Category: Fiction (Page 1 of 4)


BY: Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri 

“I didn’t say bomb,” Mustafa Bey said to his son David, his words inflected with his harsh Turkish accent. “I said bum. Tell them, my boy. Tell them your father isn’t a fucking terrorist.”

“You said bomb on an airplane,” said the TSA agent, whose name was Lawrence. They were both in his office, having been ejected from their flight prior to takeoff.

He had a bulbous head, like a pumpkin and steel blue eyes which bore into the two of them. He stood between his desk and the window, which overlooked the runway and the lights of the city, across the way. It smelled of stale coffee, sweat and onions, and something else, a musky scent. Outside, David and Mustafa could see people shuffling by, hear the low rumble of conversations as they moved swiftly to their gates, to the Starbucks or McDonalds, or the other souvenir shops at the center of the terminal.

“I didn’t say bomb,” Mustafa said, shifting, rotund belly hanging over the chair. He wore brown dress pants and a striped Polo shirt, identical to his son’s. “David, tell this man.”

David scrunched his boarding pass in his left hand, looking down at the floor. His black hair was slicked at the side and he smelled of sweat and Polo cologne, which Mustafa insisted that he wear, to make him seem distinguished. In his other hand, he held a copy of The Colorado Review, the campus journal he’d be interning at this fall.

“Is that true?” Agent Lawrence stared at David, his lips pursed.

David stared at his father, still fuming from the argument on the plane. He absorbed the electrical hum of the lights, which seemed to sing a symphony of ominousness.

“Sir,” the agent said, leaning against the desk, crossing his arms. “Mrs. Edgar reported that you said bomb. Unless your son has something to add.”

“Sir, I love this country,” Mustafa said, pursing his lips into that smile, that little smile he used to charm business partners. “This country has treated me well. I feel like your people are so open, easy to deal with. And very spiritual.”

“Sir,” Agent Lawrence said. “I’d like to believe you, but we have to check everything. Someone reports that another passenger said bomb on an airplane, we have to investigate. We have safety to think about, you know.”

Mustafa and David had been discussing David’s inability to obtain financial aid at the university and the fact that Mustafa would have to work twice as hard as a soil agronomist to help pay the tuition. Of course, Mustafa’s version of discussion meant driving home his points with the dogmatism of a dictator.

David had been admitted to the MFA program at Colorado State that spring, in fiction. Mustafa believed that it was David’s fault, and his mother’s even more so, that he hadn’t been able to obtain financial aid. This had formed the core of their argument waiting for their flight back to Boise. She didn’t know how to be tough, to raise their son to take what he needed, to be crafty, Mustafa said. His ex-wife didn’t realize that life was a jungle. People were all in it to use and be used. This was an argument that David had heard many times and didn’t want to hear again, an argument he couldn’t push back against. As far as Mustafa was concerned, his ex-wife, Marilyn, was an American devil, the byproduct of Michigan City, Indiana.

“You’re a smart boy,” Mustafa had said, placing a thick arm on David’s shoulder. “You just act like a dummy. A bum. You can rise above it still, if you get your head out of your ass. Listen to Daddy, my boy.”

Of course, bum had ended up sounding like bomb, given Mustafa’s accent. The plane had been delayed before takeoff. David and Mustafa had been escorted off by a laconic airline marshal. His grip on Mustafa, the coldness in his eyes, had all conveyed more than any words could. It had conveyed contempt, and the marshal’s need for power disguised as justice.

David could still recall images that rose to him, leaving the plane. He imagined imprisonment, detention, and his future evaporating before him with cold rapidity. David recalled the sense of revulsion, the prejudice in their seatmate’s eye, an older, gray haired woman of about seventy-five. Her voice, shrill and hysterical came to his mind, reminding him of a constipated seagull. She had gripped her seat tightly, as though it were an island, impenetrable by the world around it.

David had to admit he felt an inner satisfaction at his father’s trouble. Karma was paying him back for the way Mustafa had tried to mold his son into his own mirror image, a man with no fixed ideas, except where fatherhood was concerned. A social chameleon. On the other hand, he felt a pang of pity, because he and his father were outcasts in their own way, his father because he was Turkish and Middle Eastern, and who’d always be defined that way. David was forced to inhabit a sphere between his Turkish father and his quiet, Midwestern mother. They were unable to fit anywhere except the periphery.

“David.” Mustafa elbowed his son sharply. “Tell the man. I didn’t say bomb.”

“Mrs. Edgar was quite certain,” Agent Lawrence said.

David wanted to be away from the space in which he and his father were constrained. Years of arguments hung over them like an old scent. He knew his father wanted him to cover up their argument, so he could keep his image of family-man intact.

“Ask my father,” David said, looking down at the floor. “He’s the one who couldn’t articulate the word bum.

“I need answers here,” Agent Lawrence said. “I’m not saying you said bomb. I’m not saying that at all. But the fact is Mrs. Edgar thought you said bomb. She was frightened. Very frightened. You could both be in significant trouble here if we can’t figure out what happened.”

“What trouble?” David quipped, scowling. “Like Guantanamo trouble?”

“This isn’t funny,” the agent said. “Detention is an option. And potentially worse, if you’re guilty.”

“Sir,” Mustafa said. “I said bum. Not bomb. My English isn’t the best. David, you’re good with words. Tell this man the truth.”

“You hear that?” David said to Agent Lawrence.

“Let’s review the facts,” Agent Lawrence said.

“David,” Mustafa said, wagging his index finger. “This is your problem. If you spent more time with me, you could learn to be strong. I know you’re afraid to hear the truth. The truth is hard, my son. Your father tells the truth because he loves you, unlike some people. You don’t comprehend. And now I have to pay twelve-thousand dollars for your little mistake with the university.”

“You’re fucking blaming me for this?” David pursed his lips into a sneer, tossed his head back. “Jesus. Do you ever take the blame for your own problems? I’m not the one who said bum. You could have used a different word.”

“Don’t get defensive,” Mustafa said, tapping his chair.

“Son,” Agent Lawrence said with a weary sigh, a sigh that held a hint of sympathy. “Why don’t you tell us what happened? What were you doing?”

“We were in Ft. Collins,” David said. “Looking for apartments, since I’m going to school there this fall. We’re heading back to Boise tonight. Not exactly a terrorist’s agenda.”

“CSU?” Agent Lawrence smiled at David. “That’s a good school. What major?”

“Creative writing,” David said.

“Writing, huh?” Agent Lawrence nodded, as though trying to comprehend it.

“Well, my son was in physics,” Mustafa said, repeating the lie he’d told his colleagues and friends numerous times before, trying to cover his tracks, give his son’s career some prestigious tint. “But he decided he wanted to change to writing. I don’t understand it, but it’s his choice. Don’t you agree, Agent Lawrence?”

“You bet,” Agent Lawrence said, looking down at his clipboard, on which he scribbled notes rapidly. “Let’s get back to the germane details, gentlemen.”

He looked at Mustafa, and asked him about his line of work.

“I’m a soil agronomist,” Mustafa said. “I advise farmers.”

“Soil agronomist?” Lawrence said. “Agriculture?”

Agent Lawrence frowned. David could imagine what he was thinking: Mustafa was building bombs in secret, using his scientific knowledge to wreak havoc on the country. It seemed funny and sickening all at once.

“I help farmers,” Mustafa said. “I advise them on cultivating soils. Growing various crops.”

“It’s true,” David mumbled. “I’ve worked for him. Communications, technical reports. All that. Tedious as hell.”

Agent Lawrence nodded, made some notes, scribbling assiduously.

David stared out the window. Dusk fell across the hills, bathing the jagged peaks in plum-colored shadows. Agent Lawrence asked Mustafa and David further questions about their home addresses, about Mustafa’s past records with the law, which there was none. Then about David’s own past. David answered with a kind of detachment, as though his body was present, but his mind had been transported elsewhere.

David thought of his mother, Marilyn, of the little townhouse, in which they’d lived ever since his parents’ divorce. He was fifteen at the time. She was a quiet brunette in her fifties and believed firmly in focusing on the present. The past, she said, held only memories to be idealized and distorted. She’d encouraged him to pursue his writing, telling David that it held a certain vividness, a haunting quality that would appeal to readers. However, she’d jokingly lamented that his stories about mothers would make her look bad. There were runaway mothers, inebriated mothers, stoner mothers, everything in between. David couldn’t help it, though. The painful past held a certain attraction.

David had gotten into CSU with a story about a boy running into his long-lost mother at Tchaikovsky’s funeral in 1893. Marilyn’s half-joking critiques issued with her Midwestern bluntness, boiled down to one word: depressing. And on certain occasions, fucking depressing.

“You’re talented, David,” she’d said. “Your writing is so smooth, so imaginative. If you get a sense of what you want, you’ll be fine. It’s a competitive world out there, but you can hold your own.”

“I worry about you,” Mustafa said now, his hazel eyes bearing down on David, like searchlights. “How will you survive? The world’s a jungle. Do you know what’ll happen if your writing doesn’t pan out? Why do you think I should cough up twelve-thousand a year? I should be retired now and you could be taking care of me. I do all this work for you.”

“I’m a writer,” David said. “That’s what I’m interested in. They wouldn’t have let me in, if I couldn’t play with the big boys. Did you even read the story I sent?”

“David, my boy,” Mustafa said. “You have to be proactive. If you’re not proactive, you’ll get nowhere. You could have told me you sent that story. I have ten thousand things to do, talking to the farmers in Mountain Home, dealing with that secretary. My boy, I’m like a chicken, running a thousand directions, with my head cut off.”

“Gentlemen,” Agent Lawrence said, motioning for them to quiet down. “Let’s keep moving. I don’t want to have to detain you, but I need to clarify. Mrs. Edgar clearly heard you say ‘bomb,’ sir. That’s a security threat. We had to delay the flight because of it. People’s jobs, livelihoods are on the line. Talk to me here.”

“Well, David?” Mustafa said. “Are you going to talk to the man? Or are you going to let your father rot in prison?”

In the agent’s businesslike manner, his cool, unsentimental gaze, the awkwardness with which he watched a father and son argue, David felt that Agent Lawrence hadn’t known the intimacy and strangeness of family in some time. He was a man who lived by his job, for reasons known only to him, reasons hidden in his own particular past.

“He said bum,” said David fiddling with the buttons on his polo shirt. “That’s all there is to it. We were discussing my graduate school. My father never wanted me to go in the first place. We had an argument.”

“We’ve established that,” the agent said. “Precisely what was the nature of your conversation? I need all the details.”

“Look,” Mustafa said, tossing his hands in the air. “I was just having a friendly discussion with my son. Telling him he needs to think about his future, about his life. My son misinterprets things too frequently. He needs to be strong.”

“And so in this argument, you called him a bum? Your son?” Agent Lawrence said. He nodded, as if trying to envision the scene. David felt a kind of chill, a sense that the agent was reaching into the darkest recesses of his mind, trying to figure out his every flaw, his every characteristic.

“Argument is a very subjective term,” Mustafa said. He glared at David.

“It was an argument,” David said. “Things got heated. Quite a bit so.”

Agent Lawrence made notes.

“I could sue your mother for what she did,” Mustafa said, crossing his arms. “She didn’t support you. She neglected you, didn’t teach you anything. I talked to a lawyer, you know. This is the greatest social crime, my boy. A mother’s duty is to her child, not hitting the road, and gambling, and fucking around.”

The agent looked down at the desk, and his lips were twitching. David wanted to laugh too. It was ridiculous. A man suing his ex-wife over supposed neglect of their twenty-eight-year old son. Now, this was a good MFA story. David squeezed his fingers, in and out, trying to hold his words to himself. He couldn’t convince Mustafa that his mother was someone whose life wasn’t defined by her relationship to someone else, to her son, ex-husband. Even to her job as a hydrologist, from which she’d retired three years before. She was a woman who could live on her whims, without the calculations that had constrained his father and David himself. David envied her greatly.

David hoped his mother was out on the road somewhere at that moment, just enjoying life, in some small-town motel in the hills, wrapped up in the electric energy of neon lights. Or perhaps on a star-filled landscape, listening to Jackson Browne out on some lonely highway, relishing the ability to not be on a particular set schedule. He wondered how he’d tell her of this night, put Mustafa’s wildness into words. They were words she hadn’t heard in years, and which she and David discussed sparingly, like items stored in an attic.

“David, this is another of your problems,” Mustafa said, adjusting his son’s collar, which was popped. “You don’t know when people try to help. You need to see a psychiatrist. I’ll pay for it. Do you want that? Or do you want to rot away like your mother?”

“Well, gentlemen,” Agent Lawrence said, clearing his throat. “I’m inclined to believe you, but I still need to get a full picture from the other passengers. We might have to put you on the no-fly list, though. You and your son will have to find other arrangements home.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” David rose from his chair.

“Watch your language, please,” Agent Lawrence said. “The fact is Mrs. Edgar insists that you said ‘bomb,’ and the plane was delayed. I see no evidence that you’re terrorists, but we do have to take precautions. These are tough times, gentlemen.”

“Sir,” David said. “We had a difference of opinion. That’s it. It was an argument.”

Agent Lawrence nodded, made more notes.

“I know you want to help,” David said to Mustafa, playing with his shirt sleeve. “But your help is no good. Look at where you got us. We’re on a fucking no-fly list because of it. Because you have to be right all the fucking time. If you could just admit you were wrong once in a while. Just once.”

“I’m trying to help you, boy,” Mustafa said. “I can help you. Unlike your mother, who buries it all in the sand. Doesn’t tell you the truth.”

“Gentlemen, please. Let’s stay calm here,” Agent Lawrence said, arching an eyebrow, as if to convey authority.

“My help is no good?” Mustafa laughed, his mustache bristling like a porcupine. “Do you prefer your mother’s help? Is that it? She tells you nothing about your problems, while your life goes to hell. Have her help with the twelve-thousand dollars, then. Do it. If you’d been with me, I could have gotten you a full damned waiver.”

“I’m tired of this,” David said. “It’s like you’re always looking at me under a microscope, looking for the smallest speck. Well, you know what? I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter what you think about me. It really doesn’t. I wasted my time worrying about what you thought, hoped that I could please you. I wished I’d known that years ago.”

David paced the floor, his gait uneven. His face was flushed and he felt as though he wanted to cry. For no reason. Simply because he needed to. Mustafa always thought David needed a reason to justify every action he took, in order to become an organized, calculating man. Mustafa even thought having fun, letting loose and drinking, threatened David’s focus. David needed to keep his eye on the prize.

“And you know how to live?” Mustafa looked upward, gesturing with the grandeur of a preacher. He wore a look of sadness or contempt. It was a kind of sadness, David thought, that reflected his own self-pity, but also held something else, however small. It was a sense of despair, deep and misguided, a despair that conveyed his fundamental belief: His only son wasn’t going to have the life he deserved.

David could only imagine how his father pictured his life. A beggar on the streets, alternating between cries for food and pontificating on the finer points of Tolstoy or Hemingway. A lost soul, with a lowly MFA, working in a 7-11, unable even to handle the basic, down-to-earth tasks of working a cash register, and left with no other options in the world. Mustafa could never understand that a person’s life was his or her own individual affair, in which they rose or fell based on their own initiative and impulses. The uncertainty of things held an edge of excitement.

Agent Lawrence kept reviewing his notes. David could only imagine what he was really thinking, adding them all up, and coming to conclusions about them.

He didn’t want to look into Mustafa’s eyes, because they held his judgments of his son. It was the smile that said: tell me the right answer boy. Do the right thing, the thing I would do.

“Well,” Agent Lawrence said. “As I said, I think we’ll have to place you on the no-fly list as a matter of protocol. But, let me check in with my superiors and other passengers.”

“Thank you my boy,” Mustafa said, shaking his head. “You got us into this. I hope you learn from today. Do not be emotional, boy.”

“Emotional?” David said. “You’re the one who called me a bum.”

“I would rent a car once you get out of here,” Agent Lawrence said, voice raised. “Get a motel for the night. Start out in the morning. This could be much worse. At least your lives haven’t been entirely disrupted. We’ve had to detain jokesters and pranksters for this sort of thing.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mustafa said. “But it’s the idea here. I’m trying to teach David something.”

“Yeah, I learned something. Never try to argue with you,” David muttered. “Everyone loses. You have no sense of logic. I love you, but you have no logic.”

“What?” Mustafa growled. “What?”

“Let me just report to my superiors,” Agent Lawrence said.

“Thank you,” Mustafa said. He leaned in towards David. “Tell that to my son. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. God help him. I hope I live to see my son become strong. That’s all I fucking want.”

Agent Lawrence rose, surveyed David and Mustafa and shut the door, disappearing into the whirl of the terminal.

David closed his eyes and tried to drift away from the place. A woman on the PA system called for Rex Botkin to board flight 420. He pictured his mother, welcoming him home, enveloping him in a gentle hug.

“David,” Mustafa said. “Are you listening?”


Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. A native of Boise, Idaho, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in various literary journals including Ink In Thirds, Monkeybicycle, The Courtship of Winds, and 100 Word Story. He lives in Fort Collins, CO, and is presently working on a flash-fiction collection.


Book Review: Micah Perks’ “True Love”

BY: A.M. Larks

Everyone I know is looking for a way to escape, hit pause on reality, and just take a breath; get immersed in something else, someone else, anything else because the real world seems too much to bear. And I am no exception. I do it too. Because at its heart, that’s what reading is: a way to escape the world around you, which makes it ironic that my escape would be reading about characters who are trying to escape their own complicated fictional lives in True Love And Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape by Micah Perks.

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BY: Jennifer Harvey

She heard them, before she saw them. Felt the tremor in the soles of her feet, as the energy shuddered through her. And when she turned around, there they were. Horses. Too many to count.

She watched them ford the river at a shallow point where the rocky bed was visible, their snorts as wild and free as the rush of the water, and the sight of them frightened her. Something about the movement—the ripple and flow of their manes, the sound of hooves on rock, the way the tension in the muscles was so visible, and the whites of their eyes so emphatic—seemed to slow time and silence everything. All she could do was stand there, in that improbable hush, unable to move.

Seeing her, one of the horses returned her gaze, as if all it needed to do to understand her was look her in the eye. They stared at one another for a moment, until the deep black of its eye made her shiver and turn away.

“What am I doing here?” she thought.

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Black Mirrors

By Liz Betz

Just for a split second I can picture my grossly overweight cousin. Perhaps he fell so that he ended like a large sack of potatoes draped over a small tractor moored in green—dead weight.

“What good he was doing is another thing,” Rachel says. “At least he managed to get the lawn mower turned off, before he died.”

I watch my crow Petey take off from the tree outside the window while I thirstily quaff water. There is a stack of wet dishes in the sink. It’s five in the afternoon and these are breakfast dishes, perhaps the only thing Rachel has done today. It feels like I’ve spent a million moments like this, waiting for some reason to endure.

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Watching Over

BY: Rishitha Shetty                                            

Daaru tasted love in the first bite of fish. So much so, that when little Kumara pinched an ant between his fingers and brought it to his lips, she did not notice. She crunched on, her tongue sucking river off of its burnt tail. She preferred the fish from the river Netravati to that of the sea; its delicious stink stayed on her palm for days. Mother Netravati bled into boulders every year during monsoon and her wrath flowed out of the soggy flesh of dead things, and this was the first catch after the rains; she mixed juice and love and placed them between bones.

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Underwater Beams

By: Nancy de Guerre

I think about you sometimes, though it’s been so long. That day on the lake in the little tin boat. We had fishing rods and books and the sun beat down on us. You wore that Indiana Jones hat, and I had a big floppy one. It was like we were a couple of movie stars. The summer just after my mother died. You stuck the wriggling worms on the sharp hook, and I lay back on a life jacket and read love poems to you.

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The Blackout


Annie rummaged in the black purse on her lap that she was relieved to recognize as her own and located a small lipstick mirror. She stared into it, moving it around the contours of her face, able to see only two rectangular inches at a time, but the pieces fit, yep, she was pretty sure that was her. She groaned. It took her a few minutes. Wish it wasn’t me. A black lump of self-hatred rose in her throat, bile.

Momentarily, she was distracted from her self-disgust by the plastic tumble of photos falling out of her wallet, the bright faces of Sara and Becky peeking out from elementary school backgrounds. She reminded herself to put some updated photos of the girls in her wallet. They were both in middle school, almost high school now. Smiling at their noses, covered in freckles, their credulous cornflower eyes, Annie slowly folded the photo holder back into the wallet and rummaged again.

Nothing in her purse revealed what day it was, nor did the blue square of airplane window next to her. Glimpses of the grids and rectangles, the squares and geometry of a large city emerged beneath the wing and clouds. Was that New York? How the hell, she wondered, had she ended up on a plane approaching New York City?

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Book Review: Susan Henderson’s “The Flicker of Old Dreams”

BY: A.m. Larks

Isolation and ostracization feature heavily in Susan Henderson’s latest novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams. The setting is Petroleum, Montana, population 182 and decreasing, “Those who’ve heard of Petroleum are often surprised it’s still here. The town is primarily known for what it no longer has: oil.”  In a town this small, the people of Petroleum are required to be interdependent upon one another because the trains have stopped running, there is no cell service, and the winters are long and harsh. “This view of Petroleum is picaresque as the community, every single member, it seems, helps to shovel what they can.” And in part, this view of Petroleum is true: “The festival is less a celebration than a day to prepare for the upcoming snowstorms. Today neighbors will weatherproof homes, share tools, supplies, and labor.” “One of the neighbors with a snowplow attached to the front of his truck scrapes up and down the streets. This should make it easier to get to the highway.” The people who stay in Petroleum are committed to community and interdependence: “This is the life we commit to here. That we cannot rely on others. That no one can reach us so we better help ourselves.” However, in any social group, there exist dissidents. The Flickers of Old Dreams explores what happens to two such “outsiders.”

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TCR Talks with Rebecca Makkai


By: Kaia Gallagher

A masterful story-teller, Rebecca Makkai blends tragedy and humor in her recently released book, The Great Believers, a novel that tells the very human story of Chicago’s gay community as it faces the emerging AIDS epidemic during the mid-1980s.

The story revolves around a small group of gay men who find their relationships disrupted, their identities challenged and their hopes for the future dimmed as their friends fall ill and die around them.  A second narrative follows Fiona, the sister to one of the deceased, as she travels to Paris in 2015 still haunted by the shadow memories of those she lost.  Within a broader context of homophobia and government indifference, the story highlights the ephemeral nature of present time and the ways in which the past, present and future are all very much connected.

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By: Mathieu Cailler


At seventeen weeks, Larissa can feel her baby kick. Sharing food and water, flesh and blood has bonded her with her boy. With every ounce of added weight and new curve appearing on the ultrasound, the more aware she becomes of the world around him. She wants society to be perfect, and even though it never will be, there are still some things she can control.


Mr. and Mrs. Chaffey were generous people. They called Larissa daily, fetched her groceries, and, one time, even bought her new pillows and a water filter. “Anything for you,” Mrs. Chaffey always said. But as weeks turned into months and months became trimesters, Larissa’s premonition returned. The orange chrysanthemums she’d gifted them had started it all. Whenever she entered the Chaffeys’ home, she noticed the flowers on the tabletop, their petals drying and resting at the base of the pot. Why was it not being watered?

It upset her, but she tried to move forward. Her intuition was her greatest gift, though—

one, much like her cheekbones, that she’d done little to deserve. There was that time she changed meeting spots with a friend because she had an inkling of fear, and something did happen: A kitchen fire overtook the entire restaurant, killing one. She also had a premonition with a well-renowned photographer on a shoot in Brooklyn, and later, after the ad was shot, he’d invited her up for drinks, pinned her wrists above her head, and tried to kiss her. She’d managed to free herself by sinking her teeth into his right ear, then hurried down the fire escape.


She enters the waiting area, plops in a seat, and squeezes her duffel between her sneakers. She only has the one bag, stuffed with a week’s worth of clothes and a bunch of hotel-sized toiletries. It’s not much to show for two-plus years in America, but she’s had to act fast. Modeling happened in spurts—a gig here and there—but the world of go-sees and catwalks and cigarettes for dinner was never her thing, so she found work as a nanny. But when Caio, her brother, got sick, she needed more money, and a friend told her about the Chaffeys.


Just a simple transaction, Larissa told herself. She read over the Chaffeys’ contract, even had her friend whose English was superior comb over the thick paragraphs. I can do it, she thought. It will get Caio the help he needs as he waits for a kidney transplant. She thanked God. With Him she still spoke Portuguese: Obrigado, Deus.


While digging through her purse for a piece of gum, Larissa notices her blinking phone. She has two messages. The first one is from Mrs. Chaffey: Hi, Larissa. Hope this finds you well. How are you? Just calling to check in. Haven’t heard from you in a couple days, and I know you haven’t been feeling all that well. Is there anything I can do? Anything at all? Are you okay with money? I think I told you—yes, I’m sure I did—about the appointment with Dr. Thatcher on Wednesday. Remember we moved the time from 11:30 to 10:30. Do you want to carpool with us? We can pick you up on the way…

Larissa hangs up as an announcement pops from the loudspeakers. Her heart gallops. She taps her right foot on the ground and repeatedly brings her knees together and apart.


For four months now, these guttural pains, these notions have stayed with her and intensified. As she approached the Chaffeys’ home for another check-in, she saw Mr. Chaffey yell at a boy for riding his bike too close to his car. She tucked behind a neighbor’s cypress and crouched down. The timbre of his scream was menacing, and what worried her most was how gentle he was once she buzzed the doorbell, fetching her water and an orange—even peeling it for her, in one long coil—with a smile on his face. He’d gotten so skilled, Larissa thought, at camouflaging his rage that even she’d missed it at first—Mrs. Chaffey was still oblivious, or maybe just resigned—but now Larissa could spot it, flickering just beyond the rims of his blue irises, like pilot lights, always burning.


At twenty-seven, Larissa has known and seen plenty of pregnant women, and they’ve always been quick to let her know how difficult the process could be, but so far Larissa has enjoyed the course. Morning sickness hasn’t been an issue, and routine moments, like making herself farofa, seem to carry extra importance, as she cooks for two. She especially likes when she can feel her baby’s movements—which her doctor calls “quickenings”—while someone is chatting with her. Her baby always strikes the same spot, an inch left of her belly button, and the whole time, she smiles, thinking, You don’t know what’s happening inside me. It’s like she and the baby speak a tacit language, one in which only the two of them are fluent.


Just two days ago, Mrs. Chaffey and Larissa spoke and laughed, discussed cravings and kickings. The phone rang, and Mrs. Chaffey chased it down, her bare feet pounding on the hardwood floor, rattling the dishes in the buffet. “Coming! Coming!” she said, as if her words would somehow carry to the caller. Larissa sipped her herbal tea and stared out the small kitchen window over the sink. Mr. Chaffey was gardening in his pajama bottoms, no shoes, and bare-chested. He leaned against a sharp shovel, whose blade reflected a spot of sun.

The symptoms of her foreboding returned: Coolness oozed over Larissa in the usual progression, starting at the small of her back, spiraling outwards to the top of her spine till it reached her neck, making her shiver. Her stomach simmered, and she dumped the rest of her tea into the sink.

Minutes passed.

She was wrong.

And glad.

Just as the presentiment lifted and relief began to overtake her limbs, a garden snake that was no wider than a shoelace slithered through the backyard’s deep dirt grooves, away from Mr. Chaffey. Without hesitation, he tracked it down, plodding on bits of dry soil. Curls of rich dust floated upwards. He closed in on the snake as it neared a thicket of rosemary. Just before the snake could reach safety, he cocked his shovel back and speared the bright green creature. He managed to cut the snake in almost perfect halves, and both segments quivered for a few seconds before falling still.

Saliva pooled in Larissa’s throat. She couldn’t swallow.

Mr. Chaffey turned her way but didn’t bring his eyes toward the kitchen window. A gleam shone off his face—an air of pride, like he wanted people to take notice of his accomplishment.


She presses her phone to her ear and listens to the second message. Again, it’s Mrs. Chaffey. Hi, Larissa. It’s me. Not sure if you got my other message. Are you okay? I have to admit I just stopped by your place and used the spare key you gave me. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t sick or something. You weren’t there, and it was pretty early in the morning. I tidied up a bit, too. Sorry, just couldn’t help it. There were lots of towels on the floor and clothes scattered everywhere. I even put a load of laundry in for you. Hopefully, by the time you get home it’ll be done. Anyhow, call me.

Larissa gazes out the large window that showcases a sunlit runway. Jets are stationary one moment, then blasting forward and lifting into the air. Wheels tuck back into the planes’ shells instantly after takeoff. Pilots don’t give themselves second chances. They know the engines are capable. They know physics is on their side. And if tons of steel and fuel and people can soar across the atmosphere, rip through clouds, and evade the sun, then maybe, Larissa thinks, this is possible, too.

An airline employee who wears a cocked beret pinned into her brown locks speaks: “At this time, we’d like to invite our premier fliers, service members, and families with small children to board first.”

With her phone in hand, Larissa gets up and leans against her seat. She wiggles her numbing toes and plucks her ticket from her purse, where her fingers also come into contact with a sharp piece of paper. It’s her copy of the contract from the Chaffeys, crinkled and creased, the words gestational surrogate are bolded as well as 80,000 dollars. She wraps her phone in the document and drops them both into a trashcan, savoring the pop as they strike an aluminum can. She knows it’s someone else’s sperm, someone else’s egg, but she believes—and always will—that biology comes second to humanity.

Brazil is not far now. The smell of pork fat in feijoada and the bright punch of motorbikes’ gasoline feel close. She can see Caio’s chin dimple and her mother’s chipped smile.

“Now boarding passengers in Group B,” the woman says. “Group B.” Larissa heads to the front of the line, clutching her duffel. She hands her ticket to the attendant, and the woman drags the barcode across the scanner. The beep is sharp and rings in Larissa’s ears. “Have a nice flight,” the woman says. “And congratulations.”

Larissa smiles, stands tall, and begins the long walk through the loading bridge.

Mathieu Cailler’s poetry and prose have been widely featured in numerous national and international publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The Saturday Evening Post. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, he is the recipient of a Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and a Shakespeare Award for Poetry. He is the author of Clotheslines (Red Bird Press), Shhh (ELJ Publications), and Loss Angeles (Short Story America Press), which has been honored by the Hollywood, New York, London, Paris, Best Book, and International Book Awards. His newest book, May I Have This Dance? (About Editions), was recently named poetry winner of the New England Book Festival.

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