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“Ghosts,” by Ari Laurel

Joystick SketchThe psychic at the Missoula County Fair says I was a warrior in a past life, which is a thing I want to believe because I feel like a warrior now. It’s hard being an Oakland girl in Montana. Each day, my blood is angry and alienating. If you were to slice my neck open, it’d come spraying out bright red, thick, and stinging like chili oil. Then, the psychic asks me if I am in love, and before I can say anything, she tells me I’ve already met my soulmate.

Asking me to believe in soulmates is on par with asking me to believe in psychics and enneagrams. I saw the super blood moon eclipse during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and I did not feel raw or overcome with emotion. The moon lowered and rose above the Rattlesnake Mountains and I did not begin ovulating. I’m so out of my touch with my body, I wish I could evolve out of being a woman and into being a fucking cyborg—how dope would that be!

Three weeks before the County Fair, I’d started dating someone. He seemed OK. Better than OK. Pretty cool. But it was early. I didn’t know if he was my soulmate, or if my soulmate was one of the men or women I’d already said no to. Because I say no to a lot of things, a lot of people. I could say no now, if I wanted, and maybe that’s what power is. We played Mortal Kombat the first time we hung out, and I kicked ass with a character whose special move is to bust men’s testicles with her fist. I told him I wasn’t looking to date, and he was cool with it. But as I left his apartment that night, I turned on the landing, mouth open, ready to take it all back. For that moment of hesitation, we were on the same page. I noticed how great his hair was when he looked confused as hell in the light of his doorway, and I wanted to apologize for having no idea what I wanted or how I felt. Instead I said, “Good night,” all coy, like I knew what I was doing. I ain’t afraid of no ghost.

I swipe my Visa on the psychic’s iPad, and when she lays out the cards, she doesn’t lie to me. That’s one thing I really appreciate. Even if none of it is true, she’s actually reading them—a brain full of metaphysical wisdom, interpreting itty-bitty cups and infinity symbols, things that girls tattoo behind their ear and inner wrists. I’ve always wanted to get a reading done but my disbelief made $10 feel so necessary in my wallet. I don’t know how to invest in my future, but I’ll drop $10 on a sweater at H&M that comes apart in three months, or on a super burrito that I can make disappear in a minute.

On a road trip last spring, my friends and I asked each other those questions from the New York Times, the ones that are supposed to make you fall in love with anyone, and now I’m obsessed with finding people brave enough to answer them with me. “What if we fall in love?” they say. “So what?” I tell them. “I’ve been in love plenty of times, it’s no big deal.” “What if we fall in love?” they ask. “I’ll break your fucking heart,” I say.

At the close of the reading the psychic says, “Do you have questions for me?” I look down at the grid of tarot cards and want to ask what they all mean. Not because I believe, but because I hate not knowing. I want to learn to read the cups, the infinities, the little moons. Instead, I ask her if I am doing good work. “You are,” she says. “And it will pay off in November.”

That’s not what I asked, I want to say. I don’t care about payoff. I think I really want to ask if I am doing the right thing. If I am a good person—the thing everybody wants to know. Not if I will be happy, but if I deserve to be. This psychic has to get on my level. Is this the greatest challenge? I want to know. Is this the final boss? I imagine myself throwing punches at apparitions, writing an angry comment on an empty comment thread. One day I’ll be in love, I promise myself. And it’ll be for real this time. One day I’ll learn to stack Mortal Kombat combos like nobody’s business, and I will have all the answers without ever having to believe in them.

About the Author:

Ari Laurel’s work deals with Asian American icons and youth identity in the ever-shifting Bay Area. In addition to her feature in the 2015 Kearny Street Workshop APAture Festival, she was a 2012 finalist for the PEN/USA Emerging Writers Fellowship, recipient of the Candace K. Brown Memorial Scholarship, and her work has appeared in Bitch Media, The Toast, Quartz, Duende, Kweli Journal, and Hyphen. She is currently pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of Montana.

Special Note:

This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Image Credit: © mhatzapa / Dollar Photo Club

“Accidents,” by Gary Joshua Garrison

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Fences

It was back when we were kids, when I used to spend weekends at Taylor’s. Those days we would meet you in the mornings out by the single oak, where your yard met his, and work the day from our bones, get lost beyond belief. Those nights Taylor and I would imagine you and Kristen naked. We talked out the arcs of your skin, the way our bodies would meet and move and shudder, someday. But it happened on the afternoon Taylor found his father’s bow and arrow. We sat, you and I, on the fence beneath the heavy leaves and watched—sick to our stomachs—as he launched arrows straight into the blue, never knowing which to focus on: the femur-thin boy hopping circles or the arrow slithering earthward. You leaned into me that afternoon, I remember—so close feathers of your hair stuck to the wet of my lips—and whispered, weightless, Thats the sort of man I want to marry.

Softness

I don’t remember whose dog it was that got pinned beneath the bookcase. It was that 4th of July barbecue the first summer we drove home. He was a lab mix of some sort and flattened across the stomach. You were there before your niece started screaming, dropping to your knees and folding his wild head into your lap. And the two of you curled together, your hair and his fur tangling, your fire lipstick staining his ears. I couldn’t make out what you said, but I could hear the softness over everything else in the room. And I remember thinking I’d never heard you sing like that to me.

Kids

When my kid sister gave birth we were stuck in an airport in Chicago because we were trying to save and you’d decided the nonstop was too expensive. I remember saying I’d never forgive you.

Hera

In college we took Greek Mythology together and made faces at all the foolish stories the world had built itself upon. Years later, after a week of sour silence, I felt a guilty hope in the way that your voice fractured around breaths. You were calling from the side of the road, your car lifeless, you: tired and angry. Can you just come get me? Neither of us knew the language of apology, but this plea loosened something in my chest; there was an uncoiling in my body. But then, in the emptiness before you ended the call, I heard you cry soft that you were pathetic, nothing more than that spited goddess.

Accidents

It was just after your birthday the last year you lived in Clinton Hill; when I was still looking for work in the city; when there was still cake in your fridge and bottles in the trash; when your roommate was still out of town and insisting we needed the space; when there were still flowers in the blue vase by your bed; when those words still crowded your shelves; when, still, we made love only when we couldn’t sleep; when that BMW skipped the curb and crumple into that apartment across the street. We stood together at your window and watched until the ambulance finally came, silent, blue and red. I remember the way you said it, like you felt it coming: Thank God we havent been in an accident like that.

Spain

You weren’t there when your father died. He was two months into it and I had insisted that you needed a break. We cant refund the tickets anyways—and eventually you agreed. So we went and spent a half a week toeing eggshells in our hotel room, afraid to go out, afraid to laugh, before the sick finally took him and the call came. At the airport my relief was embarrassing; on the plane I apologized—for the way it happened, for the people we’d become, and for not stopping any of it. Then, I remember, after they dimmed the cabin lights, you, your hair, leaning to the window, quiet for so long I was sure you were sleeping.

About the Author:

Gary Joshua Garrison is currently an MFA candidate at Arizona State University where he serves as the prose editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. His fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives, writes, and movie-watches in the desert of Arizona with his cat, Widget

Image Credit: © Kreatiw / Dollar Photo Club