• A Family Portrait by Judy Tanzer

    The three runners.
    They were shorter then.  
    Those two boys.
    The boy who looked like a French actor at birth.
    The younger one.
    Sitting silently.
    Until he could greet the world with a joke.
    The father.
    The one who always ran.
    Our American boy.
    Running from the chaos.
    Towards the world that awaited him.


    Judy Tanzer worked as a Psychotherapist and now enjoys life.

    Street Artist unknown.
    Photos by Adam Lawrence.

    Har-di-Har is the work of Minneapolis husband and wife duo Julie and Andrew Thoreen. This is the first single from their forthcoming LP, We WIll Will You, which is due out this September.

  • Today's Hottest Literary Subgenres by Dan Roche

    Post-Ap-Rom-Com: Two heroes grapple with the pressures of singlehood while trying to survive a nuclear wasteland. Brought together by the mass extinction of humanity, the protagonists develop a love connection with tongue-in-cheek banter and the constant threat of murder. Secondary conflict includes massive natural disasters, radiation poisoning, and a jealous ex-lover who feeds on human flesh. Stories end with a wedding and/or a fusion of the lovers at a molecule level. Popular works include Hazmat Sweet and The Wedding Sirens.
    Stream of Conscientiousness: A 1st person narrator wavers between the pros and cons of a single, simple, decision. Inspired by maximalist novelists Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, and David Foster Wallace, Stream of Conscientiousness makes the ordinary, epic. Average book length ranges from 200,000 – 250,000 words. Popular titles include The Dinner Menu and Pants: One Man’s Fight For Comfort.

    Morning Lament: With roots in Awkward Erotica (see also Joycean Love Letters), Morning Lament attempts to capture the reality of sexual encounters.  Characters possess mental and physical flaws which may include obesity, heavy intoxication, uncleanliness, and impotence. Stories begin in the morning post coitus. Characters remain nameless due to the inability to recall the night before. Likewise details of the sexual encounter are not provided, however videos, pictures, and abused inanimate objects provide a general depiction. Motifs include regret and an aversion to gin. Martha Starts With ‘M’, Full Frontal Breakfast Burrito, and Dawn No More are popular titles.    
    [Word] + Punk: Ambitious novels that stop at 3,000 words. The plotline, should one exist, has little to no association with original punk counterculture. The protagonist has an edgy name so they sound defiant, yet sensitive and misunderstood. Examples include Strata, Gray, and Sleet. Foreshadow is weaponized to beat the audience over the head. The love interest, the best friend (who later dies), and the mentor who relies on tough love are all introduced in the first few pages. Gratuitous Nazi references solidify the antagonist. Examples of never complete works are found on writing forums with the title, Thoughts on novel - Space Opera, Pastoral Steampunk, Agripunk!      
    Bureaucraticity: A subgenre of action and adventure, Bureaucraticity focuses on the heroes behind the backline. Every war, shoot out, and car chase requires a report to be processed, signed by the appropriate manager, and filed in a timely manner. The protagonists are men and/or women who occupy the lowest rung in the organization. Paper jams and deleted files. The Goferboy of April 15th and Behind Every Frontline is a Backline.   
    Medically Induced Thriller: The 1st person narrator is comatose. Family members, friends, and doctors confess dark secrets while visiting the narrator.  Secrets include murder plots and/or the threat of international terrorist plots. Eventually desperate to save the save the day, the narrator establishes a psychic connection with an unexpected hero. Examples include a small dog, an orphaned toddler, and most recently a messenger pigeon. Once the day is saved, the narrator comes out of the coma and adopts the unexpected hero used as a psychic vessel. Recently the novel entitled, ‘…’ won the distinguished Keller Prize for Fiction.   
    Tragic Farce: Politics packaged as both fiction and nonfiction. There is no protagonist only a less bad antagonist. Primary conflict includes everything. None of which is resolved. Happy endings are determined by the non-use of nuclear weapons. Popular titles include Moving Forwards, Backwards and It Can’t Get Any Worse.


    Dan Roche teaches compostion and creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver in Beijing, China. His chapbook 'The Paperwork Rebuttal' (Philistine Press, 2013) includes narratives that were finalists for the Platypus Prize in Innovative Fiction and the Diagram Award for Innovative Fiction. He received his MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State.

    Street Art by Dirt Cobain and Butterflymush.
    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    Katie Von Schleicher is a Brooklyn-based musician and member of the band Wilder Maker. She will be releasing her new solo LP, "Shitty Hits", on July 28th via Ba Da Bind Records.  

  • Finnegan on the Case by David S. Atkinson

    The knuckles rapping on glass were like Tommy gun bullets in my head. Pounding me awake. My mouth tasted sour like old whiskey and grim reminders. They were delicate knuckles though, and the shape of the shadow in front of my office door was curvy as a bad road on a rainy night. A dame: a classy one. I swept the empty bottle off my desktop into the waste bin and called: "Come in!"
    And come in she did, and in.  The way she shimmied through that doorway, I thought sure she had to be part liquid. She crossed her long legs as she sat across from me, the only proof I had they ever stopped. My tongue would have been hanging out if it hadn't been so dry it was glued to my mouth.

    "I got a job, Mr. Finnegan," the dame purred. "I hear you handle that kind of thing."

    I leaned back in my chair, crossing my arms behind my head, and tried not to let her see me nearly fall over when the wave of nausea hit. I needed to be smooth.

    "I handle a lot of jobs, doll. I'm the best."

    Too bad the jazz band that must have been playing all night in my head left the place such a mess. I couldn't think straight and I needed to. There was something familiar about this dame. Real familiar. I needed to know if someone was playing me for a patsy.

    "It's my husband, Mr. Finnegan." She took a long, thin cigarette out of a gold case and lit it. "He's missing."

    I tried to remember to listen to her instead of just stare at her lips as she blew out the smoke. The doll wasn't making things easy. Luckily, blood rush started my head pounding painfully again and brought me to my senses.

    "My fee is twenty bucks a day, plus expenses," I said, "no matter what the case is. But still, tell me about your husband."

    She licked her lips, those luscious lips. "My Tommy isn't a bad man," she sighed. "He likes to think he's tough…but he's really just a big old teddy bear. I need to watch out for him, and I'm worried."

    The wheels in my head were spinning with the possibilities, grinding from the lack of oil. I really wished she'd dropped by after I'd located myself a little dog hair. I needed to lubricate up a bit before I could function right.

    But then it hit me like a gorilla with an attitude problem—my name was Tommy. I looked at her good.

    "Doll," I said, "I found your husband…he's sitting right here."

    She leaned over the desk and gave me a peck on the cheek. "Good job, you big lug. Here's your twenty." She slipped me a bill before she got up to stroll out again.

    "What about the expenses?" I asked.

    "Guess you worked too fast to rack up any," she replied, turning back briefly to smirk, "but do remember to at least get something to eat today. Maybe even come home sometime instead of just sleeping in that chair."


    David S. Atkinson is the author of Apocalypse All the Time, Not Quite so Stories, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor) and "Bones Buried in the Dirt" (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Atticus Review and others.

    Street Artist unknown.
    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    This is the title track to Austin-based singer/songwriter Adam Torres’ latest EP which was released by Fat Possum back in February 2017. 


    Navigating the Volkswagen in the rain took all Vicky Lee’s concentration. Keeping both hands on the wheel, she closed her bad eye, and squinted the other. Phil had offered to drive, but he’d been sipping codeine cough medicine. They were in desperate need of hot and sour soup. White pepper and rice vinegar-spiked broth to soothe the hack and spit, calm the beast making them hate each other for being sick at the same time. Somebody was supposed to take care of them. Somebody was supposed to be in the kitchen banging around. Somebody was supposed to be running their fingers through somebody’s hair. Neither were naming names.

    Vicky lit a cigarette in the car though she said she wouldn’t. Promises had been made.

    “Jesus H., man bronchitis is no joke,” Phil said, rolling down the window. The fever only increased her tendency toward self-destruction, but despite the unspoken urge to drive fast and hard toward the other lane, she kept her foot ready over the brake, her gaze steady. There should be enough gas to get them to House of Chinese Gourmet and back to their apartment. Should be.

    They had to park on the other side of the lot from the restaurant. It was close to Christmas and folks clamored at Dollar General. Phil slammed the door, went to get the soup, dumplings, and sesame chicken she wouldn’t eat. Vicky watched the green twinkle lights in the window below the electric red bowl of noodles with its burned-out chopsticks. Her legs sweat against the leather. Every part of her was sticky from the humidity and she wondered what it meant when Christmas was turbulent like May, wet like June. The smoke from her second cigarette wasn’t going anywhere; it just sank down on her skin, looping itself through the steering wheel. She put her hand on her chest to see if she could feel tightness in her lungs from outside her ribcage. Dying at twenty would just figure.

    Phil tripped on the mat outside as he walked through the door. His hair was freshly washed and the blond wisps behind his ears caught the green light making him look horror or sci-fi or fantasy—an unreality genre of cool. He cursed, nearly dropping the bag. Vicky yelled as best she could, but it came out in squeaks. “Drop that soup and I’ll beat your ass.”

    “Bring it, Punky.”

    He called her Punky after the show she loved as a kid, said she still had the same fashion sense and looking down at her rain boots, Family Guy boxers, and lumpy pigtails, she couldn’t argue.

    “You know you’ll never get well if you keep that up.”

    “I’m trying, babe. You know they’re as addictive as heroin.”
    “Fool who says that has never done heroin.”
    “Hardest thing I’ve ever had to quit.”
    “Better hope that truth keeps.”

    Vicky walked around to the passenger side and opened the door for him, flicking the cigarette on the curb. “With a nickname like Punky, how could life get worse?” she said, winking as he tucked his long legs in her compact car.

    Vicky saw the blue lights in the distance before they even backed out.  Police lights always reminded her of her friend Cora who’d stretched herself out on the train tracks behind the mall. It was the late ’90s and half Vicky’s friends from high school had overdosed, done time, or pulled themselves apart in some other way by then, but there was still mystery surrounding Cora. She hadn’t seemed the type. There was talk of an older guy giving her bad shit and dragging her to the tracks to protect himself. Talk of her mama going to the apartment complex, banging on doors, crying to anyone who’d listen about her baby the track star. Talk. Talk. Talk. Mostly women answered. Mostly divorcees. Mostly recovered. But Cora’s mom couldn’t have known that.

    All Vicky knew was sometimes even young people gotta destroy shit, themselves included. She told herself it was the cigarette. Now, she’d get healthy. She’d start running. For Cora. For the rest of her lost tribe.

    “Did I ever tell you about the track star they found on the railroad tracks?” she asked, one hand over the seat, looking back toward the lights.

    “I think I’d remember something that sick.”
    “She laid herself down right in the curve so she knew the conductor wouldn’t see her until it was too late. At least that’s the story. Total disaster.”
    “Every story you tell is a disaster.”
    “That sort of thing seems to be all along my periphery, babe. Consider yourself warned.” “I’ll take it under advisement, he said, coughing into his shoulder.
    “You sound like shit.”  
    “You don’t sound so good yourself.”

    At the stoplight, a police car pulled up behind them. Vicky turned the volume down on the radio. Maybe Eminem wasn’t the best impression for the cops, particularly when you considered her pink hair and his Nine Inch Nails shirt, forearm tattoos, and waifish frame. Sure enough, when she hit the gas, the cruiser kept close. By the time they got to the pawn shop on 7th Street, the blue lights came on for them.

    “Pull in the parking lot at the pawn shop.”

    “Exactly. Probably cameras, too.”
    “You know I only have a learner’s permit,” Vicky said.
    “Nothing we can do about it now.”
    “I’m stoned on cold medicine.”
    “Shh. Do the best you can. Cry if you can.”

    As the officer walked up, two more cars pulled in behind him. Vicky couldn’t believe it. She wondered if she was the bad juju for everyone in her life. A knock at the window, a demand, another demand and they were outside the car, hands on the hood, legs spread, the Chinese food between them. There is talk of trash and pushing dope and questions about Vin from House of Chinese Gourmet. All they knew of Vin was his bracing manner, how he’d throw you out of the restaurant if you acted up, the gross way he’d only sell black customers takeout, how pissed he got if you ordered dumplings, which took twenty minutes, how one time he gave them scallion pancakes because they seemed like good kids and he could tell they had only ordered soup because they couldn’t afford the sesame chicken that day. It never occurred to them that he might be “slinging dope from New York.” They guessed it was the New York part that pissed the officers off most.

    “We need a female officer.”

    “Sandra, come on. You pat her down.” Vicky could barely see Phil’s face anymore, but she tried to analyze his expression when the barrel-chested woman ran her hand all the way up her shorts and the men behind her slapped her shoulder, saying, “Get it, girl.” When she was finished, Vicky looked her in the eye, wondering why she looked haunted when her hand wasn’t.
    “We only wanted soup.” In the span of five minutes, Vicky’s fever spiked and she’d sweat through her shirt.

    They said they should arrest her for sassing, let alone the permit and being visibly high. Phil sniffled, but Vicky couldn’t tell if he was upset, or because he couldn’t wipe his nose.

    “Consider yourselves lucky, kids,” the woman said. They warned Vicky and Phil to stay away from House of Chinese Gourmet. This meant giving up their favorite meal. Giving up the banter that comes with being regulars, letting go of the ease and comfort of rooster sauce and egg swirled into broth, the feel of seaweed between their teeth, losing the one place they wrapped their hands around ceramic cups of hot tea, their one place.

    When they got home, Vicky walked out to the back deck, white cartons of cold food in hand. She spun hard in little girl circles until her stomach lurched, stopping only to launch each container off into the parking lot behind their building. Phil didn’t know what to do so he climbed up on the rail and stood there waiting for some kind of answer. He coughed into his shoulder, watching the chicken splatter on a red pickup.

    “Let’s walk the tracks,” Vicky said. “I’ll show you where Cora died.”

    “Can I tell you something?”
    “Better not. Tonight’s bad enough. Let’s save the catastrophe of us for another day.”
    “Okay. When?”
    “Tomorrow or the next.”
    “Tomorrow or tomorrow.”
    “It doesn’t even feel like Christmas.”
    “It hasn’t felt like Christmas for years,” he said, pulling one of her pigtails. “You should go to bed, Punk. Your fever’s back.”

    Under two blankets, Vicky tried to remember what she looked like the day of tryouts. Did she wear her mom’s Tarheel basketball shirt? White Keds? But all she could think about was Cora fifty yards ahead of her, limbs firing like mad, frizz curling at her temples, and the kind of woman she could have been.


    Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura from Hyacinth Girl Press (2016). She thinks she’s crazy lucky to work as Fiction Editor over at Little Fiction | Big Truths. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bull, WhiskeyPaper, The Minnesota Review, Literary Orphans, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and enough rescue pets to make life interesting (or flat out insane).

    Street Art by goochsoup.
    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    Alyeska is dream pop duo from Los Angeles, and “Tilt-A-Whirl” comes from their debut EP, Crush which was self-released in March of 2017. 

  • When in Amsterdam or South Minneapolis by Seth Berg

    The Netherlands cuts fifty million Peony stems annually…
    ...more than any other country on Earth.

    I wake on my front stoop,
    my hands clutching flower pieces.

    I count no fewer than forty
    Peonies strewn about my lawn,

    their heads bursting with flavor
    and heft and ants.

    I once read that Peonies can not bloom
    without their ant inhabitants.

    I imagine an unopened Peony:
    all sweetness and industry

    and layer upon layer
    of silken petal and leg…

    ...I look back at the catastrophe
    spread across my lawn,

    and know that only you
    could fathom the brilliance of it all.


    Seth Berg is a zany professor who makes ridiculous stained glass sculptures and writes absurd books of poetry. He travels the multiverse in search of perfect glyphs. He is addicted to hot sauce and survived a 20 day coma. This poem is from his forthcoming third book which will melt your heart and blow your yearning, mackadocious brain.

    Street Art possibly by Dewey.
    Photograph by Adam Lawrence.

    French Vanilla is an art-punk band from L.A., and “Social Trappings” is the second single from their Self-Titled debut album due out March 24th, 2017 via Danger Collective Records.

  • The Love Edition: First Sight by Kristen Williamson

    It was in the way he introduced himself,
    like he knew he was going to be the love of my life.


    Kristen Williamson is currently a Graduate in English Literature and Creative Writing at Binghamton University In New York, where her fields of study include poetry,and fiction. She has been featured in: Slink Chunk Press, The Stray Branch, The Zine and others.

    Street Art by SacSix.
    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    Woodes is the work of 24 year-old Australian Elle Graham and "Bonfire" is her latest single.

  • On The Eve of The Inauguration: Hey There Stranger, Come On Over and Hold My Hand by Mary Hamilton

    I am a jet plane. I am a super-sonic sound breaker. I am a magic wand, a crystal ball, a black top hat where doves rise like hologram hallucinations to create a surprise, a start, a whatthehell. I am a magic rock, the kind with a secret space for a key to open the door. I am a skeleton key. I am a shoe horn to make me fit. I am a rainbow. I am a guitar song about trains and thunder with a three chord rhythm and hand claps and background singers. I am a blade of grass, torn from sod and held between two thumbs to create a trumpet sound. A blade of green to play an elegy. A blade of grass to play a funeral dirge. I am a movie star, no I am a cement star. The kind that gets photographed and stepped on. The kind that lies on the street like lox on molded cream cheese and a stale bagel. I don't know.

    I am a long coat, a black duster, the kind that hangs stiff off your shoulders and brushes at the your palm. The kind that nicks the backs of your knees and parts open front and back to allow for movement. The kind of coat that makes you taller, kinder, ghost-like. I don't know.

    I am a razor. The kind to shave just close enough to avoid a cut. I am your favorite song. I am the cracked glass that held the image. I am the ribbon. O! I am a Captain. I am the secret statue on the back of a penny. I am the missed belt loop. I am the magic seed to make the beanstalk grow. I am the rock we threw for hopscotch games. I am the yellow cover to the biography book. I am the tea kettle. I am the weather map. I am the swing in the park. I am blue sky. Yeah, I said blue sky. I am the door to your dressing room with a star. I am your director's chair with your name on the back. I am the hanger that held the shape of your coat, before you put it on your shoulders. I am the shape it took after you put it on. I don't know.

    I am a wrinkle. I am a sunken cheek. I am an arched eyebrow. A hooked nose. A hair comb. A square tie. I am a stranger. I am simply a passerby. I am a doctor who heals. A misfit who breaks things. I am the history of mankind all rolled into one. Rolled into one handkerchief, stuffed in an inside jacket pocket. I am something to fold safe and secure next to your heart. Unfolded to dab the sweat on your brow. Unfolded to comfort the rebel widow when she cries.

    Mary Hamilton is an optician living in Los Angeles, and her work has previously been published in SmokeLong, PANK, the Indiana Review, and Storyglossia.

    Abraham Obama art by Ron English.
    Not My President Street Artist unknown.
    Photos by Adam Lawrence.

    Gal Gun is a new power pop band from Chicago preparing to release their debut album in 2017.

    This piece originally ran on November 3, 2008 and November 10th, 2012.

  • Support System by Sheldon Lee Compton

    I never understood people failing to kill themselves. Rita said she knew a man who shot himself but the bullet wedged under his scalp, traveled around on the surface of his skull, and exited through his scalp. When I decided to commit suicide I knew I wouldn’t have the guts to go through with it, but I was determined enough to figure out a way around that kind of cowardice.

    Roughly five minutes ago I crawled out on the balcony of my apartment and slipped myself down until hanging by my hands. I knew that unless I decided against dying within about the first minute or so then, realistically, the decision would become a permanent one.

    Already my arms are too weak to be of much use. Pulling myself to safety is impossible. To even attempt it would mean cutting my short life even shorter. At this point my hand and arm strength must be nearly spent. I’ll slip soon and that will be the end of Calup Nelson.


    Calup Nelson was one of those guys who held old-style New York artsy parties about once a month. So when his group of friends didn’t get a call from him by early Friday evening, they got in touch with each other and decided to drive to his apartment.

    The three of them – Dexter, Town, and Crane – took turns ringing the doorbell and when no one answered, Town checked the door. It was unlocked and the three of them piled in, expecting to find their friend asleep on the couch or in the shower.

    Splitting into different directions without finding Calup, they started calling his name. They weren’t panicked. The three of them called out, Hey buddy, where are you? Hey man. Everything was casual.


    The guys’ll come out here soon. I think. They should be quick, though, because I’m close. My fingers feel like they’re splitting apart at the joints. Same for my shoulders.

    “Hot damn, Calup.” It’s Town. He’s leaning over the balcony rail. “Did you fall?”

    I shake my head. “I’m killing myself,” I tell Town, and then explain to him my plan.

    He disappears and returns with Dexter and Crane. All three of them are leaning so I can see their serious faces. They have their elbows propped up on the rail. Town explains to Dexter and Crane the plan.

    “It’s pretty much foolproof, if you think about it,” he says, and the others nod in agreement.


    Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three books and lives in Kentucky with his wife and two children.

    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    "Ghosts" comes from Irish ambient folk/pop singer Katie Kim's third studio album, Salt, which was self-released in November.

  • Road Runner by A.J. Huffman

    Your boulders are useless.
    My feathers are much too fast.
    Try your rocket, maybe a sling-shot,
    a good old-fashioned
    rope. If you are lucky, I will lick you
    with a fan of dust and a glimpse
    of my ass.


    A.J. Huffman has published thirteen full-length poetry collections, thirteen solo poetry chapbooks and one joint poetry chapbook through various small presses. Her most recent releases, Degeneration (Pink Girl Ink), A Bizarre Burning of Bees (Transcendent Zero Press), and Familiar Illusions (Flutter Press) are now available from their respective publishers. She is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a two-time Best of Net nominee, and has published over 2500 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, The Bookends Review, Bone Orchard, Corvus Review, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press.

    This Zine Will Change Your Life previously published I Am Sorry Your Ovaries Are Falling Out by A.J. HUffman. Check it out.

    Street Art by Myth.
    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    Washer is a Brooklyn-based duo and "Mend" comes from their debut album, "Here Comes Washer", which was released early this year.

  • Zero Gravity by Clayton Smith


    He grinned nervously and squeezed her hand as they stood together outside the smooth, white door. “I’ve never been inside a zero gravity chamber before,” he said, smiling his lopsided smile. “It’s safe?”

    “Perfectly safe,” she reassured him, squeezing his hand back and returning his smile. He couldn’t help but notice how tired she looked. Beautiful—always so beautiful—but tired, too. More tired than usual. The skin beneath her eyes was dark, her cheeks drawn and pale, and the corners of her mouth twitched, as if the effort of holding a smile was a worthwhile strain. But of course she was tired; she’d been working night and day on the zero gravity chamber for quite some time now. She’d skipped more meals than he could count, and most mornings, he woke up to find that she’d never even come to bed, but had fallen asleep on the couch instead—or, on at least three separate occasions, on the floor right outside the entrance to the chamber.

    But now it was complete, and she could finally rest. He tucked a stray wisp of her graying blonde hair behind her ear. “I can’t believe you made this.”

    “I made it for you,” she said. She gave his hand another squeeze, then she pulled it away and placed it flat on the chamber door. “Are you ready?”

    A dazzling beam of blue light blazed to life beneath the white surface of the door, a thin, horizontal bar that moved up, and then down, scanning her palm. Then, with a loudwhoosh, the door pulled itself back and slid to the side, granting them entry to the chamber.

    “Incredible!” he gasped. That this monumental piece of science-fiction actually existed—and in his own basement, no less—was absolutely extraordinary.

    “We’ll program your hand print too, so you can use it if I’m not here.”

    “Thank you,” he said. He took a step toward the opening, then hesitated. “Should I go in?”

    She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, please! Everything is ready.”

    “I don’t need any sort of suit or anything? An oxygen mask?”

     “No, no, nothing like that. All you need is you.”

    She gestured toward the door, and he gave her one last, nervous grin. “Okay,” he said. Then he held his breath and stepped into the chamber.

    It was shaped like an egg on the inside, an egg big enough to hold a Volkswagen. He stepped gingerly onto the gleaming, sloping surface, afraid he’d accidentally crack the finish. As if reading his mind, she said, “Don’t worry. It’s very sturdy.” She had that way of knowing what he was thinking, sometimes before he knew it himself.

    “Okay,” he said, his voice shaking a little with nervous excitement.  He glanced around the sparkling room. It was truly beautiful. Elegant. It was her work, and wasn’t this way by mistake. “Do I just…?” He bounced a little on his heels, but he didn’t leave the floor. Gravity was still in full swing.

    “Hold on,” she said, slipping into the chamber behind him. He could even hear the weariness in her voice. Every word was a poorly disguised sigh. “I have to close the door.”

    She reached for it, but his hand instinctively shot out and grabbed her elbow. “Wait,” he said, suddenly feeling very claustrophobic. “How much air will we have?” He tried to sound nonchalant.

    “There are air filters. Up there.” She pointed to the top of the egg. “They’re flush with the walls. Totally hidden. But as long as there’s air in the house, there’ll be air in here.” Then she pressed her hand to the inside of the door panel, and with another blue light scan, it slid back into place and locked itself up tight.

    Once they were sealed in the chamber, she turned back around to face him. Her face was brighter now, and her cheeks had flushed pink around the rims. Her smile was easier, too, more solid. More real. She took both of his hands in hers. “What do you think?” Her voice was, at last, the old, cheery song he’d fallen in love with so many years ago.

    “It’s incredible!” His nervousness had evaporated, just like that. “How do you initiate the zero gravity?”

    “It’s already been initiated,” she said with a sly grin. “Don’t you feel it?”

    He laughed. “No,” he admitted, smiling as he bounced on the balls of his feet. “See? Still on solid ground.”

    She blushed a bit then, her eyelids becoming hooded. “It’s not that sort of zero gravity,” she said.

    “What do you mean?” He didn’t feel confused, exactly, by his lack of understanding. Rather, he felt excited at the possibility of discovery. His curiosity was obvious in the wide smile that spread across his face.

    “This room alleviates gravity completely…but not the gravity of physics. The gravity of life.”

    “The gravity of life?” he asked, his voice tinged with wonder.

    “Yes. All of our seriousness. All of our anxiety. All of that useless weight we carry in our words.” She was fairly beaming now. “It dissipates in this place. The chamber makes this a zero gravity zone.”

    He laughed out loud, long and hard. “You can’t be serious!” he said, though there wasn’t a trace of malice in his voice.

    “See for yourself! Talk about something that was weighing on you this morning.”

    He thought for a few seconds, tapping his lips thoughtful with his finger. “Ah!” he said, lighting upon a topic. “My job!”

    “What about it?” she asked.

    “I think I’m wasting my time there,” he giggled. He automatically raised a hand to cover his mouth, turning a bit red from the embarrassment of such a mirthful little laugh. Then his eyes widened a bit, and he tried again. “I’m miserable there!” His voice came out as bubbly as soap. He shook his head in astonishment. “Why don’t I feel sad about that?”

    “Zero gravity,” she said with a Cheshire grin. Her voice took on a game show host lilt. “The latest in relieving life’s little stresses!”

    “Incredible!” he repeated. “It’s almost as if…almost as if…” She raised an eyebrow, a subtle encouragement for him to go on. “Well, it’s almost as if I actually like the fact that my job is destroying me a little more each day!” They shared a long laugh. He took her hands in his and squeezed them tenderly. “What a brilliant invention,” he said through tears of joy. “And what an extraordinary woman you are.”

    She smiled and rested her head on his chest. “Thank you,” she said, closing her eyes and listening to the sound of his heart.

    They stood like that for quite some time, enjoying the restored airiness between them, their collective lightness of being. “Whatever possessed you to manufacture such a miracle?” he finally asked.

    Without lifting her head, she sighed happily and said, “I made it for you.”

    He smiled, content. “So you said.” He stroked her hair thoughtfully. “Is it because I’m too serious? Does it weigh us down?”

    She nuzzled her cheek in deeper into his chest and clutched her arms around his waist. “I didn’t make it for the gravity you have now; I made it for the gravity you’ll have soon.”

    “And what does that little riddle mean?” he asked with a chuckle.

    “I wanted to tell you, in here.”“Tell me what?”

    “About the cancer,” she said, breathing in the scent of him.

    “Cancer?” he asked.

    She nodded. “It started in my uterus, but it spread…it’s in my liver now, and my bones.” She sighed again. “And my lungs.”

    “What a startling bit of news!” he cried happily.

    She pulled away and smiled up at him, taking his face in her hands. “Isn’t it?” she grinned.

    “How long have you known?”

    “Not so long, in the grand scheme of things,” she said with an easy little shrug.

    “You bided your time before telling me,” he said, amused. “What do you know about that?”

    “I didn’t want to weigh you down,” she said simply.

    “I understand completely,” he said airily. “It’s serious, then?”

    “Yes, extremely.”

    “Any help for it then?”

    “Nothing worthwhile.”

    “What do you know about that?” he said again. “After all this time...”

    “Yes,” she agreed, her eyes shining with tears of joy for the moment unfolding between them.

    “There’s so much we’ll never do,” he said, thoughtfully, but not sadly. Nothing felt sad. Nothing hurt.

    “You’ll have to do them for the both of us,” she suggested.

    “A reasonable idea,” he admitted. He shook his head and grinned his lopsided grin. “Life is strange, isn’t it?”

    “Stranger than fiction.”

    He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The air inside the egg felt crisp and freshly laundered. The filters were scented with lavender, the room filled with its subtle floral tones. He breathed it in, breathed her in. “What a wonder, to feel such peace about such tragedy.”

    “That’s why I built you this chamber,” she smiled. She kissed him, and her lips were warm, and full. “To spare you the sadness of it.”

    “How does one even know how to begin to make good on a blessing such as you?” he said.

    “You like it, then?”

    “I adore it.”

    “I hoped you would.” She sat down on the floor of the egg and reached up for his hands. “Come here, sit with me.” He did, and his knees popped, a startling sound that sent them both into a fit of giggles. They sat cross-legged facing each other, their fingers intertwined, as the smooth and complex interior of the chamber quietly and perfectly dissipated their despair. “I suppose we’ll have to leave the egg eventually,” he remarked.

    “Everyone has to leave everything eventually,” she retorted with a wink and a smirk. “But not yet. We don’t have to leave yet.”

    He meant to ask her what it would be like when they left the levity of the egg and their gravity was fully restored, but he couldn’t quite make the words. His mouth had no taste for them. “Zero gravity,” she told him, shaking his hands in hers. “Like it or not.”

    He nodded. There would be time for gravity—more than he might care to acknowledge. But this time, in this place, with this woman. It was a gift. Later would come the gravity. Later there would be the tears and the fear and the anger and the screaming and the fights about treatment and the denial of this punishment and the words that couldn’t be unsaid, not once they were lobbed like spiteful grenades, because those words would exist in the world, where they would carry a weight, a crushing, bruising press of sadness and blame and helplessness and regret.

    But later. All of that, later.

    Here, in the egg, there was him, and there was her, and there was a brightness of knowledge and acceptance and a shared familiarity centuries deeper and stronger than mutating cells. He kissed her fingers, and she kissed his fingers back. “I love you,” he said. “I love you,” she replied.

    And they sat in the chamber for a little while longer.


    Clayton Smith is a writer, publisher and teacher. He is the co-founder and Archduke of Dapper Press, and a lecturer in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department at Columbia College Chicago.

    Street Art by konair.
    Photo by Adam Lawrence.

    "Hat Tree" is the first single from the Brooklyn-based Very Fresh's new EP "Hey It's Me!", which is due out November 4th.