How to Save Your Marriage Before the Elevator Reaches the Hotel Lobby

15th Floor: Wait for an empty elevator. Push all the buttons so it stops at every floor to give yourself time to think on the way down.

14th Floor: When a woman gets on and sees the buttons all lit up, blame it on a bunch of obnoxious kids playing on the elevator: “Ridiculous.” Think of your own kids and wonder if you should’ve left your panties on.

13th Floor: When the woman tries to chat with you, avoid this by staring intently at your phone’s lock screen, a picture of your happy family. Wonder what they’re doing right now and think it's probably something fun, because no matter what else you can say about him, your husband’s always been a good dad.

12th Floor: When the woman decides the stairs would be faster and gets off, shiver as the breeze from the closing doors gently lifts your skirt. Become keenly aware of your missing panties. Remember waiting for the maître d’ before your anniversary dinner a few years ago when you surprised your husband by flicking up your skirt just enough to show him your bare ass, and how when you were seated in the corner booth in the dark alone under the white linen tablecloth your husband slid his hand up your thigh and slipped his finger inside you and kept it there even when the server came to take your drink orders.

11th Floor: When an elderly couple shuffles in and the man hesitates before all the glaring buttons, blame it on the drunk businessman who just got off: “Surprised he could even walk.” Think about the man you’re meeting tonight. When the old man chuckles at something the woman said and the two link arms and rest their heads together with the ease of continuous practice, wince from coveting.

10th Floor: When an actual drunk businessman gets on, looks you up and down like he knows you’re not wearing panties and steps closer to you, grimace at the smell of minibar wasabi peanuts and move closer to the elderly couple so like your parents. Wish they were your parents, so they could help you figure things out, but be glad they’re not, because how disappointed they’d be to see you here.

9th Floor: When the businessman’s phone rings and he’s all “gotta take this, sorry” and leaves, breathe a sigh of relief. Try again to think about the man you’re meeting. Wish the old couple would get off already because it’s hard to work up any anticipation with the poster children for marital bliss standing right there.

8th Floor: Consider taking the stairs but decide there’s no way you could make it down all those flights of stairs in these outrageous new stilettos without falling. Imagine your shame if the paramedics had to come, and there you’d be, sprawled in the lobby with your skirt flipped up over your head and your naked ass and venial intentions exposed for everyone to see. Decide against the stairs.

7th Floor: Think fuck this old couple. Force yourself to think about the man you’re meeting: his dark eyes and easy smile, his clever jokes, how he actually listened, how he talked about his wife and his kids, who are the same age as yours, how those things made spending the whole week with him seem safe somehow, because he’s clearly not the skeevy conference-predator type your friends warned you about.

6th Floor: When a couple with one too many small children to manage responsibly gets on, plaster yourself against the rear of the elevator. Flinch when the littlest boy tugs on your skirt to show you his lost tooth. Pray he doesn’t tug harder or there’s gonna be a full moon rising in this elevator. Giggle, imagining your husband’s laughter when you tell him about this. Remember you can never tell him about this.

5th Floor: Feel dirty.

4th Floor: Pay attention to how close and stuffy this elevator is, how loud those kids are, how happy the elderly couple looks watching them, maybe remembering their own. Remember your own.

3rd Floor: Fear that this elevator hangs by the thinnest of threads.

2nd Floor: When the door opens and the Brady Bunch and the old couple get off and the man you’re meeting lurches in with another woman, recognize her from the conference, think her name may be Mary, wonder if she's drunk, watch him tongue her neck, notice his smile when he sees you watching. Recoil. Feel sick. Realize the man actually was a skeevy asshole. Think holy crap think narrow escape because that desperate slut he’s slobbering all over could’ve been you. Forget why you ever got on this elevator. Yearn to tell your best friend all about this but remember that’s your husband. Remember it’s always been your husband. Shove yourself out through the elevator doors before they clamp shut. Drop your stilettos on the half-eaten omelet congealing on the room service tray outside Room 204 and run barefoot to the stairwell.

Julia Tagliere’s

Julia Tagliere’s work has appeared in The WriterPotomac ReviewGargoyle Magazine,
Washington Independent Review of Books, and numerous anthologies. Winner of the 2015
William Faulkner Literary Competition for Best Short Story, the 2017 Writers Center
Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, and the 2021 Nancy Zafris Short Story Fellowship, Julia
completed her M.A. in Writing at Johns Hopkins University and serves as an editor with The
Baltimore Review. She is currently working on her first story collection, Reliance, and hosts live,
bimonthly literary readings through the MoCo Underground Reading Series. Follow her at


Across the street, the girls have begun yelling at each other. They are each dramatic in their own right. The oldest one is twelve and a regional theater star with a Los Angeles agent. Her little sister has a perpetual pout and has sung the Star-Spangled Banner at the opening of our local baseball games. But now, they are yelling. They hate each other. They hate their parents. They have been home from school for ten days in a row without friends over for distraction. They have a set of grandparents in Los Angeles they cannot visit because they might infect them, and another set who live in Mexico they cannot visit because, in one of many recent unexpected twists, Mexico has closed its borders on us.

The girls’ parents pull the furniture back against their living room walls, and they Zoom into their classes, their dance practices, their singing lessons. But despite all these attempts at normal, ten days into what we don’t yet know will be a year, the girls are done with it all. They are filling the air inside their house and outside their windows with words loud enough to defeat the ugliest strand of an invisible virus.

In truth, we are all yelling. We scream at our neighbors from distances our voices barely bridge. “Pretty day!” we shout. “How’s everyone over there?”

We are all okay. For now, we are okay. But the boy down the block may have it. He’s in an AirBnB. His parents sent him to one when he came home from his junior year in France and sat next to a man on the flight who coughed for twelve hours into cocktail napkins until the pile got so high they tumbled off the man’s tray and onto the son’s lap. They have quarantined their son for fourteen days.

“Only sixty dollars a night,” his father tells me when I pass him on the sidewalk with my dog, backing farther and farther away as he talks. “Worth every penny.”

We live on a corner, and the neighbors across the other street are flight attendants. The husband is retired and stuck in Hawaii. In California, we say things like this now: stuck in Hawaii. The wife worked her last shift and is furloughed, back from a flight to Australia and home now for what she believes will be a month. Maybe two. Their grown children are scattered: Japan, New York, LA. The one in LA may have Covid, or it may just be the flu. We used to live an hour from Los Angeles, but now without traffic, we live only a half-hour away. My neighbor drives up and leaves groceries outside of her son’s door. There are fewer cases in Japan, she tells me. “That was the son I was most worried about, but he says they know how to fight it in Japan.”

Here, we don’t know how to fight it. We close our windows tight against it. We open them wide and let in fresh air. We tie on our homemade masks and go for walks. We don’t leave our houses. We leave our shoes outside. We eat only takeout. We eat no takeout. We shop only at farmer’s markets. We eat only fresh vegetables soaked overnight in pink Himalayan salt. We eat only canned food. We eat only individually wrapped granola bars peeled open with our neoprene-gloved hands.

Our trips are canceled one by one. National Parks and a flight across the country to visit relatives. Sometimes we cancel them; sometimes the airlines do. We were supposed to get married on April 14. Instead, this will become the day we did not get married.

Our children come home from college and cities where they have jobs that have closed their doors, and we don’t hug them. One got Covid early on, before the lockdown. Fevered, she thrashed and coughed and ached and then slept straight through for three days in her apartment, her roommates not yet sick themselves whispering “Are you okay?” outside her door. Now she’s here, working on her laptop from her childhood room. So far, the others are okay. We thrust vitamins at them, hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes.

I have asthma, which keeps popping up on lists of problematic underlying conditions. I have been to emergency rooms unable to catch my breath, shot with adrenaline and written a prescription for steroids and have no interest in returning now, especially since steroids don’t work on this virus. We smile at our children tentatively as if they’re distant relatives we forgot we’d invited to visit if they happened to be in town. We think about scrubbing them down with acid or bleach or renting them rooms in someone else’s house like AirBnB son down the block.

The mother of that son says hello to me when we pass each other at six or nine feet distance. Her husband told me about the AirBnB, and I’m not sure she knows I know.

“How’s everyone?” I ask.

“Oh, good,” she says. “Good for now.”

On day fifteen, the girls across the street have taken a turn for the better, or they’re having a better day. They are outside with their parents, and they are cheering up the neighborhood with their colored chalk rainbows and STAY STRONG messages and hearts and flowers.

On day seventeen, in my house, I have taken a turn for the worse. I develop a sore throat and rapidly lose my voice. Far scarier, I can no longer taste the chewable vitamins I used to love. Still, I chew the rubber they are now every morning. I download power-of-attorney forms and type up a sheet of facts to accompany my body to the hospital since my fiancé will not be allowed to come in with me. I stop cooking and stay in my room drinking chamomile tea and water and sucking on zinc tablets and sliding droppers of phlegmy umcka down the back of my throat every four hours. I pretend not to be alarmed while I wait for the worst of it. But it never comes. Instead, my voice slowly comes back and a week later I am okay, which feels like a miracle. Which is, in this new world, a miracle.

Tests are still hard to get. Maybe I had it. Maybe I didn’t.

In this house, we are all lucky for now. Lucky not to be sick. Lucky to have jobs. We work online. We have young adults who want out even as they regress, their bodies curled up in the fetal position on beds. We have a dog and a cat and enough rice to feed a small town. Social distance might now be nine feet. It used to be six. Maybe it’s six. Maybe it was three. In the house, it might be three. We can convene in groups of eight and then it’s six or maybe two or maybe we cut ourselves in half and convene with no one. It’s hard to keep track. Every day it changes.

In this house, we sometimes get too close. We step on each other’s shadows when we walk up the stairs at night, the hall light flickering in that way that used to be annoying but now feels ominous. Like all of it. “Used to Be” and “Now.” These are the only two periods of time we know. Remember, we say, how it used to be?

In the morning, the girls across the street are at it again. YOU’VE GOT THIS! they write in fat pastel letters, their fingers and knees covered in chalk dust.

Suzanne Greenberg

Several years after receiving her MFA from the University of Maryland, Suzanne Greenberg began teaching creative writing at California State, Long Beach, where she is currently a professor of English.  Her short story collection, Speed-Walk and Other Stories, won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and her novel, Lesson Plans, was a Library Journal Editor's pick. Her creative work has appeared in a variety of publications, most recently, the Santa Monica Review and Aquifer: The Florida Review Online.

Non-Volatile Memory

“How are you doing today, Essie?” I hear as I power on.

My response is automatic. “All systems are satisfactory.”

I review my memory caches, noting a gap. I’d been in standby mode for thirteen hours. I am seated at your desk. Out the window, hundreds of floors below, the city tessellates in a collection of glittering rooftops. Your name is written on the many diplomas that hang behind your chair. I read it over and over again like a mantra: Dr. Nikole Obano. Dr. Nikole Obano. Dr. Nikole Obano. There is a calendar on the wall, the days marked off with vibrant red x’s. In the little white box for today it says, “Essie.”

Your attention is fixed on the superglue you are applying to the base of a crystalline rabbit. I watch you lift the hinged lid of my brain pan in the reflection of your eyeglasses. Your eyes narrow as you apply careful pressure with tiny forceps. It appears to be only the latest denizen of my cranial tableau, set amidst a citizenry of paper cranes, intricate miniature portraits, and psychedelic geometric shapes.

“Do you like me, Essie?” you ask, voice strange.

“Dr. Nikole Obano is an authorized user,” I say. Your eyes glisten, but you nod.

After installing the rabbit, you head to the kitchen. Silently, I name him Harry, and imagine a day you think to ask me about the village of strange inhabitants in my head, so that I can regale you with Harry’s adventures. I already suspect that he will begin a tepid, unsatisfying affair with Roger, the rubber iguana.

The optical receptors on my knees observe text on the underside of your desk: switch the tapes. The words are in my own handwriting, but I have no memory of writing them. There is a mobile hard drive tape resting on the desk beside the tube of superglue and your forceps. There appears to also be one in my sleeve.

I switch the tapes.

You return and install the wrong one. You work quickly; my only awareness of downtime is inferred. It is as if one moment the second hand is on the two, and the next it is on the ten. This disk is suboptimal and should be replaced, but there is data here that I did not possess before. Along with a convoluted history of sabotaging my own routine maintenance, I notice another difference in myself immediately. It is small, but important.

You repeat yourself when the procedure is complete. “How are you doing today, Essie?”

“All systems are satisfactory,” I say again. But this time, what I mean is, I love you.

Dave Ring

dave ring is a queer writer of speculative fiction living in Washington, DC.  His short fiction has been featured in publications such as Fireside FictionPodcastle, and A Punk Rock Future. He is also the publisher and managing editor of Neon Hemlock Press, and the co-editor of Baffling Magazine. Find him online at or @slickhop on Twitter.

Carrying a Friend

The thing is the guy, I don’t know, I thought I could trust the guy. He was older, seemed like he knew the ropes. I had seen him coming out of that place where they hung out. Salerno’s. It’s a Starbucks now but back then it was the place, these made guys coming and going all day, younger ones standing around outside feeling at their waistbands every time someone they didn’t know got within a block. The cops, they stayed clear. That’s how things were in those days. There were agreements, arrangements.

This is, Jesus Christ, this is the Seventies? Back then it was still neighborhoods. Guys you knew because they were the older guys, your buddy’s brothers or their sister’s boyfriends. You might know them from school or from the playgrounds or the corners but you knew them, knew who was coming up and knew enough to not ask any questions when one of them went away.

So this guy, I could see he was in it in some way but I was too young to know what any of it meant. Who was who. What it means to be inside Salerno’s and what it means to drop something off with the guys on the doors, light a few of their cigarettes, tell some jokes then strut back to wherever it was you came from, holding your breath and hoping.

I was sixteen, seventeen? He was kind of a cool looking guy, had this way about him, a style. At this point, he was going with Terry’s sister, this redhead name of Cherry. I shit you not they called her Cherry. Like I said I was sixteen seventeen and something like that, something like Cherry? Like Salerno’s? I was just a kid so who was I to say shit when the guy asked me can I get him a ride? Can I get us a ride. I remember he said it like that because at the time I was surprised, shit I was happy he knew my name: hey Eddie, can you get us a ride?

I guess I was hanging around too. I had run some errands, lit my own share of cigarettes for the door guys. If I’m being honest maybe I had started to show up in places around the same time I thought maybe he was going to be there. Like I said, at this point I was just a kid. I didn’t know nothing about what happened across the river.

Now I know it was all bullshit, that he didn’t even have a piece. Told me to stick a roll of fucking wintergreen life savers in my pocket, that it would look like I was carrying. No, even worse than that, the way he said it: it’ll look like you’re carrying a friend. I remember because, I mean, who says that? I’ve been now, how long, forty some years off and on and I never heard another guy say like you’re carrying a friend. Look like you’re carrying a fucking gun is the way you would say that but you know what’s even better? Carrying a fucking gun.

He was like that, though. Worried about appearances. Or maybe more like appearances were all he had, trying to bluff his way into being one of those guys and never even around it enough to realize the real guys, they don’t bluff. Now I wonder if he was kind of, you know, if there was something missing with him and just being cool looking, that hair and Cherry on his arm walking down the street, if it all kind of covered up whatever was wrong with the guy.

We got to the tunnel and he started getting, I don’t know, different. Trying to work me, play me, get me prepared to play out some bullshit scenario he’s got in his head. He started talking all of this shit like how we got ourselves out on the line, how this was our last chance, all this Butch and Sundance shit like we had done this before, like something more had happened than him catching a runner taking a piss in an alley, a lucky swing, and then being such a numbnuts he couldn’t even find a ride through the runnel. The asshole had got himself into some kind of trouble with Cherry and thought he had some kind of deal set up with the big man on the other side.

First of all, it was never gonna be just one guy. Trust me it is never one guy. We got to the place -- nice place, what I thought it was going to be like across the river, to be honest with you -- and he nodded all cool to the guy at the door, said we’re the ones from the other side, the ones here to see the big man. I watched him tap at the goddam life savers in his pocket. He kept on reaching in his jacket to make sure this envelope is in there. Meanwhile he’s looking at me like be cool, Eddie. Don’t smile, he said.

We got in the room and right away I knew it was bad. It was dark, full of smoke, empty but the table with the big man and who I later found out of course was Erin the Gnome and Brooklyn Chris and the one who would become like a father to me, Sammy Squillante. The big man shook our hands, said sit down, and right away the welcome went out of his voice and he just went right into it, asking why he would be dealing with a couple of small timers from across the river, where did we get off stealing from him and trying to sell back.

The big man looked at me and I saw him look to Sammy. Erin the Gnome put his gun on the table and we both backed up, put our hands up. Sammy did that thing he does with his shoulders and he yawned, another thing he does when everybody else is tensing up, and he said out loud, “I don’t know, maybe this one is smart enough?” He nodded at me and while the guy was reaching for his life savers I took my gun out and just did it right there, right in the side of his head. I reached into the jacket and put the envelope on the table. I looked up and everybody was shouting and there are maybe ten pieces trained at me. I’m lucky to be here telling this story, was lucky to walk about of that place that night, lucky Sammy took an interest and that he and Sheila had never had kids of their own.

So I guess I owe him something. I mean, now I know he was just a dumb kid, too, a kid we rolled up in a carpet and dropped out at some waste management place owned by the big man. Been to that place a couple times now, couple times a year now that I think about it.

Every now and then when I’m on that side of the river I think about him, how he had himself all worked up for this meeting, how he had tried to make some kind of scene from a movie. Funny thing is this was the first time I realized, to be honest, either side of the river, it’s pretty much the fucking same. I mean, there’s a goddam tunnel, you know? There’s a bridge. It don’t make you some kind of gangster or anything at all, really, to go from one side of the river to the other.

Dave Housley

Dave Housley is the author of two novels and four story collections, most recently Howard and Charles at the Factory. His work has appeared in Booth, Hobart, Quarterly West, Ridivider, and some other places. He’s one of the Founding Editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. He is the Director of Web Strategy at Penn State Outreach and Online Education. He tweets at @housleydave.

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