We Splash

The side of a building with many fire escapes. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, comic-book style color, the building vibrant orange-red.

We love The Plunge. The promise of swimming on a hot summer day is the only reason we get up early and clean breakfast dishes without being told. We hurry-brush our teeth, wash our lagañas, and slip on our new swimsuits. Tia bought them at Mervyns. All the same size but each a different color. Joanna’s green one, of course, fits perfect. Elisa complains that the purple shoulder straps dig into her skin. The back of Delia’s blue one goes up her crack a little, so she puts on a pair of jean shorts to cover her nalgas. Maribel’s orange one is stretched so thin it looks almost see-through and goes low in the front so it’s good she doesn’t have chi-chis yet. She throws on a long T-shirt. Larissa’s is loose all over, the red fabric bunched on the sides and her straps slide off her shoulders. We get a big safety pin from Junior’s diapers and fasten the straps together in the back.

We help each other with hair. French braid for Delia that only Joanna can do tight enough. Larissa uses a lot of gel and slicks her curls back tight against her head, makes the hair ballies wrap twice. It’s so tight her puff ball in the back looks like a second tiny head. But we don’t tell her that. Maribel gets two braids that capture all the feathered hair around her face. Elisa’s hair is short enough to leave loose and Joanna likes hers in one skinny ponytail.

We pack our bag with five towels, our new sunglasses that match our suits, baby oil, and five oranges for snack later. Delia stuffs her book in the bag too.

“Why’d you do that?” Maribel asks.

“So I can read while I dry off.”

“Think that’ll make you look smarter?” Elisa always gets straight As.

“I think if I read ten of these this summer, I get a free personal pan pizza.”

The rest of us scramble back to the room for our own books.

At half past nine, we slip on our new yellow flip flops—Tia found them on clearance, all size 6—and pile into Tio’s blue Chevy Astro van. It’s brand new, doesn’t smell like baby butt or big brother feet like the old van did. We name her Bettina and tell Tio the boys should have to walk everywhere so they don’t mess her up. Maribel and Larissa get in the way back seat. Joanna and Delia sit on the middle bench, and Elisa, because she’s the oldest—12 in September—gets to sit in front. We each get a window so everything is fair.

On our way, Tio stops at the Circle K for cigarettes. He buys us each our own slushie and lets us pick our favorite candy. “Shhh,” he says, “don’t tell Tia.”

We can’t get chocolate because it’ll melt in five seconds. Larissa gets Now and Laters, which will pull a filling out of her molar the next day. Joanna gets Jolly Ranchers, “Because we have the same initials.” Elisa picks Nerds proudly and Delia gets Everlasting Gobstoppers. Maribel takes forever to decide, wanders up and down the candy aisle so long Tio yells that he’s gonna be late for work. 

“Licorice!” 

The rest of us groan. “You did that so you don’t have to share,” we say. 

“I’ll share.” She smirks, knows the rest of us don’t like it.

So later, when a few small bits are stuck in her teeth and she smiles at the boys walking by, we don’t tell her. Just let them laugh. Until her eyes fill with tears. Then we surround her. Delia gets a napkin from the bag to clean Maribel’s teeth. We make her eat an orange to chase away the gross licorice smell. Joanna throws the rest of the licorice away.

But we don’t share our candy with Maribel. “Next time,” we say, “make a better choice.”

Larissa makes a different bad choice. One we pray Tias and Tios don’t find out about or we’ll never get to go back to The Plunge. Maybe because Larissa is the youngest—just turned 11 in May—she doesn’t understand why Joanna’s classmates, the ones who think they’re all that and dissed Joanna because she lives on the east side of town, sit in the spot near the deep end where all the boys jackknife off the high dive and cannon ball from the side.

Lifeguards yell, “Hey!” and “Stop that!” but no one listens. Those girly girls squeal and twist their bodies to avoid splashed water on their faces. We think some of them are wearing makeup. At the pool? How dumb! None of them have hair that’s ready for the water either. We know better. 

Maybe Larissa wants them to see how it feels to not be all perfect. She slips away while the rest of us are reading, runs the length of the pool on the slippery cement to the corner closest to those giggly girls. The rest of us look up when the lifeguard’s whistle blows and he yells, “Walk!”

Larissa combos a jackknife cannonball at this crazy angle and a wave of water the girls can’t twist away from arcs over them, drenches their whole pretty selves. Joanna is horrified, so the rest of us stifle our laughs. The wet girls sputter and screech. The guys clap and hoot at Larissa’s performance. She swims to the opposite side and boosts herself out. 

The noises change to cackles and oohs. Only then do the rest of us see that Junior’s diaper pin didn’t hold and the straps of Larissa’s too-loose suit have failed, the top half folds down at her waist.  She smiles over at us until she feels her nakedness. Her barely budding chi-chis chill in the air. She freezes and embarrassment creeps up her cheeks. The hoots and laughs get louder. The pointing and staring keep Larissa super still.

Maribel grabs a towel and sprints toward Larissa, jumps over two toddlers and twirls by the lifeguard who yells “Walk!” again and reaches out to grab her. The rest of us follow behind with the bag and Larissa’s flip flops. 

We surround her and head to the baño. Maribel gives Larissa her long t-shirt. Delia gives Larissa her jean shorts. Joanna undoes Larissa’s hair bally. It whacks Joanna’s fingers but she holds in her ouch and uses some baby oil to calm Larissa’s frizz.

When Larissa finally speaks, she says, “You see how I splashed those sangronas?”


Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera

Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera (she/her) writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles and is an Annenberg Fellow at University of Southern California. She is a Macondista and works for literary equity through Women Who Submit. You can read her other stories and essays at http://tishareichle.com/

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Dead Shopping Mall

The side of a building with many fire escapes. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, comic-book style color, the building vibrant orange-red.

You can still hear the voices from before. The way you and your dad rigged up the old PA system, got the music playing again, sat and let the notes carry through the dead shopping mall. The broken skylight, sun coming in, vines snaking and low enough for you to take a running start, jump, grab and swing when it was a long day and low on food and you and Mom and Dad could use a little light entertainment.

Dad found an old bike in a woodchip park nearby, and though it was mostly rusted—tire rubber burnt and flayed on the rim, and you couldn’t see how it’d ever function again—Dad only saw his own bike from the beforetimes, the gleaming metal of the frame, and the cards he said they’d clip just so for the spokes to hit and give the illusion of a motor. And the tricks they’d pull, he said, and the scars he could show you when the tricks didn’t go so well.

So you scavenged for parts, and Mom painted all the walls in the whole shopping mall, put down record of all the living things that had ever existed and even some that hadn’t, the menagerie of life, before the glow set in and made the world you now know.

Dad made you an automaton friend. Nothing too advanced but enough to stand in for the friends you weren’t able to make, something you could teach to walk alongside your bike, then run when it got the coordination down. You collected knee scrapes and bloody elbows on bike falls as your metal friend scuffed paint and dented aluminum trying to keep up with you, to catch you when you’d fall.

The shopping malls are all dead now, and it isn’t like they weren’t before, but there’s no Mom around to breathe life back into them. They’re just walls and a ceiling, windows and a floor. You can almost see the way the night fire would light up the paintings back then, and the stories Dad would tell, the ones he could speak but could never write down, and when the glow was low you could see the stars peeking past the smoke as it wisped up and out the broken skylight, and Dad said one day he’d build you all a rocket ship. It wouldn’t be much, not like the stalled starliners of the beforetimes, but it’d work just the same, and he’d take you all out of here, away from the glow and the loneliness and the broken everything and you’d find a new home up there, one day, somewhere warm and cozy where you could start over, and it got so the coldest, hungriest nights were filled with the tallest of tales, but those nights you could count on dreams of a makeshift rocket blasting up and through the mall’s skylight, out and past the glow, past the sky, shooting true and into the stars. Those dreams were the best, even if you woke from them with an empty stomach and numb toes, ears red and nearly frostbit.

Your automaton friend took to patrolling just outside the mall’s walls most nights, standing guard for your family, but especially for you. There wasn’t much he could do if there was danger besides wake you. But he insisted that he stand guard, that he repay you and Dad for the life you’d given him. So you left him to it.

You were nine years old when you saw your friend broken to bits and left to twitch on the ground, frost gathering on metal in the early morning cold. When you yelled, it was a sound that came outside of you, and Dad ran over, Mom too. Your friend’s metal head was nearly severed from the body, hanging by a ribbon cable and a couple of wires. Some scavver had made off with most of the body, arms and legs removed, vital components in the chest yanked out. Whoever they were, something had at least kept them from stealing the still-blinking head.

You cried during the entire operation that followed, and even though your friend told you it was okay, that he wouldn’t need a body as long as he had you, you couldn’t help but feel like it was all your fault.

The salvage successful, you asked your dad to add a basket to the front of your old bike. If your friend couldn’t run alongside you, he could at least ride along.

You’re back now, twenty years to the day since you left, with your pack out in front of you, and the glow is low today, mercifully so. Mom and Dad are just a burning memory, but this dead shopping mall still stands. You reach into the pack, find what you’re looking for. Who you’re looking for. The primary colors of youth are gone, but you can almost remember them as your old friend opens his eyes and looks out at his birthplace: the building where so much was taken from both of you, the building where everything was given. You try to frame it in a broken skylight in your mind, to keep its bigness small: so much smoke trailing away out and to the stars. Sometimes you wonder if the world’s so small, or if it’s so big you can’t stand it. You can’t decide which, but you don’t need to make up your mind just yet.


Nick Olson

Nick Olson (he/they) is the author of the novels Here’s Waldo and The Brother We Share and is the Editor-in-Chief of (mac)ro(mic). His third novel, Afterglow, will release in June of 2022. A Best Small Fictions nominee, finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and 2021 Wigleaf longlister in and from Chicagoland, he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and other fine places. Find him online at nickolsonbooks.com or on Twitter @nickolsonbooks.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Take Me Somewhere Nice

The side of a building with many fire escapes. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, comic-book style color, the building vibrant orange-red.

Untethered

My fingers had loosened their grasp on God, and my eyes were on the door of the high school classroom where we held the Christian club I’d started the previous fall. It was hot for April. I needed air, I needed to walk around campus with my five-dollar Walkman, smoke-thick voices of grunge singers drizzling into my ears. The other leaders watched me, waiting for me to speak, but the words were chalk dust on my tongue. I’d heard them talking lately, voices low as I passed: What’s going on with her?

I hung back until chitchat hummed through the room. I turned toward the door again, lungs thirsting for outside air, and then the girl with lavender eyes walked in and I felt an ancient familiarity, like night fires and the smell of leaves in warm wind. 

Scrawl

I pretended I wasn’t looking for Max as I walked around at lunch the next day. When I found her crouched in a corner between brick buildings in a hoodie and headphones, I sat down. “Sorry if this is weird,” I said, meeting her purple eyes only for a second. I handed her a folded square of notebook paper on which I’d written everything: how the boy who called himself a pagan had lured me from God and had then been frightened by my intensity. How I couldn’t go back to Christian warrior and saving souls for the Lord! 

The day after that, she handed me a letter. 

“It’s not weird,’ she said. 

Freefall

It rained that fall, and the world was all purples and greens like the lights I strung in my room and the sad, monotone Scottish rock singers moaning through my stereo. Without her contact lenses, Max’s eyes looked like sunlight shining through the bits of cola-colored glass we picked up at the beach, tying them with string to make windchimes. We spent hours on my bed, lying head-to-foot, our hands meeting in the middle. This is normal, right? we’d say, our fingers tracing each other. Friends do this, right? It was vertigo, I was falling into something and there was no stopping it. And God loomed overhead like a great black shroud, a ceiling pressing down on us, stealing all the air. 

Infernalized 

It was a year before we kissed, and by then my love for Max churned in my chest like massive clouds gathering, rolling over one another in a bruised sky. It drenched me like the rain that streaked my Volvo’s windshield as we drove around to coffee shops or the record store in the afternoons. Little day trips of desperation. When the darkness of my bedroom and the raw, slow guitars from the boombox became too heavy, I’d ask her, “Where should we go today?”

She’d shrug and smirk sadly. “Somewhere nice?”

I knew what she meant. Not somewhere expensive or fancy, but somewhere soft and warm, with mellow lights and sweet-scented air. A slow, sheltered place where we could let ourselves ask questions, let whatever this was between us unfurl like a hand opening, without the demand to define and damn it before we could even whisper its name.

When Max’s lips found mine that first time, I felt heavy, solid things shifting themselves inside me. After the pagan boy, I’d sunk into my misery, worn it like a comfortable old coat, draped with musky incense, minor-key guitar. But I’d held in the back of my mind the possibility of returning to God, a secret coin in my pocket, turning it between my fingers. This kiss, the taste of her, her scent like smoke and leaves—there was no reigning this in. Her amber sea glass eyes. Her narrow fingers. The rain against the windows. My life was petals pelted by rain, determined to bloom outward and outward despite the pounding drops knocking them to the concrete. I tried to cling to tangible things, like the punk rock mixtapes she made for me, the hand-scrawled Emily Dickinson poems she slipped in my pockets. But I dreamt I was in a car sliding backward down a steep hill. I felt dragged away into eternity, unable to stop loving her, unable to stop believing we were damned for it. 

Flatline

The horizon of Max’s set lips across from me in my Volvo that night. The eerie orange streetlight painting jagged shapes across her face, her eyes quivering like the skin atop water. It was too much: the constant holding back, restraining our hands, our lips which once explored each other now reciting Bible verses. Each time, we’d failed, clutching at each other in the darkness, feeling the heavy, metallic condemnation. Stuck in a loop of loving and then repenting. 

Her mouth was a flatline of finality as she said, I can’t do this anymore. Words bubbled to the surface of my mind and popped, words meant to make her stay. Their futility settled over me like snow, the chill of this knowledge seeping into my bones. We were over.

Cloves and Bones 

The air was thick with salt as I walked up the front steps to the house in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Do you like bones and moonshine, fire dancing and accordions? the Craig’s List ad had read. Lavender-grey streaks of fog danced across the sky like cream in black tea. I shuffled my feet on the front porch, wondering what they would ask, how I could talk my way into this house by the sea. I was afraid of how much I needed this: to let myself be shaped by this city of salt and fog.

The man who answered the door was smoking a clove cigarette. He was in his late twenties, tall and tattooed, his eyes lined with kohl, his turmeric-colored braid stretching to his tailbone. He eyed my coat with its wide black and white vertical stripes like an old-time prisoner’s outfit, my oversized thrift-store leather boots, and the calligraphic swirls of eyeliner at my temples. “I think you’ll be a good fit,” he said.

I packed the Volvo with only a few things: hoodies and headphones, a boombox, a book of Emily Dickinson poems, bottles full of sea glass. I painted my new walls: maroon, forest green, black. I played a CD of Bach cello suites and lay on my back on my new giant futon, watching the ripe orange moon outside my massive window. And the fog swirled against the glass like the smoke of ancient fires, painting the mystery of my future.


Noreia Rain

Noreia Rain is walking below lights like candleflame pearls strung in the trees, the air brushed with roses. She needs this, the strange poetry in her ears, the long shadows below the streetlights. She is straining to hear ancient whispers in forgotten languages. She is tearing apart the burlap, desperate to find the rich soil blooming with thorned, reckless, exuberant life underneath. Her writing has appeared in Transfer Magazine and The Ana. Her poem “bitten” was featured in Wingless Dreamer’s 2021 Halloween Anthology. She is currently seeking a publisher for her poetry collection, The Yellow Inbetween, while working on a memoir and a second collection of poems.

Header photograph and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Behind Closed Doors

A fallen, yellow leaf lays on a rock, ice melting around it. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, water-colors.

When I told my daughter I’d take care of her dad while she had knee replacement surgery, I didn’t think she’d be laid up in a rehab center for this long, or that her dad’s urn would look so urn-like, or that my second husband would be so creeped out by it, so I put her dad’s urn in my closet beneath a red, perfume-soaked scarf and an old army jacket to remind him of how things used to be—or maybe, to remind me—and every night I’d wink at where he was hidden and say, Hank, you behave in there a while longer and maybe I’ll let you see what I do with those toys tucked in next to you.


Kristin Kozlowski

Kristin Kozlowski lives and works in the Midwest, US. Some of her work is available online at Lost Balloon, matchbook, Longleaf Review, Pidgeonholes, Cease Cows, and others. Her piece, “Salty Owl”, will be included in The Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021. In 2019, she was awarded Editor’s Choice from Arkana for her CNF piece, “A Pocket of Air”. If you tweet: @kriskozlowski.

Header photograph by Deborah Hughes
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

Being the Murdered Newlywed

A fallen, yellow leaf lays on a rock, ice melting around it. The photo appears in black and white with a V-shaped center section in bright, water-colors.

The thing about being the murdered newlywed is you set the plot in motion.

You and your wife will be found together, days later, where he left you, where he disposed of you, he thought of it as a disposal, out there in the cold by the river, with all the small, scurrying things.

There will be a fund set up to bring you home, there will be photos of you and your wife on social media, in the news, they were so happy together, they were so in love. In the obituary in your hometown newspaper: She is joined in death by her wife.

You will be joined in death by your wife.

You will be taken home in the cargo hold of an airplane, your wife left behind in the town where you met, your wife left behind in a county cemetery, in a soft, cold grave. You will go home nestled in your casket, closed tight in the dark, you will be picked up by a mortuary attendant in a pressed white shirt and polyester tie. He’ll only know you by your last name on his clipboard, the slide of your body as he loads your casket into his van. He will never see your face, never speak your name, never see the clothing your family has chosen for you to wear. He will go home that evening and kiss his three children on the tops of their heads, think how soft and small their little heads are, how soft and small and round.

There will be the closed casket and a church full of mourners, your father holding your stepmother’s hand in a velveted pew, your mother standing at the back, no, I don’t need a seat at the front, no, I can stand, twisting the strap of her purse, untwisting it, twisting it again, nodding glaze-eyed at the offers of sympathy, flinching when the minister pats her shoulder.

Thank you for coming, she will say to people as they pass her, smiling like it is a happy day, like this is somewhere she wants to be, smiling, smiling, smiling.

A girl’s mother should be there for her, she will say, to no one, to everyone, and later, she will go home and pour herself a shot of bourbon and look at the photographs from your wedding, my beautiful girl, she will say. My beautiful girl.

Your father will look back in her direction from time to time, his hand limply caught in your stepmother’s grasp, look from your smiling mother to your silver-grey casket, he will think when will it be all over? He will think oh, but it will never be all over. 

There will be no service for your wife, a county-paid burial, a line with her name in the local newspaper, a slip and a quiet and a nothing at all.

There will be the drop of dirt onto your casket, fistful by fistful, your littlest brother pinching his eyes shut as he stands above that hole in the ground, your littlest brother thinking of the snap-snap-snap of gunshots, your littlest brother’s hand going slack and letting the dirt fall, your littlest brother, that night, muffled crying into his pillow in the dark.

There will be the long wait for your gravestone to be placed, beloved daughter, beloved wife, and your mother’s daily vigil at the cemetery till it arrives, in dangling-hem nightgown first thing every morning, soon as the sun rises, the sky opening up purple and red and pink and finally, blue, blue, blue over the quiet, empty yawn of your grave.


Cathy Ulrich

Cathy Ulrich knows the wait for grave markers is longer than TV makes it seem. Her work has been published in various journals, including Mayday, Leon Literary Review and Juked.

Header photograph by Deborah Hughes
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

The First Visit

In the last 20 years, nearly that many feet of snow had fallen and melted over the grave of William McIlroy. Not one footstep had ever patted it down; not one flower had ever given color to the gray snow in winter or the patchy dirt in summer.

Twenty-one years ago, the bones that lay there now had heated his kettle, steeped his tea, and turned newspaper pages on the back porch every afternoon at almost exactly 5:30. They did, for a few more months. Those afternoons, William remarked on the highlights of his reading to the dove nestled in the joint of the crossbeams, or to the fireflies that floated by. They didn’t say much in reply, though he wished they would. He had reached an age when old friends were long gone, and new ones were hard to make. So, he sat on his porch, accepting this with weary resolve, and solved the weekly crossword. At the end of May, he went with a whisper, and that November the first 5 inches of snow fell.


Jim Hoss had a red pickup truck and not much else to speak of. He was a journeyman and had been since he finished trade school. He felt it suited him alright, but wished it didn’t. Going to trade school was the last bit of advice his father had given him. Jim felt it was his duty, so he went. 

When Pop died, there was no money to bury him. Jim and his younger brother split a case of Pop’s favorite, Busch Light. They drank it on the bank of the pond where the three of them used to go fishing, and said goodbye to their father.

It was October, and Jim found himself putting up lines in west Illinois. When his work was finished one Friday, he stopped by a convenience store, then drove, looking for a church. He found one at dusk. No stone bore the name William Hoss in that graveyard, nor at any other he had visited every October for the last 12 years. Any William would have to do. He finally stumbled across one: William McIlroy. But tonight, he’d be William Hoss. 

Leaning against the headstone, Busch Light in hand, Jim recounted the happenings of the last year to his father. And with a bouquet of dandelions over his grave, William McIlroy received his first visitor.


Andrew Weinert

Andrew Weinert is a new writer, working in a kitchen full time and writing as much as time allows. This is his first published piece.

Header photograph by Deborah Hughes
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson