"Seascape" by Damon Macias Moreno
A man paints seascapes. Not waves beating pilings or piers, but waves trailing waves, patterns of furrowing water. The paintings surge on his walls, like breathing gray and blue windows. They tilt against cabinets, occupy halls and garage.
Visitors appear, saying, Why don’t you show these? Or: I love this. How much?
And the man, touched, shakes his head, knowing how faulty each canvas is, how incomplete, flawed.
Then he meets a young woman. He does all he can not to fall in. She invites him to dinner. They eat crab cakes, raw oysters. She's a rover, a sea dog, she tells him. Her rudderless mother was guided by stars. He smiles. They smile together. She's dressed in pale yellow. Her damp hair is dark red.
After ice cream and a movie they go to his house. She's entranced by the paintings. They pause in the bedroom by windows of water, wave after turbulent wave; she turns to kiss him, and sighing, tips toward a painting — and slips in. Into the sea he has painted.
Come swim! she exclaims.
And the pictures, each and all, on the walls, start to swell. They shudder, they murmur and throb. The girl floats along, singing. She beckons. Over the clamor the man tries to answer, call to her, love her, but can't, or does not, his heart stuck, afraid, or unready: a heart sutured shut before it can shatter, a wet fist, or drowned yellow flower, surging with living by not giving in.
"Leonid" by Eoin Connolly
On the morning of Leonid’s wife’s birthday, he went into town to buy flowers.
The traffic was dreadful. The florist lacked violets. He asked again, to be sure, but there was no getting around it: there were no violets to be had. The assistant couldn’t tell him when they would have more.
It was the latest in the series of disappointments that had come to characterise Leonid’s recent history. He left the florist without any flowers and went to the bar.
When he got home, his wife was asleep on the couch. Her mouth was hanging open.
While she slept, he kissed her open mouth. He pulled the blanket, which had fallen down, back around her shoulders.
The next day, it snowed. Leonid woke up and saw the snow and felt like crying.
After his morning coffee, he went out into the snow. He made it to the oak tree in the middle of his field. He stood there by the oak tree and stamped his feet in place, wondering at how a crunch created by his own two feet could splinter the stifled world so.
There has never been very much to write about Leonid, although the author does not hold this against him.
"The Blouse" by Carolyn R. Russell
I struggle out of a thickly layered dream; something shifts in my chest and grows heavy. My mother is shaking my arm. I can see by the faint light the moon is throwing through the bedroom window that she’s got her scary smile on, the one that says she’s being reasonable, it’s us that are crazy, driving her to say and do things she wishes she didn’t have to.
She wants her blouse back.
What blouse I ask, trying to focus. You know, she says. The blue one with green flowers on it.
This is a blow, as I have eaten myself out of most of my own clothing and need this top that my mother, in desperation, has bestowed upon me. Her thinking is that it’s ridiculous to waste good money on clothes that won’t fit me in three weeks and maybe having nothing to wear will motivate me to be more sensible.
She says again that she wants her blouse back. Now.
I look at my alarm clock. It’s 2:45 am. I get out of bed, trying not to wake my sister on the other side of the room, and find the blouse in my closet, paired with a faded denim skirt. My outfit for school tomorrow. I hand it to her, and she does this thing I dread most, a stiff-necked nod meant to convey that okay, we’re square, all’s right with the world. I get back into bed.
In the morning, I know, she won’t say a word to me, and I’ll be invisible to her for three or four days. Maybe longer.
"Horror Vacui (Nature Abhors a Vacuum) by Louis Rossi
When the postman’s round takes him along Crompton Street, he calls at number 30. He calls at 32. Then he calls at number 36.
Number 34 is gone.
The gap in the row of densely-packed terraced houses glares like a missing tooth. A tangle of weeds and brambles crowds the space where there was once a house – fecund and strangling in summer, a labyrinth of bare sticks in winter.
They had to dig the garden to a depth of eight feet to find them all.
Local children dare one another to run through the tangle of weeds to the alley behind. There are few takers. The houses to either side seem to draw away from the space. Tenants never stay long, in spite of the rock-bottom rent.
They tore up the floorboards and ripped out the skirting. They took up the plumbing and found hollow spaces in the walls.
Those who remember cross the street when they pass. Those who don’t are compelled to glance up, drawn by the naked space where space shouldn’t exist. Some note the broken numerical sequence, and are reminded of towers that eschew the 13th floor.
Piece by piece and room by room, the house gave up its secrets.
For a while it stood empty, boarded windows and doors staring blankly. Vagrants and trespassers did not disturb its silence.
At last the bulldozers came, and the people were relieved. Under the scarred and shining blades the house became a ruin, the ruin a vacant space.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and the space would not stay empty. In its absence we fill that void with terrible things both remembered and imagined.
And when we pass the place where the house once was, we pull our coats tighter around ourselves, suppress a shudder and quicken our step.
"Guarding the Greenhouse" by Elizabeth Spencer Spragins
Gerard cursed as broken glass crunched under his boots. Who would steal plants from a botanical garden? The horticulturist scanned the orchids he had tended for half a century and released a shaky breath. Then he grinned. A white cap stained with blood was caught on the lowest arm of the saguaro cactus.
"Paris in this Light" by Theresa Richardson
Looking at Paris in this light made it seem like the Eiffel Tower shimmered with gold. A group of tourists stood at its snow enveloped feet, wrapped in warm coats with their heads tilted upwards. Although Eleanor could not make out their facial expressions, she was certain their faces would be mesmerized by the illuminated sight before them.
From as long as she could remember Eleanor and her mother spoke about taking a trip to Paris. Her mother had authoritatively advised Eleanor and only half-jokingly, “In Paris we shall spend the time eating only bread and cheese and drinking nothing but wine.” Eleanor chuckled to herself as she took in the magical scene. The snowflakes looked as if they were suspended in the sky, ever so slowly making their way to the ground.
Eleanor's red rimmed eyes became bleary and she could no longer focus on Paris. With one hand she gently shook the snow globe one last time before resting it safely back on her mother’s dresser. As she did, she swore she felt her mother’s frail hand grip hers a little tighter. It hurt to see her once spritely mother now bed bound, taking in deep exaggerated breaths that were becoming further and further apart. Eleanor’s chest tightened and her throat felt constricted as she gulped, overwhelmed with what could only be described as a mixture of regret and fear. Knowing without a doubt that her promise would never come to fruition, from her trembling lips she still found herself utter the words “We will go next year, I promise.”
"You Are Here" by Darcy Isla
Kasim jiggles at the curb, waiting for traffic to clear, then runs across and into the department store. I brace myself against the still chill of this grey country, hands in pockets and head in hood. I clutch a glossy plastic bag of new trinkets to my side. I was paid today. It is late for Christmas shoppers; I am here at the end of the rush with those who couldn't make time for such trivial things because their days were filled with more aspirational decisions. Decisions that affect whole catchment areas, whole countries.
I keep company with my reflection in the puddle. I am a middle-aged shape with the face of a child awaiting the first day back at school, in the yard listening to the cacophony of yells and laughter and a season's worth of questions - where did you get that bag, Shadi? Did you have to see your uncle, the one with the big face and hands?
I picture our flat on the nation's special day next week and watch the reflection of the sky turn mischievously bright blue, like a kid sneaking a volume dial back up when they've been told to keep it down. I think about all the things I came here to do. Think about the first days, weeks. How the months have passed. What 'long-term' looks like now. The meaning of 'comfortable'. I learn of a hole in my shoe where the puddle has crept in to remind me - you are here.
"Matagi" by Irene May Pearce
A solitary ghost from nine generations laid the bear with its head to the west and made three cuts to the liver, loins and heart. A grotesque life mount in the massage chair gestured towards bottles of ancient plum wine. Carved-up bear cousin parts lay inside the walk-in freezer. And there were boxes. Walking past the gun rack in the shower cubicle, the room known as Little China embodied a crammed street market. Strangers ventured inside, inspecting the vacant inn and what was left of an old man and his gods. Everything the forest taught him was now for sale.
"Pseudo-Science-Fiction" by Scott Steensma
In a pseudo-science-fiction universe, great pyramidal ships cross solar systems on pulsing tails of ancient Egyptian energy, leaping the void from star to star with the space-bending forces of Uri Geller drives.
On-board, advanced astrology scanners predict enemy movements, directing weaponized crystal vibrations that tear
fleets to molecules and carve gouges into worlds. When the crystal cannons fall silent, brave warriors in foil helmets teleport to battle, rooting out experts, empiricists and other deviants while distributing relief supplies of goji berries and magnetic bracelets.
As the galaxy shakes with war, brave, freethinking pseudo- scientists beat back terrifying alien plagues with spinal
realignments, robotic Reiki-docs and last-ditch intravenous flower essences. The great thinkers of the era know that there is no problem in this bright future that cannot be solved with the skilled application of hard opinion.
The triumphant forces of pseudo-science-fiction pity lesser universes, marveling at their inability to harness the exponential energies of homeopathic fuel and their refusal to acknowledge the autism-nanotech link. The mighty empires of pseudoscience plan expeditions to these other realities, hoping to bring light to worlds suffering under the tyranny of logic and evidence, sad places where only the possible, is possible.
"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.