Month: December 2016

Featured: Home After Three Weeks Away

Tim DeJong
On a muggy August night
soundtracked by cicada choruses
we speak in nods and murmurs
as the children cling,
sleep-warmed weights against our shoulders.
The sprinkler system stutters its hello.
Later with drinks on the patio
we say little, if only because so
little needs saying after such
a long journey. It’s as though
these shapes in their familiarity
crowd out the need for words:
the porch lights, the gas grill, the patio stones.
Here where we left them
are the trappings of our lives,
and if whatever’s buried
under still-gleaming covers and screens
is trying to proclaim some fated unknown
it goes unheard by travelers
only relieved to have been
reacquainted with their chosen surfaces.
Then again, even when we remain
we are always leaving, always saying
hello and goodbye to everything at once,
the furniture, the lawn that needs cutting,
the white incessant sun.
Strange to be under the weight
of a life and not to know
what in it is holding you in.
Around us in the low-hanging evening
the branches of the trees
lift and rustle and intermingle
as if instructing each other
in the secret revolutionary history of leaves,
as if the recalcitrant keepers
of a language of laments and breezes.
I remember my mother asking me
if I thought money grew on them.
I said no, it doesn’t. But tonight
I dream that it does.
I dream of crisp dollar bills
that bud and greenly flutter
and litter the autumn damp.
We rake the scattered money into piles
for the children to jump into,
then bag the bills and cart them
to the curb to be hauled away
and finally mulched or burned.
Of course, the occasional note
might escape our attention to float
over the fence to settle
in the neighbor’s swimming pool.
Here the unit of currency saturates.
Here the face of George Washington,
adrift in a puddle made spectral
by blurred underwater lights,
softens and widens as it stares
up at stars mostly hidden by haze,
scrap of paper floating
in a chlorinated blue
reminder of the faraway sea.

e2hjnkvosawxckju9xtr_headshotTim DeJong grew up in Hamilton, Ontario and now teaches English at Baylor University. His poems appear or are forthcoming in Nomadic Journal, Kindred, Poydras Review, Common Ground Review, Forge, and other places. He lives in Waco, TX, with his wife Elizabeth and their children Edie and Gabriel.

Letter from the Editors, Winter 2016, Issue 12

Dear Readers,
We’re going home for the holidays in our December issue. But what is home? And how do we get there anyway? Our crop of writers is conflicted about the nostalgia of homecoming and the sometimes dark places the journey can take us.
Winter in the city can be cruel. The writers in this issue expose us to the small and large sadnesses of people we pass in the street, whether it’s a woman wandering, lost in the throes of dementia, or a brutal subway accident that we wish we’d never seen. A bystander exhorts us in one poem, don’t look, don’t look — and yet we look. Our human natures, and the fact of life in a city, in which we brush shoulders with a dozen stories a day, demands no less.
In spite of the cruelties we encounter, though, there’s still something marvelous about family ties. One poem reminds us that we are family even if our families are broken or we fail to live up to some perfect vision of what a family should be.
Outside the issue itself, we are pleased to have put out over 20 episodes of the Two Cities Review Podcast since we started recording earlier this year. Each episode gets more listeners and engages more people interested in writing and getting published in this digital age. We have interviews with several featured writers coming up soon, so if you enjoy their work within these pages, definitely tune in to hear about their writing process and inspirations. We highly recommend listening curled up on the couch, perhaps beside a roaring fire while sipping a mug of hot cocoa, the perfect way to stave off a blustery winter day.
Happy reading!
Blair Hurley & Olivia Tandon

From Issue 12: 3 Poems

Darren Demarree
Emily is water
& the distraction
from water.
My mouth is
always open
because of Emily,
but because of her
I have swallowed
many things.
Hanging here, I glow
for Emily
even when I can’t see her.
I wanted to find Emily
so when I went to the desert
I took many pictures
of landscapes she was not in
& when I came home
it only took me nine years
to see her
in every frame.
trp1k1rkshwecuojnhwi_darren-c-demaree-knoxvilleDarren Demaree is the author of five poetry collections, most recently “The Nineteen Steps Between Us” (2016, After the Pause).  He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology.  Currently, he is living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

From Issue 12: The Fortune Cookie

Richard Jones
At five o’clock on a Tuesday I met my friend Mark at Piccadilly. He’d been in the Scottish Highlands; I’d been in Paris. He still talks about how strange it was to be in another country and to see my young face appearing like an apparition out of the crowds. Under Cupid’s aimed bow and arrow, we stood with our arms around the girls we loved back then, as a polite English punk with spiked blue hair took our snapshot. In the evening a light rain was falling as the four of us walked through SoHo, looking for a place to eat. We turned a corner and there was Le Ho Fook’s, the Chinese restaurant Warren Zevon sings about in “Werewolves of London.” At dinner Mark tied together everything under the sun—Virginia Wolfe walking into the river, the lions of heraldry, the tragic introduction of the tea bag into English culture, the lofty oculus in the Reading Room of the British Library. We all agreed: we do not wander aimlessly in this world, but rather everything calls us to the ground of our being. Rivers and lions. Books and arrows. The hopes of youth have vanished and more than two decades have passed since that night. Yet still I carry in my wallet—as if it were a talisman or the tiniest poem ever written—the little strip of paper with its words of wisdom: “Everything is not yet lost.”
Richard Jones is the author of seven books from Copper Canyon Press, including The Correct Spelling & Exact Meaning. Editor of Poetry East and its many anthologies, including Paris, Origins, and Bliss, he also edits the free worldwide poetry app, “The Poet’s Almanac.”

From Issue 12: DNA

Tanaka Mhishi
At fifteen my mother curled inwards,
dredging up pearl and brine
from the sewer she kept in her stomach.
She painted worlds like liquid skyscrapers
and suckered poems onto her wrists like barnacles.
I was fourteen when I tried to die,
folding school tie into an escape ladder.
Later, I told lies about the hole in my ceiling
I still don’t think she believed.
When my father cried for the first time in years,
his own mother smooth and small in her coffin
the aunts sang their tears
into a hundred paper lanterns
their faces puckered by grief,
like fistfuls of brown paper.
When my sister uncovered her bruises
I didn’t dare to show her mine.
I said
Leave him.
Love will not keep you alive.
Some nights I dream of a daughter;
of her tiny fingers, soft as prayer,
of her smile, forged in more countries
than she has teeth.
Of her African eyes.
I want to promise her that she will never lie
feeling the emptiness change her blood to bullets.
That living is as easy as dropping milk teeth.
In my dream she has no mother;
she is all I never was.
I hold her close.
I tell her
This is our family.
I tell her
You are new, soft, unmarked.
Your body is not a sewer line.
Your heart is not a wishbone.
I tell her
This is our family, my love,
and we are marvelously broken.
profpiccTanaka Mhishi is a poet, playwright and performer based in London. His work has recently appeared (or is forthcoming) in Rogue Agent Journal, The Rialto and other publications. For more of his work, visit

From Issue 12: Chromosomes

Robert Martin
A few months before my breakdown I sat down across from Alex in the library. Senior year. I was skipping gym; she was in a study period, studying.
“Hey Dyke,” I said. “How’s being gay so far?”
It’s important to understand that Alex and I were friends. Or if not friends, friendly. Still, looking back, it’s amazing I never realized what an asshole I was.
She set down her pencil and glared at me. “I’m studying, Dick,” which, touché, my name’s Richard. “I don’t like it when you call me that.”
“Call you what? Dyke?”
She nodded. “Dyke.”
“But you’re gay.”
“Richard, listen to me. I don’t like it. Stop calling me that.”
I leaned back in my chair. The legs dragged along the library’s carpet with a soft, farty noise. “But we’re friends,” I said. “I don’t mean it hatefully.”
“It’s hard to tell.”
“Are you kidding?” I was relieved. “Yeah, of course. You’re great. I think you’re great and strong and brave and you should be proud. I only use that word so, like, if people ever use it hatefully, maybe you’ll be used to it. It won’t hurt as much.”
Alex nodded, not looking at me, as though all of this was good and fair in the abstract world of the middle class white hetero male. She said, “It doesn’t work like that,” and got back to studying. When it was clear she wasn’t going to look at me or talk to me anymore, I got up and left. But I didn’t learn my lesson, I don’t think.
Then: psychiatrists, medications, blowups at home, a couple times running away where I’d come to my senses miles from my parents’ house in the rain in the middle of the night, electrical storms inside my chest. Or else finding dawn somewhere behind the steering wheel, not realizing I’d been driving all night, having to track down a mileage sign to place myself on a map. The crazy I was didn’t excuse the asshole I’d been, but I still feel they’re related, that one was a symptom of the other.
I tried to go to college and failed, tried again, failed again. I came back home ashamed, but eventually regained some kind of balance. I got to the point where I could look my former friends in the eye and recognize a fellow human being. It was a skinny time in my life because I walked a lot. I thought many thoughts, often very slowly because of all the drugs I was trying.
It was around this time, at the tail end of the worst of it, that I saw Alex again at a party hosted by a mutual friend. Most people at the party had recently graduated college and were pretending they were still there. I didn’t relate to anyone. I felt like some wisp of air, a pile of dirty clothes propped up and expected to intuit humanity. Alex was sitting on a sofa talking to a couple of people I recognized as people who hadn’t liked me, for reasons I didn’t bother recalling but didn’t hold against them. She saw me, uncrossed her legs but didn’t stand up.
I didn’t recognize her. She’d gone to school somewhere in New York, and she’d turned into an intelligent, alert, and stylish woman, like someone had advised her what to wear. Her hair seemed less red. I think she’d had a breast reduction. Something about her seemed more vertical. She was slender and urban, with severe, modelish cheeks.
She said, “Good to see you, Dick.”
I let her friends look at me, hate me rightfully for whatever. I asked what she’d been up to lately, how long she’d been back in Portland. She laughed at how attracted to her I was.
“Her dad just died,” one of her friends said, which I thought was rude. “So don’t be an asshole.”
Alex was proud of her friends, I could see. Proud that they would preemptively protect her. They made her feel safe. I was jealous.
She said, “I’m just in town for the funeral.”
Just saying this word—funeral—gave her hollow cheeks a different pallor. No longer glamorous. Her sadness was real, which was more than most of us could claim.
I didn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” because we were too young to understand loss. I offered her a new drink and asked her what else was going on in her life.
“I just moved in with my partner,” she said.
“That’s a big step,” I told her. She got up from the couch and joined me on the back porch so I could smoke a clove, that buttery spice of a cigarette I was into at the time. “So your partner,” I said. “Can I ask… is it… are you… what’s the… you were…”
“He’s a man,” she said, patiently, and sipped.
We talked about writing, which was something we both liked to do. The way she spoke about her stories made it clear that she was a better writer than me. Had a better grasp of the form, had more to say about life in general.
“I’m in a ‘slice-of-life’ mode right now. Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor. How about you?”
“Mostly I’m writing in my journal. It’s green. I call it The Green Book.”
“The color of envy,” she said gravely.
Sometimes when I drank too much in those days, back when the scars of my breakdown were still fresh, I could rupture the sutures and let that whole mindset out of my body like a swarm of hornets. Booze was a dance on the edge. I slammed the rest of my drink and said, “I’ve been working through some pretty serious questions.”
“Like, your own questions or whole-world questions?” she asked.
I recognized this as an opportunity to appear a halfway decent person, but instead I was honest. I told her, “It’s up to me to save the world.” And as if it were the first time it had occurred to me, I added, “That’s a lot of pressure.”
Alex raised her eyebrows. It looked like she was surprised how high her eyebrows could go. “That’s true,” she said. “Saving the world is a lot of pressure,” and then she excused herself.
I woke up in a tree, which I vaguely remembered climbing. It hadn’t been long, and I hadn’t gone far—I could still hear the party a couple blocks away. It was a comfortable branch, so I stayed where I was. A city bus pulled up beneath me, let someone off, and then pulled back into traffic. That’s how I knew it wasn’t too late.
I lit a clove and the person who’d just gotten off the bus looked up into the tree. “What are you doing up there?” he asked. It was a man, that’s all I could tell for sure. “How’d you get up there?”
“I’m an excellent climber,” I told him.
“You got another cigarette?”
“It’s not a cigarette.”
“Even better!” he said, and he thought this was funny enough to laugh about.
“It’s not drugs. It’s a clove.”
“A what?”
“Like an herbal cigarette. But it doesn’t get you high.”
“You wanna get high?” he asked.
“Man,” I said. “I’m way up here.”
“How’d you get up there?” He was circling the trunk like he wanted to join me.
“I told you,” I said. “I’m an expert climber.”
“You’re a crazy sombitch, huh?” he said. He thought this was funny, too. “Smoking herbal cigarettes in a tree. It’s a Friday night. You should be getting high.”
“My dad just died,” I told him, I don’t know why.
He stopped laughing. He said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I shimmied down the tree after the stranger left and I figured out where I was, hiked back to the party, and looked for someone I knew to try and be normal around. Here’s what I wanted: I wanted to find Alex, to have her touch my jaw with one finger, delicately, and to tell me that even if the world didn’t know what to do with me, I had a place here just as much as anything else, and that place was among people, like her, who didn’t know they needed shelter from this unknowing world. I was almost convinced of this fact when a dog rumbled out of a bush a few houses away from the party and sniffed at my ankles.
“Hey pup,” I said. I picked it up in my arms. It was heavier than I thought it would be, and awkward, but it seemed to enjoy being held. It had extra skin on its face and its tongue fell from the side of its mouth. It wore a collar, the tags jingling, and so I knew I’d know where to take it when the time came.
I carried the dog to the party and waited, as if because I had returned Alex would appear and this dog would be the conversational impetus that would lead us to a resolution we could hold onto forever, or for years, or for an hour or until the sun came up, which were all equivalent measures of time because time is elastic, which is what I would say to Alex if and when she appeared. I stood at the foot of the steps and looked at the front door, saw that it was wide open, and acknowledged that it was odd for the door to be so wide open, just an open door of one of the houses on the street. It didn’t feel special to walk through a door like that.
The dog was still in my arms. A guy I’d never met walked out of a bathroom and looked at me funny.
“Do you know whose dog this is?” I asked him.
“What the hell?” he asked.
“I found this dog and I don’t know who it belongs to. Someone is probably looking for it.”
“Probably,” he agreed.
The dog was heavy in my arms and I adjusted it. The guy walked around a corner into the living room, and I took a few steps to watch him. There had been a dance party in there when I left, but now it was four or five people sitting on a sunken sofa, nobody speaking above the volume of the music that no one was dancing to. None of them were Alex. I adjusted the dog in my arms once more and stepped away, back down the hallway. The dog seemed perfectly happy in my arms, her tongue dangling, her face-skin curling in on itself like multiple smiles. I’d decided she was a she, and that her name was Beatrice. I was certain that when I checked her tags, this would be the name I’d see: Beatrice. It would be an amazing feat of serendipity, of intuition or cosmic alignment, and it deserved witnesses.
Alex wasn’t in the kitchen or on the deck, not anywhere I could see without opening a door, which I couldn’t do with my arms full of Beatrice. I returned to the hallway just outside of the living room. I could hear the last few people sitting inside the house and stood around the corner, listening, not wanting to be a part of the world they knew. I hugged Beatrice tightly, gripping her tags in my fist so they wouldn’t jingle and give me away. I knew they’d be talking about me, and they were. The guy I’d bumped into when I came in said to the others, “So a strange thing happened to me a little while ago. Some rando just came up to me carrying a dog and asked if I knew who it belonged to.”
“Shut up,” said one of them, a woman.
Then a pause, and then came Alex’s voice. “So weird,” she agreed. I’d missed her somehow when I first glanced in the room, but she was here now. She’d waited for me because she wanted to say goodbye, and she wanted to hold me and read The Green Book and tell me that all of my impulses and insecurities were unfalteringly breathtaking.
“It wasn’t his dog?” Alex said. “Who brings a stranger’s dog into a party? Why?”
It took all of my willpower not to peer around the corner. I wanted to hear the answer. Why would I bring a stranger’s dog to a house party?
“Because he’s crazy,” said the guy.
Beatrice looked up at me with her coy eyes. I looked back at her directly, steadfast—not the eyes of a crazy man but my eyes, my expert and unfalteringly breathtaking eyes.
There was a hush as I turned the corner and faced them directly—a collective gasp indicating that they registered the dog in my arms, understood that I’d been listening. I looked at each of them in turn. None of them were Alex. I checked the corners, the other entrance to the living room. She wasn’t there. I set the dog down and knelt beside her, took her tags into my fingers. “Her name,” I said, “is Beatrice,” and I showed them the tags to prove it.
They waited until I was out the front door before bursting into laughter. I picked Beatrice up again and nuzzled the soft back of her head, assured her that they were only laughing at me. I massaged the heavy skin beneath her chin and set her gently in the passenger seat of my car before driving somewhere, I’m not sure where, but definitely not home.
unnamedRobert Martin is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works as the Director of Operations for the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. His work has appeared in Revolver, Great Lakes Review, Sixfold, and Rain Taxi Review of Books. He is at work on a novel.

From Issue 12: Continued

Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad
We slid in our seats,
grips slipped violently
from poles as the train
broke speed,
without the measured slow
to the station
In the last cart
we looked through windows
to graffiti tunnels,
waiting for the whir
of conductor’s script
to rouse rush hour exhaustion
But the hum of operation ceases,
commands passengers
to hurry
to the small piece of platform
And like impatient children
on a school trip,
we heave ahead,
keeping doors in between
open with tired elbows,
while track maps lose
the trace of tourist fingers
Then the piercing warning
of the orange vest employee,
screaming to the curious exiting,
Don’t look! Don’t look!
as the band of firefighters
reach into gaps for surrendered body
He was pulled alive, we learn
the next morning;
his thoughts before he opens his eyes
to the resumption of life,
to the memory of rescue,
to the gruesome sound
of continued breathing,
something like:
don’t look, don’t look
Mehrnoosh Tobatnejad was born and raised in New York.  Her poetry has appeared in Passages North, Chiron Review, The Commonline Journal, Kudzu House Quarterly, Narrative Northeast, and is forthcoming in HEArt Journal, Natural Bridge, and Pinch Journal. She currently lives in New York and practices matrimonial law.

From Issue 12: Sunk

JoeAnn Hart
On Monday, Brad came home from work humming to himself, but at the path to his door, the hum drained to silence. The sun was low and weak, the sky thinly washed in purple, making the picture window mirror-dark. He tilted his head, trying to align his house with his mind. Something had changed, but he could not say what. “Must be the light,” he decided, then went inside to his wife, Edna, and his small child, Oliver, and he forgot all about it. But on Tuesday night the same, if not more so. “Something is definitely off,” he said to Edna, who was in the kitchen scraping dried mac ‘n’ cheese into the disposal. “I’ll say something’s off,” she said, without looking up. On Wednesday, he made a deliberate point of ignoring his house, but on Thursday morning he stood for a long while trying to decide if his home was tilting. Before he left for work, he stuck a yardstick up against the concrete foundation. It looked perpendicular, but what did he know? He was a bean counter, not an architect. That night it was too dark to tell what was what, but on Friday morning he thought he saw a sliver of light between the house and the yardstick. “Maybe it’s the stick that’s sinking,” he told himself, then hurried to catch the bus. On Saturday, he offered to rake leaves so he could watch for any sudden movement. “Be my guest,” said Edna, pushing Oliver outside to roll in the leaves, but a leaf pile never materialized. Brad was too busy calculating the expanding space between stick and house, if that’s what it was. At lunchtime, Edna called them in, but there was no “them.” Only Brad. It took a few minutes to find Oliver who had wandered to a neighbor’s yard, making Edna irritable for the rest of the weekend. She refused to join Brad in the inspection of a hairline fracture on the kitchen ceiling. “Signs are a way of investing coincidences with meaning,” she said, and he wasn’t quite sure what she meant, if anything. That night in bed he heard the house creak, like the dry snapping of bones. “The heating system,” he told himself, but when he checked the thermostat Sunday morning, it wasn’t even on.
On the second Monday, Brad checked the yardstick on leaving for work and on his return. The space of light had grown from a sliver to a slender wedge, he was sure. He stood under the darkening sky until Oliver came to the storm door and pressed his open mouth against the glass like a Moray eel. On Tuesday morning, Brad felt a sense of relief when the door closed behind him, as if he had escaped a great danger. In the employee lounge, he joked with Marvin in technology. “My house is sinking.” Ha, ha. “Sounds like normal settling to me,” said Marvin. “Ah,” said Brad, and celebrated with a jelly donut. Then Marvin told him about a friend whose aunt’s house fell in a sinkhole one night while she was watching TV. “The earth just swallowed it up,” he said. “It was a miracle she survived.” Grape jelly oozed from Brad’s clenched fist. On Wednesday night, Brad told Edna he was going to hire a structural engineer. “To make sure it’s normal settling and not something else.” He did not look up from his beef stew when he said those words, but he felt Edna’s eyes upon him. “Nor-mal,” Oliver whispered to the piece of carrot on his fork. On Thursday morning, as Brad was putting on his black socks, the light from the window cast an angled suncat under his feet, and he felt as if he were falling through the universe. At the office, he asked Marvin if he knew any structural engineers. “A great guy,” Marv said, and gave him the number. On Thursday night, Brad told Edna that the engineer would be there Friday, and she blinked. The next morning, before she got out of bed, she turned to Brad and said, “Have you thought that it might be you, and not the house?” He had no answer to that, so she got up to make French toast.
There was a note on the kitchen table for Brad when he got home on Friday night. “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since you weren’t listening, everything must be said again.” Brad skipped to the end. Edna had run off with the structural engineer, taking Oliver with her. There was an addendum in a different hand at the bottom: The engineer would send a full report in a few weeks.
Joeheadshot-2Ann Hart is the author of Float and Addled, novels that explore the relationship between humans and their environment, natural or otherwise. Her short fiction, essays, articles, and book reviews have appeared in a number of publications, including Orion magazine and Design New England. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

From Issue 12: Transgressions of the Sighted

Cormac O’Reilly
Thump, thump. I edged back as the trickle of water slipped beneath the door. This trickle was joined by another and, like a group of black snakes, the water slithered forward, pushing us further into the small house.
“Daddy, what’s that sound?” she asked.
I was still surprised by her keen sense of hearing. What could I tell her?
She grasped onto the back of my baggy worn jeans as I guided her towards the stairs.
“Daddy,” she had asked, in the summer, before the rains had come. “What does love look like?” We had been walking in the meadow behind our house, hidden from the afternoon sun by a canopy of sycamore leaves above.
At four, she was at that age when why’s and wonderment seemed without end. These bright questions unnerved me. They made me feel dim, inept even. I thought of the first time I’d told her mother I loved her. I remember how my nerves had been frayed, the sleeve of my grey shirt dark with sweat as I tried to wipe away the beads that multiplied along my brow. The oven fan rattled and I stared at blobs of Bolognese sauce that bubbled like a tar pit and noticed how the boiling water had turned a milky white, the spaghetti coagulating into one huge ball. Any pretension of cool I might have given off initially had dissipated when the fire alarm began to scream and a blanket of thick smoke unfolded itself neatly from the oven. “Shit,” I muttered and laughed nervously as I tried to direct this smoke through the kitchen window with a small dish cloth. Finally, I placed the plate of spaghetti in front of her, completed with a side of blackened garlic bread. “We can just order something,” I told her.
“Nonsense, it looks great!” She cut through the clump of spaghetti with her fork and knife and scooped it up eagerly.
Later, she reached across the table, wiped a speck of red sauce from the corner of my mouth, letting her finger linger. The scented candles I’d placed on the table—originally for romance, now to mask the smell of burnt garlic bread—flickered. The kitchen became even smaller. We leaned towards each other, crouching into our chairs like we were being squished into our own snow globe world. I was unafraid to be turned upside down although I knew I was falling. “I think I love you, Emily,” I whispered and watched as the smile lines beside her mouth grew long. I was momentarily astounded. I hadn’t planned on telling her this but as the words hovered above us in our snow globe world, I began to feel the rhythm of my heart slow, the expansion and shallow deflation of my lungs as my breathing became steady and sure. I felt the strong desire to reach out, run the back of one of my large paws against one of her cheeks but I lost my train of thought when I looked into the oasis of her jade coloured eyes. “I don’t just think I love you Emily, I know it!”
It was cheesy, overly sappy. However, as I looked down at my daughter that day, before the rains had washed away our meadow, had washed away our world, an uneasiness welled up. How could I thread together this story to describe love to a four year old? What other questions would she ask me in the future? “Um…” I cursed myself. Why hadn’t I paid more attention in English, especially the metaphors and similes, alliteration and lyrics, to make the profane sacred using mere words. As she got older, she would expect more of me and my descriptions.
“I can’t really tell you what love looks like,” I began. “I guess…it’s more like a feeling you get.”
“Hmmn.” She placed her hands on her hips in feigned frustration. I bent down and grazed my finger along the side of her face, the way I’d done to put her to sleep when she was a baby. I looped a finger in one of her curls, the blondness lit up by the glimpse of sun squeaking through the leaves overhead.
“I don’t know how to describe love to you, except that every-time I look at you, that’s what I feel.” I placed her small hand over my broad chest. “Do you feel that?”
“What’s that?”
“That’s my heart. Every-time I look at you, my heart beats a little quicker, ba-boom-ba-boom.”
She giggled. I put her hand on my stomach: “Love also makes your stomach feel kinda funny. It’s like you don’t know if you’ve eaten, or if you’re full, it can make you feel lighter.”
“Daddy,” she said, trying to contain another giggling fit. “You don’t very feel light.”
I laughed, grateful my description was enough. I promised myself I would read more to provide her with more than a simple black and white view of the world.
Thump. More of the sandbags gave way and the water poured in. “What’s happening?” she asked again. Carefully, I placed her on the foot of the stairs and hurried to the kitchen for the last of the supplies. “Just wait there!” I called back over my shoulder. I flipped open the cupboards: a single box of trail bars and a bag of dried apricots were all that remained. Stuffing these into my knapsack, the water seeped over my rain boots. “Shit!” The cold water pierced my ankles like needles.
“Where are you, Daddy?”
“Here.” I sloshed back to her. I led her up the stairs, trying to remain calm.
As we reached the top of the staircase, I pulled a long string and a step ladder slid down.
“C’mon honey,” I said, hoisting her up. “There’s ten steps, each is about a foot apart, and here, there are handrails on either side. Here’s the left one. Yup you got it. Good. And here’s the right one.”
“Daddy, what’s happening? I’m scared!”
Me too. “I’ll be right behind you, don’t worry.”
She began her ascent up the ladder so I took a moment and glanced down the staircase. The beige carpeted stairs were darkening with each passing second like mercury rising in a thermometer. How is this possible? How is there this much water? I let the knapsack drop, watched it tumble down the stairs only to float a brief moment before it was sucked under by the coursing water which climbed towards us.
When she reached the top step, I hurried after her, pulling the ladder up after me. The attic door banged shut and I thought of Emily. She should be here with us. The Bible Thumpers. They were to blame. They had given up with the very first drop of rain. And when the rain increased, they had thumped their bibles harder—a testament to their belief the end was nigh for the sinners of this world.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Emily and I were brash, young newlyweds. The world was there for our taking and we had escaped the cacophony of big city living only to find that living in nature had its own loudness. I’d grown up in the country, but the isolation was proving too much for her. I brought her to the local watering hole in town where the floor and tables were sticky, the music obnoxiously loud. Upon sitting down, a fist fight broke out at the far end of the bar and I knew we’d never return. Next, I tried bringing her to my new coworkers house for a meet and greet BBQ. However, stories of hunting trophies followed by plates with hulking slabs of pink fatty meat had almost made her sick. I became desperate and so, despite any religious inclinations, I suggested the church: “Could be a good place to meet others.” She’d jumped at the idea.
We had been welcomed by the congregation and the enthused Reverend Baldwin—their leader, whose deep voice belied his tall, thin frame. His hands felt sweaty as he wrapped them round my hands like a politician. Almost instantly, we settled into a routine of Sunday service followed by brunch with fellow church members. For her sake, I’d looked past the singing, the dramatic hallelujahs, and the overly enthusiastic sermons of the Reverend whose chin would be covered in spit as he launched into diatribes of just about movies, television, plays, opera, music, and even books. “You know the only book I read?” He’d asked the congregation one Sunday. “What Reverend?” The congregation hollered back. “The only book a person of this earth needs. The Bible!” I almost laughed out loud, had to hide my snicker in the collar of my shirt. However, when I’d looked over at Emily, it was as if the dull that had set in had been suddenly chipped away, and her jade eyes gleamed from the light spewing forth from the Reverend and his flock of sheep. I swallowed my pride. Who was I to question it? I didn’t care, as long as she was happy.
This pleasant routine had continued until just after Marie was born: “Oh really! If there is a God, then why would he let this happen? Explain that, huh!” I’d challenged Emily in our kitchen while Marie, barely a week old, lay asleep in the next room. Emily wouldn’t answer me. She blessed herself and exited the room leaving me to myself and my surging rage. My fists were clenched so hard that my fingers began to ache and the skin of my lip broke as I chewed over my thoughts. The front door banged shut as Emily left causing Marie to stir. As I walked towards my baby daughter, I realized it was the first time I had been alone with her and as I approached, the cloud of angry thoughts began to clear.
Increasingly, I opted to spend Sunday afternoons on walks with Marie. On those times when we did go to church as a family, I took more notice of the Reverend and the messages of his sermons. I observed the clergy, how they nodded with each spiel, whispering in unison their Amens and Hallelujahs.
I remember accompanying Emily to Church the Sunday after the first week of rain. Standing in the back pew, Emily and Marie on either side of me, I noted the egg-shell painted walls had taken on a darker shade from the clouds outside. The Reverend Baldwin stood, as always, at his pulpit. His robe, despite the lack of light outside, still appeared bright and moved as if it were a separate entity yet followed the Reverend’s movements closely as he moved rhythmically side to side. His knuckles were white as he clenched the sides of the pulpit. His eyes—cobalt and splayed wide—scanned the clergy as if confirming we were giving him our full and undivided attention. His voice soared, bounding off the arched ceiling and curved walls, spilling over with conviction and growing louder as he explained the reasons for the rain: “It is God’s punishment! His wrath for the wicked! But do not fret, do not worry, for those pure of mind and spirit,” he surveyed us once again, waved his arms over us. “You, yes you,” he pointed, “The deserved, the humble, the meek, the true servants of God. You will go on to the paradise of Heaven!”
“Bullshit!” I wanted to scream and looked to the clergy for support. Instead, I found people with their hands outstretched, some with their eyes closed, heads swaying back and forth as if listening to some music I couldn’t hear. “Emily.” I nudged her but she didn’t hear me. She was holding her breath, her face lit up the same way the first time I told her I loved her.
I stared at the Reverend who had his arms raised towards the cross behind him, his head bent backwards.
Everyone—except me—completely transfixed in admiration.
“Daddy, where are you?”
“I’m here, Marie.” I secured the attic door, closing us off for a moment from the rising water.
Taking her hand, I led her towards a circular window in the corner. Glancing out, I surveyed the wrath. The water was only a foot below the window. Everything gone.
“What do you see, Daddy?”
Where did it go? I didn’t know what to tell her. The sun was hidden somewhere above those clouds and intermittent flashes of lightning. It had acquiesced itself to the rain which had continually lashed its fury on us now for over a month. The sun, it seemed, had given up on us.
I pulled her close. There wasn’t much time now. Her other senses were much better than mine. Surely she could hear the water lapping against the attic door, the surge of water roaring past outside, threatening to rip our house from its foundations and take us at any moment.
I couldn’t stop her shivering. Was it from the cold or fear, I wondered. I had to tell her something.
“Honey,” I said, my voice cracking. “Do you remember our afternoon walks in the meadow? The warm feeling from the sun?”
“Yes,” she whispered, nestling closer against me.
“Well the sun is out now. It’s so bright and all those dark clouds are gone. The birds, they’re whistling to each other, drawing lines and circles in the sky with their wings. And the leaves that we used to play in, do you remember?
“They’re dancing in the wind, rustling as they are lifted up and up! Everything is so beautiful.”
“What else, Daddy?”
“Well, Sammy from next door, he’s barking at nothing as usual.”
I bit my lip, forcing back a tear but the lie felt right. I drew two circles around her eyes, and she clasped onto my fingers like she had once done as a baby.
“The raccoons,” I said, “they’re following their mommy raccoon who is leading them up the same tree your tire swing is tied to.”
“But where’s Mommy?”
The last time I saw Emily, she stood with her arms crossed over her chest while the Reverend stood beside her, his hand on her shoulder and a large pious smile painted on his face.
“Are you crazy? Come with me!” I pleaded with her. “We have to get to higher ground!”
“No,” she’d said, her blonde curly locks waving side to side in refusal.
“Think about Marie! Don’t listen to him. Please. He’s crazy.”
I ran to her, grabbed her by her arm, trying to lead her away but she pulled away from my grasp and then the Reverend’s flock were on me. They shoved me along the aisle and threw me into the water which had already breached the bottom of the church steps. I jumped back up but only got to see her jade eyes one final time before she looked away and the doors were slammed shut. I pounded and kicked, screamed until my throat was raw and the heel of my fist turned red but their chanting from within drowned me out.
The water gurgled as it seeped through the edges of the attic door and spilled over onto the floorboards.
I held her tight as the water slithered towards us.
Picking her up, I stared into her eyes: clouded blue, they swiveled left to right, just as they always swiveled, searching for a light she would never see. “We’ll meet Mommy soon,” I said, hoping this wasn’t a lie.
A Graduate of Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio, Cormac O’Reilly is an Irish/Canadian author who has previously been published in Emerge 14. He is currently working on a collection of short stories that explore the human condition. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his partner, Lani.

From Issue 12: The Mysteries in a Jar of Olives

Jonathan Gonnet
When I finally got around to walking into the kitchen I found the dinner table set and undisturbed. The condiments and all were just sitting there, lonely, and the room resembled a scene staged from New Mexico in homes built on nuclear test areas.
I picked up a spoon left by the coffee maker from that morning. It had a dried, brown outline and smelled a bit roasty, but I regarded it as clean enough. Standing at the refrigerator I hacked rice out of an old Chinese food carton like someone using a hand trowel in permafrost and, with what little didn’t fall on the floor, I just sort of chewed the hard and tasteless rice grains for a bit. I tossed the spoon into the sink with a loud, hollow noise and nobody stirred.
Must not be home.
I sat in my chair. Not mine because I had designated it such owing to an economic exchange—trading stores of value for goods—but rather it was mine in the strange way we all come about assigned seats. Whether done by default (shout out to all the youngest siblings) or done of our own accord, the dinner table seats which become ours then become our base of operations; our station of comfort and familiarity as we adapt our view of life through a particular lens. O ye comfortable, familiar and incredibly limiting viewing angle, for it is through seeing only from the perspective of an acute angle that we are effectively blinded to everything else.
Isn’t that pretty much the metaphor for life?
The kitchen table paradox: by actively participating and trusting in the foibles of a family dynamic, we are agreeing to be mostly blind.
Hell, I don’t know.
I picked up a jar of olives. A few moments later I’d gorged myself on half of the jar and I found myself contemplating the pros and cons of drinking the salty olive juice.
It probably had hydrating qualities like its mystic cousin the pickle juice, I thought.
Probably too high in sodium and would give me a turkey goblet like the red-topped soy sauce, though.
I picked up the jar. It was oddly heavy for how skinny it was, compared to your typical jarring standards. I played with it in my hand, turning it over and holding it at angles, the weight giving it a fun experience as if I were really a grown up (you know, one of those adults who aren’t constantly confused) and handling an important canister full of chemicals or ooze or something. Again, I feel the need to stress that this jar was breathtakingly stylistic, in that it was thin and tall, extraordinary and privileged compared to her squattier, homelier peers.
Mostly I suppose my thoughts wondered to, like most men of drink, what would a cocktail look like in this glass? I could pretty much guarantee that no matter what it would taste like the first pull would gag me, but what would be the ideal mix to put in this beautiful receptacle?
It wouldn’t matter; whatever.
Somehow, and I’m not sure how this happens from time to time, my imagination ran a reel and projected out what the scene would look like if I smashed the glass on the end of the wooden table. Would it really even shatter? Even if it did, would the thick shards even cut and slice, or would they gouge?
Seems like it would hurt, more army knife than scalpel.
When I looked at the imaginary shard’s depth which had undulation and ridges like the sides of a canyon, I think that seems too intense and too outsized a response, that thick jag of glass.
I think of legacy. This jar of olives might represent the most favorable—or at least interesting—legacy I could leave at this point.
Maybe something storied will come from it all.
Maybe a name will be coined to vague this whole thing over; “The Olive Incident” or something.
Maybe the kids will take a fatalistic, rockstar-esque pride in it. They can collect olive themed paraphernalia or paintings or something; I can give them an identity. They can remember me every time they drink martini’s with their floozy’s or when they eat the free bread of shitty chain Italian restaurants, depending on the level of sophistication the father and rudder-less kids find.
Anything is better than the legacy of a boring, aging father whose face is twenty-five pounds fatter than it has ever been.
Whose clothes barely fit.
Who has to go to meetings in order to fight the random urges to not die or go to jail, which is to say, to not drink so that he can at least muster an attempt to provide some of the good parts of the world to their mother. And them.
Probably they don’t care about such crucially important things like legacies or existential scoreboards. But what do they really know? And, further, who can blame them for not knowing? They are only kids.
They don’t even like olives yet.
Jonathan Gonnet has published stories in The Moth, Limestone, The Vehicle, The New Mexico Review and Euphemism. He studied at University of Texas and spent the last two years in The Writer’s Path program at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. His debut novel In Defense of the Moth or a Meaningless Dance in Blinding Heat and Light was published in March of 2016.