A Short Story by Dylan Webster

Blue foam reflux collects on my hands as I scrub the bathtub. Some of it pops up into the air like fireworks as I shove my weight into every stroke. I have to hurry – time got away from me again. I hate rushing – the sweating, the stress of trying to beat some sort of impending deadline. Like I’m the servant of the house, waiting for the master to return.

I finish the tub up quickly, and sprint to the kitchen to grab some more of the cleaning supplies that I forgot. Yet another thing I hate – the forgetfulness I suffer from while rushing. But I guess it doesn’t matter, it has to get done. None of my complaining will alleviate anything. And it definitely won’t help me if I try to use that as an explanation for why the house isn’t finished.

You’ve had all day!

I know, I’ll say. I’m sorry I got… I got distracted wi –

Ohhh you got distracted? Of course you did! The impact of the keys on the table will startle me. It’s always something, or you’re always too damn tired. Well how you think I feel? Huh! I’ve been at work all day!

And it’ll just go to shit from there. It always has. How am I supposed to react? I don’t know? What can i say to not set off that bomb?!

I spray the windex haphazardly on the mirror, squinting as some of the droplets kamikaze themselves into my face. I fold the paper towel into my favorite sturdy square, and quickly wipe the glass. I need to hurry. There’s still so much that needs to get done. I’m not even sure how long I have left. I reach for my pocket to find my phone, but I freeze as my fingertips make contact with the cool aluminum. I don’t want to look at the phone. It always makes time slip away faster. There might be a text. A question. And how am I supposed to respond?

I’m almost done! Love you – maybe a loving emoticon? But that text will only beg for the response I dread.

Almost?!?! Babe, it’s 4 o’clock… what’ve you been doing all day?

And I know what I’ve done all day. I’ve been taking care of our son, of course, he needs to be fed and washed and played with.  Not to mention the fact that if I try to clean the house while he’s awake, it’s almost a useless venture. I mean, all he’ll do is pull everything out again as soon as he sees me put it away!

Not that I’m angry, he’s two. What should I expect? What should we expect?

I can tell you what I expect! I expect that we don’t live in a damn pigsty!

My heart quickens its beat as I think of these things. It’s a frightening feeling, really, but it’s more than just frightening. It’s haunting. The changes that people can go through. Most of the laughter and the dreams have all died out, and in their stead are these conversations and sighing exasperations. I don’t know if it’s the stress of having a child, or the stress that comes from work, but it wears people down. It drives them against those they love, even spouses.

I toss the paper towel in the wastebasket and make my way to the living room, where many of our son’s toys lie strewn across the tile; like a grand battle of nations has taken place, and here lie the dead. I reach down to pick up some of the action figures, and suddenly I remember the wastebasket I just threw the paper towels in is full.

I toss the toys into the bin and rush back to the bathroom to take out the trash. But I forgot a replacement bag! Dammit.

I stop now, for a second. I need to breathe. I need to calm down. I’m getting so worked up over cleaning a house. Over trash bins and toys.

But that doesn’t help as much as I’d hoped. I can still feel the soreness swelling in my throat. The heat in my face. I hate this, I hate the feeling of teetering on the edge of tears.

Oh god, now we’re gonna cry about it? So, instead of you just doing what I say, we’re going to have a little counseling session? Nice.

I’ll jump again as the wall implodes in the shape of a fist. Then the windows rattle in their old sills as the door slams shut. And I’ll just sit there. Feeling… well, I don’t even know really. The last time I felt so many things, I don’t know if I could actually describe them. A lot of my friends say I look sad, but I hate that word. Some of them say I should be angry, but how could I? There’s nothing left to fuel that anger when I’m too busy trying to get our screaming child to sleep, and get some ice for my face.

Should I just haul off and lose control? But how is that going to really change anything? I guess it could, if I got a good enough hit in, grabbed my son, and left right away. But if I don’t get a real blow in, then I’ve just stoked the flames, and I don’t know if I could handle the blind rage that would follow.

I wipe the miniscule pools from my eyes, and head to the kitchen for some old shopping bags to put in the wastebasket. I try to sneak past my son’s room so as not to wake him up.

I take the bag out of the trash, replace it, and walk outside to throw it away. The sun is threatening to give up, and I know the drive home from work doesn’t take too long. I better hurry. Not all the toys are picked up yet, and there are still way too many dishes.

Maybe if I’m still doing the dishes, it won’t be too bad. But who am I kidding? Of course it will be. It always is. It has been for so long now, I don’t know how to think of it any other way. But though I know it to be hopeless, I still try. With the cleaning, and with the relationship. It’s so interesting to me.

Interesting.

My own life has become an interesting phenomenon to look upon. Like when you see some wild animal’s carcass being eaten by even wilder animals. Maybe that’s why I don’t say anything – do anything. The carcass is already being eaten, and there’s no more life to be saved anyway.

I think this a lot, lately. It’s like I’m watching myself in a video game. I’m the third-person camera right behind the character, and I watch as they rush around and worry and get beaten. I watch as this character cares for its wounds in secret, and lies to protect. But I’m not the player. I don’t have the controller. I’m not sure who does, but I know it isn’t me.

I’m back inside scrambling after the last of the plastic warriors from the tile battlefield, when I glance at the time. God, it’s insane. It’s like time winds up and goes faster when I’m trying to get something done. Time has no consideration for what I may endure.           

Now that the floor’s clean I begin sweeping. I can’t help but think about how I’m not going to make it in time. I won’t be able to finish! My mind wanders into the myriad ways in which this will end, and all the different ways I will suffer.

Suffering has passed the oppressive phase at this point. I no longer feel crushed, defeated. I had felt that once when I had to explain a bruise that I couldn’t have hidden – but that passed. It was overtaken by humiliation. For a while I could not believe that I had put myself here in this position. But now, I am numb. I don’t feel much of the physical pain, I don’t feel trapped – I feel nothing. I feel it slipping away into that nothingness faster and faster. I only fear for my son. He is what has kept the bullets out of the chamber and the barrel out of my mouth. I cannot bear to leave him here alone in this house. In this environment.

But there is still hatred, although now it is hatred for myself. I find myself with these thoughts that feel foreign. As if it’s not me who thinks these things, but more like they are placed in my mind, and then forced to the forefront. This self hatred, and this guilt.

I put the broom away and run over to the kitchen sink. This is finally the end, the last thing I have to finish. I clatter all the plates into the right side of the sink, and start washing the pots and pans. There are quite a few of them now, as they seem to pile up so quickly if you miss even one day. And naturally I will be the only one to do them. But my mind begins to clear a little bit, knowing that this is the end; and once this is done, I’ll be okay. I won’t have to worry about the abuse.

And that sends a chill down my spine.

Abuse.

But that’s what it truly is. Even the times where I’m not left with a bruise or a scar, there is still the emotional aftermath. The manipulation. When I feel obligated to cover things up, and to lie. When I’m feeling boxed into forgiveness and forgetfulness, and the impetus remains on me to move on and make things work. This stings, and I can’t help the introspective inclination to reconsider so many aspects of my life. I need to stop dwelling on the dreams of the past, the hopes I had when we first married, and recognize what’s actually happening.

I’ve thought this before, but it’s becoming clearer now. Now is the moment when the fear begins to set in heavily. In my lungs, in my stomach. Sinking and weighing me down. This is the moment when I always turn back, but I know that I can’t do that this time. I know I can’t. I need to be strong, and I need to find the strength some—

My son is screaming in his room. I thought he was asleep? His cries are growing louder, so I know he won’t fall back asleep, something’s wrong.

I try to dry my hands, but only leave them moist rather than wet. I set the rag down on the counter as I turn and—

The high, cracking sound of glass shattering echoes in the kitchen. I look down and realize the rag knocked one of the glasses off the counter. A million glinting shards now glitter on the tile. My son still screams from his room.

My heart kicks back up to its high beat, and I feel the pressure on my chest. The anxiety is beginning to take control. Like a phantom version of myself wrapping around me, trying to become the real me. Whatever that is.

I carefully tip toe over the shards, and head to my son’s bedroom. I open the door, and the acidic smell of vomit crashes into me immediately. I turn his light on and see his entire body covered in the chunky orange vomit. So are his sheets.

I can’t stop my shoulders from slumping at this point. The nearly breathless anxiety, again, seeps in. The shattered glass in the kitchen is all over the floor, and probably also in the dining room, knowing how the little fragments go flying. Now my son’s sheets need to be washed, the mattress sprayed and flipped, and my son needs to be showered and changed. All this! Right as I was trying to get the last of the house finished in time. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I feel my fingers running through my hair.

I grab my son, and take the wet clothes off. I remove his diaper and put him in the shower, knowing he’ll be able to occupy himself for a moment and cease the piercing screams. I take the sheets and his putrid clothes and throw them in a bag quickly. I glance at my son, and then begin thinking about how quickly I can clean the mess in the kitchen.

The sweat begins to gather in a small audience of beads on my forehead. I wipe it away, and try to wash my son as fast as possible. He babbles now, happy and unaware.

The front door reverberates through the hall.

“What the hell?” I hear the car keys slam onto the kitchen table, as I’d feared. Shoes kicked off, impacting the wall. I can sense the frustration and anger.

My heart is pounding now. I’ve failed. It’s too late, and I can’t try to cover everything up. Here comes another long night, the heart gripping anxiety, the anger, the fighting. I’ll say nothing. Again. What can I say? And if I get hit, what can I do? I can’t hit back. 

“What the fuck happened in here?” She says from our son’s bedroom.

Dylan Webster lives and writes in Phoenix, Arizona. Previously published in The Dillydoun Review and Quillkeepers Press.

A Prose Poem by Jason M. Thornberry

Upon the sand I stood and watched the water rushing past, scuffing itself over the rocks, racing toward a distant diamond sea. Then I kneeled and opened the box at my feet, removing relics I hadn’t seen in years. Dropping them, watching the current drag them away. A conveyor belt of tumbling mementos: the box of letters, the unfinished photo album, the pages of your handwriting. The things that bobbed, the others that sank. Then I found that forgotten picture. I stared and saw us as we were: you wore my boxer shorts. One of my undershirts. Your short, messy hair pasted to your forehead with sweat. The light brown freckle above your lip. The one I used to kiss. Your tiny wrists, your soft bare feet. Concert posters on the wall behind us. I never showed that photo to anyone. You were already gone. Reaching and pulling and closing my eyes, I emptied the box and stood. Before I looked away, I saw the ring before it sank, a few inches of red ribbon trailing behind it.

Neurodivergent Seattle writer Jason M. Thornberry’s work appears in Route 7 Review, The Stranger, Adirondack Review, Hash Journal, Entropy, and elsewhere. His work examines disability, family, and social justice. An MFA candidate at Chapman University, Jason taught creative writing at Seattle Pacific University. He reads poetry for TAB Journal.

A Prose Poem by Emily Wagner

I wonder what my coffee mug saw. It was left outside overnight, sitting politely on the porch railing facing the road, waiting to be remembered. It had been used last evening as a comfortable distraction, during a visit with a friend I had not seen for months, and when I did remember after a hasty clean up before putting my boys to bed that it had, in fact, been left there on the front porch, I was already on the verge of sleep myself,  the rice bag positioned perfectly at my feet. The mug would have to wait until morning. So as I was walking out the door this morning to take my son to school, there it was, wettened by the morning drizzle, just where I had left it, of course. This particular mug has a cartoon image of me on it,looking a little bit like a character from The Simpsons, and I am sitting behind a large desk surrounded by books. It was a personalized gift from my teaching colleague and the very same friend I had been visiting with last evening when the change from my normal routine had me leaving things where they did not belong. I felt the twinge of guilt as I picked it up, for the rain looked a bit like tears. Then I quickly remembered that one should never, under any circumstances, make assumptions about others’ feelings. After all, instead of earnestly longing for the warmth the house provides, feeling uncomfortable about the coldness of night closing in, maybe my mug was exhilarated by the spreading coolness, the endless possibilities of being in a different place, new things to see and explore. This mug had certainly never been left outside overnight, despite its frequent use. Perhaps it ended up having a congenial conversation with the critter that is currently digging in our front mulch bed, or maybe it shared an untested joke with the Carolina wren that sings at 6 am while perched in our arborvitae. The wren did seem noticeably more jubilant than usual this morning, now that I think about it. As I washed the mug later in the morning, I noticed the image of me there now looked different, arms more forcefully crossed, brow most certainly furrowed and pointing down to a disgusted frown. And as I wiped it dry and turned toward the place where it belonged, in the cabinet next to the coffee filters and between the other mugs, it started to grumble under its breath. Then just as I began to turn it upside down into its usual position, it let fly a string of horrible profanity, causing me to step back in shock. I closed the cabinet door quickly to quell the all-out coffee mug revolt at its start, for who knows where else that could lead. But as I was turning toward the dining room, I felt a sense of obligation, and so I called back toward the kitchen,

I’m sorry, friend.

Emily Wagner teaches English at a public high school in rural central Pennsylvania and tries to share her love of poetry with her students by making it as accessible as possible. She lives with her husband and two sons.

A Prose Poem by Sabrina Bustamante

I want to write about history. I want to stop fearing genre, and I want time to collapse so that I can write about the past while writing about myself. I want to be less narcissistic. I want to make sweeping statements about causation, and I want to be right. I want to find names and places, drawn from the past, green from mis-remembrance, and then I want to exalt them, even though I reject sainthood.  I want to know how to read history textbooks without being bored. I want to make a story of neoliberalism’s false promise, but I do not want to use the word economics. I want the ruse to fail in the third chapter, die quickly of a fever.

I want to have access to a university library, but that right was revoked months ago. I want to be a fishhook, get caught on the abdomen of something big. I want to be deft and formless, and I don’t want to use citations. I want to pour history out into a feeling –  less about fact than about feeling over time, a pileup of the dead. Then a keening from the soil, a compulsion to hold the words in your hands and see how they taste, so you will never forget. Tales that you never can un-swallow, (so chew hard, and go slow). But poetry was never my genre. What form can a warning song take?

Sabrina Bustamante is an emerging writer who studied creative writing and history as an undergraduate at Yale University, where her non-fiction essay won the Henry P. Wright prize. She has a work of creative non-fiction forthcoming in Bending Genres Journal. She lives in Washington, D.C.

A Prose Poem by Stephanie DeCicco

The rain came down like shards of glass. It stung my face, my arms, my legs. I wandered on, heading nowhere with a mission. As the drops fell to the ground, they shattered into indefinite particles of nothing. The sky was black and full of gloom, a streak of bright green acid breaking through to pelt the rain upon us. I smiled as I passed you. You gazed into me like I was leprosy. I opened my eyes a bit wider, for everything seems so much brighter this way, and I saw the truth. I squinted again. The darkness of the day swept on into the night. I never really knew the difference; playing tricks with my sight. I sat alone, staring off into cyberspace, my hands began to shake. They always do that, though. I opened a can and sat back down. I could feel my bones. Silence interrupted my daze and I woke up in a haze. I began again. I’m always trying to begin again. First I drowned the silence. I turned to the television, watched my reflection for a moment or two and continued on this journey of life, my life, the story inside my mind. This face seems so normal, I act just like you. Step inside and take a tour. They always come out screaming.

Stephanie DeCicco resides in Pennsylvania with her three cats. She enjoys writing, video games and reading. Some of her favorite authors include David Wong, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman. Follow her on Instagram on the handle @stephwritesprose.

A Prose Poem by Matthew Dettmer

I’m visiting the suburbs it’s twenty-five minutes from my apartment to tom’s house along the lake the drive was stunning changing leaves the lake bright blue under the sky I drove slurping coffee from a mug balancing it against the turns on and off the highway now

we’re outside in the backyard trapping and passing a junior sized soccer ball my friend tom who met me and his now-wife tracy in college a hundred years ago they got married and raise two kids who aren’t as interested in the ball the younger one

timmy has trouble sitting still during zoom preschool now he’s hurtling across the yard while tom and I talk the election with resignation and fantasy football resignedly I can feel the moist earth under my feet and the sweat turning the underarms of my shirt darker black and then

timmy starts carrying a football while he lurches over the lawn his dad and I joke how he’s a north south runner needs to improve his lateral quickness at one point he stops and holds the ball out like he wants it thrown to him but

timmy doesn’t understand why we can’t play catch this year even though it’s such a great afternoon for it October in America the thick backyard grass the sky stretched out blue the trees everywhere turning green to gold and gold to bare. 

Matthew Dettmer is a physician, writer, and musician in Cleveland, OH. His work has been previously published in the Hybrid Harpy Review and in Neighborhood Voices, a literary anthology presented by Literary Cleveland.  Check out his band The Dole at https://thedole.bandcamp.com.

A Prose Poem by d w Stojek

We sat, my Grandmother, myself, with my Mother between, quietly in the waiting room of the doctor’s practice.  I cannot remember, despite my best attempts, as to which of us was the patient to be. I was four perhaps, five years of age and suffered frequent bouts of a savaging tonsilitis: stifling my voice, running my throat with that unique crimson of infection reminiscent of a depiction of a martian landscape in an illustrated beginner’s guide to astronomy. My mother, meanwhile, endured a rather playful strain of ebola, while my grandmother absorbed the impact and consequence of a day’s hiccoughs and a variable astigmatism. That said, I believe it safe to hazard that I was the subject of the visit…

The windows close-curtained, affording some peace to the infirm, who only sour in the sun; the institutionally pragmatic slate grey furniture and carpet, coupled with strips of walnut veneer lining the walls devoured the amber nebula of the corner table lamp; the room arrested in Shadow…

Despite which, I was sifting through the collection of boarded books and periodicals to read in that ill light. Issues of” International Topographic” were stratified in undisturbed archeological anticipation; a book of rhyme, and “A Beginner’s Book of Astronomy“ cluttered the low table. Choosing something, I remember words made of letters printed at the size of dimes, elegantly lain across the glossy pages but no memory as to the meaning or to the relation they had to the octopus, brilliant, in his top hat and dancing shoes as the hippopotamus, on the opposing page, searched the beach for clues.

The door opened, coming with it: the stunning sun; adapting, one saw the race of red and orange leaves tumbling on the walk was able to taste the crisp of autumn on the in-blown breeze as this crack was sealed behind the silhouetted figure entering. I looked quickly, seeing only an overcoat and hat positioning itself in conversation with the attending nurse, nothing could be heard. Rejected: I returned to my pages. The lamp having been moved closer to me by my Mother in order to stave or retard the inevitable blindness she was assured would strike; offering the Overcoat a pocket of that newly annexed dark. I glanced upwards, struggling to interpret suggestion and shade; my eyes not yet having adjusted, then retreating, so as not to be caught. The cycle repeating, my vision: straining, then acclimating till I could see his face…and what I could not comprehend; it was not horror or revulsion: it was all fluster and confusion. I was fixated: imagining, rather insisting, upon a nose to form upon his face, only for it to fade along the Prospect.

d w Stojek is a poet, photographer and general nuisance to those within earshot. He is eagerly awaiting the day when ‘Build-a-Bear’ re-opens as a series of genetic labs that will enliven the blighted strip malls of Suburbia.

A Prose Poem by Bryan Barks

As we walk to dinner, you and I are reflecting on what an awful year it has been.

“But at least we got married this year!” you say. No, my love. That was last year.

But yes, let’s just say we got married this year. Let’s push the rest away and say we’re getting married next year and the next. Let’s hoard the anticipation and the afterglow. Let’s keep stacking rings until we can’t see our fingernails, until the tiny circles start falling to our feet.

Let’s say we’re getting married tomorrow and on every bleak Monday morning. On the bathmat in winter, shivering in a white towel. In the kitchen amid the shards of the cup you just broke, let’s say our vows.

In the hospital, we get married every day at 4 p.m. Your name in the visiting log is the signature on our marriage certificate. A crisp commitment, the i’s in your name buoyant and devoted. Each kiss goodbye is a mutual promise to stay.

There is no perfect place. No perfect person, no perfect year or words or season.

The lump in my throat is a church; we are standing inside it. My hand on your shoulder is a vow. Our patio in snow an altar. Every bite you feed me with your hands is cake.

So no need to wear white, no need to light sparklers to celebrate this terrible year or its grand exit. Just the two of us by the fire, hoping for better.

Bryan Barks is a writer and advocate living the Washington, DC area.

A Prose Poem by Ace Boggess


While I lay in bed, reading a novel by Hesse, I said to my then-wife, “I don’t think Burroughs is my favorite writer anymore.” The next morning, I read in the paper that he died. I know: coincidence, not serendipity, interconnectedness, butterflies flapping their wings in the Amazon. Reasoning couldn’t dislodge the fantasy I’d killed him by disloyalty as I targeted my whisper rifle, shushing on both ends. I devalued his swirls of literary mayhem, joining a serenity movement in long-dead Hesse’s east/west metaphysics. I had met the Buddha on the road & killed Burroughs. Or maybe you did, Reader. Didn’t you give up on him, too? Didn’t he mentor you on loosing chaos before you left his words behind? You murdered him—not as dramatically as I, & I doubt you remember that bloody choice. Distracted, you left the door open, & he wandered out into traffic, another gray-eyed, wizened, lusty hound.

Ace Boggess is author of five books of poetry, including MisadventureUltra Deep Field, and The Prisoners. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Mid-American Review, and other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.