December 1st, 2019 Issue
Greetings, fellow peanuts. Welcome to our December issue. Don't worry about the cold, because it's about to get lit (please excuse our puns). Perfect your culinary skills while learning to attract some ladies in Wilson's poem "Guacamole," curl up for a nap on your yoga mat with Harris' flash fiction "Ataraxy," and hold on to your surfboard because there's something under those waves with you in Mamaril's fiction piece "The Trial of the Goldfish Killer." Happy reading.
Table of Contents
Poetry by Tanner X
Flash Fiction by M. Z. R. Corum
by Christopher Wilson
Pretty much every woman I’ve ever dated has loved my guacamole. All three
of them. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe, but with wiggle room for your own
personality—be it herbivorous, garden rich, or even a little spicy. The first step
to making great guac is picking out your ingredients. While there are a great
many paths this dip can take, your guacamole will invariably succeed or fail
based on the avocado. But what if you don’t know what you’re looking for? It’s
common enough that I get the question a lot. You want some brown, but not too
much. The sides should be soft, but not too soft. It shouldn’t feel empty. Think
compromise. The stem, that brown nub near the top, acts like a button of sorts.
If it sinks easily enough, bright green oozing from the wound, then it’s ready for
Step 1 In a large bowl, combine the avocado, cilantro, jalapeno, and your
preference of optional ingredients. Mix with fork. To obtain a silky-smooth
consistency, blend well, although some people prefer a chunkier, more textured
Of course, there are seasons and occasions in which there won’t be a ripe avocado for miles. I remember trying the co-op, the farmer’s market, and even the chain grocery store without finding anything softer than bone. I remember my last ex had read somewhere that if you stash avocados in a brown paper bag alongside an apple, they’ll ripen faster. Desperate, we tried it out and put the heavy, full fruits together—it didn’t take long, a day or so—and when we opened the bag, fruit-flies flies rose up like smoke, like a long cursive script, like a murmuration startled by death, like a river unwinding itself for the first time, cutting against rock and earth, suffocating shrub-grass, dandelions, whole fields of yarrow and bitter-root, slender white onions, their tops just below the surface, the deep green lost.
Step 2 Season to your taste, but it’s also very important to consider the other person. Some people have olfactory-receptors that are especially sensitive to cilantro. Some people don’t care for as much spice as you like. And still others might not enjoy heavy lime. In my experience, extra lime is usually a hit.
I realize that the danger in sharing this recipe is that it might take away the only reason a woman would want to date me. Here I think it’s important to note that ripeness only exists on the trembling edge. O! how slim that sliver between decadence and decay. And I’m reminded that there’s a knife in my ex’s kitchen that must call-back to me. Each time she chops onion, each time dices cilantro, each time she glides the blade, as gentle as a mother washing her baby’s head, and pulls rib from rib of a chili pepper. And when it’s all laid out, when the mise en place is spread across the scarred board and the whole kitchen is smelling of soft lime and fresh herb, I know there’ll be a small pile of discarded ends—peels and seeds and pits so round, so slick, that they might slip off the counter without anyone even noticing, a scrap gone, trapped beneath the fridge, out of reach of even her worn, yellow broom. And long after you’re gone, it will stay there, hidden, growing smaller and smaller into nothingness.
Step 3 Eat. Enjoy. Ask her about work. Ask her if her boss is still on her case about the variance reports. Ask her if Mallory is pulling her weight yet. Ask her how the guac tastes. Ask her how she likes the fire-roasted corn you decided to try. Ask her what she wants to watch after dinner. Ask her if she wants more. Ask her every question you can think. And listen. Laugh at her reminiscing about the time the neighbor’s dog got stuck in the tire swing. Not too much though. That dog was pretty stressed out— so much so that when you went to it, you had a moment of a hesitance at the possibility the dog might lash out, not out of anger or hate, but fear. And of course, it didn’t lunge out or even raise a lip. It simply hung there. Swaying. And when you let it down, the dog licked your leg and followed you back to her yard. And for a moment there, standing on the lawn with her and the dog and the faded blue house behind you, you imagined that someone passing by might look on this scene and mistake it for your life.
2 Ripe Avocadoes
1-2 Jalapenos (Serrano chiles for additional heat)
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed Lime juice
2 Tbsp finely chopped Cilantro
Optional ingredients include: Onion, Tomato, Garlic, fire-roasted Corn
Salt to taste
(Pro tip: Avocado pits can be used to prevent oxidation which will turn the guacamole brown. An extra squeeze of lime juice works as well.)
Wilson is a teacher living in Blacksburg, VA. He received an MFA in poetry from Virginia Tech.
by Savannah Harris
She’d been going through the motions. The agonizing drop from high-plank into crocodile was the hardest for her, but she tried anyway. She was always trying to keep up with the instructor, Rebecca, and the man next to her, Brad , who lowered himself with ease. She would start slow, the tension in her triceps building until it threatened to break loose. Then she would lower down and down, until at a point she collapsed altogether and silently, prostrated on the rented yoga mat with her forehead against the spongy surface. She’d look to her left, to Brad, who was always looking to his own left, to Stacey.
Sweat and sacrifice did nothing to satisfy her desire to blend as they finally positioned, as a class, into their final resting pose. It served as a time for reflection to ponder what they were individually thankful for, and she made use of this as her confessional and her prayer request call line. She stored up her sins throughout the week and dumped them onto that mat, rolled it up, and stashed it with the others. It’s what they all did, too prideful to attend a church where the message had grown stale. There were so many sins, so many minor things, such tiny little—
She’d had a long night making cookies for the PTA meeting happening later in theday, and, despite the pot of coffee before class, her eyelids grew heavy.
She slipped deeper, deeper down into resting pose and, when she finally roused, a drawn-out yawn trapped itself under her contorted body. Her arms were locked tightly above her head, and when she lowered them a pang of soreness shot through her muscles. She moved into a sitting position, gaze dragging across the room to see not a swaddle of other students in baby pose, but instead a room of mirrors that reflected only herself. For a moment she wondered if she had missed the rapture, but then she thought-- why would God take their yoga mats?
She made the effort to stand, socks leaving subtle prints of moisture against the mat as she succeeded and took a step forward. No one had woken her. Why would they have, anyway?
Savannah Harris is a left-handed undergraduate creative writing student at the University of Indianapolis. Her plans are to graduate UIndy and enroll in an MFA program, bringing her two cats along for whatever journey awaits.
The Trial of the Goldfish Killer
By Danielle Mamaril
The scrawny boy reveled in the attention of tanned girls in matching bikinis. They only wanted to know if he’d seen a mermaid, those devilish creatures that sung arias at night. He told them he'd definitely seen one or two; the question that followed was if he’d take them out to see them. He always refused. They’d leave him standing under the same rainbow umbrella.
After every disappointment, he’d sit at the edge of the pier and swing his legs. The mermaids would sing him a lullaby. He sometimes talked to them if no one else would listen. It was a poor substitute.
The sand brushed against Jose’s new stick and poke tattoo. One of his brothers dared him to get a tiny skull on his ankle. His hair was a brown mop that blocked his vision. He didn’t even need sunglasses.
He drank in the sunlight, savored it like champagne. The bubbles fizzled in the air, each pop another child’s laugh. Rainbow umbrellas appeared from the sand. Teenagers shouted in a volleyball match. Salt water and fish tacos permeated the air, settled like a layer above the crowd. It was so superficial. It made the locales melancholy.
He dropped his belongings in the lifeguard tower then started the routine. First things first was to drown himself in sunscreen. One the first day of the job, he complained to his mama of a burn. Two weeks later, he shed his skin like a snake to reveal a new self, only ten shades darker. His mama begged him to quit the job but he lapped up the sparse attention.
A couple chased one another. The girl was a beach blonde and wore her engagement ring around her neck. The man sported an expensive surfboard that boasted a technicolor sunset.
Jose’s mouth was set in a hard line. It hadn’t even been five minutes. He hated this part of the job. It should be clear by the myriad of warning signs that mermaids were present. He had no idea how many times he’d repeat it until it soaked into their skulls.
Jose slogged his way to the pair, calling out to them. The man turned and he took Jose’s breath away. His skin had a healthy, golden glow that might’ve blinded Jose. His calves were chiseled like stone and ebony hair defied gravity. The hint of a beard was shaved to dramatize an already sharp jaw. Jose’s words caught in the back of his throat.
“You okay there mate?” the man asked.
Jose shook off the shock. “There’s no surfing allowed.”
“Why’s that?” HIs eyes narrowed.
“No surfing allowed. There’s mermaids behind the buoys.” Jose said.
The man muttered something under his breath. Jose pursed his lips. He might’ve asked him to speak louder, any chance for a bit of confrontation, a bit of entertainment. The man waved Jose off and slugged his way back. They huddled together and spoke in Mandarin or Cantonese. Jose could never tell the difference.
He despised it when the kids at school looked down on his brothers when they spoke Spanish. They’d squint at the Moralez boys. Now that he was in the others’ shoes, a stranger spoke about him in a foreign language, the shoe didn’t fit quite right. He trusted they only talked about where to go next and jogged back to his post.
The hours were uneventful but Jose knew it was a gift. He regretted that he scheduled such a long shift, but he needed the new game console. It was for his brother’s birthday. In realty, they’d all share it and fight about whose turn it was.. His brother would say that it was his gift. Jose would argue that he bought it.
The sun had almost touched the horizon line when he packed his belongings. His co- worker was late per usual so he waited. On the beach, tourists crammed together like sardines. He had no idea what they expected, especially the locals that saw it every evening. The sunset was always pink, no matter the season.
“Excuse me!” A woman waved to Jose.
He shielded his eyes and made out the blonde wife. “Yes ma’am?”
“Our surfboard is floating farther out. My husband said he dropped it off by the truck but he hasn’t come back.” she said.
His brow furrowed. He grabbed the rescue tube and sprinted towards the sea. It was a miracle a skinny kid could run like lightning. Sure enough, a pink surfboard bobbed on the surface. He blew the whistle. Its metallic taste prickled the air and everyone made way.
Water froze him from the inside out. His arms ached and stomach cramped. The water was against him. Each wave resisted him. He caught onto a body and pulled it up. Jose’s head dipped underwater. Salt and sand gushed down his throat. He choked and coughed. He threw the man over the rescue tube. The man’s face was pale like sea foam, his eyes glazed over. Still he muttered a series of incomprehensible words. A disposable camera hung around his neck.
Jose swam back to shore. The crowd cheered for the rescue. He’d done it before. A string of seaweed twisted around his ankle. He grimaced and kicked it off. His foot grazed against the slimy residue on his own skin. More seaweed drifted to the pair, a blip in the waters. The camera slammed against Jose’s ribs, the flash went off beneath the ocean. Dread glued Jose in place. Whispers replaced applause.
A broad silhouette haunted the waters. IT stalked the pair, a low whistle moaned but Jose’s chest vibrated as if the sound were weight against his chest. Jose swam back, his foot crushed what felt like a hollow shell. The crack traveled up his spine to his head. It reached his eyes. A woman leapt.
Dark waters blinded Jose. It choked his vision, filled his nose so it punched his gag reflex. His throat burned from the acid he swallowed. The white light dulled behind his eyelids. The salt burned but curiosity won over.
The woman’s bare breasts were scaled. Her skin was gaunt, as if starved, near death. Her deep set of inky black eyes focused on Jose. The bottom half stole his focus.
Bubbles erupted from Jose’s mouth. Only the creatures understood his screams. She tilted her head then whipped towards the man. She glided to the surfer. He slipped off the rescue tube and sunk into the ocean, long to be forgotten.
Jose clawed to the surface. His head snapped to the shore, but another wave overtook him. He gasped in salt water. Saltwater blurred the bystanders to a muddy rainbow. He couldn’t count, most had their phones out. There had to be a Samaritan in their midst.
His heart thrashed against him. His hands were an earthquake. Every part of him was sweaty. He prayed to God, whom he hadn’t believed in until now. He didn’t want to die but a swell of grit gusted through his chest. He dove into the bitter waters.
Death was a cold woman. He dug through the rough waves. It was like he waded through tar, but the wife ashore was amazed at how fast he was. Shadows danced across his vision. The creature’s silhouette was hazy, but it was real.
The creature clawed at the surfer’s chest. Jose wrapped his arms around the surfer’s shoulders. The creature’s talons tore into Jose’s flesh, raking down his back. Jose tasted the metallic scent of blood. His howl bubbled to the surface. The wind and waves snuffed out his scream.
With shaky hands, Jose gripped the disposable camera. The flash went off. She screeched. Her fangs were like daggers. She reached out to the surfer’s neck. Jose flinched, expecting the worse. There was no new pain. He opened an eye. The creature had ripped the camera off the surfer’s neck and fled. Her tail disappeared into the dark blue.
Jose’s movements were awkward and graceless. His eyes dulled and head pounded, but the sand grazed his toes. Twins pulled the pair onto the shore. Inappreciable angels grew behind Jose’s eyelids. When he opened them, they were only camera flashes. Scenes were clumsily cut together to form an incoherent film. He saw feet, then groaned as someone pressed something into his back. Beside him, the late lifeguard gave the surfer CPR. Jose wanted to tell her she was doing it wrong. The flashes consumed his vision and took the shapes of angels once again.
Afterwards, men hunted mermaids for sport and revenge. An innocent boy died at the hands of a heartless monster. Save for the fact that the surfer shouldn’t have been out there in the first place, but Jose wasn’t here to protest.
Danielle Mamaril has published poetry since 2013. She's a treasurer and senior editor of her school's newspaper and writes for The Lit Nerds, a website that specializes in literature, lifestyle, and pop culture. She lives in California where she volunteers at the library and learns meme-like songs on the saxophone.
The Old Barn Restaurant
by Connor Drexler
Those summer evenings when we still had miracles, the town used to gather downhill
from my parent’s house
for beer and fried walleye.
The neighboring valleys covered the extent
of all highways we had driven,
while wooded footsteps to cliffs overlooking
the rusting skeleton of an old
ammunition plant still lay uncounted.
At the end of those trails
we tallied the passage of stars
on the face of granite, mark by mark,
as evidence of discovered secrets we had
yet the language for. Year by year,
we’d inevitably forget the steps. We’d learn
truth seeps like oil from skin,
forcing a tighter grip on wonder.
The restaurant would
be stricken by arson
while we were all returned home
a soggy morning in December,
the old stone remaining intact.
The neon sign with all but one letter lit
standing now mournfully in its place
next to the fallen embers.
Without the memory of riddles
to unfold in front of myself as road,
I stop to subject mystery
Connor Drexler pursues his passions through reading, writing, singing, adventuring, and learning anything new. He’s been a community organizer, a farm-hand, and many other things in his lifetime, but will always remain a writer. His love of writing reflects his deep curiosity of life.
by Nolo Segundo
Now the happy soldiers
Go to fight again the battle,
Marching bravely forty abreast
With heavy muskets shouldered,
Yelling their cries of pain and glory
As they face the cold cannon
Barking like a pack of mad dogs.
Down they go in ones and twos,
And sometimes in little bunches,
Collapsing together as though
Put to sleep by the fairy dust
Of long forgotten dreams.
Both sides feel the urge
To kill, to step the victor
O’er their brothers’ bones.
Grown men playing—yes
Even perhaps a bit silly—but
Maybe, just maybe,
Some of them are unaware
Of their own anguished deaths
There on that sweating day
Not really so very long ago.
At seventeen I went to that town
To talk of my education and
In the warm afternoon
I meandered mindlessly
Amidst the boulders named
Fearfully for Satan’s lair.
There suddenly, terribly,
While walking between two
Of the giant stones, my body
Shuddered, an awful shaking
That shook me to the core
Of my soul, but then I did not yet
Know we never die only once.
Nolo Segundo is seventy-two; though he took a respite from writing poetry over thirty years ago. He does not know why he began again, but in the last six years he's had poems published in print/online by over a dozen lit mags and an anthology. This poem reflects a strange experience he had at age seventeen on the Gettysburg battlefield after going for an interview at the college.
The Ghost Road
by Gina Bernard
Honestly, my old man was dead long before they pulled his body from the river. That probably sounds pretty harsh, but it is God’s truth. About three years ago—and I remember this because we had just moved into that rental at the intersection of N. Main and Mahpiya Street—I came down the back stairs, unable to sleep. Our bedrooms were all along the front of the house on the second floor, and every night at 12:00 the traffic light would flash yellow, caution pulsing through our windows.
After grabbing a sleeve of Saltines and some grape juice from the fridge, I made my way to the living room. I didn’t even see him at first. The front door was thrown wide open, and he leaned against the jamb, a lit joint glowing from between the fingers of his left hand. One moment, he was engulfed in shadow; the next, awash in a sickly amber light. He was barefoot, wearing only boxers and a deep-V undershirt.
He didn’t appear to notice me, but then, without ever turning his head, he put the weed to his lips, took a long drag, and waved his hand to include the night above. “The Oglala called it Wanagi Tacanku.”
I set my Welch’s and crackers on the end table. “What?”
“That’s what the Sioux called the Milky Way. Wanagi Tacanku.”
“Okay,” I said.
“It means Ghost Road,” he said, taking another hit before flicking the spliff onto our lawn.
I came to his side and placed my hand on his shoulder. “You should get some sleep, Pop.”
He brought his thumb and forefinger to his bottom lip, and began lightly pinching it. His hand was shaking. “They believed that once we die, we travel on the Ghost Road. The lights we see up there are really the fires of those journeying to the afterworld.”
“They’re just stars,” I said.
He turned then and faced me. “But not everyone makes it,” he said. “An old woman meets you on the Ghost Road, and she judges you. Only if she deems you’ve lived a worthy life do you continue on.”
“You’re stoned,” I said.
We stared at each other from out of the darkness and from under the light. Finally, he smiled, patted my cheek, and headed upstairs.
“Pop?” I asked.
He stopped halfway, right hand gripping the banister. “Yeah?”
“What if she thinks you didn’t?”
He sighed. “You’re doomed to haunt the earth as a shade.”
I looked once more, straining to make out any fires above, but all I saw was the blinking traffic light. And by the time I turned back to say good night, my father had gone to bed.
Gina Marie Bernard is a heavily tattooed transgender woman, retired roller derby vixen, and full-time English teacher. She lives in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her daughters, Maddie and Parker, own her heart. Her work has recently been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas, Monticello.
by Tanner X
(For Mckenzie, and the Tybee Island Artist Community)
God, I think, must taste like salt freed from the ocean
The low lying clouds settling over the Tybee coast,
Flattening sea grass with the wet silence of music.
He must burn like sea salt, like sand grit,
Love like the pale, broken mirror of seashells
That fill the throat like the word Freedom.
Why else would Christ have stepped onto Galilee
With Heaven so much nearer?
I believe there is a type of healing that comes with water
A grace that comes from running, from chasing wind.
I do not believe there is a difference between art and living
Other than the clarity of vision, the cold snap of the waves,
A clairvoyance in the reflection of things.
Try this. Read a poem sitting in a crowd.
Can you hear the Earth around you, holding its breath?
The spirituality of saying nothing, of being nowhere?
Even in that silence, can you still hear the waves?
I believe, when I write it’s my spirit that leaves.
I believe, in God’s womb, language breaks
Against a coast of silence, that galaxies wash up
Tanner is an emerging writer with two short stories, "The Flood" and "Memories of a Stranger on a Road" published in The Peacocks Feet Journal, as well as two poems, "Rust" and "What It Is To Mean Those Three Words" published in Porch Critters. He has received the Academy of American Poets’ Student Poetry Prize for his poem "The Wind Gatherer" as well.
by M. Z. R. Corum
There is a bruise we all have on the back side of our calf, small and insignificant, where you can’t quite see it standing in front of the mirror when you dress in the morning.
You walk around all day, sit down for lunch, go to the gym, laugh with your friends, and at some point the back of a chair will scrape your leg as you’re standing up, making you wince and glance down at it. You’ll flop onto the couch when you get home, and jump when the cat bumps it, weaving through your ankles. Spending time with a child, you’ll lie down on your stomach to watch a movie and the throb of it will make you gasp as they crawl on top of you, giggling.
It is quiet, and small, and sits in your skin, poised to be touched when you least expect it. It’s not angry, or vengeful, it’s not as though it haunts you, or that you can’t escape it. It has no mind of its own, it simply is.
I felt it one day, when I stubbed my toe on the knowledge of a tumor in my mother’s breast. It wasn’t cold, like icy fear that sends chills climbing out of your skin. Rather, it was warm and uncomfortable, like the flush of heat that radiates in your cheeks and your armpits and neck when you speak in public. The kind that makes you want to take your shirt off or put your hair up or sit down on the tile in the shower until the cold water makes you shudder. Like a fever, that pulses between your temples, it made my breath catch and my thoughts pound like rocks in my head.
The next day, it was gone. I ate breakfast in the car and laughed with my friends at lunch. I went to English and wrote a story, I went to Biology and fought my weakening eyelids, until diagrams of rapidly dividing cells appeared on the screen. Uncontrolled mitosis, or meiosis, or something like that, and then sadness grew inside of me, multiplying like the cells on the screen, and I counted the seconds until I could escape.
M. Z. R. Corum
M. Z. R. Corum is a high school senior from Austin, Texas. They focus on poetry, short stories and flash fiction, with four years of informal training from Creative Writing and English classes as well as summer programs. Corum was first published in a high school literary magazine Spring of 2019, and began submitting professionally summer of 2019.
by Kendall Brunson
She shucked her own oysters. Her narrow fingers grasped the jagged, rock-hard shell, clasped without fear of injury. He watched her sharp knife knowingly pierce the valve and work the crevice open until the briny, plump jewel revealed itself, wet and glistening, resting inside its porcelain walls. She sipped its juice like nectar, careful not lose a salty drop. And then, with the knife, she sliced the oyster’s stem from its shell, tilted back her head, and let the raw muscle slip down her throat. He said he longed to chase after that oyster. She declined and continued her work.
Kendall Brunson is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Jacksonville, FL. Her short films have played at various film festivals including The Loft Cinema and Final Girls Berlin Film Fest. She earned her MFA from UCR Palm Desert in 2016 and currently teaches English Composition at Jacksonville University.
Another season, another issue of PPM. We were so excited to meet some new writers this go around, some from VA and some we wish were from VA. In many ways, it's such an honor to get to curate these amazing pieces of art. And it also feels like Christmas came a little early for us. We hope you enjoy our latest issue, which as always seems to be filled with those small moments in life, tiny objects dusted off and held up to the light, and maybe tinged with a bit of hope or despair. It's still a treat for us to wrap them all up and deliver them to you right in time for the holidays. Thanks again to all of our writers and poets, and to the staff of PPM near and far. We love you guys, and we'll see you next submission period.
The Editors of Penultimate Peanut Magazine