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the immigrant dream | Ishanee Chanda

the immigrant dream

you and me, together, in a house
that is just small enough to hear us hold our breath.
two tails, eight legs, and a pair of wet noses
running around our knees - not a single child in sight.
two cars in the driveway. a christmas tree touching the ceiling,
always four months into the new year. your hand on my waist
when i am sleeping or cooking breakfast or dancing in the bathroom
before bedtime. my nuzzling your clothes every time you leave the house
for a jug of milk or a midnight snack. gold rings glinting
in the muted light of the moon. a fluttering that lives in our
skin for as long as the sun turns in the sky.

Ishanee Chanda

Ishanee Chanda is a prose writer and poet from Dallas, Texas. She is the author or two books of poetry titled Oh, these walls, they crumble and The Overflow. Additionally, she has been published in the Eckleberg Project, Stoked Words: A Queer Anthology, Z Publishing House’s Emerging Texas Writers, Flypaper Magazine, and Apricity Press. Ishanee currently resides in Washington, D.C. where she works full-time in the field of humanitarian aid and refugee response. You can find her loitering a farmer's market, chasing her cat, and cooking her girlfriend fresh pasta every Tuesday night.

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Alecto | Megan Alpert



I wanted the wolves to let me stay
where I was, to let me keep what I had.
If meat lay rotting in the yard, I’d step
around it. If mold grew in the gutters,
I’d breathe the spores. The house’s outer wood
was sad and grey, but inside it was new enough
for furniture. She brought sofas and her own
made table. We had a fireplace and a mantel
with a photograph. But the wolves sent grief
running through the storm drain. They sent rage
that made the housewood warp and bend.
They forced me out from there with nothing
on my back and no guide.      I listened:
voices in the leaves at first, then voices
of the dead and then, finally, voices of the living
ran up my veins like chlorophyll
thickening a stem. They took me
to mines and watersheds.
I breathed. I spread my arms.


I met two men: a half-girl I lost; and a second,
starving and heartsick. He sang me
to my knees, he heard, he loved
the voices in me. The scars on his chest
inked into morning glories and I held fast
to his listening ear at my sternum.
When he grew violent and frightened,
I dimmed their gnash and howl,
staved off the wolves that gathered
in the weak apartment light. The voices
cut out. My breath went out
like a windstruck candle. Rigid-mouthed,
sleepless under the helicopters; the wolves
sent heat, sent visions of my own arms
cut open into pools.      Only because
I’d repelled them. I walked into the woods alone,
the snow a balm to my throat:
spine-bent, following their tracks.
I want to be what I was.

Megan Alpert

Megan Alpert is the author of The Animal at Your Side, which won the Airlie Prize and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Julie Suk Award. Her poems have appeared in Copper Nickel, the Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, Verse Daily, and many others. As a journalist, she reported for The Atlantic, Smithsonian, The Guardian, and Foreign Policy.

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Contextualizing a Forest Fire Continually Burning | Jared Beloff

Contextualizing a Forest Fire Continually Burning

after Erika Meitner's "Outside the Frame"

Outside the frame a toppled tree, a burning telephone pole, our wish to call our father who is reading headlines drinking coffee, steam rising from the rim to his face, a pleasant heat. Outside the frame melting asphalt, a sea of tar, friction and tires, a bus sinks into the road’s dark bed before pushing off for the day’s commute. Outside the frame particulate matter helixed in a window’s light, a wheezing refrigerator in an apartment that won’t cool down, a son teaching his mother what wet bulb temperatures are before she changes the subject to describe a new mask for sleep apnea. Outside the frame troubled sleep and orange skies. Outside the frame, brunch across from the park where children are playing, the stacking of spoons, cream gyres in refilled cups of coffee. Outside the frame a television’s light flickers against our walls, tourists running toward waves, aerial views of refugees carpeting boat decks until we are floating above flames to a panorama of char and embers, a ragged orange line across the horizon and we rise to the smoke’s dim curtain, the white sun that burns behind it and we lift higher still, through the thermosphere, sunset-singed clouds, contrails drawing new borders into a map of loss as we catch the sun along the earth’s curve and we realize all this time we’ve been burning together.

Jared Beloff

Jared Beloff is the author of WHO WILL CRADLE YOUR HEAD (ELJ Editions, 2023). He is the editor of the Marvel inspired poetry anthology, Marvelous Verses (Daily Drunk, 2021) and has been a peer-reviewer for Whale Road Review since 2021. His work can be found at Night Heron Barks, Baltimore Review, River Mouth Review, The Shore, Contrary Magazine and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Read_Instead and his website He is a teacher who lives in Queens, NY with his wife and two daughters.

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HONORABLE MENTION: Mad Libs Sonnet: Portrait of my Father | Tanya Sangpun Thamkruphat

Mad Libs Sonnet: Portrait of My Father

Tanya Sangpun Thamkruphat

Tanya Sangpun Thamkruphat is a Thai-Vietnamese American poet and essayist. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Em(body)ment of Wonder (Raine Publishing, 2021) and It Wasn’t a Dream (Fahmidan Publishing & Co., 2022). Her poetry appears in Button Poetry, Honey Literary, The Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. She's a 2023 Kenyon Review alum. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @madamewritelyso.

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THIRD PLACE: The Trees in Dealey Plaza Seemed Distressed | Sarah Carey

The Trees in Dealey Plaza Seemed Distressed

so county arborists trim live oaks on the knoll
where footsteps of a thousand tourists
over half a century compress soil

like buried memory. I was six, in first grade
curling cursive when Kennedy died
and my father arrived at the schoolyard

in our good used Ford, and said,
oh honey, shook his head.
I wish I could say I never looked back

but violence always cuts me down to size.
Some trees remember droughts, conserve
what water comes, a process of abscission,

building reservoir, a stand against
our misremembered dead.
Meanwhile, the arborists aim to reclaim

points of view, with each lopped limb,
strategic prune. Some retrace trajectory of bullet,
as if we could map regeneration, make old new.

Sarah Carey

Sarah Carey is a graduate of the Florida State University creative writing program. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Five Points, Sugar House Review, Florida Review, Zone 3, Redivider, River Heron Review, Split Rock Review, Atlanta Review and elsewhere. Her book reviews have appeared recently in Salamander, EcoTheo Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and the Los Angeles Review.

Sarah's poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Orison Anthology. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, including Accommodations (2019), winner of the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award. Her debut full-length collection was a finalist for the 2023 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and the 2023 Barry Spacks Prize sponsored by Gunpowder Press. Visit her at, Instagram @skcarey1 or on Twitter @SayCarey1.

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SECOND PLACE: Emerald Echocardiogram | Adrian Dallas Frandle

Emerald Echocardiogram

If the chance comes I’ll take one fewer vice in life.

Lungs smoked in relief & screen-splayed
heart ghastly white
beating interdimensional
if seen through cardiologist eyes. A house

built along the border of two weathers.
I might have wished to straddle that seam:
........................brick stitchline
sewn purple.

My joyous wraith would haunt this hill
long after any home could contain it.

No one even bothered to
ask the body if it had needs
of its own. No one thought to: the tissue
at hand is now handled outside

my skin. Around the back side of rain
I try to listen but please don’t speak

unless I am in miniature
doll form. There I embed
a coin in the garden & wait
for an opening. The sky is still

a paywall. My heart still
grows green with debt.

Adrian Dallas Frandle

Adrian Dallas Frandle (they/he) is a queer fish who writes poems to the world about its future. They are Poetry Acquisitions Editor for Variant Press & Associate Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes. “Book of Extraction: Poems with Teeth” is out now with Kith Books. Find work online at

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FIRST PLACE: anticlea [ante-clee-ah] n. queen of ithaca and mother to odysseus | Michele Evans

anticlea [ante-clee-ah] n. queen of ithaca and mother to odysseus

i told him too much of anything is almost always a bad thing,
just because there are too many fish in the sea doesn't mean
you should catch one for every day of the week, except sunday,
because one day, six heads will scoop you up and eat you alive.

this is not the moment i have been waiting for - hades is a mother's
hospital waiting room, a dreadful place where restless soles pace,
where twenty minutes feels like twenty years waiting for my son’s
return from bird watching, jogging, wandering, while i sit waiting.

why don't you pick on someone your own size, i moaned, trapped
inside one cave's soundproof walls. bet this lawless monster swears
nobody did this. contradicting eye phone witness and millions
who heard my baby boy cry, choking out, "mama, i can't breathe."

Michele Evans

Michele Evans, a fifth-generation Washingtonian (D.C.), is a writer, high school English teacher, and adviser for her school's literary magazine, Unbound. Despite always wearing the color black, she exhibits a certain fondness for blueberries, blue hydrangeas, blues musicians, and Blue Mountain coffee. Named a semifinalist for the 2023 Airlie Prize from Airlie Press, Michele has been published in Artemis Journal, Tangled Locks, The Write Launch, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry chapbook, purl, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2024. You can find her at or @awordsmithie on Instagram.

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The Photo | Ayshe Dengtash

The Photo

She thought back to all the wonderful memories she’d had with him. The photo was where she had left it two hours ago, turned face up on the chipped wooden coffee table they’d bought together when they’d first gotten married. She rummaged through the shoebox in which she’d collected snippets of their relationship over the past seven years. Glancing over poems he’d written to her on the backs of receipts, she recalled how they’d once been happy. She picked out a receipt and turned it over, eager to see what kind of things they’d shopped for all those years ago, if perhaps they would give her a hint on why everything had changed. But the ink had faded and all that remained was the logo of the supermarket they still went to. She contemplated going back to live with her mother, six hours away on the island she’d left all those years ago, back before she’d had a child, back when her skin was not the pale white it was now but instead was sun-kissed and salty with the sea she’d race into with her sister after a long day in the fields picking cucumbers and aubergine.

On this island, women didn’t leave their husbands. They endured, waiting for them to mature, for white to invade their crowns and strands of hair to fall out one by one until empty spaces shone at their drawn-back temples, for pot bellies to protrude from the gonyak they drank while their wives picked fresh leaves of molehiya to dry. She knew that her mother would tell her to wait a few more years, until he mellowed, became a ghost of himself, like she’d told her sister all those years ago.

“You’re too sensitive,” her husband had told her before she’d seen anything, when things were just a feeling. In truth, now looking at the photo, she knew she’d not been entirely right, that she’d pestered him about the wrong things, enraged by the scent of tobacco on his lips when she

knew he didn’t smoke and the tinge of alcohol on his breath when she’d never seen him drink. She dropped the receipt into the box, and slid the latter back into the cabinet over the TV, recalling the hole in the wall in her mother’s room, closed off by a makeshift wooden door which was always bolted with a heavy-duty lock. Behind it was hidden the royal-purple tub of sweets relatives brought back from England—chocolates cradled in shiny wrappers, their centres oozing caramel and sticky strawberry and orange creams, everything too soft in the blistering summer heat, everything too sweet and sickening. She’d risk it sometimes, smothering the lock in olive oil, tugging at it until it gave way, and rummaging for the one she liked the most, encased in a wrapper the same colour as the box, its centre hard with a roasted hazelnut. When her mother found the lock, dripping oil, she immediately knew who it was; her sister didn’t touch sweets, despised the tingle they left in her gums she said, and her mother would come running, scolding her, shouting that she’d not find a husband if she continued the way she did. “I don’t want a husband,” she’d say. Just chocolates and the sun, and the mild winters which were somewhat of a respite after the six months of summer that seared at her skin. But she’d fallen for love like all the girls in her village and nothing was as sweet anymore.

She had cried, wanting her husband to see how saddened she was that he’d come home late, his black trench coat shiny with glitter. He raised his hat at their daughter who’d emerged from behind her, eager to greet her father who brought home things with him, girly things like plastic rings with plastic jewels and multi-coloured plaited threads which could be used as bracelets. He’d ignored her, instead hugging his daughter who ran at him, plunging her tiny hands into his pockets, searching for presents. She’d look down at them, at his black whiskers and her daughter’s sparse hair on the top of her crown which she’d tried to fill out with concoctions of olive oil, vinegar and egg yolk as her mother had instructed. His presence dominated the room, filled out the cold

was his home. He had bought everything within it; the blue velvet sofas, the chequered carpet on the floor which she despised. Yet, she was certain he never felt like it was his at all. He walked around the edges of the rooms, touching the walls with the tips of his fingers as if he might fall. She would hug him from behind, her face catching the glitter from his coat, and when he rose, she followed him, walking at the edges herself, all the way to their bedroom. Closing the door behind her, she’d watch as he pulled open the drawers to pick up a pair of clean socks, a clean t-shirt, shorts—all the things he’d change into when he’d washed the glitter off.

She picked up the photo and plunged it into her cardigan’s pocket, gazing out at the street below her window. The lamps had already been turned on. He’d be home any second now. A cat screeched in the distance, a death-scream, like something was after it. There is always something in trouble, she thought to herself, sitting on the edge of the sofa, opposite the front door, listening to any sounds which might be coming from inside her bedroom where her daughter was sleeping. Her suitcase lay open on the bed, packed to the brim with all she owned. She walked past it every day, aware of its presence under the bed, where it had been tucked seven years ago when she’d moved here after her wedding, to this unknown country, its skies always grey and drizzling, the streets smelling of foul fish and ripe meat, a butcher on every corner. The tips of her toes would touch it on Saturdays every other week when she’d change the bedsheets. And when she finally pulled it out earlier that day after she’d discovered the photo, clumps of dust fell off it onto the carpet, and some adhered to its cloth exterior, which she wiped with a damp cloth. Then, she lifted it and put it on the bed, dumping whatever she owned into it. When she didn’t like the mess she saw, she took everything out and folded them one by one, tucking rolled-together socks into her pairs of winter shoes so they wouldn’t get ruined on the journey, while her daughter softly snored on her side.

She sat on the sofa, trying to ignore the photo in her pocket. Someone passed by the door, footsteps pattering, streaks of shadow seeping into the room, and then she heard the shriek of a door opening and then the same shriek of it closing. It was the girl next door, who coughed frequently throughout the day and night, phlegm rattling in her throat.

There were more footsteps and then the metallic clatter of the lock. Her heart beat in her chest, and she wiped her palms across the sofa’s velvet exterior and waited for him to walk in cautiously as he always did, like he was scared of home.

The door opened and he stood there a million miles away, slouching under his backpack filled with the Tupperware of a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich she’d packed for him that morning. He was gazing down, and his right hand was tucked into his coat’s pocket. She rose, eager to tell him what she knew.

“Hi,” she said to him, taking a step forward, feeling the carpet’s soft bristles tickling the sole of her foot. The photo bounced in her pocket.

“Hello,” he said gruffly, swinging around and putting the backpack down by the door. His forehead was slathered with sweat. She thought how he was the pleasantest man she had ever seen. “My mum rang today,” he said, not looking at her. “She wants help with some things in the house. I think she’s going to spring clean.”

What do you mean spring clean? she thought to herself. After what I know. She followed him into the bedroom, her fingertips gliding along the wall. He opened the drawers one by one, picking up socks from one and pants from another. As she stood at the foot of the bed over her open suitcase, he slithered his feet into his slippers.

“I’ll tell her you’ll do it,” he said. He spread out his fingers and patted the top of their daughter’s head, bending down to kiss her forehead. He walked past her, his bundled clean socks brushing against her right arm. She watched as he walked out the room, and a few seconds later

water splashed into the bathtub and her daughter murmured, turning over. She gazed at her possessions in the suitcase, her frayed, murky-white knickers and the beige bra her husband hated. The blush brush she hadn’t used in months still blemished with powder. She took the photo out of her pocket and dropped it into the suitcase, looking down as it settled between her favourite Nike trainers and the case which contained her sunglasses. She’d show her mother, then she’d have to take her in. Her mother would know there was no time to wait for his maturing, that she was in danger, her soul, her life, everything crumbling before her eyes.

A woman’s voice seeped into the bedroom from the street below, spreading the word of the greatness of Jesus. She knew this woman, heard her silvery voice every day, looked out sometimes to see her wearing one shoe, hobbling along. She always wondered why she didn’t take the other shoe off. She had all the choice. We all make our own choices.

She picked up the photo and unfolded it, tearing it into two. She left the side which contained him on the bed next to her daughter and let the other half fall back into the suitcase. She dropped the case’s lid, zipping it up, listening to him humming a tune in the bathroom, the steam wafting into the hallway. She wore her old Nike trainers, their white swooshes a dirty-beige, their laces ragged, and picked up her suitcase, feeling its contents roll to one side, a dead weight.

Ambling along the hallway, she glided her fingertips along the crinkled wallpaper, the steam enveloping her body. She opened the front door and the smoke drifted out with her. She climbed down to the landing, and continued walking even when she heard her husband asking her to bring him a towel.


English translation of Turkish words

  • Gonyak: A type of brandy
  • Molehiya: The leaves of the Corchorus Olitorius plant. The leaves are picked, dried, then cooked in a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and either chicken or lamb pieces. It is a part of Cypriot cuisine.

Ayshe Dengtash

Ayshe Dengtash was born in the UK to Cypriot parents. She is a graduate of the University of Birmingham where she completed a PhD in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in Sunspot Literary Journal, Cleaning Up Glitter, Newfound, The Journal, La Piccioletta Barca, Quibble Lit, and Red Noise Collective. Her novel 'The Grieving Mothers of the Departed Children' was published by Alden, Allegory Ridge in 2020. She has previously worked as a prose reader for Black Lawrence Press and the Walled City Journal and currently works as a prose reader for Rowayat. She currently lives in Cyprus with her partner and three cats where she teaches English Literature to students in Hong Kong through online means. She adores the writing of Jhumpa Lahiri, but her favorite book is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. She can watch 'The Graduate' over and over again on a loop.

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The Night the Chickens Died | B. C. Brewer

The Night the Chickens Died

The night the chickens died, Lacie couldn’t hear a thing. She was in the bathtub with her headphones on, blasting the MP3 player’s thirty minutes of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus for the fourth time. The sight would’ve given her Mama a heart attack, because if toasters in the bath could kill you then you know that racket-maker could, too. But Lacie closed her eyes against that aching memory. In that moment, she was fifteen and in the tub, even though the water was cold and red and speckled with the flakes of foam from her headphones.

Lacie Hughes, her Mama would say. You’re a reckless girl.

In the other room, the sliding door screeched open and shut. Lacie unplugged the drain with her toes, but didn’t get out as the water sunk away. There was a clack-thump of something heavy set on the kitchen table. Booted footsteps towards the bathroom. Rob opened the door without permission. He never asked permission.

Lacie slid off one headphone.

“You close the hatch to the chicken coop?” he asked.

Lacie opened her eyes, but didn’t look at him. She looked at a baby photo on the wall that was supposed to be her. It was ripped on one edge, but Lacie could still see the arm that held the baby. The arm was freckled, thin, and blotchy. It was not her Mama’s arm.

“Think so,” Lacie replied.

He was breathing through his mouth.

“What about Sammy then?” Sammy was their mutt. “You chain him up?”

“No, sir, I did not.”

“Well, ma’am,” he said. “Looks like he’s gone.”

Lacie hummed in a sleepy way. She was glad.

“You gonna get out of that bath?” Rob asked.

Lacie’s eyes rounded. She looked at Rob—a thin man who might have been a crack addict (maybe he was, once), all small and stubbly.

“Maybe,” she said. “What’s going on?”

“Honey. The dog’s lose. We gotta go get him, I mean—” He shrugged, slowly and purposefully, gesturing about the room like there was something obvious she didn’t see. “What if he hurts something else?”

The question was like a small shock that made her wince, like the electric currents she played with in science class—back when she went to school.

“What do you mean? Dad.” She called him Dad when she wanted him to like her.

Rob’s eyes flicked to the ripped baby picture, back to Lacie, then to the ground.

“Chickens are dead.”

Lacie was still for several moments before she realized that she should have reacted more. Rob loved those chickens, and she knew it. So, Lacie moved her eyebrows up carefully.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But—what does that have to do with Sammy?”

“Dog’s the one that killed them, honey, seein’ how ripped up they are.” Then, hushed, like a child with a secret: “I think Sammy’s gone rabid.”

She didn’t say anything, which made him smile. It was his easygoing one, the kind that erased any memory of what kind of person he was. “Get out of the bath,” he said, then turned and walked down the hall, back to his rifle on the kitchen table.

Ten minutes later, Lacie was wrapped in a coat and following this strange father, neither of which were her own. They exited the cabin and slipped into the forest that blocked any searching eyes.

They were the only human beings for miles.


Lacie met Rob over a month ago. She was sure it was over a month, though she wasn’t certain. In those first few days, she didn’t think to count.

The day she met Rob, Lacie decided to hate her Mama.

Lacie woke up with an aching scalp and no food in the house. An aching scalp because, at church the night before, Mama looked at her and said, “Lacie Hughes, your hair’s a rat’s nest,” and ripped through it with a brush until strands of hair floated through the sanctuary like particles of dust. No food in the house because, right before grocery day, Mama’s little brother asked for rent money. While Lacie went slack-mouth at the empty fridge, Mama said, “Oh, but he promises to pay us back this time; it’s just a few hundred dollars, and he’s been getting really better!” To top it off, when Lacie walked out of her room in a black tank top and choker, Mama said, “Lacie Hughes, you want your classmates to think your mama raised a whore?” And Lacie snapped and screamed and cussed at her until the big hand on the kitchen clock moved by a quarter, which was when Lacie’s throat felt scratched bloody. Mama was silent except for the rattling of her bracelets. She shook and cried like a frightened creature.

As Mama slowed to a stop at the high school, she placed her fingertips on Lacie’s hand, and when Lacie looked, her Mama’s eyes were cluttered with tears. Lacie felt some emotion then that hugging would’ve made worse, but scoffing would deaden. So she scoffed, hauled up her backpack, and left her Mama’s car for the last time. And that was the final image that her Mama burned into Lacie’s eyes: her crying face that said, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Lacie went through her school day with one mantra dancing in her head: I hate her. She marched to her classes, flung herself into some back desk, and listened to the headphones under her hoodie. I hate her. Lunch, more classes, an hour of detention for being tardy, then trudging to the empty street. I hate her.

By the time she met Rob, she wasn’t surprised that she wanted to go with him.

He leaned against the truck, watching her walk like he was waiting for her and her only. He gave her one of those country smiles that she liked on other dads’ faces. He said, “Long time, no see, honey. I’m your dad. You probably don’t recognize me anymore, but that’s alright.”

Lacie inspected his shadowed eyes and ratty sneakers. Photos of her dad existed, crammed into Mama’s nightstand, from before he skipped town. Rob was not her dad.

“Your mom’s got a flat tire,” this not-dad said. “It was out of the blue, but she called me to pick you up. She, uh, knew I was in the area. I was gonna meet you later today.”

Lacie didn’t think he looked like a dangerous man. He was only taller than her by a finger-length, and had not a scrap of muscle on him.

“You gonna hurt me?” she asked.

That easy smile never left. “No, honey. Not gonna hurt you.”

Lacie Hughes was a reckless girl. She got in that truck and watched her hometown drift by like a passing train.

“I know you’re not taking me home,” she said.

“I am,” Rob said. “I am taking you home.”


They found Sammy with his nose buried in a rabbit’s den. He panted happily and trotted right on up to Lacie to be leashed. On the walk back, Sammy would knock against Lacie’s leg, then give her jeans an apologetic lick, short and sincere. With every little kiss, Lacie’s chin trembled. The porch light from between the trees glinted off Rob’s rifle.

Rob stopped at the tree line and grabbed her elbow. “We’ll bury him here,” he said. “Tie him to a tree. Tight.”

“Dad.” Lacie’s voice shook.

“You’re gonna want to do as I say. Tie him.”

She did. Sammy panted in her face; his drool dripped to the grass. It was clear.

Lacie squeezed her eyes tight. Why couldn’t you get away?

“You know—” She swallowed. It was hard to breath. “I don’t think Sammy killed the chickens.”

Rob was quiet. She hated that. It meant he was thinking.

“Well,” he said, hushed. “I don’t know what in the world else it could’ve been.”

“Could’ve been a coyote,” she whispered. “Or a fox.”

“Weren’t neither.”

“Dad, Sammy didn’t kill the chickens.”

“Come hold this gun.”

“You’re a crazy person.” Her voice came out choked. “I am not gonna kill Sammy.”

“Don’t pin a crime on someone if you can’t follow through.”

His voice was even. But when Lacie looked over her shoulder and saw his face, she saw a warning. Sammy was about to have company in his grave.

So, Lacie took the gun. Rob held his hands over hers. There was no skewed aiming, no chance of her turning the rifle to anyone but the dog. Lacie didn’t see where she aimed. She saw nothing through her tears as she pulled the trigger, and hoped Sammy knew.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.


The night the chickens died, Lacie couldn’t hear a thing. She didn’t want to. Those chickens were the rock that held the fluttering kite of her sanity to the ground. The problem was, they meant the same to Rob.

She did it with a kitchen knife. Sliced their windpipes first, then ripped apart their bodies once she couldn’t feel their hearts beating against her fingers anymore. It wasn’t clean. The knife left rough, ragged cuts. Her MP3 player exhausted the thirty-minute loop and was halfway done again by the time the chickens were dead. As she caught her breath outside, the second loop finished.

Lacie unchained Sammy when she could stand again. She kissed him on the head and whispered, “Better you than me.” Inside, as she ran a bath, the music looped for the third time.

Lacie Hughes was a reckless girl. She knew that the music would deafen her to Rob if he came home, but she didn’t care. She repeated her mantra to herself, the one that glued itself to her brain and heart the first time she saw this cabin and the misery of being without her Mama came to her like a punch in the mouth. I hate him. When he locked her in her room and refused her food because she cried and begged to go home. I hate him. When she looked at every half-ripped picture of a baby held by a strange woman with thin arms and a version of Rob that was young and beaming and hopeful. I hate him.


Rob didn’t let her take another bath before he locked her in her room, taking her headphones and MP3 player with him. When the door shut and locked, she heard a strained snap.

There was nothing in that room but a bed with stained sheets, a bucket, and her backpack of notebooks and pencils. Lacie laid in bed, slept, and wrote when she felt like it. Night turned to a clouded morning. A clouded morning to afternoon, then darkness, then the earth took another lazy spin until two days had passed since the chickens died. Lacie stopped writing. Her brain gave her no more words, so she laid in her hunger and dirt and Sammy’s dried blood.

A few times, she woke up enough to hear Rob yelling, though no one else was in the cabin. But she didn’t care—she slept. She slept until something hit her in the face. Her eyes focused—peanut butter crackers.

Rob was in the doorway, holding his rifle like an old man holds a cane. Sweat soaked his shirt, and his fingers wouldn’t stop twitching.

“It’s, uh, moving day. We’re gonna find a new place.” He watched her fumble with the crackers. “I’ll get that for you, honey, I just—” He laughed, unsmiling. “Better get your stuff together.”

Lacie chewed a cracker. It coated her dehydrated mouth like sand in a desert.


She swallowed, and when she spoke, she felt like the desert she swallowed. “Do you even know my name?”


The police arrived in the afternoon to a bloody chicken coop and an empty house. To all reports, Lacie was nothing more than a wrinkled note tucked under the bedframe:

Mama, I forgive you. And I’m sorry, too.

B. C. Brewer

B. C. Brewer lives in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida with her family. In May, she graduated from UCF with a creative writing degree and has been writing short stories ever since. This is her first publication.

Open post

Buttons | Melissa Llanes Brownlee


“Can you see it?” She asks me, her hand caressing the skin around her navel. I can’t see anything except for the soft brown hair leading down below the band of her boy shorts she wears because comfort is more important than fashion or being sexy, her fingers hopping in the air as she said it.

“Feel here,” she grabs my hand, pulling my fingers towards her belly. “There.” And the tips graze buttons, invisible, circling her belly button. I can feel the ridges, the holes, filled with thread. They are not uniform and change size and shape as I continue to circle my fingers. I stare at the places where they should be, wonder about how they got there, how they are attached to her.

“I was having that Coraline nightmare again. You know the one, and they were just there when I woke up.” She doesn’t have that dream of buttons sewn into her face too often and I try very hard not to tell her my thoughts about what that dream means because no one likes to hear that they fear loss of agency, loss of self. I mean it’s obvious, right? But still, it’s not something she wants or needs to hear from me.

“When I pull on one of them, I wasn’t trying to pull them off, although it did cross my mind” she says as she watches my fingers press against the air above her body, “I remember the weirdest things, like that time we sat in the parking lot of the Denny’s arguing about the stupid names they give food or the time you bought that clown doll I hated and put it all over the house.” Moons over My Hammy is a stupid name, and the doll was my way of getting her past her irrational fear of clowns and of dolls. Her unwillingness to see the humor in finding the doll in the shower, next to the cereal, in the backseat of her car made me realize that maybe she needed more work than I was willing to do. You can’t fix everyone, right?

“They change too. Have you noticed?” I want to pull one to see what memory floats to the surface. “They’re never the same button or the same memory.” There’s a diamond-shaped button under my thumb, the edges almost sharp. “You can pull it if you want. I don’t mind.” I look into her soft brown eyes and I do.

Melissa Llanes Brownlee

Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer, living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, Gigantic Sequins, Cream City Review, Indiana Review, miCRo, and Craft. She is in Best Small Fictions. Read Hard Skin from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua from Alien Buddha. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at

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