FICTION

2021

You Will Know Botany

Editor's Choice

Katie Lloyd

Ms. Hogmeyer christened the room ‘Jerry’ after her neighbor’s poodle that had died last May. They found him belly up in the rhubarb patch; the poor fellow couldn’t distinguish his poisonous plant species.  

She told this to her 36 new seventh-grade students, and she told them not to worry. “You,” she said, climbing on top of a blue, mass-produced, plastic desk chair, “will not have that problem. You will know botany.” She was tiny, wrinkly as a grocery bag, and had hands that shook like the tail of a rattlesnake. 

The students blinked. Alvin, on the front row, who hated salad and rhubarb and didn’t care at all for plants, tapped his foot against the speckled, grey carpet. The design hid dirt well, but right under his tapping toe was a strawberry rectangle—probably stained from toast falling jam-side down. 

Rhonda, sitting two rows back, counted to see how many seconds it would take for her rubber-band-wrapped finger to turn purple. 40, 41, 42…Maybe it wasn’t tight enough. She wrapped it once more.

But on the second row from the back, River’s black, shaggy hair shook slightly, tickling the bridge of his nose as he took notes. No smile, eyebrows low, and dark brown eyes rolled sideways. Peripheral vision be blessed. His focus was locked on the screen and no one would even know. Resting his chin in one palm, his elbow and arm hid a black leather notebook. He clenched his abdominal muscles to keep his plump stomach from shaking as he wrote furiously.  Neatly, he crossed a “t.” His cheek stung, and a rubber band dropped onto his black letters. 

Who…?

2020

Warm Cold Cereal

Editor's Choice

Beau Barton

Sherry Stills sat alone at her table, poking the ice in her glass, ignoring the vibration of her phone, and scanning the bar for someone she could follow to a hotel bedroom. It was a Tuesday night at the Rusted Nail and the last call was soon approaching. The usual handful of patrons wandered the place like moths around a lampshade. They ordered their final rounds, stumbled over the knotted floors, and balanced themselves with the help of flimsy billiard tables. A middle-aged man stood on a crooked karaoke stage, belting the off-key lyrics to “Feliz Navidad,” even though Christmas was still two months away. Sherry waited for her turn on the stage, her tanned cheek cupped within her palm, her elbow resting on the table. She waited as the same old people did the same old things.

The streets outside were getting darker and the cold, Colorado air was fogging up the windows. The clock would soon shut the place down and send her home. Sherry looked at the phone next to her drink. A pile of messages and missed calls were stacking up all over the screen. She turned the phone over, sat back in her chair, and breathed. The smell of alcohol and damp wood filled her nose. Sherry exhaled, making her blonde bangs twitch. The bar doors opened for a few seconds, allowing a cool breeze to flirt with the room. Footsteps moved past her table.

“How you doing, sir?” Carl, the bartender, said. “Cold night out there.”

“Yeah,” the stranger replied. “Heater’s gone out in my car, just need to warm up a bit.”

2019

Wishful Thinking

Megan Warner

Nona picked wishes in Auntie’s backyard. It was summer. She knelt in the prickly grass, her knees and calves covered in the crisscross indentations of individual blades. It was hot, but a breeze circulated the air, making it more bearable than her stuffy, lonely apartment building. Sweat beaded on her forehead, but Nona didn’t mind. The work was welcomed with eagerness by her restless spirit. Though the company could be improved upon.

Not far from Nona’s half full bucket of seedless wishes, Auntie crouched next to her own bucket, pulling carelessly at leaves and weeds with a fervor Nona couldn’t replicate, muttering as she went as if each individual stalk had personally insulted her. “Damned weeds ruining my backyard.”

Nona grabbed at another wish, pulling it up by the roots. They came easy from the ground with dirt clinging and dropping on her thighs. It was a half-moon of seeds and fluff and they jostled as she pulled. She wondered if it would count as half a wish, that if she blew it and another half or even two quarters later, it would make a full wish.

She blew it anyway. The seeds came off easy and some settled in the grass not far from her. She hoped Auntie hadn’t seen.

As the seeds settled between blades of green grass, she closed her eyes against the sun but didn’t think of a wish. Instead, she stored the half away with all her other wishes. So far, Nona had saved over 2,000 and a half wishes. Every birthday candle blown out, every penny dropped into a wishing well, every streak of a shooting star, every four-leaf clover pressed between the encyclopedia issue HIR through IND, and every mane of dandelion seeds blown into the summer winds were compounded and stored, ready for use at the opportune moment. As she got older, Nona’s need for gaining as many wishes as she could as fast as she could had tapered off as passions of youth sometimes do. She still blew out all her birthday candles in one breath and dropped pennies into fountains as she walked past, but it went as life did. She would no longer seek them out.