Deconstruction by Allison Whittenberg



SISTER ARDETH: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the … oh, you
know the rest… I’m Sister Ardeth Margaret Katherine D’Arby, and I have
just been sentenced to three years. He knows what He’s doing. It will
be three years well spent, that I assure you. Those souls locked away
need my guidance, and it won’t be my first time on the inside, as they
say. It won’t be so bad. I hope we will be able to stay together
though — myself with the other Sisters Jacqueline and Carol. I pray
that they won’t split us up. I’ve known them since I first entered the
order. We were so young then, thinking we could save the world…
The judge had such harsh words for us. Such harsh words. He said we
were “dangerously irresponsible.” To that Sister Carol said, “Nuclear
warfare is dangerously irresponsible!” And that judge told her to Shut
Up! Shut up, he said. Imagine such talk. Shut up, he said.
Some government property should be destroyed. All the papers made such
a big deal about the blood. We used our blood to make crosses on the
missiles. I’ve been with the order for 20 years. I would do it again.
And then we used a hammer. Pounding and pounding. If only we could
turn it into salt.

A Whittenberg is a Philadelphia native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her other novels include Sweet ThangHollywood and MaineLife is FineTutored and The Sane Asylum.

One Morning by Linda Lowe

The gardeners were busy, their lawn mowers humming, when cars crept into the cul-de-sac. Young men tumbled out with real firepower slung over their shoulders. Was someone about to be shot? It was hard to tell, with them smiling so. They could advertise for Crest toothpaste, or in the old days, Pepsodent. “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush with Pepsodent.” This was no ad though, we knew it when the bullets clicked into their rifles. We peeked out our windows. The gardeners stood frozen. I turned away, thinking about the past.
How innocent we were, how mistaken.

Linda Lowe’s stories and poems have appeared in Outlook Springs, Tiny Molecules, Star 82 Review, A Story in 100 Words, and others.

Battering Ram by Marc Tweed

Norma can’t find my name. With her eyes fixed hard on my face, she searches bright, empty corridors, digs along pebbled shorelines stippled with geysers of lavender brush, feels under the seat cushion of a grounded ski lift in summer. I point to the snack on the table next to her bed. It’s Ron, it’s no bother. Let’s eat. She forms an empty cavern with her mouth, lips stretched purple. I spoon up something butterscotch and she squeezes my forearm when I stand to leave. Dan’s crew cut is outrageously overgrown and he curses me when I walk into his room, says I’m AWOL. I laugh and tell him the barber’s plane was shot down over St. Louis. His eyes go wide as he exclaims I knew it! and considers the bowl of pretzels I brought. His roommate murmurs maple syrup in his sleep as I steal past. Sigrid says here comes the big boss when I carry her sewing tray in with what new supplies they could muster in Rec. She props up on elbows and swings skinny legs out from her bed in excitement. I get her settled in her chair and refill her water as she sorts through the spools and swatches. I get on the half-full bus and find a seat toward the back. I watch the blocks of people and taverns and corner stores pass glistening in a new rain. A man has an argument with the driver. He marches down the length of the bus and turns to me, holding a live pigeon. My eyes refuse his face, his hands are dirty clutching the bird, his pants are unzipped. He throws the pigeon at my head and it explodes away from us and someone on the bus yells hey! The man says to me, spitting, you know what, motherfucker? I squeeze past him and get off ten blocks early. The neon sign in the window asks me in and I agree. I sit at the bar next to a woman in a tube top. I put my face in my hands and through my fingers all I can see is the deep red countertop, as clean and delicious as a nightmare.

Marc Tweed is a self-taught painter, writer, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His work explores themes such as alienation, catastrophe, real-life monsters, and elements of nature – often all at once. Marc’s story, Senescence, appeared in Potato Soup Journal in 2020 and he’s working on a collection titled Seasick on Land: Stories by Marc Tweed.

Gently Used Boat, Motor, and Trailer by Niles Reddick

I drove the dirt road around the lake, where family cottages hid in the trees near the lake’s edge and where water lapped wooden steps. Occasionally, there was a driveway, sloping down, on a vacant lot where people had planned to build but never quite secured the fortune it would cost and hoped to sell and make profit come time to pay their children’s college tuition.
I noted the old Plymouth with a trailer and bass boat with an outboard motor rolling down the hill and heard a splash. When I drove down the path and slid to a stop, I noticed the car had dove headfirst, like a whale, and the trailer and boat were slowly sinking. The splash created a wave that moved toward the lake’s center. I jumped out, dove into the lake, and noted the old man holding two children, sinking deeper and deeper. Water had already gushed into the rolled down windows and flooded the car, and their lifeless bodies swayed like water plants, this way and that. The trailer had become unhitched and I pulled until it lodged on a rock only a couple of feet below the surface.
When I came out, I backed my truck until water covered the back tires, hoisted the winch rope to the boat trailer, and pulled her out salvaging the trailer, boat, and motor. When she was free, I hitched her to my truck. I stopped near an old Gulf station that had the only working pay phone left in the county and called the sheriff’s department about the Plymouth, the old man, and two children. I pulled the trailer, boat, and motor home and parked them in the barn behind our house. I told my wife it was payback from a buddy who’d lost a bet at work.
I read the next day in the paper the old man had lost his wife to COVID, his daughter had run off and left the two kids with him, and he couldn’t raise them on Social Security and was too proud to take food stamps or Welfare. He’d told a friend, “We’d all be better off somewhere else”, but the friend added that he never believed he meant committing suicide. I played scenarios before sleep about whether I could have pulled them lifeless to the shore, done mouth to mouth, and what would have become of them if I had. I stopped thinking about what if and instead focused on what was. I realized that in the face of tragedy, there was opportunity. I donated to the old man’s church, named my boat after him, and went fishing that weekend.

Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in seventeen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIFNew Reader MagazineForth Magazine, The Boston Literary MagazineFlash Fiction Magazine, and Storgy.

Ballad for the Bad Guy by Mark Antony Rossi

When I watch television I usually root for the bad guy. Not because I’m fascinated with evil. I’m just disgusted with hypocrisy. I despise the so-called good guys turning grey. Don’t bulldoze me with blurring the edges baloney. Being half good is like being almost pregnant. Ambition in the bureaucracy is deadlier than any naked crime. It’s one of the reasons I cheer for the law breaker. His motives are purer. He is playing one side of the street. He’s less mean spirited than the family man willing to rationalize misdeeds in the name of private school tuition. It’s hard to be on the side of the angels when the angels have bigger horns than the devils. Yet the complexity of the human condition traps us outside of the garden of Eden. We murder our brother and claim self-defense. We sell our sister and seek a tax deduction. We ignore our children but demand their respect. Perhaps being a bad guy is less stressful than the baggage of a hero. His wife stopped loving him ten years ago. And carries more guilt than a catholic priest. The bad guy needs no confessor to knife his successor. It’s an easier life than rich guy rules made for paycheck fools. I’m not naive enough to believe the bomb he put under your car is not personal. However; visiting danger zones with loved ones is similar to walking in a zoo without cages. Body parts and broken hearts mark the heavy loads hauled by hypocrites.

Mark Antony Rossi is a poet, playwright and host of the literary podcast “Strength To Be Human”

Wichita Lineman Inside Your Mind by Anita Kestin

Planes sounded different in the summer. Planes sounded different when the people you loved were far away.

You were sitting on an Adirondack chair, surface partly stripped of the blue color it had had for all time, face tilted back, arms flat against the broad wood.

You heard the approaching airplane and, a few seconds later, the echoing of the wires, hot in the afternoon sun, the air still and full. The wires zinged. Were they phone wires or did they carry electricity? The sound grew louder and merged with the sound of the plane, call and response. Question and answer. Plea and enigmatic reply.

Inside your head was the Glen Campbell song, Wichita Lineman. The sound of the plane receded. The zinging of the wires throbbed above your head. Did you need more than want? What did it mean to be together for all time?

Middle age, then a few packed boxes, some undefined number of minutes rushing for trains, a handful of hours charging cell phones, and suddenly you were on the threshold of old, possibly already crossing over.

Your shirt was stuck to the chair, flecks of blue paint clinging to your arms. The air was bent by the wind for just a moment and then all was still and hot and filled with longing. Rain would be arriving soon. Out there, somewhere in the vast flatness, was the Wichita Lineman listening to the sound of the wires singing deep inside his mind.

Anita Kestin, M.D., M.P.H. is a medical doctor with a varied career and gray hairs to match. For most of her career, she has worked in a traditional academic setting but for the past ten years she has worked as the medical director of a nursing facility, as a hospice physician, in the locked ward of a psychiatric facility, and in public health settings. She is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors, the wife of an environmental lawyer, the mother of wonderful grown children, a grandmother, and a progressive activist. She is attempting to calm her nerves during the pandemic by writing.

Underfoot by D. S. G. Burke

Wet sand is greedy. It pulls at the boy’s footprints. At the water’s edge, he learns that standing too long in one spot is treacherous. The sand wants to swallow him up, feet first. So he never stands still. Aping the shorebirds, he attacks the first line of water. The water fights back with spray and chill. His toes are cowards. They launch him backwards. He forces them to return. Ram ahead, then retreat. Hair flies into his face and eyes and mouth and he’s laughing, open mouthed, so more gets in and the boy coughs the hair out and he’s still laughing.

My toes go numb and I stand in the inch-deep water while the sand pulls me down. There are clams down here waiting, packed in tight, fully surrounded by sand, each sending up a fleshy straw to breathe through. My feet cover their air holes and they want to pull me down under too. I let myself sink, deeper and deeper. How long does it take to swallow me whole? An hour? I came prepared with a long straw–one of those novelty straws that you win at the fair. A wide bubble tea straw. I held it above my head as I sunk and closed my eyes just before my head sunk beneath the sand.

How long have I been here? I am standing upright. My ears are packed with sand, yet I hear the boy’s laughter, muffled, above me.

He is running at full speed along the slithering tightrope of the waves edge. Thuds from his footfalls resound under the sand. He is looking down at his feet and doesn’t realize how distant his mother is now, until he looks up. He trips over my air straw and lands on his face. There is no time to hesitate. The sand around me vibrates at such speeds that it flows like water. I pull him down, down to my level. The sand above us smooths like a dress over prim knees.

D. S. G. Burke lives and writes in New York City. Her writing has appeared in the Seattle Times, 3Elements Literary Review, and Stinger Stories. Her day job focuses on averting the worst effects of the impending climate crisis. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @dsgburke

Virus Statistics by Yash Seyedbagheri

In our community, we trade virus statistics.

I’ll trade you X corpses in this city for Y corpses across this state.

Initially, we speak with somberness, but with each day, somberness is superseded by childlike energy. Glee, even.

Statistics beat images of shortness of breath or nausea.

But for fleeting moments, when loved ones gasp in constrained rooms, we wait for texts. Try not to imagine lives without their smiles, nicknames, and bad jokes. We even spare hints of empathy for others.

After our own die or heal, we discard Kleenex and step up the statistics trading.

We’ve cried enough.

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His story, “Soon,” was nominated for a Pushcart. Yash has also had work nominated for Best of the Net and The Best Small Fictions. A native of Idaho, Yash’s work is forthcoming or has been published in WestWard Quarterly, Café Lit, and Ariel Chart, among others.