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“Heritage House,” by Emily McKay

Ladybug sketch

The bodies of ladybugs are scattered throughout the house, withering into wings that still shine through coats of dust, like drops of rusty old blood allowed to dry exactly as they fell. No one has been here to grind them into paprika or bury them under the many overlapping rugs, or build any tombs. No one has broken Rutledge’s curse or admitted to believing in it. The house is in-the-family but the nearest neighbor is a wolf sanctuary on the next Appalachian ridge.

I lost my job in October and no one minded that I came here because no one was here. You can always fall back on family, especially if they’re away. I wouldn’t be long though, just needed a rent-free space while I looked for the next thing.

I perch my empty suitcase on the spiral stack of old suitcases at the foot of the spiral stair. None of them look like mine, they are dusty, they are cracked, they are crocodile, they are unrelatable and unrepeatable, they are shades of green and yellow that nobody wants anymore.

Some ladybug wings lie single and apart and glow when the window brightens, then dim in unison like gaslight.

As I turn in bed the first night, the corner of the blanket sweeps the floor and they snag their way up and across the wooly fibers, and by morning the dotted shards suspend themselves in my jungely bob of hair. There must have been an infestation once, it could have been a decade ago, could have been last week.

There’s no hot water except what I can boil on the stove, so I keep still to never sweat, never bathe. There is no one to speak to, report to, no one to impress. The stillness feels like the only way to be, the only way to ever have been, and it was just a fluke that I ever worked and smiled forty hours a week. Forty hours is too vast a period for the human brain to comprehend. I fold myself into the blanket on the overstuffed yellow armchair in the corner of the living room. Century-old chairs and couches line the walls, and footstools crowd the middle of the room like the black eye of a susan. No one can walk between them anymore. Great Uncle Rutledge—or my great great, or plain uncle braided into the family yarn? He said everything he put here has to stay here, always, and after he died, the family still listened. They even seemed to add more—I could swear that leather ottoman is new. Great Uncle Barlow thought this was bullshit and he died of a heart attack while throwing boxes of lavender soap out the barn window.

I don’t go into the barn. It’s full of blacksnakes, and even if they’re all hibernating deep in the barn by now, their paper lanterns of shed skin hover everywhere with clear eyes. Between the endless stuffed trunks and planks and piles of muted copper kettles are intractable flashes of the story my father told me as a kid, so casually it was almost involuntarily: a barn beam, barn beam somewhere, broke under the weight of his homestrung noose when he was eight years old, after the news of his father’s boozy suicide in an empty field, field emptied somewhere in New York. I wouldn’t know where, I wouldn’t go there, and I don’t go into the barn.

From my yellow chair I see a pinprick of red wriggling in a spider’s web in the fireplace, though the spider is dead.

From my orange chair I see three huddled ladybugs painted into the pale green wall. The paint is chipping and the wood underneath is damp, liver-purple.

From my green chair I see under my yellow chair, inching ecosystem of dust and contracted legs.

I sleep a few hours and wake with only the aim of sleeping a few hours.

I sleep a few hours and listen to the house for a few hours. I think I can hear it sinking for a few hours, for a few hours I can hear the waxing asymmetricality.

I sleep a few hours and I spring out of bed, pointing a flashlight around the house, peering inside the suitcases, inside the trinket boxes, inside the doll houses and the old wine crates. I open all the tiny doors and I open all the drawers in all the cabinets and bureaus and pantries. Rust and mahoghany, burgundy and vivid living beating tip-toe red. Is it an infestation if it never stops, if this is its home city?

I find a bottle of whisky from the seventies. Excellent. Finally. Sometimes I give up drinking, for up to nine days at a time, and it’s incredibly easy. I sleep well and lose weight and feel purposeful and energetic, and I wonder why I don’t do this all the time. Not-drinking is my superpower. And then I drink, and drinking is my superpower, and I sleep a few hours.

Who would have drunk the first quarter-bottle, who was here? There’s an old bottle of gin too, but it’s left a grimy line around its middle, so I put that one back. Two ladybugs sneak out between the panels over to the silverware drawer. I uncap and sniff the whisky as the label flakes in my hand: sweet, and a little buttery, potent. Probably fine.

How beautiful is the closed door of the heritage house, from the inside. The front door is the most beautiful door, I find, closing them all again, to be sure. Yes, it is the only door I can really rest my face on, and sort of hug.

I do not have and do not require any concept of what today was, or what yesterday. Today dies now in these no longer memorable spirits, today just another tired rabbit out of the magic hat.

For you too, ceiling, I feel so much affection. When you finally burst out from under your layers of mold and old rain, I will stare into a dimmer, further ceiling.

And all the magic rabbits scatter as you descend, become wild through the empty door and windowframes, even the hexagons in the wallpaper untessellate like beetles, shaking loose toward the moon.

I should be more hurt, and we should all be more hurt, always, holding our blood knuckle-white until it lets us go.

In the morning the windows frost on both sides and I wrap myself in a fringed Mexican blanket and I am heavy and slow. I wrap myself in an ivy-patterned blanket and I am heavier and slower. I wrap myself in a purple quilt and I am heavy, heavier, slow, slow, slow. There are more and more blankets, with crucially distinct textures and sizes and patterns and histories and social functions and psychological effects, I need them all and I have them, and I do not need to be any shape anymore, under here.

About the Author:

Emily McKay is a Creative Writing MLitt graduate of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she studied and then worked as a cheesemonger for seven years. Her short memoir, fiction, and poetry have been published in Glimmer Train (Issue 95), Shenandoah (Vol. 63, No. 1), and Welsh poetry journal Zarf (Issue 2), respectively. She has recently moved to Tallahassee, FL, where she works at a veterinarian’s office and focuses on poetry and short fiction.

Special Note:

This piece was selected as part of the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins, author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology.

Image Credit: © cat_arch_angel – stock.adobe.com

“The Conium Review: Vol. 3” and “Vol. 4” ebooks on sale this weekend!

TCR Volume 4 Ebook Cover

The Conium Review: Vol. 4 Kindle edition cover

The Conium Review: Vol. 3 Kindle edition cover

The Conium Review: Vol. 3 Kindle edition cover

Alongside the ebook release of Souvenirs and Other Stories, we’re offering ebook versions of The Conium Review: Vol. 3 and The Conium Review: Vol. 4 for just 99 cents! That’s right, get the two most recent issues for less than a buck each. This sale is valid Saturday, July 16th through Sunday, July 17th. Get the instant discount through Amazon.com.

“A Bird Before His Time,” by Phillip Sterling

Single Feather Sketch

When he arrived at the edge, it was nothing like anyone had predicted. The surface was ochre, sandstone-ish, worn to—as they say—“a dull sheen,” perhaps by eons of reluctant feet. Where the sheen leveled, a woman sat on one of two delicately scrolled iron chairs that flanked a small, round iron table. It was the type of furniture his mother had once called “ice cream” and repainted with Rustoleum in shades of Antique White.

The woman wore white as well. Chiffon, he’d have said, if he’d had any recollection of chiffon, which was before his time. She’d arrived before him, predictably. She was young and lovely, the grandmother he’d never met. She seemed to be waiting.

The sun behind him hung in the haze with the dull orange blur of a moth’s cocoon. Ahead of him, beyond the table (under which the woman’s shapely ankles crossed left over right), the sky appeared to be a soft gray hat—a felt hat, if he’d ever seen one—with a single white feather, reminiscent of a bird he could not recall the name of, a bird before his time. He took the seat opposite.

Have you brought the rain? she asked.

No, he said. I thought you were waiting for me.

For the rain, she said, her voice the sound of moisture.

I have brought no rain, he said. No rain is expected.

I have been waiting a long time, she said, without rain. I thought you would be rain.

I am not rain, he said. But I am tired from my journey, so I will rest and wait with you.

Thank you, she said, and turned to face the edge. His eyes followed, closed.

It is not what you expected, she said.

No, he would have said, it is not what I expected, but his voice made no sound, his mouth without wings.

About the Author:

Phillip Sterling is the author of In Which Brief Stories Are Told. His story “kidnappingtax.blogspot.gov” won the 2015 Monstrosities of the Midway contest.

Special Note:

This piece was selected as part of the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins, author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology.

Image Credit: © cat_arch_angel – stock.adobe.com

Matt Tompkins talks about word choice at Little Patuxent Review

Little Patuxent Review coverMatt Tompkins has a new essay published at Little Patuxent Review. His piece, “The Lightning Bug versus the Lightning,” is part of the “Concerning Craft” series. In the essay, Matt talks about the importance of precise word choices in fiction. Read the entire essay here.

Little Patuxent Review also published Matt’s story, “The World on Fire,” in their Summer 2015 issue. “The World on Fire” is a wildly imaginative story about a man who begins seeing fire everywhere after an off-brand laser eye surgery. It appears alongside five other equally strange stories in Matt’s new book, Souvenirs and Other Stories, available now in both print and digital formats.

“Souvenirs and Other Stories” now available on Kindle

Souvenirs ebook coverMatt Tompkins’s new book, Souvenirs and Other Stories, officially launched last month in paperback format. Today, the ebook version officially goes live. Get the Kindle edition of Souvenirs here.

Matt’s book is a bizarre and surreal collection of stories. Beth Gilstrap, author of I Am Barbarella, says it’s “reminiscent of a quirky, yet lovable mixture of the likes of Harvey Pekar and Aimee Bender,” and Christopher Kennedy, author of Ennui Prophet, says this book is “a pleasure to read from cover to cover.”

To celebrate the ebook launch, we’re also unveiling the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins. The “Dis/appearances” pieces will appear (pun intended) throughout the weekend. We’ll be posting one story per day beginning later today! Check back this evening to read the first piece.