by Sera Gamble

A Long Walk in the City

if it makes you feel any better

I see you everywhere,

in the eye of the sad

dancer in the park,

the panic of every lost

tourist, righteous

scream of a child

hearing no,

all you, hating

me. I understand

that a poem

is not an apology, but

as you mentioned,

I’m a coward. And I’m sorry

to report that karma

has so far skipped me,

like when that cop

followed me for ten blocks

but then only asked

if I was okay. Or

when I ambled

through Whole Foods

like a smug ghost,

eating an entire box of cookies,

loading vegetables into a cart

I knew I’d abandon.

I just want you to know

that though the universe

appears to have forgiven me,

or more likely never gave a shit

to begin with, I am doing

my own form of penance,

a walk the length of Manhattan,

meeting myself

in every shop window reflection,

letting the blisters

form and break

inside these shoes

I should never have worn

in the first place.

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Sera Gamble's work has appeared in The Washington Square ReviewTinderbox, Nine Mile Magazine, Birdcoat Quarterly, Sky Island Journal, thimble, and Typehouse Literary Magazine. She also writes film and television; most recently, she co-created the series You and The Magicians. Sera is a first-generation American living in Los Angeles with her husband and dog.

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by Foolan Flopez

Your Boyfriend Reminds Me of a Male Anglerfish

I don’t want to read another line

about the cruel mating rituals of animals.

The fact cat and duck penises have evolved

to literally become weapons does not bode well

for the future of masculinity. I can’t even read about

black widows without the incels whining about misandry

into my ears. In the Title IX office, two women told me that

I wasn’t a victim because research shows that men secretly love

nonconsensual blowjobs. I don’t want this to become another poem

scolding us for the violent language we use for hookups—bumping uglies,

banging, hitting it, et cetera and whatever—instead let’s make this about needing

better language for our limb’s limbic lust and languor. Too many partners have cringed

at the idea of “making love.” Writers can’t be trusted. I once read a political thriller where

a couple tongues chicken meat back and forth from one mouth to another. You like 

chicken? she whispers as she licks his face. That’s a direct quote. Since 1993, The Literary Review has presented annual awards for Bad Sex in Fiction and this creep didn’t even 

make top ten. Sometimes it’s better just to keep your mouth shut, like people who talk too much during sex. Half the time I am writing about sex 

I am actually writing about loss. Today, I am mourning the loss of my trust in beauty, the way every sea otter is the child 

of rape. Those cute pictures you see of sea otters holding hands? They are all same-sex sea otters, Josè! Turns out birds that mate 

for life also got sidepieces. Even if I started taking estrogen, I wouldn’t become a male seahorse or papi penguin. All we have is this slow rhythm 

of eyes, the way trauma has made consent a step-by-step process. Before #metoo, I already knew too many survivors, nearly all my previous partners in fact. 

I’d whisper prayers of protection over their yawning muscles. Whenever a tall man stands next to you, I already start to worry. It’s one of the reasons I hate being on top. 

An undergrad feminist once told me there was no ethical way for men to have sex with women. I don’t believe that, but I think every man should live with that reality for at least

a moment. Even the sweat on our palms can harm certain desert plants and crystal formations in caves. I want to say that the fear is gone when I am with you, but rather, it is a thing we kiss back

and forth from one mouth to another, reassuring one another, yes, it’s okay, yes, that feels good. We’re not fragile, just too priceless for each minute to be anything except intensity and intention, touch and tremble.

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Bomb the Zoos is a collaborative by at least two people who hate the rich and zoos and love the multitude of beings that spring from the seas and soil. We go by Foolan Flopez.

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by Melissa Ostrom

A Future

“I’ll show you my future,” Beverly said, tossing aside a dandelion and slouching on the porch step, “if you show me yours.”

Ira and I, sprawled in the grass, stilled, frozen by the dare, but Miley popped up from the porch swing so abruptly, the chain clanked.

“I forgot something Mom asked me to do,” Miley said and flitted past Beverly. “I have to go now, so, yeah. Bye.”

We watched her dash down Price. A wind stirred the trees, and white petals spun through the air and hit the ground with the softest thunk, thunk, thunk. Street, sidewalk, rooftops, and cars were speckled with days of this pattering. Outside her house, Miley smoothed her head and raked petals from her brown curls. She peeked at us, then disappeared inside.

“Miley’s out,” I said uneasily. I wanted to run, too.

Beverly sneered. “Scared.”

Or brave enough to bail. It was hard standing up to Beverly. She was used to getting her way.

“Hope she doesn’t tell,” Ira murmured.  

We weren’t supposed to share our futures. Our parents told us not to, said things like, “You shouldn’t even be looking at it,” or tutted and warned, “Bad idea,” or downplayed the whole thing: “Hey, we all get one, they’re practically the same, so who cares?”

But we knew our parents lied. They weren’t the same.

“Come on,” Beverly said. “Dad’s grocery shopping.”

Ira and I followed her into her house. Her living room smelled like Pine Sol and pot roast. She held her finger to her lips, then beckoned with a wave. Her mom worked nights at the prison and slept most of the day. We tiptoed up the stairs.

Beverly was an only child, and her room pointed to this fact: the canopy bed, flat screen, games console, plushies, more plushies, cool lava lamp. But when she knelt on her floor and, grunting, swearing, and muttering, “Won’t fit in my closet,” dragged the future out from under her bed, it was startlingly plain and pale as cheap pine. Yet huge. The size increased my uneasiness. Mine wasn’t half so big.

I held my breath when she opened it. We peered inside. Her folks’ divorce, a broken engagement, the miscarriage: They were all in there. “Wow,” I breathed, holding my throat. “That’s sad. How can you stand looking at it?”

“There’s good stuff in there, too,” Beverly insisted hotly.

A financial advisor job, blue cottage, two longhaired cats. But they were flattened at the bottom, and she really had to lug aside the bad stuff to get to them.

She shoved her future back under the bed, her face pinched, then rose and dusted her hands on her t-shirt. “It’s big, though, right? Really big.”

We glanced down. Part of the future’s side stuck out from under the bed.

“Do you stub your toe on it at night?” Ira asked.

“Sometimes.” Reluctantly, she added, “Sometimes it gives me bad dreams.” She sucked in her lower lip and jutted it into a pout. “Who’s next?”

Ira raised his hand, just as if he were in a classroom. He silently led us out of Beverly’s house and down the street.

I liked walking behind Ira, liked how his black hair glinted in the sunshine, how he plucked a petal out of the air, how he threw back his head and looked up. He reminded me to look up, too. Ira was quiet, but he noticed things. That made him special.

Beverly, on the other hand, hardly ever shut up. On the way, she told us about her friend from Girl Scouts and the girl’s birthday party, and how her house was different from what Beverly was used to, “poor and strange, and there were, like, dead animals everywhere. Stuffed, I mean. I guess Amy’s parents are hunters. Anyway, I had to use the bathroom, so I went upstairs, and the bathroom was gross, but the closet was wide open—”

I grunted. Sure it was.

“—and I saw it on a pile of ratty towels.”

“Amy’s future?” I asked.

“Or one of her parent’s, but I’m telling you, it was pathetic, falling apart and flimsy as hell.” She noticed Ira’s sharp gaze and added defensively, “I didn’t look inside.”

“Hmm.” He opened his back door. We trailed him through the kitchen and down the hallway. In his room, he walked over to his nightstand, where his Nintendo Switch sat on top of a neat stack of paperbacks. He wiggled open the drawer and pulled out his future.

I stared, shocked.

“Shit,” Beverly yelped. “It’s small.”

Ira ran his hand over it.

“But pretty,” I managed. It was. Glossy, reddish purple, trimmed with filigreed hardware.

“What’s inside?” Beverly asked.

I glanced away, dizzy with dread. Disease, car accident, plane crash?

“I’ve never looked,” he said.

I exhaled, and Beverly retreated to the door, her arms folded, her hands cupping her elbows. She was done with this dare; I could tell.

“Doesn’t matter if it’s little,” I said, touching Ira’s shoulder. “What’s in there must be amazing because, wow, this thing’s beautiful, and—and besides, I’ve looked in mine, and you’re in there. I swear it. You’re in there.”

I wasn’t sure if he believed me. “You get what you get,” he said and met my gaze. “You get one, if you’re lucky.”

I nodded. Because that was something else we’d realized: The we-all-get-one was also a lie. Maybe it was true on Price Street, but not everywhere. Not even most places.

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Melissa Ostrom is the author of The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, 2018), a Junior Library Guild book and an Amelia Bloomer Award selection, and Unleaving (Feiwel & Friends, 2019). Her stories have appeared in many journals and been selected for Best Small Fictions 2019Best Microfiction 2020Best Small Fictions 2021, and Best Microfiction 2021. She lives with her husband, children, and little spaniel Mocha in Holley, New York. Learn more at or find her on Twitter @melostrom.

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by Natali Petricic

Mama Says


“Younger is better,” Mama says.

 In the mirror’s reflection, she models upward strokes, the white cream on her fingertips disappears, absorbed by skin. The lesson continues. Always upward motion, never down. Why give gravity assistance? Gravity is a cruel trick leaving sagging skin. Each day a drip in the bucket, until finally, the bucket overflows and one day the wrinkles are noticeable.

I’m bored. The drops, the years, all sound impossible. Far away, at best. I can’t imagine getting wrinkles, growing old. Mama pounds on with tips. Moisturizer is your best friend, a weapon against the unseen enemy. Don’t skimp on quality products, your face will thank you even if your bank account doesn’t. Don’t forget the neck. And the hands. Age can be detected by those body parts as well. Never too early to start. I am 15.


“Don’t look,” Mama says.

Searing summer day, walking down the street of her hometown of Zadar. Men in tank tops repair a section of the ancient city wall. Scaffolding spires up towards the sky. The men whistle, invite us to come over and say hello. Whether to my mother or me, I’m unsure, but I don’t care to find out. I’m frightened. As if reading my mind, Mama says, “Don’t be scared. It’s their primitive way of complimenting us but ignore it. Ladies don’t respond.”  A pair of older women walk behind us. They don’t get catcalls or invitations. I long to be an older woman, to not deal with this intrusion.

I want to tell the men I don’t want their unsolicited compliments. “Best not to engage,” Mama says. With chins up, eyes cast forward, I focus on an ornate building in the distance. We stride forward, pretending we don’t hear anything.

“I hate this,” I say to Mama.

“There are worst things,” she says. I am 17.


“The worst heartbreak of all,” Mama says. “Yet it happens to almost everyone.” We’re in a Pasadena hospital, a view of the San Gabriel foothills outside the window. Dark clouds shroud the hills. Mama flew down from Seattle in the early morning hours, and now she’s bedside as if holding vigil.

I tell her it doesn’t feel that way. No one else seems to miscarry.

“This happens, but no one talks about it,” she says.

“Why not?” I say.

“What is there to say? No words can make it better.” It’s such a Slavic thing to say.

This isn’t even a typical miscarriage, I want to say but don’t. An ectopic pregnancy treated with methotrexate, that ruptured before being absorbed by the bloodstream. Internal bleeding. Emergency operation. A blood transfusion. My doctor says I arrived at the hospital not a moment too soon. I’ll be stuck here for a week.

The hospital is cold, the vents pumping in artificial, arctic-like air. Mama turns on the television, commercials flicker on the screen. I’m lost. I want to leave this cavernous structure, a temporary home to many wounded bodies and souls such as mine. White walls, gleaming cream floors, an underlying, unnerving quiet in the halls. From the rooms, from the head of my bed, the low beep of machines.

The nurse walks in with another bouquet of blossoms. She smiles, but barely glances at me. Mama does the smiling for both of us, her lips move. She reads the card poking out of the flowers.  I return my attention to the television, wanting no part of the pity gifts. “Why didn’t you answer the nurse?” Mama says. “You could have at least smiled.”

I cast my eyes toward the window. Puffs of white clouds drift by.         

“I didn’t want to engage,” I finally say, answering her question. I am 30.


“It will be all right,” Mama says.

The doctor announces it’s time to get out of bed. Panicked, I don’t register her explanations. I realize it’s necessary, but know it’ll hurt. With much effort, I stand up, take a few steps, then retreat to my bed. Pain stabs my abdomen and shoots down my legs. “Good job,” she says. On her way out, she instructs the nurse to give me more pain meds.

Every day Mama assists me as I take my steps. During my week-long stay, visitors glance or even stare at me when I practice in the hallways. With one hand clutching the IV drip, and the other holding onto Mama, I imagine I make quite the sight. My hair hasn’t been washed for days…since the morning I was admitted.

“What’s wrong with that lady? Isn’t she too young to walk like that?” A girl no more than ten asks her preoccupied mother, who chats with a nurse at the nurse’s station in low tones.

“It’s not nice to stare,” I say as I inch past her.

Mama shushes me. “She’s just a child.” From then on, I imagine a translucent bubble around me. The bubble makes me invisible. Inside my bubble, I can be 30 forever and nothing will ever hurt me.


“You should get out,” Mama says.

Finally discharged after seven days, I’ve been home for a couple of weeks. She extends her trip, staying in Los Angeles to help me recuperate. The torrential rainy days that dominated winter have lifted. Now birds sing, tepid warmth fuses the air. Soon the jacaranda trees outside the living room window will bloom.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to do your exercise outside?”

I shrug. My exercise consists of walking for progressively longer increments. We are now up to two blocks.

I eat. I sleep. I walk. Sometimes I read or watch television. I avoid phone calls and texts. We don’t discuss the hospital visit or the ectopic. I make an appointment to see my old therapist. Although the past month feels like years, I am still 30.


“What a welcome surprise,” Mama says. “Open it.”

My sister sends a package that sits on the coffee table for three days. Along with Mama, my husband encourages me to open the gift. They glance at the present as if it contains a secret elixir. Wedged between them on the sofa, I slide the silver ribbon off of the metallic box. Between layers of tissue paper, I glimpse silky magenta fabric. Holding it up, the pair ooh and ah over the modern, form-fitting cut and designer label as if I’m a toddler discovering birthday presents for the first time.

“Wear this to your appointment,” Mama says.

“It’s too young for me,” I say. It’s the type of top my sister and her college friends wear. The pair disagrees. Mama and my husband form a united front forged on sorrow over the lost pregnancy and worry over the patient. Their newfound closeness irritates me like woolen fabric against a rash. To end their badgering, I resign myself to wearing the trendy top under a blazer.

I am 30 but feel 50.


“Today’s the day,” Mama says.

I drive to West Los Angeles by myself, in spite of Mama’s offers to come with me. “This is something I need to do by myself,” I say. For over a month I’ve lived with doctors, tests, nurses, a concerned husband, and Mom. Even as I slept, either a machine or a person looked after me. I have been building up to this trek, and need to venture forth solo.

I wear my sister’s top for good luck. Not wanting to worry anyone, I don’t tell them I’m afraid. I haven’t driven anywhere or been out of the house since the hospital, other than my walk up and down the block.

“I can do this,” I whisper to no one in the car. My hands grip the wheel. Navigating through traffic on the 10 freeway is disorienting. A whirlwind of vehicles weaving in and out of lanes, sudden stops, and unexpected accelerations.

I arrive thirty minutes early, and drive around, looking for differences in the landscape. Nothing has changed. Only I have changed. Spotting my favorite café, I make a snap decision to treat myself to a latte. Between the hospital staff and my mom and husband, the dehydration warnings, it has been impossible to get a coffee, let alone an espresso beverage. A latte will help me feel more…myself, I rationalize. I veer off the main road and cruise the tree-lined neighborhood streets, searching for parking. As if by magic, a spot appears two blocks away.

For a minute, I sit in the car, questioning if the distance to the café is too far. I have built up to two blocks during my walking practice with Mama. The incisions take time to heal, my doctor had said. But two blocks there, plus two blocks back. Plus the short distance from the therapist’s parking lot to her office. Fuck it. The espresso will fuel me. One of life’s little luxuries I’ve been deprived of with the efforts to heal. And I feel deprived of so much.

I seemingly glide along the pavement to the café. No one gives me a second glance. My gait is normal, my speed passable. I’m an average woman on a walk, not a surgery patient on the mend.

At the café, I stand in line behind a pair of boys wearing college sweatshirts. Their laughs rise above the whirring espresso machines. With eyes trained on the menu above the baristas’ heads, I ignore their casual glances. I’m not in a hospital gown hobbling down the hallway, I remind myself. They’re not looking at me, but something behind me.

I remember the bright top I’m wearing. Maybe they perceive me as one of their tribe—a college girl. Considering my recent experience, the notion is laughable.

The guys order, then turn, gesturing to me. “And whatever this young lady would like.”

“No, thank you,” I say. They’ve intruded on the bubble I imagine is around me.

“Our pleasure,” says the blonde one. Greek letters are emblazoned across his chest. I knew his type in college. I wave away his offer with a straight face, anticipating a cheesy comeback. “After all, it’s Kindness Week,” he says.  

The barista at the register rolls her eyes and we exchange glances.

The accuracy of my prediction pushes an impromptu smile. It is not Kindness Week. “Thank you, but I’m good.”

Minutes later, latte in hand, I will myself to continue the few yards to the end of the first block. The walk back to my car becomes a hike. I shove away the inkling of anxiety to a corner of my mind. The cup hot in my hand, the strong scent of the espresso calls to me. I take a sip, the hot liquid comfort warming my insides. The sun feels welcoming on my hair, my skin.

A black BMW rolls to a stop alongside me, but I pay it no mind. As I plod forward, the window rolls down, the mechanical whir by my side. “Hey, remember us?” It’s the boys from the café. I put one foot in front of the other, my flats cutting into my swollen feet.

“We’re going to a party. Wanna come?”

I don’t respond.

“Come on,” the other one says. “It’ll be fun.”

What I want is to get to my car. I see it from a distance now, at the end of the block. I want to get to my therapy appointment. I want to have a baby. Watch my child grow up. Take them to the park and cafés. I want to be the woman pushing the stroller.

The car idles. I ignore them. Do not engage, Mama had said long ago. And so I walk.

“Whatever,” says the driver.

“Bitch,” says his friend. The screech of wheels as the BMW accelerates down the empty, idyllic street.

My hand shakes, the liquid burns on my skin. I rub with napkins. I am 30, I am not a peer I want to shout at them, but I’m alone with the rustle of leaves.


“How did it go?” Mama says.

“Fine,” I say.

Night falls and I can’t sleep. With eyes closed, I inhale and exhale, going through the motions of meditation but my mind races with doubt. Was ritualistic moisturizing with expensive creams to blame? If I look my age, the boys would gather I was a decade older. They would leave me alone.  Was it the glossy top? Was my smile taken as encouragement? I shoo away the thoughts. That’s how they want me to think. That’s what they want me to believe. All my fault. No. Forget it. Who are they, anyway?  I am 30. I want to be left alone.


 “I heard you tossing and turning,” Mama says.

She greets me in the hallway. My husband has already left for work. The scent of lemons wafts through the air. Her famous bunt cake, cooled and glazed. When did she wake up?

“Is there a special occasion?” I ask.

“You’re back in one piece,” Mama says as if that wasn’t a possibility. A smile as wide as the ocean spreads across her face.

“How about a cup of coffee to celebrate?” I say, and she laughs. No dice. She refrains from lecturing about the way caffeine dehydrates the skin.

Tea and dessert await me at the table. She bakes to show love and care. This I know from childhood. The soothing chamomile slides down my throat. “How was it yesterday? You didn’t say much.”

I tell Mama about the exchange with the boys. She shakes her head, her eyebrows knit. Leaning over, she hugs me, and I sigh. “I’m sorry that happened,” she says. “It’s a reminder.”

“Reminder of what?” I smile, her suggestion far-fetched.

“Reminder to teach your future son to respect women, even if no one is watching,” Mama says. The last bit of tangy lemon cake is a sweet sponge in my mouth. Savoring the soft confection, I wash it down with chamomile.

Mama retreats to the kitchen, her words staying with me. For a moment, I can picture this vague future son.

He runs ahead on a tree-lined street. Palm fronds rustle in the wind. Close behind, I step over cracks in the pavement, hurrying to not fall behind. I’m still young. He is glorious. His dark curls bounce with each step. The sun glints off of his glossy locks. And everywhere around us, the warmth of the sun bathes the landscape a bright white. He is three.

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Natali Petricic’s stories have appeared in Joyland, CALYX, Santa Monica Review, The Common, Blue Mesa Review and others. Her linked short story collection was a finalist for the Restless Books 2020 Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Leaf Boats, a novella, is part of the Running Wild Novella Anthology. She is a former PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow. When she isn’t writing or teaching, Natali enjoys long walks, baking, and spending time with her husband and son. She’s on Twitter @PetricicNatali and Insta @pertricicnat.

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