By Joe Kapitan

One layer of drywall is all that’s left, just five-eighths of an inch separating equilibrium from oblivion, pressed gypsum the depth of a knuckle that the mice are gnawing through—shut up and listen, can’t you hear them?—deep in the crotch of night, their teeth set against my barricade, thundering my ears, reminding me that a house is merely a handful of this-life voids hollowed from a solid block of all-possible-lives, leaving the rest (the attics, the between-floors, the within-walls) as haven for the other-lives, the place where all choices differently-made, all cards undealt can be found: my first love (had I not let her brush past me daily like an empty subway train) wedged between two-by-four pine studs; our first child, not firmly rooted, forever the size of an acorn, nestled against the warmth of an air duct; other careers and other cities and other friends wrapped in insulation or tangled in wiring, watching the mice attack the membrane and in darkness, something in the shape of my wife mutters “Why can’t you kill those little fuckers?”, the voice an octave off, and it’s just a matter of time before the gray devils breach the walls in places I cannot reach, before the cold air seeps in and rewrites my lines as I sleep, before my journal turns to guest book and dawn finds everything frosted with that acrid, choking dust memory makes when overhandled.

Joe Kapitan writes fiction and creative nonfiction from a grove of pines located a day's march south of Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo by Jason Thayer.

By Clare Tascio

I’m sorry mom, I’m just so sorry, I’m really sorry mom, god, I’m sorry mom, I’m sorry mom, I’m sorry mom, I’m sorry, I’m just so sorry–but I’m here and I’m dying, and I’m so sorry I’m dying, and I know you wouldn’t want me to, I know you don’t want me to, obviously, it’s not a thing you’d want me to do, but mom, oh god, I’m really here, I’m so sorry I’m here and I’m dying, and I’ve never been more sorry about anything mom, about anything I’ve done, more than this, that I’m here, and I’m dying, and I know you wouldn’t want me to be here, dying–it’s just that being here, and my body, my body too, being here, here is where I am, doesn’t matter that I left the door open, doesn’t matter, I’m so far away from the door what difference could it make, but I can’t believe it can make any difference at all, but it’s true, the distance between here, on this sweat stained cot, all the way across the dirty wood floor to the door I left open, that distance, seems like it might be the distance between my dying, right here, and me not dying, out there, and I’m so sorry I can’t bring myself to crawl it, I just can’t, I just don’t have it in me, not one last time, I’ve done worse, oh god, I’ve done so much worse, I’ve crawled and run and stumbled and slumped and limped my way zig zags and all it did is land me here, and it hurts mom, it hurts all over, I didn’t know it would hurt, I didn’t know it would hurt so much, so everywhere, I didn’t know, and now I’m so scared, I’m so sorry, I’m so scared now but all I would need to do would be to roll off the cot and crawl across the floor to the door I left open, the wind keeps blowing it, keeps turning it just back and forth on its rusty hinge, even the wind gets to be out there, out there, where I wouldn’t be dying anymore, and I’m so scared, and I’m sorry I scared you all the time and now I am so goddamn scared, no one told me it would hurt all over like this, just all over in a new permanent way, and even the wind gets to be outside, and I have to be in here, and I left the door open so I can see the trees, and they’re changing color mom, they’re orange and red and yellow and brown, they’re still doing what it is they do every year, they’re just looking at me, just looking at me in their colors, it’s their only job, and they’re doing it, and my only job could have been staying alive for you, and I didn’t do it, I’m so sorry I couldn’t do it, I don’t remember why, I don’t remember what was so hard about it, but this is so scary here mom, I’m so sorry I don’t have it in me to crawl across one more dirty floor, the sound the door hinge makes is so sweet, I mean like kind, like a kind voice, and the wind in the coloring leaves, talking to me, I try to pretend it’s you talking to me, I try to pretend that sound, and those colors of those leaves, will come with me, I try not to think that once I’m dead the sound of the open door in the wind and the colors of the leaves will keep on being here, without me, I mean keep being here once I’m dead, and my body is empty of me, I get so scared thinking about my body being here with the door open, get so scared thinking about how it will be all alone, I’m sorry I’m leaving it all alone, I know you wouldn’t want that, oh god, your little boy all alone, without even himself to take care of himself, I try to pretend the trees will keep getting closer, it looks almost like they are getting closer, closer to the open door, like they’ll get closer and closer and they’ll come right up to this shitty cot and they’ll wrap their big limbs around me and carry me out of this hell hole, it feels like I’m screaming but I know I’m not making any noise, it seems like even one tree could get it together and come in here and save me, I left the door open, it seems like god could just animate one goddamn tree and get it to come in here and pick me up, I just want to be touched one more time while I’m dying, I just want, I just want, just once more, touch me, touch me touch me, I left the door open…

Clare Tascio a fiction writer living in Queens, NY.

Art by Clare Tascio.

By Michael Wheaton

The arms of a pillow hold him still, and he pulls the silicone nipple always closer to him—so many things he wants or needs that I can never give him of me, until it falls from his lips, fingers falling slack, born with all ten thankfully, which will reach for so much they need to want, and I remember him inside his mother, curled, latched—so many things I can never give him of me, who was outside worried what could go wrong in the development of body, of brain, of code, and what it might cost in money, in grief, in stress for him I would like to say more than me, but he takes his breaths without obstruction, without machines or fees, far for now from want or need, especially of me.

Michael Wheaton is the publisher/editor of Autofocus, the host of its podcast The Lives of Writers, and a writer of his own whose work has appeared previously in Diagram, Hobart, Bending Genres, Burrow Press Review, and a few other online journals.

Art by Amy Wheaton.