In this city everybody sleeps, but no one dreams. A railway splits the city, but there’s no station. Looking at it from high above, together with the river, the railway forms a cross. Alina lives in a block of flats by the riverside. Fifth floor, just the right height for the railway bridge to cover the view like prison bars. At sunset the steel rivets glow red. Alina has learned how to count them. Mother helps her. Ten. Twenty. A hundred.
By Phyllis Stewart-Ruffin
Dad wore his outdoor work clothes to do battle with nature. He rounded evenly-spaced hedges, weeded and removed casualties from flower beds, and steered his Craftsman mower back and forth. Not one blade of grass peeked out after he edged. Like a meticulous barber, Dad discarded the clippings from his handiwork. Finally, he positioned an array of sprinklers to insure each corner was as lush as the lawn’s center.
With his ironed, monogrammed handkerchief, Dad wiped sweat from his face. He surveyed his manicured masterpiece to the rhythmic sputter of simulated rain.
Having found no imperfection, Dad showered, ate, and sat across from the picture window in his Naugahyde recliner. He watched television while on sentinel duty. Superman’s X-ray vision had nothing on Dad’s kids-on-my-lawn radar.
“Get off the grass!” Dad boomed.
When my daughter asks about her mother, I tell her about the children of the woods.
“Who was she?” my daughter asks. “Where is she now?”
“She’s one of them,” I say, though my daughter is too young to fully understand what it means, and that’s a good thing. The risk of scaring her with what will someday be causes too much pain.
At times, I catch myself looking out the window at the moon, the bright sliver of it hanging so perfectly in the darkness there. I often wonder if we’re cursed, our village, though this is how life has always been, and how it will continue to be.
Like all fathers here, when my wife was pregnant with Laney I was full of emotions, excitement and fear. And sorrow. Sorrow so impossible to express.
One night, I lay in bed beside my wife, my finger tracing circles on her swollen belly. Then I stopped. “What’s wrong,” she asked. “I’m scared,” I said. She knew what I meant. “I don’t want to lose you.” She brought her hand to my face and kept it there for a long time, and though she spoke no words aloud I could hear them in my mind. Shh. I’m here. It will be alright. And then we fell asleep that way. I often think back on that moment, realizing how it was the closest she would ever come to being a mother.
It is a practice in our village.
After the birth of a child, the doctors take the newborn to clean it. The mother is sewn up, if needed, and then two or three nurses take her to the woods. The nurses who escort the mother stay a distance from the tree’s edge, not daring to cross over into the darkness of the shadows, into where the wild callings of the children sound.
After the nurses walk away, the new mothers walk or crawl into the woods and join with those who’ve gone before. Inside the woods, the mothers’ bodies are transformed, changed over time into children who shriek and holler in the long summer nights. With each passing day, the baby grows older and stronger and the mother becomes younger, one day to one year. We were told by our fathers that the mother gives her life over to the child in this process, that she allows all the good to be passed on.
We are a village of men and children. Those women still here await their pregnancies or the births of their own children so that they, too, can pass on their being to the next generation and rejoin their kind in the woods.
Sometime in the future, my daughter will marry and have a child of her own and become like her mother, leaving me alone. I try to accept this fate, though I cannot. I know it’s the movement of our life here, but I can’t accept the notion of losing the only two things I’ve ever cared for in my life.
Most nights I stand outside my daughter’s room. On the other side of the door she sleeps and dreams about the horses of the field or the fish within the sea. Maybe she dreams of her mother, like I do. I’ll stand there a while and then, after several minutes, I’ll make my way back to bed and fall asleep.
On nights when I can’t sleep, I find myself walking alone through the streets of the village until I come to the edge of the woods. I’ve never told anyone, but I continue into the darkness of the trees and plants. Until I find the children.
They gather in one of the many clearings. I’m guided there by the dull glow of the bonfire that grows brighter as I continue to walk. And in glow from the makeshift fire, they stand or sit or dance around to some unheard melody, some beat that keeps their feet pummeling the dirt and leaf beneath. After a while they stop their dance and look up to the sky. And there, they paint themselves in brilliant golds and blues against the darkness of the universe. From a distance, they look like crustaceans moving over sand, their hands raised in triumph at their immortality or loss for what they can never have back.
There’s no telling which it is at any moment.
By Morgan Helgens Jeffery
Blaire rummaged among the clutter in her purse, searching for ibuprofen. Her head pounded. The dim, yellow lights of the yoga studio always flickered just enough to make her feel uneasy but seemed to go unnoticed by the others. As she poured the pills into her hand, Margery entered.
“Nuh-uh, girlfriend,” Margery said, her bare feet padding toward Blaire. “Give me those pills.”
Blaire groaned, returned the ibuprofen to her purse and rolled her eyes at her friend’s insistence to use natural remedies. “Morning, Marge. I see you’re saving the world especially early today.”
By Monica Barraclough
A gravelly voice speaks in a language I don’t recognize.
There’s a thin spatter of blood on the grey floor below me. My face is jammed in a round plastic frame, and the surface I’m lying on is hard steel.
Everything is novocaine numb. One thought bubbles up sluggishly, but insistent, ‘You should be panicking,’ just before the swell of fear comes. But my limbs are still asleep and nothing responds. I can’t even lift my head to look around, to speak, to scream.
By D. C. Lozar
In fifth grade, I fell in love with Emily Stannous and spent the next four years working up the courage to ask her out. Brad Niles beat me to it, and I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven myself.
Brad is the town drunk, a world-class asshole, and Emily’s husband. He brutalizes her. Sunglasses and scarves conceal the abuse, but everyone knows.
What they don’t know is that it’s my fault.