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“All the Things I Do Not Fear,” by Hattie Jean Hayes

All The Things I Do Not Fear

Hattie Jean Hayes

Carnival food

Elephant ear ferns

Characters from the book/film Matilda






Train rides

7/11 roller grill food

Having a baby

Green beans

String beans (are these different?)

Robots taking over the world

Scooby Doo, anymore

The Beach Boys

A pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them

Getting fat

Stubbing my toe on the sidewalk outside an art gallery

Stephen King or his books




Being late for my bus and having to run after it

Paper cuts


Bees/wasps/hornets/fire ants

A broken arm

Public speaking



Dogs Toronto International Film Festival

Somebody loving me who isn’t supposed to love me

Getting drunk on a weeknight


The Domino’s delivery man, anymore

The graveyard (cemetery? are these different?) on 21st Street

The bird lady

Sitting up all night with you when you find out—

About the Author

Hattie Jean Hayes is originally from a small town in Missouri. Now, she lives in New York, where she is a comedian and writer.

“Escaping Purgatory,” by Lucy Zhang

Escaping Purgatory

Lucy Zhang


The problem with the room was not that there was no exit, but that there was one—it seemed to lead back to the same room, the same walls on which still life paintings of apples and skulls hung, the same half-empty glass of red wine on the counter, the same four vintage chairs surrounding a table, and this bothered the boy who knew only the logical order of things: an exit cannot be an exit if it does not lead to a way out, and maybe he did exit the room and arrive at an identical-looking room—wormhole theory, surely.


Because you are deaf, you cannot tell when someone creeps up behind you. You can only wait until they tap you on the shoulder after which you’ll turn and look surprised even though you are never really surprised because you’ve been trained to expect these intrusions into your physical space. Because you are deaf, you don’t like to speak because the words embodied by your monotone, guttural voice twist people’s faces into grimaces, but you make a good listener, attentive and quiet, not really listening but lip-reading, constantly searching for meaning you’ve missed when your eyes dart around, trying to pick up on shifts in this space-time continuum.


They used to play Shogi together. The boy would always be memorizing checkmate strategies from a book he carried everywhere—to school where he read it behind the cover of a propped-up textbook, to the girl’s birthday party where he sat on the couch next to a pile of guests’ jackets. The girl would approach him, one hand clutching a stuffed bunny, the other waving to get his attention and look towards the group of kids painting birdhouses with acrylics, wondering if he’d like to join. He’d push her hand away and glare at pages of board layouts and kanji, unwilling to make eye contact. Then she’d sit next to him and read along, and no one else would bother them—because of course, the girl who couldn’t hear had nothing to say, and the boy who refused to take part had no say.


It is just you two. Him, pacing back and forth, trying to find a clue even though he has already scoured the place, every hidden corner, every unturned surface, every box of cards dumped onto the floor to search for secret messages—mostly empty decks save for a King and Queen.


The girl could swim freestyle for a straight hour in the recreation center’s pool. She could tread water long enough to withstand waves crashing over her head. Except not that one time when the waves plunged and surged without rest, choking her with saltwater, and she flailed her arms, breaking the water surface in increasingly short bursts, but she stayed silent, her voice buried beneath sand and silt. She could only hope someone would see.


Do you regret reaching for my hand? You sign. But he doesn’t know sign language. You tap his shoulder and mimic mouth shapes you have committed to memory, try to conceptualize inflection and tone so you sound more normal, less mutilated. “No,” he says.


A stuffed rabbit sat on the rock, its ear stained with dirt and chlorophyll, its pink vest and bow tie frayed at the ends. A Shogi tactics book rested beside it, corners of its pages bent and torn. Their colors clashed against the grey, muted stones and rotting flowers.


You’ve lost count of how many times you two have gone through an exit. You’ve stopped trying to pick up on changes in furniture orientation and playing this Waldo-less version of Where’s Waldo. You just follow now.


He tells you his theories: the singularity of a black hole, a split-second time capsule in a wormhole, a new state of quantum consciousness, a side effect of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. He wants to know your thoughts.

About the Author

Lucy Zhang is a writer, software engineer, and anime fan. Her work has appeared in Back Patio, Maudlin House, Parentheses Journal, Gone Lawn, and elsewhere. She can be found at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

“The Mathematics of Fire,” by Cassidy McCants

The Mathematics of Fire

Cassidy McCants

Some people push your buttons, pull your strings. Some touch your surfaces, sketch your lines. Some are your mirrors; some see right through you.

The latter, I can tell you, are not there for your comfort. I can tell you this because Annie is one of them. Annie always saw me. And it burned, her attention. Her sight.

Annie is a seer. A seer who sears. Fire.

I am private. Inward. I am the water that puts out the fire.

Doesn’t it burn to be seen?

Annie, what I would do to let you burn me a little longer, a little more. Annie, can you hear me? I don’t want to label you, to put you in a little box: fire.

But I did, once. I put Annie in a little box. For therapy. She was haunting my dreams, infecting my reality. Her depth, her vision of me. I loved her because she didn’t believe the things I said. She saw the things I did. Some people are so easily fooled. Not her.

See is tied to seat, sit, I have heard. Those who see do so from their thrones. They’re situated just right. I envy these people. It’s taken me long enough to see a glimpse of even just myself.

Let’s entertain the idea, though, just once more, that Annie is fire and I am water. Does it check out?

Annie: Fire. She was always good at math. Do firefighters use math? Does the fire itself?

Me: Interested in math. I tried to explain to her my idea about how math is more flexible than they say; that is, there are many ways to solve a math problem.

If there are 3 wildfires per week in this country, and each fire encounters 2 bodies of water, you might multiply 3 by 52 by 2 or 52 by 6 for the collision count. Or 156 by 2. 312 fire/water encounters. If there are 3 wildfires per week and each fire contains carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen, and nitrogen, you might figure there are 4 gasses times 52 weeks times 3 fires. Or maybe you simply multiply 12 by 52. 624 gasses.

But not really, of course. Still there are only the four gasses showing up again and again. I prefer to multiply the smallest quantity (the bodies of water, in example one) by the largest (the weeks) by the one in the middle (the fires). There are many ways to get your answer; it all depends on whether or not you want to start with minutia.

While Annie appreciated my enthusiasm here, she saw beyond my explanation, down to what really mattered: I cannot be happy with just one way. Oh, Selina, she’d say. Like a mother. Like a friend.

For therapy, I had to put Annie in a cozy little box in my mind so thoughts of her couldn’t burn me anymore. I gave her pillows, blankets. A diffuser with calming oils, scents to make her linger there. And now this is where she lives. This was necessary because I couldn’t stop replaying the scene in which she burnt me the last time: Selina, you don’t know who you are. Selina, I’m exhausted trying to show you yourself. All that emotional labor.

But she was right. I did not cry. I’ve kept in all that liquid. All that water, all the electrolytes, the proteins (there are four: lysozyme, lactoferrin, tear-specific lipocalins (TSLs), and S-IgA), the lipids, the mucins. I hold it all within me now, because I am learning what I am. I am composed of tears I will not cry for her. Because I am water. I contain myself. I am made up of 206 bones. At least 640 muscles (three types: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal). And a memory that now houses a box with Annie inside it, tucked away, out of sight and soon mind. And I am working on counting all that’s inside me. I am yearning to count.

About the Author

Cassidy McCants is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She received her BA in creative writing from University of Arkansas and her MFA in fiction writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the creator/editor of Apple in the Dark and is an associate editor for Nimrod Journal. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Lascaux Review, Liars’ League NYC, Gravel, The Idle Class, filling Station, Witch Craft Magazine, and other publications, and her stories have received honorable mentions from Glimmer Train Press. She’s a 2020 Artist Inc. fellow.

Editorial Note

Cassidy McCants won our 2020 Innovative Short Fiction Contest with her story, “The Things I Took From Your House.” Cassidy’s winning story will be published in our next print edition, The Conium Review: Vol. 9. If you enjoyed this story, look for her prize-winning piece in-print later this month.

“We Meet Witnessing a Woman Get Stung by a Jellyfish,” by Erin Piasecki

We Meet Witnessing a Woman Get Stung by a Jellyfish

Erin Piasecki

The thing bobs like a breast implant in the water. Someone pees a thin, dark stream onto the woman’s leg. We murmur from twinned fold-out chairs, stand up, walk closer through the sand. Talk about what we saw, a shared interest in the ocean, giant squid. Repeat, that was nuts. When he pissed on her? Shit.

The evening ends with his tongue snaking my molars.

I am a magnet for events like these. Childhood friends losing minor fingers to hamsters. A throng of bees dappling the track team in red. Someone from the social media department coming back with a stripe of stitches across her shoulder from a bear that wandered into her kitchen. They let her run the press Twitter after that.

Under a sun-bleached umbrella, he programs his number into my phone.

So you have to text me, he explains.

The next day, I do.

He and I have been dating for a month the first time someone dies. I find the woman whose novel I am editing with a snake wrapped around her neck. Its snot-yellow underbelly. As I wait for the police, I keep a close eye on the wall of cages. Pastel blue pythons and drab gray ratsnakes and inky boas separated only by glass. The one conspicuously empty. The novel goes unfinished.

After, I begin to have dreams of snakes and jellyfish skirts and other veined, fibrous things. The mucus of the jellyfish; its embryonic pulsing. That I am myself but have gone see-through. Blood sliding up the exposed seams of me. I recline across blooms of pink jellyfish-breasts but wake up in bed.

Trauma, the psych says. Stress.

The dreams subside. Two months. We go on more dates. I coif my hair and wear a crepe dress in an erratic herringbone print. The collar is choked up my neck. He brings me places I would never go, where we eat lamb with malt reduction, raw cuts of sea bass, translucent jellies clotted with berries. We delight in the quiver. Spoon it into mouth. Later, I suck down his tongue while he ham-fists my breast. I cannot help wishing his tongue were softer, slicker. He fucks his salty finger into my mouth. I’ll take care of you, he says. Forever. I know he means it. I almost drown myself inside him.

We move in together. I ask, What can I do? but he says he has it all covered, Not to worry. He decorates. Polycarbonate dining chairs. A white lambskin settee with a hole through it like an open eye. Fluted glass vases empty of flowers. I press him into the settee and glide along his thighs. The wood floors hurt my knees. I say, Maybe a carpet, before opening my elastic mouth. I hold him inside until his breath comes fast and I go and spit his salt into the kitchen sink.

In the new place, it happens again. Snakes writhe like bowels. Jellyfish fall out of my bra. Shoals of fish navigate my lungs. There is a slipstream through me. A waterlogged heart.

Risperidone, the psych prescribes. Fluoxetine. Lithium.

It is two years post-jellyfish when he begins to look for things in my mouth. Asks that I present my tongue to him each night. I speak through his meaty fingers. What are you looking for? I ask, but he will not say. He wants to see inside me. It frustrates him, to not know the innards of things. I suspect for him that is more literal than not.

He grows obsessed with tongue, me with animals. I watch videos online. Funny Animals Attacking People. Swans slapping up water. A boar snuffing before it knocks over a plastic lawn chair. Softshell turtles throwing their weight.

After that is not enough, I begin to parade him by the zoo. Under the ropy hammocks and foliage, we wait for a monkey. Nothing. Lithium. More lithium. Put pill in mouth and swallow.

I say, Let’s go to the beach. We pulse our legs all the way to the deep end, where there are sightings of sand sharks. None.

All the grit of the beach wedges itself between my toes. I sit on the gingham towel and gingerly pry them apart. It’s noon, he says, and produces the rainbow-bright plastic box. After I swallow the spit down, he pulls my tongue out of my mouth. Inspects. Maybe it is an incriminating hue. Maybe it is fine. He gives no indication.

We stow the towel, the faded beach umbrella, the cooler. He locks the trunk while I extract more grains of sand from between my big and second toe. We stop at the corner store and get a ham sandwich with miry lettuce (my request), a Coke (also me), some saltwater taffy (him). A ribbon of purple snaps across the horizon.

After dinner, more tongue. He holds me steady between thumb and forefinger. As reward we spoon lime jello with gobs of suspended raspberries. The rest of the evening runs together, sodden. He laughs and spills red wine over the carpet I bought. It runs a narrow river where the fibers are pressed thin. He moves to kiss me below the skirt. I do not want to be touched. To be reminded of body. To think of breast, or tongue, or the hole in the middle. I imagine him holding both my kidneys in his hands like twinned lamb shanks.

In the bathroom the fan exhales against my face. There are bands of dark beneath my cheekbones. I twist my hand into my mouth and spit out pills, slimy bits of lunch meat, water. Electric green. Prod the lips up over gums. Stretch my tongue out, unspooling until it spills and thrashes into the clawfoot tub. Oh, I say.

I run the tap. Water swells up my thighs as I get in. The snake wraps around an ankle.

It is green as a jewel and pocked with white. It flourishes across my calf, winds up the leg. Something drops out the middle of me. The jellyfish, veined and translucent and stretching to fill the tub. Its arms like ruffled tongues. Dangling red threads.

I kick at it. Water sloshes over the lip and takes the jellyfish over the edge. It sits on the bathmat and shrivels. A plastic bag. Once it starts to crisp I drape the long threads of it over my arms and carry it out into the living room. 

He sits on the settee. I arrange the jellyfish like a runner across the acrylic table. He looks at me and his face turns milky. Let me explain, I go to say, but have forgotten. The snake still twists green in the water.

Two years minus one month. I am happy. We eat ice cream cones and sit on a bench in the park and watch the sun erase itself. I take a big lick and press my mouth against his. I push the malted vanilla between his teeth. He laughs as it dribbles down his chin. We totter home and slowly dress for a work event. All those interior decorators, people obsessed with sparseness and clean lines and translucence. He needs to find a tie, the perfect tie, the only tie. Jason will get the joke, he says. He rummages in the closet while I perch on the end of the bed and relay the reality TV drama unfolding onscreen. My heart is in my throat, pulsing beyond tongue. I know before he says because of the sound of them hitting the floor. I peer around the threshold, between his legs, and see the dented edge of the old shoebox.

And then, all around him, in a wave across the tile: Pink and burgundy and white and blue. Some still threaded with saliva. Pills and pills and pills.

Two years. Three years. I really don’t know. Things go down but are reluctant to come back up. What he might see inside the barrel of my mouth:

Swarms of honeybees / a runty bear / snakes knotted like shoelaces / a hamster named Rodrigo / softshell turtles with aimless, flare-gun anger / a bristly boar / swan feathers.

A normal pink tongue / some papillae.

Or maybe only open / dark /


About the Author

Erin Piasecki is a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Design Assistant at The Believer. Born in Fredericksburg but raised in Albuquerque, she returned to Virginia to receive her B.A. in Theatre from the University of Richmond. She has work forthcoming in The Adroit Journal and is currently working on her first novel.

Editorial Note

Erin Piasecki will be publishing another story with The Conium Review in our next print edition. If you enjoyed this story, watch for “Several Ways to Remove Yourself” in The Conium Review: Vol. 9 later this year.

“Hausfrau Dad,” by Yongsoo Park

Hausfrau Dad

Yongsoo Park

“Go ahead, Christopher. Reach out and grab your destiny,” said Jimmy, as the dozen guests, who had gathered to celebrate his son’s first birthday, oohed and aahed, eager to see which item the boy would pick to set the course for the rest of his life.

Jimmy thought the boy, who’d taken on only his and Grace’s best features, looked incredibly handsome in a traditional hanbok. The things one could buy on the Internet these days. A couple of clicks on a computer and a hanbok, sized perfectly for an average one-year-old boy, had appeared at their doorstep.

Guests shouted encouragements and offered commentary as Christopher’s hands wandered over the items in front of him: a toy stethoscope, a toy golf club, gold coins, a flute, a wooden spoon, a bundle of thread, and a calligraphy brush. A buffet of life trajectories spread out for all to see. Each item, a portent of what might be.

When Christopher’s hands moved toward the golf club, Mark, Jimmy’s good-natured brother-in-law, shouted, “Looks like there’s going to be an athlete in the family!”

Then, when Christopher’s hands moved toward the toy stethoscope, Jimmy grinned in anticipation. He had purposely set the stethoscope directly in front of the boy. He found it funny that he was behaving like the stereotypical Asian parent when his own parents had been so atypical. They’d never pushed him to be a doctor or lawyer. A part of him was grateful for this, but a part of him blamed them for not holding true to the stereotype. Had they crushed his dreams when they’d had the chance he might be a successful doctor or lawyer by now instead of the struggling writer and Hausfrau Dad he’d become.

Just then, Christopher’s hands settled on an item Jimmy had placed at the farthest edge of the table.

“He picked the calligraphy brush. That means he’ll grow up to be a scholar just like his father,” Jimmy’s mother shouted proudly like only a mother can do about a mediocre child.

Jimmy’s heart sank. It hadn’t even occurred to him to include the calligraphy brush on the menu for the day, but his dear mother had shown up with it and insisted on its inclusion.

“It’s tradition,” she’d reminded him. “You yourself picked this very brush on your first birthday.”

Tradition. With that single word, Jimmy’s mother had changed the course of Christopher’s destiny. As guests congratulated him, Jimmy forced himself to smile and told himself over and over that nothing is written in stone and a calligraphy brush didn’t have the power to determine a life. But he didn’t find himself very convincing.

About the Author

Yongsoo Park is the author of the novels Boy Genius and Las Cucarachas, the memoir Rated R Boy, and the essay collection The Art of Eating Bitter about his losing battle to give his children an analog childhood.

“Eight Thousand Dollars in 1981,”by Gina Rose

Eight Thousand Dollars in 1981

Gina Rose

They came to my door and it was very late. They were knocking. But I had barely fallen asleep. They didn’t know this about me. They didn’t know I was a night owl. I don’t remember asking them to please come inside, but I might have. They flashed their badges in my face. They said:

Do you have a camera?

A camera. A…what?

Now they are flashing their lights outside the house. Through the double pane windows. I bought the house in 1981 for eight thousand dollars. Good house. Never gave me a lick of trouble. Only thing is the four way stop outside that people tend to glide through. I never had an accident myself, but I’ve lived through a few of them.

The Browns, I told them. The Browns. They have a camera.

The Browns live across the street. South side of the street. Kitty katty korner to me.

That’s the Browns…

Now they are writing in their notebooks. Tiny pads of paper made for a Barbie doll-sized human of a being. 

We need to check the tapes.

The what?

The footage. See if there’s any footage of the footage. The footage we’re looking for.

I just remember, I say. I just remembered. I do have a camera. I do, in fact, have a camera.

They want to know where and I tell them. Or show them.

Now it’s several days later and I’m sitting across a desk.

We want to thank you for your cooperation, Mr. White. Yours is the only home surveillance camera that caught the footage.

The footage of the footage?

Of the killing. The hit and run. Fifteen years old. That poor boy…

I crumple a little in my chair across the desk from the person. It has to be a sign, I think. It has to be a sign. Why me? Why my camera? Why couldn’t it have been the Browns? Now I must live with the memory of this moment forever. It will forever belong to my truth and it’s something I never asked for. It has to be a sign. Why me?

They came to my door and it was very late. They were knocking. But I had barely fallen asleep. They were knocking and knocking. They came to my door and it was very late. I don’t remember asking them inside. They were knocking and at first I didn’t hear them. Knocking and knocking and knocking. And I couldn’t hear them at first. I don’t remember asking them to please come inside, but maybe I did. They were knocking. And it was very late. They were knocking and knocking and knocking. And when I finally heard them in this life, they were gone.

About the Author

Gina Rose is an African American and Chinese American writer in Oakland, California. She attended Barnard College in New York City where she received the Howard M. Teichmann Writing Prize. Her work has been featured in Rigorous and Penultimate Peanut magazines.

Editorial Note

This piece was selected during a special “(Re)new” themed call for submissions. The theme was curated by our managing editor, James R. Gapinski. The theme celebrates The Conium Review‘s new website and James’s new title, Fruit Rot, released on July 15th from Etchings Press at the University of Indianapolis.