table, the heart of their home. Her little one didn’t go to school. He had no shoes. No milk, no bread, no table. Home was a tent in a pickers camp in California's central valley.
She pushed loose hair from her eyes. Her husband used to call her beautiful.
“Your eyes dance like stars and your breasts are soft and round.” Not anymore.
“Scrawny,” her father would say. Her eyes were dull and her chest was hollow. She was skinny and old, inside, and out.
Her future was survival. She feared her son's would be migrant pickers forever.
They returned tired and hungry. She kissed their dusty foreheads, and pushed their hair behind their ears.
“I hope you know how much dad and I love you,” she said.
Her youngest laughed and squirmed away.
Her eldest asked, “What’s for dinner?”
“With avocado and apples,” he said, emptying his pockets.
"Her Collage" by Melanie Roussel
The scattered papers lie haphazardly before her. You might fool yourself into believing, by squinting and tilting your head, that they’ve fallen into shape already. Not clearly, but like an elusive creature gliding beneath the ripples. She judges them all carefully. Free of the heap, each scrap of paper makes sense. Each valuable and elegant in its own way. But she can’t gaze at them forever; there’s work to do. The blank card is waiting.
With the attitude of an artist finally putting brush to canvas, she places the strictly square and navy piece of her education in the center. Uninspired, perhaps. But it’s a traditional foundation to work from. The trouble is the bright and glittering circle of her creativity clashes, no matter where she puts it. The top, the middle left, the bottom right. Nothing seems to work. Well, they say the early years are the hardest. Keep going.
The overlarge piece of a parent’s expectation. The twisted slip of rebellious teenage years. Another clash. Courage in her individuality, but the need to fit in. Honesty, though in certain angles, it looks more like callousness. Wanderlust. Responsibility alone takes up half of her precious space. How’s she going to fit anything else in? She pushes aside dark years of depression, but there, it appears again, peeking out from under the rest. You can’t hide it, not anymore. But shadows define, don’t they?
Harmony must be possible, even in this collage of clashes. She rearranges again and again. How can anyone make a person from this muddle? Leaning back, she stares forlornly at what now resembles a tragic explosion. The edges of her collage curl away in shame. She lifts the card, the unstuck person falls away, back into potential. Let’s try again.
"Folklores in the Flesh" by Kailey Blount
The town, itself, was built on soil filled with secrets. Secrets spun for centuries, disguised as tall tales Nona only remembered on Sunday’s, right before dinner, when she required the help of those with small hands and big ears.
We’d set the table for eight. Hold up, nine. Thank the lord, Uncle Vinny was attending. The devil hadn’t banned him from seeing his real family yet, but just you wait till those claws of hers dig up a ring.
Nona, our enigmatic storyteller, wielded Fairfield’s folklore like a scorned lover with a vendetta. Divulging the specifics sparingly, and the truth, well, what is a good story but a sin and a name?
And their sins, they were countless. Men wearing chains of gold chased dirty green bills and ran from bars constructed of silver and steel. Women donned diamonds and owned red lips rogue with rumors and noses held permanently high in deceit. Nona called them old acquaintances. I called them classmates. And you. You call them The Sopranos.
If Sunday nights were Nona’s, Monday mornings were mine. The new girl with chestnut ringlets dusting her neck and glasses sitting at the bridge of her nose didn’t know of Nona’s tales. She didn’t know of any at all. I intended to spill them. Never the wiser, that she would one day repeat my folklores in the flesh.
"The Gardener" by Stefan Harich
There’s a strange boy in town. He wears his cap all wrong and doesn’t seem to realize that jeans showing off ankle are not long, but in fact too short. Every time he comes through Hillary Gardens, I see him panting with the strain of walking up the hill. He isn’t bigger than your usual Scottish teenager but that rise always gives him the shakes.
Today – I am just brooding over dead weeds and lost friendships, feeling deserted - I notice him coming to a heaving halt half way up the climb. He is coughing and retching and looks right miserable.
Against the lethargy, I decide to step from the safety of the flower beds and approach him.
He has his hands on his knees and is sweating worse than a bomb defuser deliberating wires. He stops me with a look. “Don’t bother”, he manages between coughs, “there’s no helping.”
I cock my head. “Sure there is.” I take his side and offer my arm. He considers me and after a pause, he places his hand on the glove covering mine. I notice neatly trimmed nails at the tip of filigree fingers. “Hold on now," I tell him.
We start up the rise, his arm’s weight feeling minimal on mine. With every laboring step however, his grip tightens and he inches closer until, three quarters of the way up, he is clinging to me with all his might. Tears are streaking his cheeks and the coughing is relieved by sobs.
He feels on my arm not like a stranger at all now. And as we crest the hill, the desolation in his heart is mine and mine is his, and it begins to heal.
"The Mark" by Livia Kovacs
It stood next to other regular chairs at the kitchen table. Sometimes her mom moved it around till it got lost among the others. She had to know. Had to. When it was time to dine together she wouldn't sit on it even with the threat of torture. Her stomach became wobbly from the thought.
Something had to be done.
One afternoon she accidentally pulled out the string inside of her favorite pants while trying to pull it tighter on her waist. The light gray color made it more visible on the faint green fabric of the seat. Sinking into graveyard's green grass. She tied a knot around the chair back and let the rest hang down on the wooden legs. From now on, she thought, her mom could shuffle the chair around but she will always remember it.
Dinner time the old man sat down unaware of the change. His funny smell filled the room and mixed with the pork slices. She was too young to diagnose liver failure but subconsciously understood the message. He reached his fork out with an indifferent facial expression. Mom was extremely nice and pulled the meat plate closer to him. The girl sat there smiling at the old man, thinking about her victory.
"Sinister Summoning" by Shelbie Kellum
They cross the river, their feet dipping into the warm water before finding purchase on the steep bank. The only light to guide them is the full moon overhead.
“You think she’s here?” Willow whispers, afraid that some monstrous creature will spring forward if she speaks up.
“She wouldn’t invite us if she wasn’t here,” her older sister says in a scolding voice.
As if sensing their doubt, a light at the front of the old cabin flickers to life. The door opens with a creak and Aunt Bel steps onto the porch.
“Come on in!” she bellows. Willow can’t help but giggle and both girls break out in a full run.
The cabin is one big room on the inside with a kitchen, sitting area, and a cramped loft. The décor is rustic but imbued with magic, alternating between old tools and dusty bottles of herbs. They gather around the rickety table, the girls bubbling with excitement and Aunt Bel smiling at their enthusiasm.
A collection of rocks, animal bones, and rose petals are piled in the middle of the table. Once the girls settle down, they eye the centerpiece with suspicion.
“We aren’t doing anything scary, are we?” Willow asks.
Aunt Bel chuckles. “Oh yes,” she says.
The girls exchange a worried glance. Aunt Bel runs both hands through the air, making them dance in the dim light of the cabin. After a tense moment, a spark of magic appears between her palms. The girls gasp.
Aunt Bel flings the drop of magic onto the dark stones with a flare and a wink. Willow and her sister scoot their chairs back and almost bolt away, but what appears stops them. It’s a large bowl teeming with…
“Ice cream!” They shout in unison.
Aunt Bel cackles.
"A Fair Amount of Ghosts" by Zach Murphy
He plays the trumpet brilliantly on the corner of Grand and Victoria. He doesn’t look like he’s from this era. He’s impeccably dressed, from his crisply fitting suit to his smooth fedora hat. There aren’t many folks that can pull that off. He’s cooler than the freezer aisle on a sweltering summer day. He performs the type of yearning melodies that give you the goosebumps. I’ve never seen anyone put any money into his basket.
There’s a formidable stone house that sits atop Fairmount Hill. It’s been for sale for as long as I can remember. The crooked post sinks deeper into the soil with each passing year. It isn’t a place to live in. It’s a place to dwell in. There’s a dusty rocking chair on the front porch. It’s always rocking. Always rocking. I’m not sure if the chair is occupied by an old soul or if it’s just the wind. Maybe it’s both. I guess the wind is an old soul.
This town is full of posters for Missing Cats. There’s one for a sweet, fluffy Maine Coon named “Bear.” He’s been gone for a while now. I’ve searched through every alleyway, under every porch, and inside of every bush for him. Sometimes I think I see him out of the corner of my eye. But then he’s not there. The rain has pretty much washed away the tattered posters. If he ever turns up, I worry that the posters will be missing.
I met the love of my life in Irvine Park, near the gloriously spouting water fountain, beneath the serene umbrella of oak trees. We spent a small piece of eternity there together. We talked about whether or not the world was coming to an end soon, and if all of our memories will be diminished along with it. After we said our goodbyes and she walked off into the distance, I never saw her again. So I left my heart in Irvine Park.
"Slow as Molasses" by Melissa Taggart
While growing up in Alberta, Canada I often heard the expression “slow as molasses." It was often followed up by “running uphill, in January”. January being the most frigid of months meant everything moved turtle paced if you were lucky. Besides this outdated simile, nevertheless we often had molasses on hand in my house.
My dad had grown up in Nova Scotia where molasses had been a staple. His birthday cake was often spiced. It paired perfectly with the winter flavourings of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. The smell of cinnamon and cloves often wafting through every corner of his home as if it had always belonged there. Christmas baking, molasses cookies provided “the warmest of hugs on a winter’s night” as he told it. When eaten straight from the oven. My father always sharing this tale from yesteryear as a rule each time he had a hankering for some cake.
Dad arrived home from work. A factory worker for years meant he hobbled while he made his way into the Livingroom. At the ripe old age of 45 he moved as quick as one would expect Methuselah could manoeuvre. Physical labour long ago claimed my father’s body and soul. Happiness was hard to come by. As if it had been stuck in a black strapped sludge of exhaustion, relinquishing all hope of a life outside of the almighty paycheck. A colorful expletive soon exited his mouth as his backside met his old recliner. Here he would remain for the rest of the evening. His dirtied baseball cap missed the side table landing onto the floor.
“Is that spiced cake I smell Frankie?” dad wearily asked.
Cracking an ever so slight smile. The Albertan winter had not hardened my father completely. After all there was still cake.
"Lover" by Miri Aung
You know, the couples in romcoms always have their conversations lying on a grassy field somewhere, probably braiding daisies into each other’s hair. That’s what they do in books or in films, but not in real life.
In real life, the conversations don’t appear all lined up like dominoes, or neat pages in a book. They’re smaller, squeezed in the spaces between the fridge and the wall, in the gap under the next step on the stairs.
Jonny was hanging his clothes up again. Kim thought he did it periodically, like a reflex when he had nothing else to do with his hands.
“Did you pick up the washing?”
Kim shook her head. The walk-in closet was big enough for the both of them, so she was getting dressed as they spoke.
“I thought it was your turn.”
“Hmm,” he replied. Jonny was always going, hmm. When he was frustrated. When he was upset. A quick, tangy hmm when he was about to laugh.
“What about the newspaper? You know Noomi loves it in the morning.”
“I got it,” Kim answered, tying the edges of her shoelace.
“Ok, then. Thanks.”
“Okay,” said Kim.
These days, maybe their conversations weren’t even big enough to fill the space between the fridge and the wall. More like the beat between their breaths.
"The Change" by Jennifer Vandenberg
The day Jamie finally turned invisible came as a relief. She was tired of people asking when she would turn. Her mom was the only one telling her not to rush it because invisibility was forever. Jamie didn’t care. Four of her best friends at middle school were already invisible, and it was all they ever talked about. Jamie had felt excluded.
Excited to share the news, Jamie ran downstairs into the kitchen. Her mom stood at the stove, scrambling eggs with a spatula that seemed to float as she held it in her see-through hand.
“Mom!” Jamie shouted. “I’m invisible!”
Her mom turned, the front of her colorful button-down dress now visible. “I’ll miss your beautiful smile, sweetie. It’s a shame you can’t change back.”
Jamie’s smile slipped as she realized no one would see her expressions again. Was this why her mom wasn’t celebrating with her? No, she chided herself. This was a good thing. “I won’t ever want to change back. Now I will know what my friends are talking about. It’s exciting!”
Her mom hugged her. “Today it is. Eventually, it will just be normal. It’s our burden as women.”
Jamie shook the doubts from her head. “It’s not a burden. I’m glad I went through the change.”
Something warm touched her cheek, and Jamie leaned into her mother’s hand. The gesture felt reassuring, but her mom’s sigh sounded sad. “If you’re happy, then I’m happy for you.” After another quick hug, the spatula waved in the air toward the stairs. “Go on, and wake your brother.”
Jamie walked away, sure her mother was wrong. Being invisible was the best, even if no one could see her, right? Puzzled, Jamie knocked on her brother’s door. Change was harder than she had expected.