April, 2020 Issue

Greetings fellow peanuts. We hope that wherever you are, you are safe, staying home, and washing your hands. And while you're waiting for the local grocery store to restock your shelves with toliet paper, we're happy to send you these stories for amusment, terror, and general feelings of contentment mixed with dread. This is so that when we finally emarge from our homes, blinking from the bright sun, we are reminded by these brave poets and authors what it means to be human.

Table of Contents

How to Enjoy Miserable Weather 

Poetry by José Medina

Ringworm in 3-D

Fiction by K. Uwe Dunn

The Raccoon
Fiction by John Power

I Keep Thinking of All the Things I'll Do

Poetry by Ilse Eskelaen

A Book of Assumptions

Fiction by Reayah Lundquist

Bellini

Flash Fiction by Linda McMullen

Lobster Telephone

Q.M.

Catching

Flash Fiction by Rachel Quisel

Forgotten Whispers

Poetry by Mira Chiruvolu

How to Enjoy Miserable Weather

by José Medina

 

Listen to the rain sizzling and spitting

like bacon in a pan. Let the lightning

thunder twice—first in your ear,

and then in your heart, as if everything

were an echo of itself, as if you could

already imagine you were no longer here.

When the rain stops, put on your shoes—

no, better, rubber boots that reach

up to the knee, so that you can enjoy

the squish of mud without it getting

into the seams of your soul. Isn’t that

better? Strut with confidence,

knowing that nothing can hurt you.

José Medina

José Enrique Medina earned his BA in English from Cornell University. He writes poems, short stories and novels. His work has appeared in Best Microfiction 2019 Anthology, Tahoma Literary Review, The Burnside Review, and other publications. He is a VONA (Voices of Our Nation) POC fellow. 

Ringworm in 3-D

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By K. Uwe Dunn

 

            A red circle appeared on my back. My father didn’t know what it was so he took me to the doctor. “Ringworm,” the doctor said. “Ringworm?” What the hell was that? There’s a worm in my back? Nightmarish imagery came to mind: worms as dense as maggots squirming over each other under my skin. “How does that happen?” my father asked. “Does he play any sports?” the doctor said. It was wrestling season. I had just won a match the other day. “That’s it. He got it from the wrestling mat. It happens all the time.”

            Ringworm from the wrestling mat. So gross. I had never thought about anything like that. It’s no surprise when one really thinks about it: A bunch of teenagers with questionable hygiene rolling around on a big foam mat. It was a wonder I hadn’t caught anything before. What else could I catch? Cancer? AIDS? I was sufficiently freaked out. 

            “Don’t they clean the mats?” I asked my dad.

            “They do. Before and after every meet,” he said.

            “But what about every match?”

            “No. They don’t clean it between matches. Have you ever seen anyone wiping down the mat between each match?”

            “No. I haven’t.”

            “Well there you go.”

            So if one of the wrestlers had ringworm in a match before me, I could easily get it. 

            I don’t know what I thought about wrestling mats before that. But after, I saw them as breeding grounds for bacteria. 

            I didn’t know if I could go back. 

           The treatment for ringworm was an antifungal ointment that had to be applied to the infected area two to three times a day.

            “Antifungal” as in fungus. 

            Merriam-webster’s definition of fungus: “any of a kingdom (Fungi) of saprophytic and parasitic spore-producing eukaryotic typically filamentous organisms formerly classified as plants that lack chlorophyll and include molds, rusts, mildews, smuts, mushrooms, and yeasts.”

            Does any of that sound good to you?

            The phrase “parasitic spore-producing” lingered in my mind.

            Parasites.

            So we had gone from “worm” to “fungus” to “parasite” in a few jumps from the doctor’s office to the cream to the dictionary.

            I had never been afraid at wrestling practice before. There wasn’t much at stake. We’d practice the same moves over and over again. Headlock. Single-leg takedown. Double leg takedown. Sprawling. Reversals. Escapes. All the standards. There were little victories and losses here and there but nothing that went on your record. Nothing that remained. 

            Except now AIDS maybe.

            “You’re not going to get AIDS from wrestling,” my dad said.

            “How do you know? Did you know I could get ringworm?” I said. 

            “Well, I hadn’t thought about it.”

            “Exactly. Have you thought about the plague? This time it was ringworm. Maybe next time it’s the bubonic plague.”

            “You’re being a little ridiculous here. The ointment will work. The ringworm will be gone. Just go to practice and once you get back into the swing of things, you’ll be fine. You’ll soon forget all about this.”

            Yeah, right. 

            My next question was for the coach. 

            “Who cleans the mats?” 

            “The janitor does it after each practice.”

            “I want to do it.”

            “What? Why?”

            “I want to make sure it’s clean.”

            “I’m sure Reggie does a fine job.”

            “I got ringworm. The doctor said it was from a wrestling mat. I want to be the one to clean them. To make sure.”

            “Wait. You have ringworm? What are you doing at practice? Go home. I don’t want you spreading that shit to the other wrestlers.”

            “Fine by me. But who knows. Maybe they already have it.”

            I shouted to the team. “You might all get ringworm! You never know! You never know what parasites might be living in the mat!”

            The coach grabbed me by the shirt and took me in the hall. 

            “What the hell are you doing? You’re going to create a panic. Nobody will want to come to practice.”

            “Maybe they shouldn’t. Who knows what diseases are lurking. Do you know that the bubonic plague came from a rat? Have you seen any rats around the mats?”

            “Alright. That’s it. I’m calling your father to come get you.”

            The car ride home was awkward. My dad was so mad he didn’t look at me. Thank God for the radio. 610 WIP. They were talking about how the Sixers lost the night before. I thought at least they don’t have to worry about catching diseases from the basketball court. But then I thought about the balls. Who cleans the basketballs? Think of how many hands they pass through. Think of all the games. Think of all the colonies of things that could live on a basketball. Maybe bouncing the ball helps. The ball is constantly smacking into the floor and back into the hands of the players. I asked myself if that was enough to kill the bacteria. But if that were true, then a wrestler smacking into the mat should do the same.

            I wondered if Allen Iverson ever caught anything from a basketball. 

            I pictured myself warning him. 

            “You can’t just focus on the ball. You have to wonder about the locker room, about the bench and the sinks and even the showers. We think of the showers as clean but are they really?”

            I took a week off from wrestling. The ringworm cleared up. Then I went back to practice. I got a few dirty looks from some of the wrestlers, but they quickly passed and things went back to normal. 

            It was now my job to clean the mats. I studied up on cleaning them. The first step was to sweep, to make sure all the hair and dead skin cells were cleared before one used the disinfectant. It was the same idea of sweeping the kitchen floor before you mopped. If the floor was still dirty, all you’d do is spread the dirt around and cake it to the floor. The dust had to be cleared before I wet the mat.

            Then I saw the mop. 

            I said to the coach, who was talking to a parent, “I can’t use this mop. Look at it! It’s filthy. You’re supposed to use a clean mop each time.”

            “The disinfectant cleans the mop when you use it.”

            “I’m not so sure about that.”

            Well, I couldn’t exactly force the coach to buy a new mop for each practice. I just made sure to thoroughly soak the mop in the cleaner. 

            Up and down. Back and forth. Ring it out. Dip in it. Repeat. I covered every inch like a painter prepping a canvas. 

            I had never noticed before, but the design on the mat, a circle within a circle with two lines in the center, resembled the eye of a goat. 

            “Alright, come on,” the coach said. “I’ve got to lock the room up. You cleaned it well enough. We can’t be here all night.”

            Things were fine at practice because I had control. I could arrive early and clean the mat before. I could stay late and clean the mat after. I knew that every part had been thoroughly wiped down. 

            But then came the matches on Saturday. We were the visiting team at Atco’s gym. It was somebody else’s job to clean the mats. 

            To everyone there, the coaches, the wrestlers, parents and friends, the big foam squares were just that, mats. But to me they were like a science experiment. Have you ever stared at those 3-D images? They say you have to unfocus your eyes to make the image jump off the page, whether it was a boat or a car or a lizard. The pictures would be full of colors and lines, vibrating. That’s how the mats now appeared to me: neon worms, fungi, and parasites, glowing and wiggling, in perpetual motion like TV static. 

            That was it.

            I excused myself and ran to the bathroom. I took the loss. 

            “What happened?” My dad said, standing outside the bathroom stall.

            “I can’t go back,” I said.

            “Why not?”

            “It’s a petri dish.” 

            “A petri dish? What’s a petri dish?”

            “The mat. A big science experiment.”

            “Is this about the ringworm again? That’s it. I’ve had it. No more wrestling.”

            “Finally.”

K. Uwe Dunn

K. Uwe Dunn is a certified nurse aide who lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, Isabella. He has a bachelor's degree in English literature, a master's in painting, and is fluent in the German language. His essays have been featured or are forthcoming in twelve literary journals, including The Northern Virginia Review, and he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by both Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art and The Petigru Review.

 

By John Power

THE RACCOON

Roger carried each plate to the garbage to scrape off dinner’s remnants.  Then he passed each one under the faucet before placing it in the dishwasher, and with the dishwasher humming, took the sponge and cleaned any drips or dribbles or even unseen bacteria from the countertops.

            His work in the kitchen complete, he walked to the den, where David sat watching the television.

            “What are you watching?”

            “I don’t know.  Nothing.”

            “Why don’t you turn it off?”

            “I’m trying to watch.  Can you be quiet?”

            Roger left the den for the living room.

            “David, you left the stereo on,” he called to his son.

            “You can turn it off.”

            Roger sat down in the rocking chair and turned off the stereo.  He sat there for a few seconds, almost reached for a book he’d borrowed from the library, but decided his wife would be angry if he didn’t give her a full report, so walked upstairs.  His wife was in the bedroom with the lights off, having retired early after complaining of a headache.  He let her know about the cleaning he’d done.

            “Good.  The garbage pickup is tomorrow.”

            “I forgot.  Sorry.”

            Roger went back to the kitchen.  He hoisted the bag up from the pail, carried it out the back door, down the back steps, and placed it into one of the two large rubber pails that stood next to the house.  As he dragged the pails around to the curb they made a loud scraping sound along the asphalt driveway.  Since it was summer his wife had the windows open in the bedroom, and Roger hoped she wouldn’t complain about the noise when he went back inside.  She did.  

            It was still dark when the alarm went off the next morning, and Roger’s arm shot out to the nightstand to shut it off so it wouldn’t bother his wife, who wouldn’t get up until later when it was time to wake David.  Roger took his predetermined suit, shirt, and tie into the bathroom along with his towel, and twenty minutes later walked quietly downstairs to fix himself breakfast.

             With a few steps left on his way down he looked out the windowpanes in the front door, and in the half-light saw his two garbage pails tipped over.  The black plastic bags had been shredded open, and bits of tinfoil, tissue, and other refuse were strewn about the lawn.  A raccoon sat atop a bag, fishing for food with his two front paws.  Roger unlocked the door and sprinted towards the raccoon.  The raccoon, though, scampered off and away into the bushes before Roger even reached the curb.  There was nothing to do but decide what to pick up first.  He righted the pails, and as he lifted the second a plastic bag split, and even more trash emptied onto the grass.  Roger then walked around the yard, back bent, collecting with bare hands the pieces of trash the raccoon had freed.  

            After picking up the garbage and washing his hands he didn’t have time for breakfast, and rushed out to the car unsure if he’d even catch his train.  He was five blocks away before he noticed the cuffs on his pants were spotted with filth.  But Roger didn’t have time to go back, so went through the rest of the day with spotted, foul-smelling cuffs.

            Three nights later Roger laid awake in bed, his arms folded across his chest like a body in a coffin.  Then he heard a rustle, and raised his head from the pillow so no sound would be muffled.  Another rustle, and then a slide and a smack and the rattle of a plastic lid settling on an asphalt driveway, and Roger was out of bed and on his way downstairs.  A snickering, and Roger grabbed a flashlight and burst through the back door, the beam of light pointed at the garbage pails.  The raccoon sat on the lip of a pail, holding a discarded chicken wing in its paws.  For a half-second the raccoon looked directly at Roger, and the light reflected off its corneas, returning a yellow-green glow.  In the next half-second the raccoon dropped the chicken wing, leapt from the pail, and was gone.  Again, there was nothing Roger could do.

            He snapped the lid back onto the pail, but knew that wouldn’t be enough.  Roger walked to the flowerbed next to the garage, and dug out two large border-stones.  He got dirt all over his pajamas as he carried them to the pails, but as he placed a stone atop each lid he felt quite certain the raccoon couldn’t get into them again.  

            “You’re a mess.”

            “Yeah, but I think I’ve topped that raccoon,” Roger answered his wife when he returned to bed.

            “Well, I’d hope you could beat a raccoon.”

            Saturday night Roger’s wife again retired early.  Around midnight David was done watching tv, and Roger was left alone, reading, on the ground floor.  When he heard the first rustle he just waited, and when he didn’t hear anything else for the next minute he knew the stones were too heavy for the raccoon, and a smirk began to grow at the corners of his mouth.  But then he heard a loud thud, and knew one of the stones had fallen to the driveway.  Roger raced for the flashlight, though despite his speed he heard the lid bounce and rattle on the asphalt before he could unlock the back door.  He jumped down the back steps and flashed the light at the pails.  The raccoon dropped a piece of sweet and sour chicken from its paws, leapt from the pail, and scurried through the backyard.  This time, though, Roger traced its path with the flashlight as it scampered into the garage.

            Roger followed and stopped at the open mouth of the garage, and began a methodical search with the light.  The light sliced through the darkness, and then left each spot black again.  The garage was filled with secondhand bicycles, a barbecue, the lawnmower, a stack of firewood, an old volleyball net, and a supply of gardening equipment and other junk.  The light found the raccoon, its back to a corner.  Roger picked a spade from among the gardening equipment. As he did so he knocked over a rake, which fell to the cement floor with a metallic slap, and from the back of its throat the raccoon let out a hiss.  Roger advanced and slowly lifted the spade.  As he came close, the raccoon darted to the left.  

            Roger swung the spade and hit the raccoon on the back half of its body, crushing its hind legs.  The raccoon let out a shriek, but continued to hiss and pull itself along with its front paws.  Roger dropped the flashlight and the garage went black.  He raised the spade over his head with both hands now, and slammed it down again and again.  When he finished he stood there sweating, and the spade let out a hollow ping when he dropped it to the cement floor.

John Power

Power's short stories have been published in The William & Mary Review, West Trade Review, Pen 2 Paper, Cleaning Up Glitter, The Book Smuggler's Den, Hemingway Shorts Vol. 2, Thoughtful Dog Magazine, The Great Lakes Review, and the Journal of Legal Education. His most recent novel, "Participation", is available on amazon.com. An earlier novel, "Toy With the Flame", is also available on amazon.com, and my first novel, "Golden Freedom", is available on lulu.com

By Ilse Eskelsen

I Keep Thinking of All the Things I'll Do

I keep thinking of all the things I’ll do when I’m a little older--

A little bigger, a little wiser,

A little smarter, a little bolder--

I keep thinking of all the things I’ll do when I’m a little older,

But in my gaze at “after,” I keep looking at “before.”

 

I used to think of all the things I’d do when I was a little older--

Maybe third grade, maybe sixteen,

When it got warm, or a little colder--

I used to think of all the things I’d do when I was a little older,

Not seeing that this river has no final, banking shore.

So, in my gaze for “after,” I keep looking for “before.”

 
Ilse Eskelsen

Ilse Eskelsen is a a teenage writer with great ambition and a collection of the kinds of awards that beaming adults give teenage writers with great ambition. Her self-published poetry collection, The Poem Keeper, is available on Amazon (yes, that Amazon, the giant corporate monstrosity). 

A Book of Assumptions

By Reayah Lundquist

 

            Assume you’re sleeping. If you dream, and if you dream there was a piece of land that was referred to as a town, and if in that town there was only one specific house with cherry-red paint, latticed windows, and a tin roof, and if in that house there was a family called Bennett with eleven children and a single father, three cousins, two aunts, and a plethora of irrelevant relatives, and if the father worked three jobs in another town (assuming that another town exists) and rarely had more than five hours’ sleep a day, and if he yet loved his eleven children and they never lacked anything, assume this is the family with which the story concerns.

            If they aren’t, in fact, the family with which the story concerns, and if there is, in fact, another family, this one called Baker, who built their own house and moved into the one-house town (now two-house town), and if that family had twelve children, a single mother, four cousins, three aunts, and a gaggle of irrelevant relatives, and if the mother worked five jobs in another town (you’ve already assumed another town exists) and only slept a little during the day, assume this is all the information you need to follow the story.

            If it isn’t, and if in fact there was something else, another ​element​, shall we say, and if that element happened to be the fact that an irrelevant relative on the Bennett side happened to be murdered by stabbing evidently by an unknown person (or possibly two) in the two-house town, and if the body was discovered by the oldest of the twenty-three children, and told only a few choice people in the two-house town, assume that only these choice people and the murderers knew of the murder.

            If so, when the news eventually came to the heads of the family, and the cousins and the still alive irrelevant relatives, and if they all became very angry and pointed fingers at the other house, the other family, and the other set of cousins and irrelevant relatives, and if they daily shouted at each accusatory comments at one another, and if the dead irrelevant relative who by dying became more relevant belonged to the Bennett side, assume that the Bakers were on the defensive side more often than not, not being related to the newly relevant dead relative.

            In the meantime, if the single Bennett father became enamored with the single Baker mother in the short time since they had moved to the town, and if he had dropped one of his three jobs in order to have more time being enamored with her, and if she returned his interest with dropping one of her jobs but mostly to get more sleep, and if he took that as a sign of interest on her part, assume that after some time but before the murder the single Bennett father convinced the single Baker mother to start dating him.

            After the murder, if the single Baker mother had grown to like the single Bennett father and began to be serious about him, and yet participated in defending her family when the Bennetts accused the Bakers of murdering one of their irrelevant—now relevant and dead—relatives, and if as a result the single Bennett father retracted his accusation, assume that the single Bennet father and the single Baker mother got quite close indeed.

Assume that after some weeks of dating they weren’t really involved in trying to solve the murder to the frustration of their children, cousins, and irrelevant relatives mourning the loss and consequently the promotion of the dead relevant relative, and if after some weeks of dating the single Bennett father and the single Baker mother decided to get engaged so they wouldn’t be single anymore, and if this caused such an uproar among their children who hated the fact the two feuding, accusatory families would be joined together, assume that the parents were a bit shunned by their children, cousins, and irrelevant relatives.

            If they were, and if the wedding was planned for as soon as possible, and if only a few of the youngest children and a cousin and a sprinkle of irrelevant relatives bothered to show up to the wedding that took place weeks after the murder, and if the now not-single Bennett father and the now not-single not-Baker Bennett mother decided to disclose to their wedding guests at the reception that it was the two of them that had committed the murder, assume that the youngest children and the cousin and the irrelevant relatives who were at the wedding tried to tell the rest of their families of the confession but were brushed off as liars and were forced to continue to help search for the murderers.

            If the few wedding guests were indeed brushed off, and the newly married and confessed Bennett couple weren’t even questioned, and if they felt much lighter from confessing their crimes and didn’t think on it again, and if the reason they killed the relevant dead relative wasn’t consequential in the slightest, assume that they went off on a honeymoon (assuming that a nicer place than the two-house town and the other town exists) in good spirits and didn’t even think of the state of their families, who were now all steps and in-laws.

            If this was true, and if the Bennetts and Bakers continued to search for the murderers, and if the new couple had a lovely honeymoon, with no mention of the heinous deed or any phone calls from their children, cousins, and irrelevant relatives, assume that when they got back no one had discovered anything more about the murder and the new couple was in good spirits.

            If they were, and if their kids noticed and decided that their levity should be something to reciprocate, and if one kid dropped the murder investigation, and if after that one kid (who was a Bennett) dropped it several of his siblings and cousins abandoned it altogether as well, and if after ​they​ dropped it all but a few irrelevant relatives on both Bennett and Baker sides dropped the murder case altogether, assume that the case was for the most part dead in the water and no one bothered to pick it up again.

            If no one bothered to pick it up again other than a few irrelevant relatives that nobody paid attention to or helped in the least, and if they too got tired of all the heavy lifting, assume that all but one of the irrelevant relatives quit after a time and were just content going about their irrelevant lives that were related to the rest of the characters.

If they did, and if indeed there was only one irrelevant relative left on the case, and if that irrelevant relative’s name was Charlotte, and if she belonged to the Baker side (something like a fourth cousin, perhaps), and if she struck out solving the case all by her lonesome, and if she went back to the scene of the crime and actually found something, and if that something was a sort of grocery list under the carpet where the body was found that made out in terrible handwriting and if Charlotte recognized the terrible handwriting as belonging to the new Mrs. Bennett, assume that Charlotte confronted her (supposed) fourth cousin and produced the grocery list, whose components reportedly seemed harmless enough, just some produce and baking items.

            If Charlotte managed to get the new Mrs. Bennett away on her own to confront her, and if the newly not-single Bennett father didn’t deign to join the discussion, and if the new Mrs. Bennett knew she was guilty but didn’t want to admit it to an irrelevant relative, assume she told Charlotte to bugger off and keep her silly notions to herself.

            If she did, and if Charlotte still believed that the new Mrs. Bennett was indeed the killer, and if she decided to see if the not-single Bennett father knew anything, and if he did indeed know something, and in fact was the co-murderer, but didn’t want to confess anything to an irrelevant relative—especially on from the ​other​ side—assume that Charlotte’s discussion with the not-single Bennett father produced as much success as her conversation with the new Mrs. Bennett, namely nothing.

            If so, and if Charlotte still didn’t want to give up, and if she still thought the new Mrs. Bennett was guilty, and if to prove her case she went to the morgue in the other town to take a look at the dead relevant relative, and if upon examining the body found plum purple nail polish marks next to what were assumedly nail scratches on the body’s arm, and if the ​only ​person who ever wore plum purple nail polish was the new Mrs. Bennett, and if the dead relevant relative happened to come back to life all of a sudden, being actually not dead the entire time, and if Charlotte didn’t faint, assume that she went back home with the alive and thus ​ir​relevant relative to be received with much shock among both the Bennett and Baker families, now a sort of one single family.

            If Charlotte and the newly irrelevant relative were received with shock, and if the irrelevant relative solved the case once and for all by pointing out that both the new Mrs. Bennett and the not-single Bennett father were his “killers”, and if they were arrested by three of their children who were police officers in the two-house town, and if in a hastily made court they were tried by one of their children who was a judge (from the Baker side) and if the jury was made up of cousins and Charlotte, whose status was fluctuating between irrelevant and relevant, and if the Bennett Bonnie and Clyde were defended by the worst lawyer of either family (an irrelevant relative, as it happened), assume that they lost the case and were sentenced to eighteen years in the two-house penitentiary, also known as the Baker’s cellar.

            If they were put into the cellar, and if after a few weeks they managed to escape, and if they ran far away, past the other town (assuming more world existed out there) and if no one came after them, and of instead the Bennett and Baker children got along much better without their parents, and if the irrelevant relatives took care of the smallest children, assume that for most of them, it was a sort of “happily ever after” situation.

If all of this happened, and if the sun sets on a much happier two-house town, THEN it’s time to ​wake up.​ Your dream is over, and there is no more to be explored.
Go on, there’s your alarm.

Reayah Lundquist 

Though not currently living in Virginia, Lundquist was born in Fairfax County and lived for a while in Alexandria, so Virginia has always been home to her. All the places she has lived (such a list spans several states and provinces) have influenced and are reflected in her work, and Virginia is no exception. She has been writing short stories and novels for years, and although she has yet to be published, one of her stories was featured on the podcast ‘Story Pirates’ last year. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram

 

Bellini

By Linda McMullen

I smell him before I see him: bergamot, leather, and an evocative hint of vanilla.  

            “Hello, Richard.”

            “Charlotte,” he replies, taking the seat opposite, his gaze level as he takes in my peach-floral wrap-dress.  Famiglia’s other customers create a welcome ambient din. 

The first time in… “You – look well.”

            “Thanks.  I’ve taken up Zumba.”

            He is unchanged.

            “You also look well.”

            “Jogging,” he says, his mouth a facetious curve.  “Nice dress,” he adds, making no pretense of ignoring its V.

            “Thanks.”

            How do you count an absence?

            He once walked three miles in the rain to get me a book when I was ill and the car moldering in the shop.  He held it against his heart, under his raincoat.  Once.

            Yes, and then? the voice in my head asks. 

            The half-answers, sardonic lilts, circumvention of yes-or-no questions.

His arched brow when you said you wrote.

            Cut-glass silences.

            The waiter manifests, soft-footed and -voiced.  “Can I get you something to drink while you’re deciding?” 

            “Yes.”  A beat.  “Please,” adds Richard.  An echo of my long-ago plea, to soften requests.  “I’d like a Tom Collins and the lady will have –” He raises his brows; I drop my lashes – “a Bellini.”

            He remembers.

            But does he recall his reaction to your promotion?  ‘Won’t you actually earn less, since that’ll put you in the next tax bracket?’ 

            The Bellini.  Four – five years ago?  We came here, Famiglia’s, with succulent overpriced food, and Saturday-night cover bands, and its welcome-mat-sized dance floor.  New Year’s Eve, with Miriam, Jacob, Tasha, and Shawn.  They wanted to go on to Bar None, but Richard and I lingered.  At midnight we touched glasses, our beverages’ fizz comingling, the two of us swaying to…

            The waiter nods knowledgeably, or knowingly, and vanishes.

            “I… Charlotte…”  Words still cling to the back of his throat like frantic agoraphobes, loath to emerge.  

            I wait.

            “I saw you won that writing contest,” he mumbles toward his empty bread plate.  “That’s… congratulations.”

            “Thanks.”  Peremptory, almost.  Gently: “Thank you.  I really do –”

            “I didn’t appreciate you enough,” he says.

             The corners of my eyes prickle; the drinks appear.  I repel the waiter with my gaze as he tries to ask about entrées.

            “I got a book,” he says.

            “Oh?”

            “My sister recommended The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.”

            “I’ve heard of it…” 

            “He doesn’t know how to talk to the woman he loves.”

            “Really?”

            “At all.”

            “Ah.”

            “And I’m… seeing somebody.”

            The thought flares – he’s dating!... And then: I realize…

            “That’s huge,” I whisper.  I lift my glass.  “Cheers.”

            “To what?”

            “Auld lang syne?”

            We drink.  We eat.  We talk, for the first time in months, years and I… prod.  The fragile new reality holds.  It holds.  

We dance.  I’m enveloped in bergamot and leather.

“Maybe we shouldn’t get divorced,” he murmurs, stealing a glance at me.

            Obviously, it’s just the alcohol warming my cheeks.  “I could at least stop the paperwork.”

I know he can taste peach and prosecco on my lips.

Linda McMullen

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over forty literary magazines, including, most recently, Arachne Press, Luna Station Quarterly, Ripples in Space, Write Ahead/The Future Looms Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound. 

Lobster Telephone

By Q. M. 

 

When the telephone rings, make sure 

the receiver isn’t a lobster. 

 

It’s more common than you’d think.

A lobster in disguise has its own name

 

and native language. It can sit still for hours 

like a humpbacked philosopher.

 

If it turns out what lies in your hand 

is, indeed, a carapaced creature, 

 

worry not, for you can still listen patiently. 

You may, of course, speak into it 

 

words of praise, business and hatred, 

truth, nonsense, or the simple 

 

who-should-go-where. Only be aware 

that a lobster has its own language, and will respond—

occasionally, your ear will hurt.

Q. M. 

Q.M. is from China and currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA. His poems have appeared in Constellations, Lucky Jefferson, The Holiday Café, Scribendi, and Blue Tiger Review, among others.

Catching

By Rachel Quisel

             Jeremy climbed the rope ladder to the top of the jungle gym for what must have been the twentieth time, but he wasn’t counting. He didn’t often get to spend so many days in a row off from school and was determined to make every moment count. Which meant a lot of time outdoors, if he had his way, which he hadn’t so far. Outdoors was the last place his dad had said he should be that morning when they’d had their family morning meeting. Well, his dad was stuck at work so he wouldn’t need to know. Unless his mom told him. 

            He gripped the plastic wheel on the top platform, from which he could see the whole playground and the street beyond it. He always remembered to look both ways when crossing. He saw his mom and felt an urge to race down the jungle gym, grab her, and pull her up with him so she could be his first mate. But no, she’d said playtime was just for him this time. And anyway, her stuff would get in the way if she tried to crawl through the worm tube.

Ivena felt queasy watching her son. Jeremy grabbed Hope’s hand and together they crossed monkey bars, climbed rope ladders, ran up stairs, and squeezed themselves through horridly small plastic cylinders until they reached the pinnacle, which looked like a miniature castle. Their wind-tossed hair gave the whole scene a nautical feeling and they stood like ship captains. They peered through the turrets with ‘o’ shaped hands as though they were scopes targeting their enemies. She wanted to call for him to come down as quickly as he could; to race him home and give him a long, hot bath, but she didn’t call to him and the moment passed. 

            It was a playdate, that was all. But the more Ivena thought about it, the more she questioned her judgment. How much did she know about Mr. and Mrs. West? Their daughter, Hope, was in Brandon’s third-grade class. At the beginning of the school year when the students had been asked by their teacher to choose a special accountability buddy, Brandon had insisted upon her. She was amenable to this and the two embarked upon an organic, easy friendship. Each preferring to spend time in the other’s company whenever the opportunity arose. Like it did today. 

Jeremy had been ecstatic when she’d told him the West’s had agreed to let Hope join him on the playground this afternoon. Even after she explained that it might be his last time outside for a while, he didn’t hesitate. In time his opinion of today’s events might change, of course, but he’d thank her when he was older. It was better to do it now before things got worse. And they would get worse, much worse, she felt it in her bones. She was sure he would forgive her, once he was a little older and understand the direness of the situation.

            “They really are the best of buds,” Mr. West said. He’d been reluctant to let Hope out today for multiple reasons but she’d been doing so well recently, and Mrs. Miller had sounded almost desperate on the phone, he figured, what’s the harm? An afternoon watching them play pretend together as Blackbeard and his chief mate was a nice escape from the endless news cycles. And it was the most he’d heard her laugh all week. In his jacket pocket, her inhaler jangled against his keys. It was the last one she’d have for a while, but he hoped she wouldn’t need it or the CPAP machine for very much longer. 

            The pharmacist had said all medication was on backorder for at least a month. And, he knew, that was probably him being nice. Since the storming of over a hundred and fifty Walmarts, all medical personnel had been instructed to be cautious; preventing panic was the best way to save lives. But he didn’t have to worry anymore because his daughter was clearly one of the survivors. He hoped her little friend would be, too.

 
Rachael Quisel 

Quisel's only connection to Hampton Roads, VA is that she dated Bartley King who grew up there. she enjoyed visiting his family there while she was studying at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a Creative Writing and Literature Master of Liberal Arts degree candidate at Harvard Extension School. She owns and manages a small, boutique hotel in Santa Barbara, CA where she lives with her spouse and their cat, Apollo. 

Forgotten Whispers

By Mira Chiruvolu

your toes curled on the dusty rooftop 

the breeze wisps my neck 

and i sigh into the horizon line 

like chocolate melted over the stove,

a sweet lullaby. 

 

mumble your breath

onto my eyelids

onto the strings of my limbs

onto the lips of the somber 

seeking summer skyline,

 

our days under the sun.

 
Mira Chiruvolu

Mira Chiruvolu is a high school sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California. Her love for reading sparked her earlier writing and telling stories. Since then, it has blossomed into one of her passions, and her love for writing and creating has only grown larger.  

Here at PPM, we have agonized over this issue more than any before. In these challenging times, we kept wondering if our readers would want to be distracted or not – to ignore current events or to face them head on. In the end, we agreed that it's impossible to ignore what's happening, nor should we. In facing these troubles, we can find hope that we will conquer these dreadful times and come out stronger, closer, and more united than ever before. Thank you to all of our contributing poets and authors. It's works like these that keep us going. A special shout out to our art editor, Sean Putnam, whose work is seen throughout this issue. You can really tell we've been benefitting from getting to stay home. As always, thank you for reading this issue. We wish you health and peace wherever you are. 
             Sincerely, the editors of Penultimate Peanut Magazine. 

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