By Aaron Burch

I turned 40 and got a promotion and went to a lot of movies and watched a lot of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and the state where I live legalized recreational marijuana then I turned 41 and went to the Kentucky Derby with my wife and to Fort Lauderdale with my wife and then I bought a new car and drove across the country by myself, east to west, and spent the summer with my childhood best friends, then, at the end of the summer, drove across the country by myself again, back the other way, west to east, and then I got divorced and moved into an apartment, taking with me mostly only the essentials and what was most obviously mine instead of ours but also the big comfy couch that we had gotten from our neighbors when they moved away and didn’t want to take it with them, and I didn’t get internet because I wanted to spend all my time just reading and writing, and I read a lot and drank a lot and listened to a lot of records and went on a bunch of dates and had a bunch of sex and the city where I live opened its first dispensaries and then I turned 42 and then COVID shut down almost the whole entire world and so I finally got internet in my apartment and started watching more TV shows and movies at home and I read less and listened to fewer records and drank even more—probably too much, but also very possibly the just right amount; who can say, the world seemed to be ending—and then the government sent everyone stimulus checks and so I used mine and bought the biggest TV I could find that cost the amount of money the government had given me and I started watching even more TV shows and movies at home, but never another episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and I went to my local dispensary’s website and ordered some edibles and then I drove down the road and parked in their parking lot and sent them a text that I was there and a guy brought me my edibles via curbside service because people were no longer allowed in most non-essential stores and some nights I’d eat one and relax into my big comfy couch and watch a movie, and as someone who smoked pot a handful of times over the years, here and there, but never really that much, but who has enjoyed a large amount of art about drugs, I found myself wanting to feel some version of my mind expanding to new realities and to see new truths heretofore invisible to my sober eyes and to feel and see and understand the beauties and possibilities of life—both my life but also just life, in general—and also the interconnectedness of everything and everyone, but mostly I would just end up falling asleep on that big comfy couch and then waking up in the middle of the night and turning off the TV and sometimes moving to my bed and other times just sleeping the rest of the night right there on that couch which, to be honest, sometimes actually feels like, if not exactly, at least a version of that sought-after mind-expanding new reality and previously invisible truth and beauty of the world around me, the very infinite possibilities of life that I’d been looking for.

In addition to all of the above, in the last few years, Aaron Burch sold his first novel, Year of the Buffalo, which is forthcoming in November 2022 and is available for preorder now, and also a collection of short-short CNF, A Kind of In-Between, which will include this piece and is forthcoming from Autofocus Books in 2023, and also he started painting, which he often does from a table set up behind his big comfy couch, such that he can watch TV while doing so, and Cheers has become his go-to favorite joyful watch.

By T.L. States

I once read a story by Lydia Davis about the crying people of the world and how they wept and bawled like little babies as they approached nap time, and how midday hunger struck them so hard that they snapped at their friends and turned their noses up at acquaintances who only meant well and wanted to break bread with them; when I read this story I laughed more than once, out loud, nearly spitting out my diet soda, but when I went to the Internet to tell all my friends about how funny a writer this Lydia Davis was and that she had written one of the most hysterical stories I had ever read, no one said anything and it was as if I were typing into a void, except this void was filled with my Internet friends that possibly weren’t my friends at all and maybe, I thought, they were reading my words about the hilarious Lydia Davis and they were snickering about the fool that doesn’t get serious literature, discussing amongst themselves how he, the fool, me, was probably the one crying, not knowing where the tears came from.

T.L. States lives with his family in Tucson, and his work can be found at HAD, Hobart, Back Patio.

Art by Nick Botka, who runs the cassette tape label, StillVHS, and who snaps stills of VHS @stillvhs.

By Matt Leibel

My book failed so badly that I was put on trial, because I lived in a country in which failure had been made illegal, and I was convicted by a jury of critics, and spent my time in captivity reading other failed writers, ones who had failed far worse than me, frankly, and I started to forget what good writing even looked like, until the day I was slated to die (I would be stoned to death with stone tablets on which all the great works of literature I couldn’t live up to were inscribed) and as the tablets were about to smash into me, I had a sudden vision, a vision for the greatest work of my life, a story that couldn’t fail, only now I knew I’d never write it, which made me sad, but just for a moment, because I knew that even if I had written it, even if it had been a critical smash, even if it had mass popular success and sold 10 million copies, even if it had been translated into hundreds of languages, even if it had been tattooed onto the chests of people on distant islands discovering the written word for the very first time, even if it been used by primatologists to teach sign language to monkeys, even if it had been turned into a wildly popular musical whose percussive elements involved the rapid opening and closing of multiple copies of the book, even if my book was the first thing people thought of when they awoke each morning and the last thing they remembered when their head hit the pillow at night, even if people in cold climates saw my story spelled out letter by letter when their own breaths materialized in the frosty air, even if skywriters were hired to reprint my book above the earth, even if my book was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and Medicine as well as Literature, even if it led to breakthroughs that alleviated human suffering and pointed to a new way forward that reconnected us with our shared humanity, even if my book could be converted into edible form to feed the entire world, even if all that happened, the likelihood was that my next book, the one I wrote after that, whether by comparison or objective measure, would likely be a clear failure, an utter flop, a linguistic crash and burn, and through the same inevitable punitive measures of the merciless, memoryless society I lived in, I would end up right back here, in the same position, staring at angry, unsatisfied readers, ready once again to pelt me with the heavy, deadly words of my betters—so perhaps, I thought, I should embrace failure as the one thing I hadn’t failed at yet, I should make an argument that instead of a successful book, I’d set out to write an unsuccessful one, and by that standard I’d succeeded spectacularly, and I should be celebrated, feted as if I’d written something truly great in its terribleness instead of a forgettable, even-keeled mediocrity, but even as I thought this, I could already see the critics gazing at me askance, stone tablets in hand, bloodthirsty and ready for bear, primed to punish me for my crimes against literature, and my last thought, the one I hoped might bring me some consolation in this moment, was that at least these people cared about words; at least, I knew, there were people who believed that stories mattered—even if this time around, I didn’t much care for the ending.

Matt Leibel is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in Wigleaf, Lost Balloon, Electric Lit, and elsewhere.

Art by Liz Worthy, a Bay Area writer, illustrator, and ceramic artist.