by Kelly R. Samuels


I could make this about genuine danger and how messages were tapped out in times of war and how that particular motion and even a bit of its sound reminds me of the Underwood you carried four blocks to the car for me in that town you don’t live in anymore. You said I owed you a drink in a lounge where jazz was played, but we never got around to that and now you reside elsewhere and are dating a woman who strokes your forearm over breakfast and I only ever hear from you twice a year.

          I’ve lost my train of thought—this being about these birds I recently read of that correspond in the shell. Not just heeding their mother’s warning call but each other, still snug, still days from cracking the casing that keeps everything dim but somewhat safe.

You and I are only children and spoke, then, of how important friends were because of. A kind of hunt for a sibling, someone who would answer their phone after midnight and help dig your car out after an overnight blizzard. Not that you did or that I did, but. We’d also talk of how shows featuring friends were unrealistic and all of it resembled how romantic relationships were depicted—the last-minute run and kiss in the rain. And yet. We kept trying to hear and be heard.

          Out of preservation, like these birds found on an island off the coast of Spain—halfway across a continent and all the way across an ocean.

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Kelly R. Samuels is the author of the full-length collection All the Time in the World (Kelsay Books) and two chapbooks: Words Some of Us Rarely Use and Zeena/Zenobia Speaks. She is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee with work appearing in The Massachusetts Review, RHINO, The Carolina Quarterly, The Pinch, and Salt Hill. She lives in the Upper Midwest. Find her here:

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by Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí

Lay Me Down

Dawn is at the door, a dog
               empties its voice into the dark

—chaos brews in my belly,
               bad breakfast. I burn

a cigarette in the absence
               of weed. it is not even Dawn yet

& sorrow binds his sick hands
               around my neck, makes a fist, breaks

my body, feeds bits of me
               to the crows. my cousin says

You are selfish, she says Do
               better with your life, & I stammer

because I am tired of explaining
               bipolar, how do I tell of its blue

spirit, the purple of its beak, pink
               red of its tongue.  the dog is still

emptying into the night.
               I am mourning. again. again. &

it is only February, brutal summer
               is not even near yet. look—

all these blades in the closet
               of my chest, how this hunger

twists the song of my life, how
               I try to be the beautiful—

boy my mother prayed for, golden
               child, but at what have I not failed—

even sex, Lord, even death, even
               love, I am failing at love, I am falling

from love—let the thud be
               a prayer, a loud prayer to my mother—

Moimi, what do you bear
               in your soiled hands—lay them

down—     lay me down, Lord, lay
               me down, broken piano,

I am a broken piano. lay me
               down—I will crawl through

the dirt of wet earth to kiss
               you, Moimi, to be kissed

by you, your warm mouth,
               to have your lips greet every wound—

how hungry I am to be called
               Son, to be boy again, not man—

I am tired of carrying myself, praying
               weed to the heavens in wisps,

I am tired of trying—Lord,
               I will lay me down, down, down

in the cold earth,
               before Dawn.

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Ernest O. Ògúnyẹmí is a writer, literary journalist, and editor from Nigeria. His work has appeared/is forthcoming in AGNI, Rust+Moth, Southern Humanities Review, Bath Magg, Cincinnati Review, Joyland, Tinderbox, the minnesota review, and elsewhere. He currently studies for a BA in History and International Studies at Lagos State University.

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by Yvonne Nguyen

Being Seen

Thomas Ogden knew how the neighborhood boys saw his sister. Instead of coming over to play Nintendo with him, every game of Manhunt, every South Park marathon, every basement sleepover was about catching a glimpse of Julie.

His friends had taken to calling her: Julie Ogden. “I bet Julie Ogden has a million places to go in the middle of the night.”

“Stop calling her that,” Thomas grumbled. “She’s just Julie. You’ve known her for years.”

But nothing Thomas said could break the boys’ fixation with his sister, “Nah, we’ve known Julie for years, but not like this,” Jason smirked.

“Yeah, she’s Julie Ogden now,” Ollie chimed in.

“What does that even mean?”

“Dude, you know your sister is hot, right? I never want my brothers to grow up, just so she can keep coming over to babysit them,” Jason chuckled.

“Hot is an understatement,” laughed Miles, “I would give up my new iPod for 10 minutes with her.”

Thomas shook his head and turned away, glowing with embarrassment. “Shut up, you guys are just forgetting about how she used to have purple braces and acne.”

“Yeah she used to, but not anymore,” Miles shot back, winning the argument.


After the ninth round of Smash Brothers, the four boys broke for a stretch break. Miles and Jason shoved each other aside to get to the bathroom first, Ollie reached for a bag of potato chip crumbs, and Thomas lay out his sleeping bag on the floor.

Hey, we’re not going to sleep yet, right?” Jason asked, descending the stairs to the basement.    

“Let’s play a game or something,” said Ollie.

“Okay,” Thomas replied, opening up the board game cabinet. The wooden doors revealed stacks of well-loved boxes. “We could do Trouble, or maybe Monopoly,” he listed off.

“Let’s ask Julie Ogden if she wants to play,” Miles suggested, dodging an elbow in the side from Jason.

The other boys nodded at the idea. But Thomas paused, “Only four people can play Trouble though, and she probably doesn’t want to.” There was a time when Julie might’ve indulged the boys in their late-night antics, joining them as the fifth in their group. But these days, Julie seemed preoccupied with her own life. She met most invitations to hang out with Thomas and his friends with a smile and a polite excuse about whatever else she was busy doing.

“Well, we’ll play Monopoly then,” Miles insisted, heading toward the stairs. “Come on, let’s just ask her.”

Ollie and Jason followed quickly and after a shrug, Thomas did too. They walked through the house as quietly as they could, knowing that Thomas’ parents had gone to bed hours ago.

As they reached the door, Thomas pushed past his friends to gently knock. After three unanswered knocks, he asked “Julie, wanna play Monopoly with us? Hey Julie?”

Still nothing.

“She’s probably asleep,” Jason said, abandoning the mission.

Thomas snorted, “Julie is nocturnal, she stays up ‘til at least 2 A.M. watching reruns of The OC.” With that, he turned the doorknob and cracked the door wide enough to stick his head through.

“Julie?” All that stared back at Thomas were Julie’s pale-yellow walls and empty half-made bed.

“Where’d she go?” Miles asked, pulling the door open all the way and flicking on the light.

“I don’t know,” Thomas wandered through her bedroom looking for a sign of her, as if she could have been hiding behind the door to scare them. Soon, all the boys were in her room, thumbing through her Tiger Beat magazines and admiring her monarch butterfly poster.     

“Look! She’s outside,” Ollie pointed out the window and all of the boys flocked around it. Sure enough, there was Julie Ogden in the front yard, leaning into the open driver’s side window of a green Pontiac Grand Am. 

“Who’s she talking to?” Jason asked.

Julie’s body was blocking the face of the driver and Thomas had never seen this particular car before. “I don’t know.” He felt strange.

Even though his sister was the one in the front yard talking to the stranger in the green car in the middle of the night, he said “Guys, let’s get out of here.” It came out too loud and too fast.

“She’s getting in the car!” Ollie called out, nearly pressing his nose to the window pane.

Thomas’ mind reeled. Who could she be talking to so late at night? She didn’t have any friends who could drive. His sister and her friends were all sophomores and complained about having to wait another year to get their licenses.

Still, as he started to think back, she had spent an unusual amount of time out of the house in the past few weeks. He always assumed she was at her friends’ houses or picking up more hours babysitting for Jason’s four-year-old twin brothers. But he never knew for sure where she had been.

It was almost as if Thomas were living in an alternate reality where he was an only child. It was this dizzying realization that made Thomas question how he could have missed her being gone so often. Like a phantom, Julie had simply slipped out of the Ogdens’ lives. 



The sound of the glass sliding up shook Thomas out of his thoughts and he looked up to see Jason leaning his torso out into the night air.

“What are you doing?” Thomas asked as Jason swung one leg over the windowsill.

“We should get a closer look. See who she’s talking to,” Jason replied, as if it were obvious.

“No! She’ll see us!” Thomas protested. “Guys, let’s go back downstairs. Who cares what she’s up to.” Thomas knew he had seen something he wasn’t supposed to have seen.     

The boys didn’t listen. They were already tumbling over themselves to shimmy through the window and climb down the drain pipe.

“Can you at least go through a door?” Thomas relented, not wanting to break his neck on the way down.

At once, the four boys refocused their efforts on moving back to the first floor and sneaking out the back door in the kitchen. Outside, they hugged the side of the house to the driveway then crouched behind their family’s silver minivan.  The fear of being caught and       the curiosity about finding out what Julie was up to made Thomas dizzy. The boys nominated Jason to peek first. He made a big show of squinting in the dark and looking all around him to check if the coast was clear.     

“They’re leaving!” Jason exclaimed to the horror of the other boys.

The boys leapt up in time to see the taillights of the green Pontiac driving down the street. They caught a glimpse of Julie’s blonde hair, pinned back with her butterfly barrette, and the back of someone’s buzzed head as the car sped out of view.


For Thomas, his sister’s absence became the new normal over the next few days. When she was home, she didn’t complain about the Kurtz twins as often, she helped their mom wash the dishes, and asked Thomas about his new video game. It wasn’t unlike Julie to be happy, but she wasn’t just happy, she floated. Thomas’ parents shrugged it off as “Julie growing up,” and in a lot of ways he guessed they were right.

At night, Thomas would stayed awake to listen for Julie creeping out of the house. Through his own window, he peered at the silhouette of the car waiting there, an eerie green highlighted by the street lights, with its own lights off as always. The driver never got out of the car. Sometimes, Julie would get into the car and they would just sit there, and other times, the car drove away as soon as she got inside. Either way, his sister was always home for breakfast the next morning, her new, floating self.

He didn’t understand Julie anymore. He’d never thought there was anything to understand, Julie was just...Julie, his big sister. At school, teachers referred to him fondly as “Julie’s brother because she’d paved the way with good grades. She was the responsible one; the one that taught Thomas everything he needed to know about middle school including where to sit on the bus in each grade. And she once even took the blame for knocking down their Christmas tree and breaking two glass ornaments while Thomas panicked in the backyard.

But now, she had a whole other life that Thomas knew nothing about, and that fact alone made Thomas feel small in a way being in her shadow had not. Like even though he was practically a teenager, he was really just a little boy who knew nothing about Julie, and he started to notice little things he hadn’t before.

One night, Jason’s dad stopped by to ask Julie if she could babysit on Friday instead of Thursday that week. Mr. Kurtz gripped Julie’s shoulder, while laughing at his own corny joke about Fridays. Mr. Kurtz barely acknowledged Thomas’ existence; he was so preoccupied with Julie. Usually he’d give Thomas a high five or say something about Jason. Tonight, he pushed Julie’s hair behind her ear and said, “I bet you’re popular at school, pretty as you are.” And Julie responded in her polite Julie-way.

Thomas had always liked Mr. Kurtz. But, was he always so strange?


On Friday afternoon, as Thomas watched TV from the living room couch, he felt someone’s presence enter the room and turned to see Julie standing by the doorway, eyes focused on the show that was just ending. She was dressed differently; she had pinned her hair up in some elaborate hairdo with the butterfly clip poking out and she wore a black skirt made out of a sparkly material.

“The OC’s on next,” Thomas started, “Do you wanna watch?”

Julie quickly shook her head, “Oh no, I’m on my way out. Would you record it though?”

“Sure,” he paused, trying to prepare himself to sound casual. “Where are you going?”

“Uh, it’s Friday remember? I’m babysitting. And Mr. Kurtz said it’ll probably be late so he’ll drive me back.”

There was a long pause while Thomas thought back. “Oh okay.” It hadn’t ever been this awkward between them, but it was almost as if Thomas were talking to a stranger. He didn’t know what to say to her anymore. “Don’t you think it’s weird that you babysit at Jason’s house?”

Julie shrugged. “Why? Besides, I’m not really babysitting Jason, I’m babysitting his brothers—you know that.”

He chewed the inside of his cheek, hoping to build up some courage before blurting out, “You’re dressed kind of weird for just babysitting.”

Julie hesitated but then laughed again. “Okay, thanks for letting me know, freak. Don’t forget to record The OC!”

With that, she turned and walked out the door, leaving Thomas sitting on the couch trying to remember what kind of car Jason’s dad drove these days.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t a green Pontiac Grand Am.


When Thomas woke up in the middle of the night, the first thing he did was draw the curtains back slightly, checking to see if the familiar green vehicle was parked outside the house, waiting faithfully.

But all that he saw was the empty street not yet disturbed by the sunrise. He didn’t even know what time it was. He waited for a few more seconds, thinking maybe he would see it driving down the street with Julie inside any moment now, but the neighborhood remained still. Thomas shook his head and started toward his bed when he heard a noise. Not footsteps or a creaking door, but running water. It was the faucet from the bathroom that connected his bedroom with Julie’s.

She was home.     

Thomas pressed his ear to the door, listening to confirm that he had really heard her.

Yes, the sink was running in there.

Maybe it was Thomas’ half-awake logic or the fact that nothing pre-dawn felt real to him, but Thomas put his hand on the door and gently pushed it open, knocking quietly at the same time.

The lights were off.

Julie’s hair was disheveled and black skirt impossibly wrinkled. She stood at the bathroom sink, with black tears running from her eyes. Her hand was clenched so tightly over her mouth, it was like it was a cork in a bursting dam, like it was the only thing holding her together. 

She turned to look at Thomas, and for that one second, neither one of them moved. No one said anything at all. Then, Julie took a step forward to close the door and Thomas took a step back. The door closed not with a slam, but with a painfully slow creak.    

Thomas stood on the other side of the door, not knowing what to do next. His stomach, whirled. He wanted to call after Julie. He wanted to know what happened to her that night and all of her nights. But as quickly as that feeling arose, it was churned into a shame. He felt more helplessly childish than ever in his entire life.

After a few minutes, Julie’s door into her bedroom closed, he opened the door again, flicked on the light, and blinked. Thomas wasn’t sure what he expected but the bathroom looked as it always did— actually, neater than usual. He stood in it for a second, examining himself in the mirror as if he could look into it and see what she saw. He picked up the butterfly shaped hair clip that had been abandoned next to the sink. He held it for a second, feeling the cool metal against his fingers. Then he set it down, turned the lights off, closed the door, and climbed back into bed.

That night, Thomas hoped to sleep easily, comforted by the fact that Julie was only one bathroom’s distance away, sleeping too. But Thomas wondered if those extra seconds the door took to close were Julie’s way of giving him a chance to do something different, a chance that he didn’t take. He laid there awake until the sun finally rose, trying to understand everything he didn’t know, and wondering if she would have been happier in the green car.

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Yvonne Nguyen is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, currently teaching English Language Arts in Richmond, Virginia. Recently, her poem "I Would've Called Her Honey" was shortlisted for the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Award. Other works of hers can be read in The Roadrunner Review, Call Me [Brackets], Down in the Dirt, Bewildering Stories, Ginosko Literary Magazine, Yes Poetry, Plainsongs, and the Southern Anthology of Poetry. Her work has also been nominated for the Best of the Net Award and the 2020 Pushcart Prize.

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by Bea Chang

All the Time in the World

Once, I had a brief, powerful friendship with an older woman—in life, if not much in years. She was a married woman of nearly two decades, and a working mother of three. Our friendship was in some ways illicit, a furtive affair: we’d met because I was her teenage daughter’s junior varsity basketball coach.

I had left Seattle by then, after six years of trying to make a life, and I was flitting from country to country, picking up odd jobs along the way. I’d just guided a tour in Alaska and backpacked through Ecuador when the head coach asked me to return for another basketball season. Not knowing what else I’d do and in need of some pocket cash, I accepted. In those four winter months, as I sat in traffic along our steel-gray lakeshores, it seemed impossible how all of it—our lives in Seattle—had changed before we knew it was changing. After graduate school, after sports games in neighborhood bars, after last calls on Capitol Hill and summer picnics at Golden Gardens, my friends got real jobs and started to spend their spare time on Tinder and Match. Then they started to leave. To New York. To Chicago. To the suburbs. It was, I guess, what we were supposed to do—to grow up.

I wasn’t looking for a friend, exactly, when she volunteered to host the team and invited us into her house. As the teenage girls roared with giggles on her wrap-around couch, carefree and full of life, the two of us sat at her dining room table. Perhaps to both of our surprise, our conversation was effortless and joyful, laced with a primal, deep-celled delight in each other’s company. That night, even long after her husband had put their two younger kids to bed, long after the girls had gone home, we were still sitting there, getting to know each other.

Her arrival into my life kicked my time in Seattle into high gear. I ignored the warnings heeded upon generations of youth sports coaches about parents—who we were supposed to be in front of them and how we were supposed to act—and we quickly became inseparable, attached at the hips in the grown-up, 21st-century, devices-in-our-hands kind of way. We went through our days in flurries of texts and calls. She was the last person I talked to at night, and the first to message me in the morning. Our friendship was new and exciting. We laughed at nearly everything, our laundry list of inside jokes miles long, and I savored every detail I discovered about her like a slice of privilege.

On the nights after my team—her daughter’s team—lost, I often ended up at her house in a cul-de-sac just behind the school, a Microsoft suburb of similar front yards and driveways. She had a wreath on her wooden door and a mirror from Target in the foyer. A family portrait hung in the living room, all five of them dressed in their Sunday bests, touched up and smiling, on a tree-lined road fallen with red and yellow leaves. We sat in the heavy-set chairs in her kitchen, scratched and stained by toddlers, and we talked and talked, laughing deliriously, almost childishly, into the quiet, intimate hours beyond midnight. By then, the outside world had stopped still; rain fell, light as a feather. And always, we lost track of time. With her, it felt like I was traveling again, talking to a stranger on an empty pier, our hearts wide-open, our bare feet hanging over an ancient lake.

I left Seattle a month or so after the basketball season ended, and it nearly broke my heart. I didn’t know what any of it meant—if we were friends, or if we’d continue to be. After all, was the woman I called my “twin” from a drunken college night long ago still my friend if she lived out across the country? What about my friends from graduate school, or my former colleagues whom I used to see every day? How much, exactly, did it take to hold on? I didn’t know. All I knew was that in those few months, she was the closest person in the world to me.

While I was traveling in Scotland, in the Republic of Georgia, we spoke of grand ideas of what we’d do together when I returned: day hikes, road trips, bubble teas. But it turned out that we would not do any of those things. By the time I came back for the next basketball season, the heavy-set chairs in her kitchen were gone, replaced by a sleek walnut set. Her husband had redone their backyard and they were putting in hardwood floors. Adulting, she texted with a laugh-cry emoji, is so hard. Our conversations began to come in bits and pieces. I started to realize that she had a habit of saying things she didn’t quite mean. I chased her through Costco and watched her whip up oven-baked nuggets and microwave mac-and-cheese for her children. I sat beside her in her car as she put on make-up and watched her bright and lilting greetings with suburban mothers. She was suddenly a stranger to me, no longer the woman I knew in her pajamas, her knee pulled up to her chest, airy and light-hearted, sipping on her sun-colored wine in the half-glow of her house. Somewhere along the way, I’d become an intrusion, a puzzle piece that no longer fit in the business of her life.

Since then, there’s been a whole lot of hurt, a whole lot of misunderstandings, and even more apologies. I became clingy and desperate, both exhausted of clawing at her shadow and terrified of being left behind, and I tried to end our friendship. When she walked into the bubble tea shop that night, she did not hug me and I did not offer. For a while, across a table that felt vaster than any ocean that had been between us, we talked, and at times, a semblance of our old selves peeked through—only to disappear again. But, as she stirred the jelly in her drink, I wondered if what we had was, at best, an elusive feeling, always in a state of vanishing. Maybe, after all, we were always leaving each other behind. Perhaps we were—had always been—on borrowed time.

It turned out, though, that she didn’t see us as broken. She said she thought that because we’d survived my nomadic lifestyle and her working-mother life, she felt closer to me than before. It was that kind of intimacy that allowed us to go to Costco together, to chat through her daughter’s physical therapy appointment. I don’t know. Maybe she is right. Maybe who we are is infinitely complicated, some complex equation of those different versions of ourselves. Maybe what the two of us had in a frenzied, capitalistic civilization was all we had to give: our love with overwhelmed and imperfect hearts. But, again, maybe that was just what she said.

We talked that night until we were the only two people left, until the college kid asked us, apologetically, to leave. Her eyes had welled up at one point, swimming right beneath her mascara. I feel like I’m just spinning plates, she said. And I’m doing my best trying to keep them all from shattering.

Was this, I wondered, what people did with their affluence and freedom? I left again, out of this manic society, and went to Colombia with a German friend I’d met on a rooftop hostel in Tbilisi. One night, in Villa de Leyva, a small, colonial village in the mountains, my friend walked ahead with a Colombian composer she’d met, the two of them bantering with the hurried thrill of two people getting to know each other. On the immense cobblestone square, I stole a moment and stood still, the air silver and crisp. I watched the villagers huddled on the steps together, under a gibbous midnight moon, beers in hand, whispering in a low, beautiful voice as if they had all the time in the world.

Up ahead, my German friend threw her hair back and cracked up, her laughter sailing through those alleyways between white-washed houses and red-tile roofs, through neighbors chatting in their doorways and chuckling from their balconies. Something about it all shattered my heart. I believe her; most of the time, I really do, her and all of my friends at home who were always running from one responsibility to the next. But I couldn’t help but wonder that if we can’t find time for each other, what, exactly, are we doing here?

We are still friends, I think, in brief, incremental moments; most of the time, but maybe not always. In that quiet, colonial village in Colombia, all I wished then was to live in a small place where nothing much happened, where there was nowhere else to be, and that I could walk over to her house and knock on her door. I wished the two of us could sit side-by-side again, when the rest of the world had fallen silent, and talk about everything and nothing. Or, maybe, just maybe, I wished that we could be strangers once more, and meet all over again.

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Bea Chang is a writer, feminist, and traveler who was born in Taiwan, raised in California and New Jersey, and has traveled to 68 countries. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and her short stories and essays have appeared in the Awesome Sports Project, Broad Street Magazine, Memoir, Toasted Cheese Online Literary Journal, and Colere: A Journal of Cultural Exploration. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, named a Notable Mention in the Best American Essays (2017) and the Best American Sports Writing series (2018). She is the 2020 recipient of Anne G. Locascio Scholarship at the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference. You can view her work at or follow her at @BeaChang_10 on Twitter.

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