The Other Avenue

There was another avenue by us.
Gardens left to the wind, gates looked
like old boat decking. Some flowers

would grow, while weeds were
encouraged to reach above their shadow.
This brick estuary felt years

behind ours. Money was lower
and spent quicker. There was one sky
dish that looked like a facial mole.

Cars coughed their way up and walking
sticks clapped their way out.
There were no steps here or stone walls

as if the terraced houses were built
with the leftovers from our avenue.

Gareth Culshaw is from Wales. He has his first collection out in 2018 by FutureCycle Press.

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Florence of Bristol Beth

There is a Bristol Beth in every state, excluding the Dakotas, South Carolina, Hawaii, and Virginia. Florence had been to eight of them by the time she arrived at Bristol Beth, Tennessee. Her birthplace was Bristol Beth, Indiana. She lived in the incarnations in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Delaware, and New Hampshire, and visited the Bristol Beths of Missouri and Oregon before tiring of constantly moving and traveling in the name of documenting and locating every Bristol Beth in the United States. Florence moved in with her mother’s sister in Arlington, Virginia. Meanwhile, her mother took residence in Bristol Beth, Tennessee, rented out a house by the train tracks running through the edge of the rustic, bluegrass, dead-grass town, where hills abounded. There Florence’s mother met, fell in love, and cohabited the house by the tracks with a man named Lexington Carmine.

Her mother was interred in Burke, Virginia, but her belongings remained in Bristol Beth with Lexington Carmine. So, Florence came to the house by the tracks wishing to obtain her mother’s belongings.

The man Florence spoke with on the phone talked to her in a drawling, friendly way, familiar way, although they had not spoken in months and rarely spoke in the time her mother had been alive. He answered the phone when Florence called to talk to her mother, and he’d always say how good it was to talk to her before passing the phone to her mother like they did it all the time. Her mother often went without a cell phone, forgetting to pay the bill, thinking it was a toxin, bugged, or a way of letting in vicious spirits.

Florence drove beside the train tracks. They ran along the dirt road to the house. Every day at 3:30 the train would pass the house. Her mother passionately detested the whistle and chugga-chugga and swore to Florence she would one day blow that train up so that it was only perceivable on the atomic level.

 

It wasn’t much of a house. More like a trailer, and he sat at a chess table on the lawn, right by the cinderblock steps. The man had an otherworldliness pervading his body and a considerable amount of hair on his chest. It was understandable he would be shirtless on such a hot day. Otherwise, he would die from heat stroke.

“Hi, there,” he drawled.

“I’m Florence.” she said.

“I know, kiddo. I’ve seen pictures of you.” He moved a chess piece then got up, stretching himself out, inverting his back, with his hands on his narrow hips.

Florence and Lexington Carmine were strangers, yet he called her “kiddo.” He acted as though they’ve had conversations beyond saying hello to each other, Florence asking for her mother, and Lexington Carmine calling for Florence’s mother before handing the phone over to her. He always made sure to say, “Here’s your mom, sweetie. You have a good day,” to which Florence would be struck dumb and unable to reply. There was an exception with the last phone conversation when Florence awkwardly called, requesting to retrieve what her mother had left behind. Lexington Carmine said he was, “more than happy to give them to you, kiddo.” Florence hurriedly made arrangements with him. She could not end the call fast enough.

 

“What do you think?” Lexington Carmine spread his arms, as if he had made everything in sight, leaning back in his lawn chair, risking falling backward.

“It’s warmer than the ones I’ve been to,” said Florence.

“Well, I’ve been to a few myself, and in no way does this beat the heat in Texas’ Bristol Beth.” He used hand gestures to tell her to sit. The seat looked dirty, but reluctantly she did. “You’re the expert now, I guess,” he said.

“Ah.” She wanted not to accept it nor deny it. “I have been to five.”

“Ah…” she said.

“Don’t think your mom gave it all up. It’s just; I couldn’t make the journeys.”

“Ah…” she said.

“My job, you know.”

“Uh-huh.” Florence had thought the two lived off her mother’s disability checks.

“I want to go to all the Bristol Beths,” said Lexington Carmine. “I wish I could have gone to the funeral.”

Florence made a slight sound. The funeral had not been a pleasant day. It had been the same Arlington church ground where her grandfather had been buried after succumbing to cancer a decade earlier. The wake had had a closed casket. Florence had spent the succeeding months waiting for a sense of finality that she could not find even after visiting the grave once a week. She felt that had the casket been opened and she could have seen the truth with her own eyes it would have been real closure. It was her hope that if this did not give it to her, it would bring her closer to getting it.

“How is school going?” asked Lexington Carmine.

“I graduate next semester.”

“You’re rather young to be graduating so early,” he said.

“It’s community college,” said Florence.

“Which means what?”

“I’ll have an associate’s degree,” she said.

“Well, what comes next?”

Florence made an “I don’t know sound.” It was high-pitched and impulsive. She was surprised by it. Florence refrained from committing to ideas about the future. She was too fearful of it to imagine it.

He took a sip from the Dog Bite he had been cradling between his feet, pointing to the chessboard as a way of asking Florence to play.

She shook her head. “I don’t know how to.” It was the same thing she would have said if that were not true.

“I can teach you how to play,” said Lexington Carmine.

“It was a long trip, Mr. Carmine.”

“Would you like to rest?” he asked.

“No. I want to get my mother’s things,” Florence said.

He got up. The dog bite was in his hand. “I’ll take you inside.”

 

They entered a hallway consisting of hooks along the entire right side of the hall. It was all old furniture in the living room, the newest thing in the room being a massive, boxy television that took up half the room. The kitchen was all white, and it branched off to his bedroom, a closed door, and breezeway with green, aluminum walls leading to the backyard. Lexington Carmine led Florence to a room where he stored all of her mother’s things. Totes were stacked on a queen-sized bed, and boxes were piled on top of each other in a corner beside a vanity.

“I set up the room about a month afterward. I did not want to remove her, but I didn’t want to be haunted either. It’s better this way. It’s like I can come in here and visit her.”

There he went again, speaking as though her spirit lingered here. Anywhere but here. Florence knew in her heart that her mother did not want to be buried in a “Bristol Bethless” state, but not in this house with him. She would rather have her mother’s spirit be within the anatomy of the train tracks.

 

Off at the far end of the room, mounted on the wall, above a trinket-filled shelf, was a woodcut carved with “Florence.” Florence realized that this was the bedroom her mother always said was ready for her if she were to visit.

He grabbed a box. Florence picked up a smaller box, put it on top of another box, and carried the two out. The doors were propped open, letting in the breeze. After the first trip to Florence’s car, she speed-walked and built a space between her and Carmine. Every time he was out loading something into the truck, she was heading back to the room, and vice versa.

As agonizing as the rigmarole of emptying the house of the boxes was, it was comforting for Florence, knowing that her mother wasn’t living with little as she had feared, and the house was nice. There was no telling how messy it had been when her mother was alive, but it wasn’t decrepit. Loading the last tote, and looking at the full truck bed, Florence nodded to herself, bobbing her head. Seeing off the belongings in the truck felt right to her.

 

Carmine brought the woodcarving to the truck. “There’s no point in it staying here,” he said.

“Okay.” She took it, meaning to hide it away once she got home.

“You have to head out so soon? You said it’s a long trip, and there’s a guest bed.”

“No thank you, Mr. Carmine. I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

“You’re always welcome,” he said.

“Thank you,” said Florence, losing the polite tone she had forced up until then.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, Mr. Carmine.”

“You can call me Lexington, or Lex. That’s what your mom called me. She always said Carmine sounded too much like the name of a villain.”

“My mom also said she wanted to blow up the train!” The chugging was not far off. She looked at the tracks and could see it.

“She was a firecracker,” said Lexington Carmine.

Florence got in the truck. “Thank you for giving all this to me, but I have to start heading home.”

“You’ll keep in touch, won’t you?”

She took a deep breath to compose herself and answered, “I don’t know you, Mr. Carmine.”

He said, “I want to change that.”

She started the truck, and posed, telling him as harshly as possible, “My mother came here because she was obsessed with some stupid name.”

“I know you’re angry, but I want us to know each other. I think that’s what she wants,” said Lexington Carmine.

Florence said, “You act like she’s with you in spirit. How can she be with both of us in spirit?”

Lexington Carmine replied, “Well, she had enough spirit in her to fill up the solar system, but hear this, little lady, being rude to me doesn’t do justice to her memory.”

She turned off the engine. “My mother valued honesty, and that’s why I am going to say what I am about to say. It will be the last thing I ever say to you, Mr. Carmine: I believe with all my heart that if she didn’t stay here, she might still be alive, and she may have come here because of her obsession, but she stayed because of you.”

His lips were taut like he was sucking on something sour, and he went back into the house with his head down. Then he stopped, turned around, his eyes faintly watering, “She wanted to be loved, and Lord knows she wouldn’t get that from you.”

Florence restarted the truck and followed the train out of Bristol Beth, Tennessee, nearly matching its speed.

 

At the Sherwood Inn, 30 minutes from the Virginia border, Florence had the contents of the totes and boxes scattered throughout the room. Most of it was clothes and pictures from when Florence was a baby. Her mother loved jewelry boxes filled with earrings that had lost their mate and photo albums filled with photos she had taken of the sky and trees. Each picture was accompanied by a caption, saying where it had been taken. It amazed her how few there were of the Bristol Beths. One of the jewelry boxes had an old map Florence knew well. It marked the Bristol Beths, with x and a sticker with a number written on it. Only one remained: Bristol Beth, Ohio; the first Bristol Beth. Florence felt relieved to find her mother’s map. She worried that it had been lost. As much as she detested the constant travel growing up, the idea that the records of all of her mother’s travels were gone broke her heart.

 

One story says that the first Bristol Beth in Ohio is named after a man’s dead twin daughters, and goes on to say he founded more towns just to name them after them. A quick internet search disproves the theory, because all of the Bristol Beths were founded by different people with no connection to each other and who lived decades and miles apart. Florence’s theory: they just liked the sound of the name.

The first Bristol Beth was founded in 1807, with the next being in New Jersey in 1814. There is no evidence to prove or disprove the legend of dead twins, but Florence thought someone heard or even went to the one in Ohio, and when they founded their town in New Jersey, they took the name. Florence always thought someone should investigate why the towns got their names, but she did not care enough to do so. It seemed no else cared either. Florence’s mother contended that it was all coincidence. Parallel thinking maybe. A beautiful coincidence is what her mother called it. She thought the name was spectacular, and had the habit of telling Florence how she had wanted to name her Bristol Beth.

 

Her mother had never been a happy lady. She was a childish woman tortured by irrational fears, impulsiveness, psychotic episodes like demonic possessions, and the tendency to treat Florence like she was a little kid long after Florence had surpassed her in maturity. Prone to paranoia and fantasy, her mother had grudges against everyone in every neighborhood they ever lived in. Her mother loved every Bristol Beth, but always said the worst part about a place was the people. Florence’s mother was against the world while at the same time yearning to be a part of it.

 

Among the pictures of Bristol Beths and Florence as a child were pictures of Lexington Carmine and Florence’s mother. Her mother’s hair had been dyed so many times and for so long and too many colors to remember the natural color. Florence assumed her mother had the same black hair as her. Florence’s mother possessed dark eyes which could best be described as “striking,” but not in a positive way, more of giving one the feeling she’d strike them as soon as she lay her eyes on them, but in the photos with Carmine, her mother’s eyes were joyful.

 

She rested her head on the hotel pillow, staring at the off-white wall. She held a head rehearsal of what she resolved to do upon waking. She would return to Carmine’s house and give him the pictures of him and her mother. Maybe she would say a verbal apology, but she wasn’t holding herself to it. She hoped returning the pictures would be enough of an apology. She also hoped that maybe, just maybe, she’d wake up in the morning to find her trip was part of the dream, and she wouldn’t have anything to apologize for. With that, she hoped, though she knew it was pointless, that she’d wake up to find that there was much she had dreamed. Years and years she had dreamed, and she’d have a fresh start.

Ashley Bach lives in suburban Philadelphia and is pursuing an MA in English.

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A Quarter of Vitamins

sorry to empty my dinner plate //
my ribs are icicles again and

linguini whines like a toddler
as if to say mama why can’t I come home? ///

/// in a dream last night, I bandaged 4 apples with bruises,
watched stale peanuts river in crystal bowls and the brie from last week rot;

I peeled 4 oranges,
since skin is a hand-me-down /

/// I left the chicken whole,
I believe in the philosophy of bones ////

// all in a little kitchen
with pot flowers and baskets of parsley ///

/ better now
to divide myself down to lungs that smell like stoves

where I’d eat the kettles, pans, dish rack
eat the toaster, scratchy oven mitts, sink spilling forks,

soap suds, even the drain sprouting leftovers—
eat our old microwave and the counter, eat the ceiling last

// after I’d even eat the sky too.

Maayan Avery is a twenty-year-old writer and California native. Her work has been featured in Lunch Ticket and The Ellipses. She won the Editor’s Choice Award for Teen Ink and currently lives in Jerusalem, Israel.

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The Last Folk Singer

The last folk singer steps out onto the stage.
He carries his guitar and an old banjo.
They say he learned to sing from a
Jew in Kansas City but I know for a fact
he learned while in prison in the State of Utah.

They don’t call him a folk singer because
of his broken teeth. They don’t praise his looks
or his buckskin jacket. The last folk singer can barely walk,
and when he talks you can see his stained teeth. His voice
stands out and so does his ugly nose. But when he sings,
he makes grown men and women cry. They bawl.

When the last folk singer was young, the ladies held their breath.
He’d just wink and they’d fall out, as their friends screamed
and carried on, begging for more. He looks a hell of a lot like Pete Seeger,
but has had white hair from 30. He looks a little like Johnny Winter
and a whole lot like Andy Warhol.

People can remember him so well from when he was young.
He had long hair and never wore a shirt. They say he got his tattoos
while in state prison and he was sent there for stabbing his sister.
He croons and strums, hollers and cries; he plays his guitar real loud;
then he’ll get mad and storm out over nothing.

Furry Lewis who hailed from Memphis was said to have been
a friend but not his neighbor B. B. King, who didn’t like him one bit.
Rumor had it he came from Alabama, but Furry swore
he was born in a shit hole somewhere south of Jackson.

The happiest time of his life was the summer his tomatoes grew
the size of his wife’s favorite dinner plates. They were gigantic
and he took them with him to church in a basket to give away.
This went on for what seemed like forever, and he never forgot it.
The rest of the garden was fine, but when he thinks of those tomatoes he smiles.

The last folk singer began to lose his balance. His body began
to fail. At last, they wheeled him out in a special chair, a golden
throne on casters. He sat through most of his songs, but he always
stood for “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”.

The last folk singer hasn’t long to live. He’s given away most of his prized
possessions, including his Stetson and his Gibson guitar. Last week he sold me
his red boots and his silver buckle. He’s down on his luck. As he lay dying,
his manager, Burt Cole, waited for his final words. Even the doctor leaned in
and everyone hushed: “I never sing about nothing I didn’t know;
I never sing about love.”

David Lohrey grew up in Memphis. He graduated from UC Berkeley. His plays have appeared in the UK, Switzerland, Croatia and, most recently, in Estonia. They are available online at Proplay (CA). His poetry can be found internationally in Softblow (Shanghai), Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine (The Hague) and Otoliths (Australia). In the US, recent poems have appeared in Apogee, Abstract Magazine and Poetry Circle. Several have been anthologized by the University of Alabama (DewPoint), Illinois State University (Obsidian) and Michigan State University (The Offbeat). His fiction can be read in Dodging the Rain and Literally Stories. His study of 20th century literature, The Other Is Oneself, was published last year in Germany. Machiavelli’s Backyard, David’s first collection of poetry, appeared in August 2017. David is a member of the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective. He lives in Tokyo.

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Concealed yet permanent

I knit you a yellow wool hat
with grosgrain streamers to
tie under your infant neck.
No ultrasounds existed so
I selected a unisex color.
Later you wore wooly hats
handmade by my mother;
she always made a pom-pom
from the leftover yarn. Your
silky hair received a nurse’s
cap, proper and white, and
you’d worn college mortar
boards twice before. Bridal
veiling made you blush.

Your permanent Mommy
hat was invisible. And as
your firstborn entered
university life, you wondered
if it was still in place. Yes,
I noticed. It’s still there,
but just smaller on your
head.

This is a reprint of work originally published in The Christian Science Monitor.

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/photos/memorabilia are in major museums, including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.

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Falling in Love with Better People

Mornings:

This is us falling in love with better people.

My eyes are closed. The wind cools my skin as the porch swing rocks back and forth. You’re on a rocker chair a few feet away, moving forward and backward, forward and backward. I don’t have to look at you to know that your eyes are on the horizon, watching for the sun rise.

Soon you’ll say, “Lily, open your eyes. It’s here.”

And when I open them, the sky will be a sunburst of colours; all orange and blue, white and gold, like a watercolour and not the real thing.

“It’s lovely,” I’ll say and you’ll smile and nod vigorously. “Yes, yes, it is.”

I’ll wrap my pashmina more securely around my shoulders.

“Are you cold?” you’ll ask.

“Yes, but in a good way.”

You’ll laugh—you always laugh—and you’ll rise slowly, painfully, on knees that once used to run races and kick football with our children and you’ll join me on the swing, draping your arm around my shoulders.

“Let’s see if we can warm you,” you’ll say.

I will get warm. Some might claim it’s the sun that does it.

I’m pretty sure it’s you.

Afternoons:

Who knew there was so much time in a day?

We retreat to our own private projects. You, locked up in a room downstairs, tinkering on gadgets you will never be able to fix—garbage boy, I call you, garbage boy going through a dumpster heap. Me, I’m walking up and down the house like a ghost listening for sounds that will never come.

Once I used to scream, “Stop running. Stop fighting. Stop talking.” To you I’d say, “Shut up, stop asking that. I don’t want to have another argument.” Back then you’d reply, “Shut up. I need an answer. Well, we’re having one, so get used to it.”

It’s funny now. I laugh when I think about it. I remind you about it sometimes and you laugh too and say, “I remember that. We were such idiots.”

“You were an idiot. I was right,” I correct you.

You find me at four, sitting in the dining room with tea and a book. You take the seat beside me.

“Is there enough for me?” you ask.

“There should be,” I reply, without looking up from my book. “I don’t drink tea.”

Nights:

Maybe it’s this house, so removed from the city, so far away from neighbours; it gets very, very quiet after dark. All there is, is the sound of crickets chirping.

We go to bed late.

“Once upon a time,” I say to myself, “Ten o’clock used to be early.”

I would stay up till midnight doing nothing but brushing my hair while I waited for you to come home. You would enter our room with your suit jacket, swung over your shoulder. I would peer at you through the mirror. You would know I was angry and I would know you were defensive, spoiling for a fight. Neither of us would speak though. We enjoyed being contrary so we would do what they all said we never should. We would go to bed angry and only when we were awake would we start to scream.

“That first year was terrible, wasn’t it?” you ask me.

I nod. It was indeed. “I didn’t think we were going to make it. You were such an idiot and I was so self righteous.”

“Among other things,” you say. I laugh.

I’m quiet for a moment, lost inside myself. “I’m glad we did.”

You climb into bed with me, pulling the thick blanket over us. I move into your side, comfortable in your corners. Your wrinkles match my wrinkles. Your ageing skin, matches my ageing skin.

“I didn’t like you much then, you know.”

“Mmm,” you murmur. “Do you like me now?”

I turn my head towards you and inhale the scent of you. “I think you’ll do.”

This is a reprint of work originally published in The Naked Convos.

Zainab A. Omaki is a Nigerian journalist who lives and works in Abuja, Nigeria. Her short fiction has appeared in Brittle PaperKalahari ReviewAFREADA and Ake Review, and her short story collection Side Babies was published last year.

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Education Fair

Welcome to the Excogitations Education Fair! I’ll be your guidance counsellor for today. You filled up the survey when you came in, yah? No, no, not important, just a little get-to-know-you questionnaire so we can better tailor your experience here. Residential district, family background, consumer tastes, prior education, personality, things like that…Can I take a look? Oh, you’ve been assigned to A2. Right this way.

Over here, by this booth—just stand there, yah. Now you need to choose, would you prefer to run a country, or own it? No, they’re not the same thing. The government runs the country, they make the policies and laws. But the country belongs to the money…you’d rather own a country? Is that your final decision? It’s very hard to change over once you’ve made your choice, you see, so be careful that’s what you really want. Yes? Yes? You’re sure? Excellent. Let me just stamp that on for you…No, you can’t change that, it’ll stay with you for life. Don’t worry, that’s a good thing, really. Follow me, please.

Before we get you familiarised with your school, I have to take you through some preparatory stages. It’s standard procedure, you’ll have to go through it sooner or later. With us, you’ll have completed them before you even step into the school—and then you’ll have more time to focus on your studies. Here at Excogitations, we ensure you succeed from the very beginning.

You’ll need to fill this up. It’s a quiz, meant to get you to reflect on yourself and your romantic preferences. Then we’ll match you to boys in the school with similar profiles and let you browse. It’s up to you, of course, but we’d like to give you a head start, guide you to making the right, informed choice. Outside the school? It’s up to you, of course. but we don’t encourage you to match below your class, and here at Excogitations we present you with the best options right up front, guaranteed to ensure you long-term success. Anyway, take your time to look through this catalogue—but not too long though.

Ah. Here’s a complete contact list for your entire cohort. Birthdays, phone numbers, social media profiles. That first set has them listed alphabetically by name. The second set groups them by address. The third set groups them by future career. You’ll want to get to know as many people as possible, of course, and this is to help you along, help you keep in contact with them when you need their connections in the future. No—that page is for surgeons. Lawyers are further down. We’ll need you to indicate your field of preference, by the way, so we can add you to our database: medical sciences, law, entrepreneurship, finance, or engineering?

And if you can’t find what you’re looking for in there, you can always expand your search to the Loyalty Progamme. Here’s a leaflet. The school has an initiative that connects alumni to their alma mater, lets them indicate willingness to help other members of the community. Just drop them a note, tell them where you’re from, and they’ll give you whatever assistance you need.

So what introduced you to us? Advertisements, newspapers, word of mouth? We’re a prolific organisation, we interact with almost everyone on the island. Not me, of course, I tend to counsel the A1s and 2s. But we get everyone from fidgety little illiterate kids to posh types whose chauffeur escorts them in. That’s part of our motto, you know, leave no child unaided.

Speaking of which, if you’re interested in sports, maybe knowing a celebrity or two, you’ll be pleased to know your chosen school has eight national team players. Very exciting. You’ll be able to watch their international competitions live; the school broadcasts them in the lecture theatres.

This is the last stop before we bring you in. Just take these…admissions and information packets for Oxbridge, LSE, the Ivy-pluses—all the schools you could possibly want to go to. Applications are a long way away, of course, but you’ll want to read them carefully, pick the best one so you can start planning around it.

Right, well, that’s all we have for you today. Do contact me if you need anything…are all those too heavy for you? Yes, it’s quite a large load, but they’re all very important, and they’ll guarantee you succeed. Good luck for your first day, and…oh, you’ll need to get new shoes, you’ll find a list of designers inside the welcome packet. Don’t worry, sweetie, you’ve got everything you need from here on out.

Lee Wen-yi is a student from Singapore who occasionally writes for her school’s publications, won its creative writing contest, and was accepted into the Gifted Education Branch’s Creative Arts Programme for prose writing. She has a burgeoning love for the local literary scene and looks to translate her own experiences into writing.

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