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Crescent Heights

The desiccate syllable
solo and trashblown
against a chain link
fence. The sky occasioning
itself impossible and blue
above us. So it’s come
to this? Is it what it is?
It’s tough out west
and the sea and this dead
city have locked us in
as far left as we can
venture. Left-margined.
Left at this remove I
can’t hold you, but baby
you’re smooth as shoreline
when my wet evidentials
collapse, drip castles,
your sedimented brow
a trap
As verbs, are we heavier
or lighter than water?
No longer certain, we
no longer have need
to remember. Only that
we should swim, and fast,
so we finally have something
to do with our hands.

Adrian Dallas Frandle

Adrian Dallas Frandle (they/he) is a queer fish who writes poems to and for the world about its future. They are Poetry Acquisitions Editor for Variant Literature, a Best of the Net 2022 nominee, and a poetry first reader for Pidgeonholes and Okay Donkey Lit Mag. Find their work online at

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Still Quitting Kansas

Charlotte, November 18, 2021

Eleven years ago today, at four-thirty
in the afternoon, just eighteen months
after I buried my son, I shuttered the house
my father built and drove my mother
back East, the veil over her lungs
undiagnosed, a squamous-celled secret.

She died seven months later. We hauled
her home, laid her in Kansas dirt
next to my father, a few feet
from my aunt and uncle, my grandparents.

Now, in this city’s dank and dead-leaf air,
the dogs next door worry their yard,
wear the grass thin. Untended, alone,
they bark and bark their switchblade barks,
moan their crimson moans.

Justin Hunt

Justin Hunt grew up in rural Kansas and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. His work appears in Five Points, Bellingham Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, New Ohio Review, Sugar House Review,, and many other journals and publications. He currently is working on a debut poetry collection.

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point beach

hometowns have thousands of little ghosts
that do not stay in the cemetery. they are
pushing up through the renovated sidewalk,
catching you between the cracks. they are
littered alongside the main road; when it rains
they wash into your yard once again. they are
floundering in the baseball dugouts around the corner,
cracking the cinderblock like it’s skin-thin. they are
in your childhood friend’s window, gnawing at the glass,
reminding you that she isn’t there anymore
to chase them out.

Georgia Riordan

Georgia Riordan (she/they) is an MFA student at Rosemont College with a BA in writing from Ithaca College. She served as a poetry editor for Stillwater Magazine and a writing consultant from 2019-2021. Her work primarily focuses on her personal struggles with mental health, trauma, and identity within the genres and cross-genres of poetry, magical realism, and horror. Her previous publications include The Asbury Park Press, Il Giornalino 2017, Odyssey’s online platform, Vermilion Magazine, and Poets’ Choice Spring Anthology.

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They materialize at dusk at the edges
of driveways and sidewalks, in the middle
of the quiet dead-end, hands asway,
intermittent wipers desperate to clear
clouding swarms of gnats.

Head nods greet and the babble
begins about the old Hathorne mansion
with its plywood windows and piles
of rust, about spectral sightings of
the neighborhood doyenne buttoned up
in plaid flannel in the August heat.

Next comes caution for the threadbare mama
and her cubs crossing the Albany rail
trail, later stationed at a garden
bed’s edge sniffing at a frisbee toss.

And what about the Parish schoolhouse,
empty shell in a vacant lot, remnants
of separate entry for boys and girls
preserved, weathered for sale sign, lonesome
invitation wooing a cavalcade of cars
with out-of-state plates.

When dusk turns to dark someone recalls
how we rallied against that developer’s dream—
train loads of city folk adventurers
on a Tough Mudder course,
sure to trample the woods, pollute the river,
and flood the night sky with fluorescent light.

Darkness settles with no streetlights to fight,
cicadas yield to crickets. The congregation
disperses before anyone thinks to imagine
that long gone September day when
the Half Moon ran aground on a mid-channel
shoal in the Stockport Creek and Henry Hudson
spent the day gathering chestnuts waiting
for the tide to set her afloat.

Now that must have been something
to talk about.

Elise Chadwick

Elise Chadwick taught English at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, for 30 years. She draws much inspiration for her poems from the time she spends upstate New York in her 200-year-old home coexisting with the deer, groundhog, fox, bats, rabbits, and squirrels who got there first. Her poems have been recently published in The Paterson Literary Review, Literary Mama, Wingless Dreamer, and Gyroscope.

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I Want to Take You Home (That’s Dying, Baby)

I’m an acolyte of the corn fields. Baby, if you fall in love
with me, you will have to convert. My family only knows

songs of assimilation, of Catholicism and her hungry
bloody mouth. It is our nature to settle, to swamp.

Follow me home like a dog who doesn’t know any better;
I will never admonish you for the dead bird in your maw.

Follow me like a fisherman in want of deep water.
Follow me like a God in want of an endless sinner.

Early Catholics held Mass in the catacombs,
and those tunnels never closed, oh baby,

let's buy a place down there and make it our home.
We’ll sleep in on Sundays, we’ll sit and stay.

Come on, baby. I want the long driveway, the two-car
garage, some kids and some beasts, all the trappings

of an altar to us, piss-drunk in the backyard
with lighter fluid and fire, our backs bursting feathers,

hawk-spawn, grim fangs, oh baby, let’s build a tomb
and get around to this good honest business of dying.

Kimberly Ramos

Kimberly Ramos is a queer Filipina writer from southern Missouri. Currently they are studying philosophy, whatever that means. They dream of becoming a cryptid and haunting the Midwest.

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They’ve posted their warnings

on trees on fence posts on telephone timber
   at the entrance to access roads
      because admit it

you are scheming right now this very
   as these words gather and guide
      how to trespass how to elbow crawl under their

barbed wire hop their
   electric tape barriers beat their
      motion-triggered fast-acting thousand lumen

slink past their strategically placed active
   infrared night-vision
      studying when their

gate opens when they leave for work
   for grocery runs for naps
      in bivouac hammocks

learning from the ways of the black morph
   squirrel who catapults bough to bough
      over their property line into their

maple stands oak stands hickory
   blueberry patch bendy willows
      studying the ways of

the emerald ash borer Agrilus planipennis
   whose larvae tunnel until until
      they make it unnoticed to the other side

Jeff Schiff

Jeff Schiff is the author of That hum to go by, Mixed Diction, Burro Heart, The Rats of Patzcuaro, The Homily of Infinitude, and Anywhere in this Country. Hundreds of his poems, essays, recordings, and photographs have appeared in more than 150 publications worldwide. He teaches at Columbia College Chicago.

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Sam Ellisen’s Confession

Nobody should be out this far without a car, Sam Ellisen thought. The sun beat down on the long stretch from Mesquite to North Las Vegas. Cars ran hot, and even newer cars with their fancy electronics had to turn up the heat to suck the hot air out of their engine. At least, that's what the smart drivers did. Nowadays, kids don’t know to turn on the heat and crank their windows down. And now the godforsaken idiot is walking. Sam pulled to the shoulder and waited for the kid to catch up. 

The small breeze that blew through the open windows was nothing compared to the forceful wind that came from driving, and Sam heated faster because of it. He sat in the baking desert, sweating, and watched the figure come closer in his side mirror.

The stranger huffed out of breath for a bit before speaking. “Thanks, man.” 

Sam didn’t like the way the kid called him ‘man’ but reached across the seat to unlock the passenger door. As he shifted his body, he felt the perspiration on his back. Sam’s shirt clung to him in an awful way. 

The truck doors stuck for a second, as usual, but the hitchhiker pulled again and climbed in. 

“Your car break down?” Sam asked while looking over his shoulder to merge back on the highway. Cars barreled past, none of them slowing for the old truck with the old man and the stranger in it. Then, a break in the pack of cars appeared and Sam pulled into the lane. 

“Nah man, I’m hitchhiking my way across America.” The kid said it like that was something to be proud of. Hitchhiking, in Sam’s mind, was dumber than letting an engine overheat. “Somebody let me off a couple miles back. Said I was stinking up their car.” 

“Hmmgh,” Sam grunted. He didn’t think the kid smelled all that bad, but the rushing air from the open window prevented him from smelling much of anything. Once he was back to cruising, he gave the kid a good look over. The white boy with ruddy cheeks and dark brown hair looked out the window and then at Sam. The kid ran his hands, rough from the beating sun and hard work, though his pompadour hair as if he knew what hard work was but didn’t like it. Sam turned his judgment back to the road. 

 “I’m Conner,” the kid said. 

“Mr. Ellisen.” 

The kid laughed, but then shut up when he saw Sam’s scowl. 

“Man, it’s hot,” Conner said. He rubbed his face with his shirt. “Is your heat on?” he asked, and then without pausing for Sam to answer, he said, “I guess you do have an older truck. Dad always said in these older cars you need to crank the heat to prevent it from overheating.”

Sam found himself surprised at his desire to commend the boy for knowing that, but when he opened his mouth to compliment his companion, Conner had moved on. Sam decided to let Conner fill the silence. 

“I started in El Paso, so you’d think I’d be used to the heat. Though, out here in the west, it’s mad hotter. I stayed in Arizona for a while. Met a guy who just got out of jail for some misdemeanor. Something about putting a pervert in a cast—said it was worth it.”

I’m inclined to agree, Sam thought, merging around a slow sedan.

Conner kept talking and talking about the people he met and the things he learned. Sam nodded along, letting him speak, listening to the secondhand tales, enjoying the company despite his initial evaluation. He even said a quiet ‘Thank you’ when Conner pointed out a motorcyclist in the truck's blind spot.

For the better part of an hour and fifteen, the boy spoke, Sam listened, and they both sweated. As Conner told him about mopping floors for a meal at a rest stop and doing an oil change for a ride out of Colorado Springs, Sam’s heart seemed to melt. I guessI guess he ain’t so bad, he thought, everybody makes their own way. 

They entered North Las Vegas while Conner went on about a mom of six trying to convince him hitchhiking could be deadly. 

“She told me the same story three or four other people have told me: the urban legend about a serial killer picking hitchhikers up and driving them into the woods to kill them. Can you believe that four people all said the same thing, with the same emphasis on the woods?” Conner asked. “We’re nowhere near the woods.”

Sam supposed that the tale might be true or at least based in reality, but he figured there was no talking Conner out of his pilgrimage across the states. Besides, I ain’t his momma. 

After a moment of silence, Conner continued, “That’s when she said, ‘Honey, go home.’ But I just gotta do this. I wanna see things and—oh—” He pointed to a sign. “You could let me off on Flamingo, Mr. Ellisen.”

Sam knew his route from Salt Lake to San Diego, and Flamingo was gonna be ten minutes away. He looked at the kid and blinked. I ain’t never gonna see him again. 

“I, uh, wanna tell you something kid.”


“Don’t interrupt.” Sam saw in his peripheral that Conner raised his hand up like he was agreeing or something. 

Sam sighed, like something cumbersome was leaving his body. “I was offered a million dollars when I was a kid, about your age. This was back when a million dollars was closer to a billion nowadays. I got this fancy letter in the mail, inviting me to a game at some casino along the California coast. I was living there those days. It said to take my letter and show it to a floor manager. I was adventurous back then. They took me up something like six flights of stairs into a big gold room. The walls were gilded and they reflected off each other except a darkened window. A big fat man sat in a ring. Sweat dripped off his face. He looked like he was nodding off, sleeping even though the room was loud. They were playing some big band jazz—I can’t remember the song.” 

Sam paused and looked at a passing sign for a personal lawyer. Conner said nothing. Another sign for Flamingo flew by. 

Sam continued. “The floor manager walked me around the man and to a table with a big bag on it. He told me to look inside, and so I did. It was full of money. ‘It's a million, if you want it,’ he said. Well, my gran was dying and my parents were getting evicted and loads of other stuff. I started spending it in my head, thinking of all the ways I’d fix up my life. I went to grab the bag. ‘You gotta kill him,’ the floor manager said. Then he pointed to the black window in the far corner of the room. He said something about how his employer was a strange man.” Sam paused, “‘Eclectic and superior’ was the words he used, wanted to watch rats squirm.”

 He shifted in his seat and felt the sweat on his back as he did.

“He took out a gun and pointed it at the fat man. Well, I was shaking then, sweating like the room was boiling. My hands were craving that money. So I took the gun. I walked around to see the man’s face cause shooting a man in the back felt cowardly. He was doped or something cause he couldn’t say anything, just moaning and crying. He was the saddest, most pathetic thing ever, looking at me with half-closed eyes. I wanted to. I held the gun up and everything. I was shaking so bad I couldn’t hardly hold it.”

A drop of sweat rolled into Sam’s eye. When he took his hand to rub away the sting, his fingers shook. “But I couldn’t do it. I saw myself in those gold mirrors, all distorted and mangled. He, the manager, took the gun after a while and shoved me in an elevator. I was crying and praying some god-forgive-me nonsense. I ran outta that casino and got in my car. It was raining pretty bad, and I couldn’t see out my eyes. I peeled out of the lot—I couldn’t stop—and slid into the crosswalk. I hit a lady walking. She died.” Sam’s voice caught on the last word, choking him.

 “They gave me four years for manslaughter. Never served it though; the judge was accused of doping. So they let me out after seven months on account of an unfair trial. My parents had this new house, too, and I asked them how they got it. ‘A check came in the mail,’ they said. ‘A million dollars.’”

With obscured vision and a racing heart, Sam took the exit for Flamingo. He pulled into a lot. The truck shook to a stop. Without the rushing wind, the truck began to bake like an oven. Sam felt the sweat and tears mix on his cheeks and could taste the salt when he licked his lips. 

Sam finally looked over at the boy with sad eyes, pleading, in silence, for him to say something. Conner opened the door. Before he stepped out of the truck, he said “Ya know, most people tell me, when I get out, to go home.” He slammed the door shut and leaned into the car through the open window. “What’s your point, Mr. Ellisen?”

Sam looked into the young man’s face, looking into youth—wanting to be forgiven, validated, and loved—and said, “Confession.”

Claire Bernay

When Claire Bernay is not writing, she is reading. When she is not reading, she is writing. She also loves to crochet and cook. Her work has been published in The Southern Quill, Kaleidoscope, and Poems of Summer.

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Second Hand

On our summer vacation to Washington state, my mother pulls me back from Mount St. Helens with her gingham oven mitts. She is careful to protect her own hands when handling mine.

On the long drive home, I practice speaking with my new gravelly voice that sounds like I’ve been drinking glass and bourbon or chain-smoking like my grandmother.

We go to the doctor when I cough for six months straight, leaving white shrouds all over my sister and the dog and my tenth birthday cake with its ten volcanic candles.

 The doctor declares my lungs are looped with lava. I imagine Virginia Slim and the Marlboro Man are living there too. I feel them hopscotching over the lava onto my pretty pink girl lungs like it is a magic carpet. I cough and cough again. He tells my mother I have the lungs of an old woman and she blames it all on the volcano, not the old woman who sleeps in the room next to mine.

I stay home from school and make looped potholders like Rapunzel in a tower, quickly accumulating enough to escape out the window but I don’t because I am winded by the wind and my grandmother’s cigarettes in my face. At first I looped and re-looped and crochet hooked them off the metal loom to replace my mother’s singed picnic oven mitts, out of guilt. I find I have a rather entrepreneurial spirit and become good at creating them in color schemes to match our neighbor’s kitchen or my teacher’s science lab that I haven’t seen yet.

I didn’t have much choice.

“Stay in bed,” my mother said.

“Stay in bed,” my grandmother said.

I believed them both. I laid down obediently under yellowed ghost sheets that blew more smoke into my lungs, stayed horizontal as my grandmother dropped Pompeiian ashes on my face, made notes in my diary like I was Pliny the Younger.

The pile of potholders by my bed grew, competing with the flammable book stacks. I alternated looping with reading, nylon rows and rows of boxcar children that live in the green forest, not a gray bedroom. I eventually escaped to fourth grade and the Prince Charmings that I had heard laughing outside of my bedroom window for months.


My grandmother lives now in a box, paralyzed in some ashy crouched form, cancer slim, gray cigarettes in her gray pockets. Her chest is sunken and she hasn’t managed to escape the tiny yellow-walled house like I did. She’s clutching her tiny gold Timex in her hand, the second watch hand frozen at the time the ash and lava poured into her bedroom and finally choked her.

“There are no lungs to include,” the coroner tells me.

“How was she breathing?” I ask.

A white question cloud exits my slim lips, blows like a gray tsunami around the gray hospital room with only pale pink chairs to break up the mundane.

“You would have to ask the doctor,” he says.

“How am I still breathing?” I ask the coroner.

“You would need to ask your mother,” he says.

He points at a gray and white x-ray with no hint of pink (not extraordinary in itself for all x-rays are those colors), but I only see Virginia’s footprints and a left-behind cowboy hat. I feel myself falling and reach for my potholder cushions.

My mother holds out her oven-mitted hands to catch me but she’s too far away and I sink into the volcano, again.

Amy Barnes

Amy Barnes is the author of three collections: AMBROTYPES (word west,) “Mother Figures” ( ELJ, Editions) and CHILD CRAFT, forthcoming from Belle Point Press, She has words at The Citron Review, Spartan Lit, JMWW Journal, Janus Lit, Flash Frog, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, Gown Lawn, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, SmokeLong Quarterly, McSweeney’s and many others sites. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, included in Best Small Fictions 2022 and long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021 and 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for NFFD, CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, The MacGuffin, and Narratively.

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She Cooks Well, Too

“Bina! Come downstairs! They’re here!” My grandmother yells to me, frantically trying to fix the dupatta which keeps falling away from my face.  Could you be more Indian?

I swat my grandmother’s hands away from my face. My grandfather stands in the corner of the foyer, leaning against the shoe closet, amused by my grandmother.

“Remember Bina, do not look up. Don’t speak unless they ask you a question and keep your head down all the time. And no jokes this time. That’s why Raul’s family didn’t want to finalize the union.”

My grandmother goes on and on.

“No nanima, the family didn’t want us married because Raul’s ego couldn’t take being married to a girl who makes more money than him.” I can’t help but defend myself.

My grandmother gives me a hard look and points her finger at me angrily as a warning before opening the door and putting up an inauthentic smile. She perfected this change of attitude. I call it the granny face-flip.

When she opens the door, I make sure to keep my head down like she says. The sparkly dupatta is in the way of my eyes again, and my sari is much too long; I’m suddenly very aware of my lack of height and the very real possibility that I could trip on my sari in front of this family. Looking down, there are some ruby red painted nails in some white heels and two pairs of men’s shoes as well. A beaten pair of white sneakers peak out of some khaki pants and classic Indian uncle sandals are paired with jeans.

Obviously, an Indian male wouldn’t have the decency to dress up. He must’ve been too busy being taught that having a penis made him the center of the universe. Like my grandmother always tells me, Pathi Parameshwar.

“Mina, it’s so nice to see you again! How are you? You’re looking very thin.” Naina aunty’s white heels step forward to hug my grandmother.

I know my grandmother too well. I’m sure she’s hiding her excitement and her big grin is purposefully suppressed into a shy smile. I call this the reverse granny face-flop. I’m sure she’s looking towards the ground, like the Indian actresses would in old movies whenever they were complimented. After all, why wouldn’t she be pleased? We must be the model minority.

“Oh yeah Naina. I walk an hour a day. Mahesh put in the walkway in our 3-acre backyard so I put on my headphones and walk at 5am in the mornings, except on Sundays. I get tired, you know, at 65. I walk a lot.” Nanima lives for compliments.

She was 300 hundred pounds when she was younger, which was not the ideal daughter for her parents to have. If Indian parents raised their daughter correctly, they get married. That’s the one defining factor of good parenting when it comes to a desi daughter. To be ideal for marriage, a girl must be thin with fair skin, have the ability to cook and clean, and be well educated but not ambitious. Everyone doubted she’d get married, and in a society where a lack of a husband is a lack of success, many Indian girls have low self-esteem. It’s their trademark. They just hide it well. After a stomach tuck, Nanima was able to bag a man.

“Oh wow. You should give yourself a break, Mina. You do more than a lot of young people, definitely more than Nithin.” Naina aunty gently elbows the boy in the white sneakers and khakis.

I guess Nithin’s white active footwear doesn’t indicate his athletic capabilities. That’s fantastic. Our kids will be couch potatoes.

“We saw the walkway when we were parking the car, and it looks so nice. Mahesh, you did a great job. I loved the gazebos and meditation centers you put in as well.” Naina knows the protocol well.

My grandfather stops leaning on the foyer wall and greets Naina aunty as well as her husband and son. Grandfather bows a bit, bringing his palms together from his sides to the center of his chest.

“Oh thank you Naina. I put those in and painted the gazebos in India’s colors. Did you like the paint? I was thinking about putting a fountain in the front.” My dear grandfather laughs. Of course his house would be decked out. He’s been flipping hotels his entire life after having fixed and flipped basements. He appreciates the rewards of living the American Dream.

My grandmother, being literally bred as the kind of wife to cook and host parties and gatherings, smoothly moves the group to the living room. This is a challenge for me. My sari makes me feel overdressed compared to Nithin’s khakis and sneakers. The struggle to not trip on my dress and fall flat on my face is very real.

I stay standing and wait for the elders to sit first. As they shuffle into the living room and sit on the brown leather couches, my grandmother tells me privately to go microwave the chai and appetizers on the counter and serve it to everyone.

I look for the ending of the red rug on the floor to lead me to the kitchen. When I finally finish microwaving and plating the food, I readjust my headscarf and re-enter the living room. Carrying a tray full of hot food and chai is not so easy when looking down, especially since I can feel my phone vibrating on my hip. It’s probably my tinder date for later tonight. My grandmother is so lucky that my horoscope said I’m more obedient when Mercury is in retrograde. Otherwise, I’d look up and check my phone in a heartbeat. Plus, if I can get through this meeting with Nithin’s family, it’ll get my grandmother off of my back for a few hours so I can actually go on my tinder date.

Paying attention to the elevation of the tray in my hands as well as the pattern of the rug on the floor, eventually, I reach the coffee table and place some appetizers my grandmother cooked earlier on the coffee table.

I hear footsteps behind me. My grandmother murmurs to me in Hindi, her mother tongue, telling me to serve everybody a glass of chai. Trying my best to portray the typical good Indian daughter, I look down and make sure to be submissive in every respect, even my posture. I hand a glass to the brown shoes, the heels, and the sneakers. When Naina and my grandmother seem deep in conversation, I sneak a peek at the boy. He’s looking down and inspecting the chai; he probably doesn’t want to be here either.

Nithin’s got brown eyes, dark hair, a strong build, and broad shoulders. His face screams fuckboy, but he looks so familiar. Maybe it’s just that most Indian guys I know through my family are fuckboys, too much of daddy’s money and not enough responsibility. Maybe I’ve seen him on Tinder? I can’t really put my finger on it though. I quickly look down again before anyone notices. Well, except my grandpa, but he’s a ride or die. He doesn’t snitch like that. He’s got too much of a soft spot for me.

My grandfather’s sits on the couch opposite of the wall I’m standing by. As a young female, I have to help host and do the serving for gatherings like this. I must act domestic. Any faux pau on my part would embarrass my grandmother; she would hit me with “what will people think?” I can’t disappoint her. The stockpile is getting low. There are not many boys that the family knows who haven’t already rejected me.

My grandmother and Naina aunty begin the classic Indian lady contest of who has the hardest life and who does the most housework. My grandmother is a professional at this game, though. She’s had twenty more years of experience at this game than Naina aunty. Is this my future if I agree to an arranged marriage into this family? Hell, is this my future if I agree to an arranged marriage into any Indian family? I’m much too white-washed for this.

I can feel my grandfather’s boredom just from standing near him. He hates this game because he knows none of it is true.

He’s employed a housekeeper since my mom was a teenager.

“Okay Mina. Your girl looks so beautiful. She takes after her dad.” Naina aunty’s long fingernails tap against her glass of chai. No, I don’t. I look exactly like my mom, but hell would freeze over before they gave any credit to Mom. Other Indians can’t acknowledge that divorced Indian women exist. Mom’s no longer accepted as part of the Indian community since her divorce. She’s not accepted into the Indian community but she’ll also never fully be accepted into the western community. She’s stuck in limbo.

“Oh yes, yes. She cooks well too. She made the appetizers and the chai.” Liar.

I was raised on take out.

Vibi Sarina

Vibi Sarina is a first-generation Indian American born in Long Island, New York. She has always had an affinity towards expressing herself creatively and pushing boundaries. She grew up with strong exposure to Southern American and traditional Indian roots. Vibi Sarina obtained her undergraduate degree in Philosophy and English from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  She is currently pursuing her master’s in Environmental Philosophy at the University of Montana, with emphasis in Animal Ethics.

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Towards Zero

Eighty kilometers outside Kolkata International airport, and your busy bee life is a vibrant static reflection on a lavender-rose, wrapped by the rental company’s ribbon. Your musing, a scrawl upon the fabric of a place. Next, between the faux-leather seat of the car where you’re strapped by seat-belts like an archaic harness, and the expansive paddy fields, your eyes measure freeway roads slicing the topography, cartwheeling across a rural stream and onwards towards your hometown.


Like an antonym for the dot on the map that it is, a place is an extravagance. The splurge is on the hand-painted freight trucks in a line ahead of you at the highway toll-gate. How the audacious graffiti is plastered loud on the colorful wood-and-metal bodies, mocking your bland cubicled existence at a city only a two-hour flight away. 

Marry a trucker, bond with tears — words of wisdom!

On the shoulder of the rail track by the highway, the richness of a chugging train — mirroring the trail of your thoughts — reminiscent of vacations at your grandpa’s.


The journey itself is home — Basho

Grab the essence of this spot. At the shanty where you halt for chai in an earthen cup, the quiet solitude is only broken by the swish of tyre on black tar. Miles and miles of the most fulfilling green, high upon which an ochre kite rules, soars, dives. 

Pause to hear the breeze clapping against itself, or strangers greeting each other, a spontaneous, Bhalo? 

Ruminate the way it is with the fluttering prayer flags hung on poles; imagine the five-horned monster of your girlhood tales, scurrying in fright at their sight. 

Climb back into the car, but wait to appreciate the simplicity of a family on foot as they walk past, unmindful of the attention, except the toddler on the man’s tired arm, gawking at you. 

Rev up the engine, and let a coconut vendor dart past, pedaling his rickety Hero cycle, onwards to a quaint little marketplace.


Below the low-hanging white cottony clouds scooting away from you, who, unlike you, have no destination to reach, no journey to terminate, notice the road sign which says only twenty kilometers remain. 

Like the beckoning fragrance of rose, like the earnest touch of an intimate lover, fill your senses with the scent of this place. 

Drive past the rice mills, the sooty brick-kiln chimneys, the odd pucca house with block-printed saris spread out on the roofs. 

At the last bend, rest your eyes on mango trees in an orchard, how they mingle in cadence like a musical band wearing fancy hats. 

Enjoy the welcome. 

Slow down, for the sweetmeat shops are telling you so! You need to buy some! Stand there in front of the counter, and let the warmth overrun you. Spare a minute to notice how the colors and shapes of different sweetmeats on the shelves behind the glass are like places on geographical maps, far more in worth than their appearance in size.

Notice the milestone in the range of your vision: the Zero gleaming in the light.

Mandira Pattnaik

Mandira Pattnaik's fiction has appeared in Penn Review, The McNeese Review, DASH Journal, Citron Review, Necessary Fiction, Watershed Review, Passages North, Miracle Monocle, Amsterdam Quarterly, and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021.

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