by Kristen Tetzlaff

Messiah in the Water

When a giant Pacific octopus mother lays her eggs, around fifty thousand, she guards them with her life; that is to say, she lives only for the sake of her children. The octopus tends to the cave she built around her kin, blowing water over her eggs braided together like a bead curtain. Each egg, a pale teardrop, grows only because of their mother’s sacrifice. For half a year the octopus feasts on nothing; she cannot risk leaving her babies to search for food. Within weeks the octopus’s eyes sink into her skull, forming dark craters. Later, she tears off her skin and sucks on her own tentacles to slow the starvation process. Her scarlet skin dilutes to a dull gray. When I was born, my mother began to starve. Every meal went right through her. As a child, I once touched my mother’s bruises, the color of rotting eggplant, staining her thigh. She sunk her nails into my wrist when she grabbed my arm. I sobbed while she rubbed my back and softly sang “Let All Things Now Living,” her apology. My mother spent days in her dim bedroom. I’d bring her a bowl of dad’s venison soup and a glass of ice water. She never touched the soup. I’d witnessed my mother drag her fingers through her scalp and pluck out clumps of her scarlet hair, wad it into Kleenex and throw it into the trash. I saved a few strands and taped them inside my journal. When I was twelve and began menstruating, my mother cried and cried at the kitchen table, while I sat still with half a roll of toilet paper stuffed into my underwear. After months of agonizing devotion, the octopus spends her last breaths blowing her babies into the open water, knowing only two will survive to reproduction age. Two are all the species needs to continue. At seventeen, after my high school graduation, my mother took me to the lake and we floated in the water in all our clothes: me in my cap and gown, her in her lemon-yellow church dress. She called out to me, floating closer to the middle of the lake, her pink toes stuck out of the water like tiny buoys. Once the mother octopus blows her children out far enough to live on their own, she succumbs to the sea.

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Kristen Tetzlaff is a poet and painter from Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in Arches, Respect Your Mother, and elsewhere. She knows how to say “watermelon” in twenty-six languages.

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by James Kelly Quigley

On the Loose

Pretty little white assholes in a vase
baby’s-breath I fondly sort of hate them
the first truly warm day of the year
around seven pm on April twelfth
sundown is a batch of Turkish coffee
served in the small cup of my hair
I heard you say jealousy is interesting
on the phone in the other room while a
helicopter bothered the dead husks of flowers
I think of people fucking onscreen I think
of houses on wheels and one very buoyant
seagull bobs across the pith of the moon
the highway trickles south into a pear of anguish
by the port a dockworker pauses to focus
really focus on affairs of the heart
why is today the day Paul Dano appears
sitting on a bench in Prospect Park and why
am I so sticky and cranky under the arms
frankly I am not moved by the obvious
ways my neighbor’s smoking has destroyed her
I try imagining trees without their midriffs
but that’s just a bush the clouds blacken
along the hill I return to you more beautiful

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James Kelly Quigley is the author of the strictly samizdat chapbook Aloneness, published in New York City by Umpteen Triangles. He was named among the 30 Below 30 list by Narrative Magazine. Recent work can be found in The Southern Review, American Chordata, The Los Angeles Review, and other places. He earned an MFA at New York University, and works in Brooklyn as a freelance writer.

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by Shirley Stephenson


                       After Carlos Drummond De Andrade

Within everything, something prior.

Within the sizzle of nerve, a remnant

of remote pox, and at the heart

of malaise, the mosquito’s

pierce and draw. 

Within the swimmer’s breath,

the impulse of gills.

In the middle of the vacation,

fear of running out.

In the potential circumference

of a kick, the dog’s caution.

Within the loop of scarf, bruises.

Within safety, its counterpoint.

Within the forage,

the delusion of past fullness.

Within language, tongues,

and their longing.

Within the eye, a reservoir,

a dumpster.

Within surrender, the next rebellion.

Within the fig’s gluey heart,

a speck of dead wasp.

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Shirley Stephenson is a poet, nurse practitioner, and doctoral student at the University of Illinois Chicago Program for Writers. Her writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, Fence, and other publications. She works on Chicago's west side, where her clinical focus is substance use.

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by Rachel Attias

The Legs

They wheel me out on stage and I think how truly there was no reason for him to hire twins. Two flexible women with the same skin tone and body type would have worked just as well. No one sees my face or even knows I’m here, shut inside the tabletop. But the magician can be very demanding, and can blow up into diabolical rages, so the magician gets what he wants.

Oxygen in the box is finite.

When we left home there was no debating where we would go. Vegas is the mecca of magic, and magic is the mecca of jobs that will hire you solely on the basis of being identical twins, and nothing else. We thought it would be fun.

It wasn’t the colors that shocked me most—the dusty yellow and rust red of the landscape—or the shapes of everything: flatness sweeping into plateaus and hills that never seem to get any closer. It was the absence of trees. If you lived here all your life, would you even know what a tree looked like? Were there children in Vegas who didn’t understand the concept of leaves, sap, pinecones? We’d come to a different world, one without any green or shade or the coolness of bark under your palm. That was the first time I thought about the things we take for granted just because they’re always there.

The smell of my new shampoo fills the box with an unfamiliar fragrance, almost like I’m trapped with a stranger in here.

Our interview lasted five minutes. The magician wasn’t even there. We waited in a white room with a white noise machine and uncomfortable chairs full of girls just like us. Some wore matching outfits, had done their hair in the same style. The pair next to us had on yellow sundresses, a French braid tossed casually over each right shoulder. They sat with their arms linked loosely at the elbows. We had no gimmick, came fresh from a night curled up in the car in the same clothes we’d been wearing for days. Maybe that’s why they picked us; two sloppy young girls would never upstage the magician.

At our first rehearsal we fit easily into our boxes, accustomed as we were to sharing spaces, our bodies nestled together like quotation marks around a shared silence. We stood side-by-side as the magician explained the trick, how he’d cut us in half. When he asked if we understood we both nodded. After a beat he looked at my sister and announced she’d be the face. I’d be the legs. There wasn’t any debate or discussion. I hadn’t been inside my box yet, and so I didn’t know enough to have a preference. When we were younger there were people who made a game out of guessing which of us was which. They’d stare into our faces and screw up their mouths, getting right up close. People got it right more often than I thought they would. Maybe I underestimated them; we’d always tended to think the world was a stupid place. Whether they got it right or wrong didn’t make me hate the game any less. I guess I took for granted that she hated it as much as me.

We didn’t realize what the magician was taking from us until we’d already signed the contract. Later we read it out loud to each other in the motel room we’d splurged on, bouncing on queen beds. We were not to be seen together in public. We were not to leave the hotel together, not to be out at the same time, not even apart. We asked the magician about it the next day, certain it must be a joke. But all he said was if we couldn’t follow the rules he’d find someone who could, and then he punched the wall. I think someone watches our hotel. There’s this black Saab out there, all the time.

Once, in the middle of our act, my hair snagged on a splinter and I suffered an attack of claustrophobia, pressing my forehead against the hard wood, silently screaming. The show went on.

It wasn’t long before she started seeing the magician in private. He lives in a hotel room. In Vegas everyone lives in hotels or motels or condos that look like hotels or motels. She won’t talk about what they do, says it would be unprofessional, but I know. When she comes home she smells like him. Mothballs, Slim Jims, spearmint mouthwash.

It used to hurt, lying so still in this tight, tight space. Now it’s standing up straight that feels strange, makes my joints groan.

I wait in the box for both of them. I can’t see but I know what happens, mostly. He lifts her. He puts her in her own box, on top of mine. They do something, here, that makes the audience laugh. I don’t know what it is. I hear her toes tap the wood above my head, which is my cue to stick my legs out the secret hole. I wiggle my toes. My toes are her toes. Her face is my face. Our bodies are his. There used to be two of us but now there’s just one.

He cuts us in half. He pulls us apart. The crowd goes wild.

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Rachel Attias hails from the Hudson River Valley of New York, but has been slowly creeping west for several years. Her writing has appeared in The Portland Review, [PANK], n+1, Porter House Review, and more. A recipient of a residency at Hedgebrook, she holds an MFA from Oregon State University and is at work on her first novel and a collection of stories.

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by Michael Neal Morris

Above All Things

He tried to focus away from the old clock ticking in the otherwise noiseless parlor. But each click was like a push pin tapping against him: one moment piercing his temple, the next poking the knot at the back of his neck.

He stared at his feet, regarding the uncomfortable “church shoes” he was wearing for the first time in, what, two, three years? He had them at the girl’s request: “My mom won’t let me out the door with a guy in Jordans,” she had said. Now his toes felt pinched and crowded, like five people trying to share a room.

Said mother stood in the entry to the parlor alternating her gaze between disapproving appraisal of the young man sitting on her couch and anxious apprehension that her daughter was taking so long. She wished her husband was here to help with this; he always handled the dating business as if he had been born to it. Now he was buried and these things were up to her.

Would her husband, she wondered, notice that this boy was not slouching like the last one? Would he see that he sat up straight and addressed her politely, even asking about her day and remarking that she had lovely flowers in the garden just off the front porch? Or that he had the scent of aftershave, though his face was too smooth to have felt a razor?

The boy seemed nice, smiling up at her from his supplicant position on the couch. It appeared he was uncomfortable and wanted to make small talk, but didn’t know how.

“Do you,” he inhaled before asking tentatively, “spend a lot of time in your garden?”

She caught herself staring back at him, struck by the question. “Oh, I don’t know,” she finally said. “It was more my husband’s thing, though I helped him. Mostly I water and take out the weeds.”

“Oh,” the young man said, not sure what came next.

“I just pray I don’t kill them off before they die,” the mother said with a nervous chuckle. Then realizing what she said, added, “She must like you to take so long getting ready.”

The mother was trying to decide whether she should call out from her post or march down the hall to the room when the girl bounded through her door and toward her.

“Ah, here she is,” the mother said as if being saved.

The boy stood as the daughter reached her mother. He started toward them, but stopped himself.

The mother clasped her daughter’s hands and looked her up and down. “You look very nice,” she said, then added under her breath, “And smell nice too.”

“Shh, Mama,” the girl said. Then to the boy, “Ready?”

“He has been patiently waiting,” the mother said. “He was on time,” the mother said with a mock critical frown.

The girl glared at her mother and pursed her lips, the first sign of a fight she’d learned from her father.

“Have a good time,” the mother said. Then, “It was nice to meet you.” She stepped aside to allow the couple to move past her.

The mother stood with her back against the door, resisting the urge to watch them walk to the young man’s car. Did he open her door? Did he blast incomprehensible music as they drove away? Would he take advantage of her daughter’s clear attraction to him?

When she was sure they were gone, she stepped onto the porch and looked over the bright flowers lining the side of the house. Before he died, her husband had planted zinnias and petunias that now seemed like warm flames smoldering. He had often said, “the heart is deceitful.” She said aloud, “I don’t know about all this, Hector.”

The sun was descending and she realized, as if suddenly, that the light was waning from the yellow and purple petals. This was the best time, her husband said, for watering. So she went to the side of the house, turned on the hose, and adjusted the spray nozzle.

“Alright,” she said and began.

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Michael Neal Morris’ most recent books are Based on Imaginary Events (Faerie Treehouse Press) and The Way of WeaknessHe has published several stories, poems, and essays in print and online. He lives with his family just outside Dallas, and teaches Composition and Creative Writing at Dallas College’s Eastfield campus.

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