Gregorio died three years ago, but in the phone book, Vittoria found a namesake. When her check was returned, she found another. And another and another until her correspondence reached someone who had no qualms with fraud. Drafting the monthly alimony check, curling the round letters of his name, positioning the stamp in the envelope’s corner, and placing that solitary, thin item in the letter box were all parts of a ritualistic penance Vittoria could not cease. The silence from the unscrupulous beneficiary prolonged the punishment Gregorio had long ago imposed for the heartbreak Vittoria had caused, thus keeping him alive.
My husband apologized many times, but the swollen eyes and bruises on my stomach kept coming. He laughed at the idea of counseling. I waited for the day that light would shine through the dark clouds as a burst of courage to run away. That day arrived under the naked bulb of a gas station bathroom. I was pregnant. Joy inflamed my body; then it was damped by fear. Will he harm the baby?
One night I put sleeping tablets in his booze, my smile sweeter than normal. Flames danced across the rooftop as I drove back to my hotel room.
By M. E. Alberti
Captain-Lieutenant Kolesnikov had lost all track of time since the explosion. In the utter darkness, he banged a spanner on the bulkhead of Compartment 9, knocking at what he reckoned were hourly intervals—three dots, three dashes, three dots—wondering who would save their souls.
He no longer expected an answer.
“It’s just us, lads.”
Laboured breathing was their only reply.
When he asked, they recited their names, their voices weak and hoarse. He wrote them down by feel, then pressed the list into a high point in the last air pocket.
He knocked again.
Not even breath.
By David Higham
“What you got there, missus?”
The woman had bits and bobs spilled in the middle of Temple Bar.
“I’m a thought buyer,” she replied.
“A thought wha’?”
“I give you something for a thought.”
“My fiancee, Claire, likes this sorta shite. What will you do with my thoughts?”
“I crush them.”
I wrote her a thought, grinning smugly. Her voice was a weighted blanket wrapping me while she read it out.
Next thing, a beautiful scarf was in my hands.
“That for me, Aido?” a bird asked, smiling.
“I’m not sure. Do I know you?”
She said her name was Claire.
I tentatively stepped across the threshold and found myself again in the wrong place. Though wrong, I feel right here. Better than where I come from, “the right place.” I unzip my legs and unscrew my arms, gently piling them in my cubby. Hopping to the vestibule, I tune in the receiver with my tongue. Sweet music fills the room and I am floating again. A chorus of voices sings a refrain and I join joyously. I don’t see the cloaked figure coming up behind me and hoisting me away from the receiver. They reattach my limbs and send me back.
By Matt Henshaw
Emily walked to her front door, the soft leaves crunching under foot. She’d never had a broken heart before; this was entirely new. She’d given up everything for him: she’d quit her job, rehomed her dog, moved across the country, and given away her love.
Now she wasn’t quite sure what to do. She entered the apartment and collapsed onto the bed. She needed something for her, something that didn’t rely on him. Truly, she needed space. As she scrolled on her phone, a post caught her eye. ESL teachers wanted in Spain. Degree required. Without overthinking it, Emily clicked apply.
By Brooklyn Anderson
Martha and Ralph held their breaths as each new wave jostled their carefully constructed bubble. They whispered futile warnings to their bored kids, struggling to subdue them. George pinching Deb. Deb kicking back. The parents praying their cocoon would stay intact.
Their old neighbors bobbed by, only to burst their own fragile membrane with their wild waving. A stealthy swell submerged them, and they resurfaced coughing up salt water, swimming blindly toward their friends.
Ralph hissed, “Let them in!” when Martha nervously shooed them away. After that, they floated through life barely speaking. Even the kids lollygagged like lumps of driftwood.