By Jade Braden

It had been raining earlier the evening that the girl was walking, dodging worms on the sidewalk which she quietly laughed at, thinking there must be some better place to gather than a dirty sidewalk, practically waiting to be stomped on, maimed—obliterated even—so unable to protect themselves from whatever came their wayher boots included, as clustered as they were in her path… but the thought was interrupted when she caught sight of her friends, vibrant in the wash of neon light spilling out of the bars, inviting her to remove her facemask to say “sorry I’m late: the kid I nanny got a fever and was absolutely clinging to me until his parents got home, oh, and the worms, so gross.”

Jade Braden is an author and artist based in southeast Ohio; she can be found on her website and twitter @jadewcb.

Photo by Jade Braden.

By Genevieve Wynand

Benny looked at the clock and considered his options: in one hundred and twenty-two minutes, the bookstore would close; in sixty-two minutes, the juice bar, the one with the button-nosed and recklessly pierced server who always remembered Benny’s extra shot of ginger, not the one with the pocked ex-drummer who went a little heavy on the celery, would close; in thirty-two minutes, the market would close; in any number of minutes, the dry-cleaner currently holding hostage Benny’s only suit, navy blueish depending on the light, held together with glue and polyester thread, would close; and in two minutes, Carl from human resources would sidle up to Benny’s desk, like he did each and every payday since Benny started working here four years, three months, and eighteen days ago — Carl: mouth-breathing Carl, with his patented blend of late middle-age halitosis: stale coffee, vodka chaser, and the faint whisper of a very berry protein bar; Carl with a C, stooped up top and curved down below and gaping open, like a claw ready to pinch any tush that crossed its path, or like a mouth slack in perpetual surprise that that isn’t how things are done anymore (Benny counted the minutes by the beat of the office metronomes: the clock ticked its eternal seconds, the arm dragging slightly on the upswing from thirty to zero and then tumbling ahead on its way back down, somehow always marking a solid minute with each full rotation; the water cooler hummed and shuddered and dripped, cold only, at almost-regular intervals, the droplets collecting in the slimy plastic trap; the copier choked on every eleventh sheet, slowing its printing and filling the air with an acrid stink of hot toner and scorched paper; and the communal but not clean refrigerator thrummed and popped beneath the water-stain squid slowly spreading its tentacles ever outward on the ceiling); Carl of the once-white dress shirts with the yolk-yellow pit stains; Carl of the tan orthopedic shoes with the too long and always untying black laces; Carl of the inconsistently zipped fly (the second hand made another slow run back to its double-zero homebase) — Benny considered his options: in one hundred and twenty-one minutes, the liquor store would close; in sixty-one minutes, the bank, where Benny opened his very first account when he was barely tall enough to reach the pen on the chain at the teller but was the perfect height to swipe sugar cubes from the dish at the self-serve coffee station, would close; in thirty-one minutes, the drugstore would close; in more minutes than Benny cared to think about, the twenty-four hour diner, forty-four paces down the street from Benny’s sixth floor studio walk-up, would close for its annual deep-fryer maintenance and, Benny hoped, cleaning; and in one minute, Carl would swing his right leg up and over and around the corner of Benny’s desk, performing his payday half straddle, his maybe-zipped crotch four inches from Benny’s laptop (the sixty seconds of the final minute ticked and tocked into oblivion, Benny’s breath matching their irregular rhythm); Carl’s antique belt buckle, boasting a flying lasso above a cowboy boot with an oversized spur, tried to gleam under the fluorescent light; he mounted the desk and dropped Benny’s paycheck next to his dried-up bonsai tree — the thirty-two remaining leaves shuddered (“What’s doin’, Benny?” “Not much, Carl...” “Now don’t you go spending all that in one place...” "I won’t, Carl...” “Well, in that case, have yourself a great weekend, then...” "Thank you, Carl, goodnight...” “And a good night to you too, Benny...”) — then eased himself off the corner of Benny’s desk and carried his armful of envelopes to the next cubicle; Benny scratched his jaw, nails scritchy on his three-day-old beard; he lifted his book bag from the back of the chair and slid his paycheck into the front pocket; he slung the strap over one shoulder and leaned down to power off his computer … since Benny last checked, the clock had ticked the second hand another hundred and eighty times and sent the minute hand around another three; it would take Benny one minute to walk down the five flights of stairs to the lobby, and two more to walk to the bus stop; in thirty-eight minutes, Benny would be home.

Genevieve Wynand is an editor for Pulp Literature Press and a writer with work in Frogpond, Presence, Modern Haiku, Haiku Canada Review, Prune Juice, The Helping Hand Anthology, and online at Introvert, Dear; her poem 'cherry blossoms fall' won first place in the 2020 Haiku Invitational, Vancouver division.

Art by Nick Botka.

By Raul Garcia

I don’t know if it was because of what I saw, how I stayed up all the way for the impending dawn, from an impulse to remain awake, dreamless, watching all things occupying the bedroom, invisible, gradually retake form, becoming apparent, forged by sunlight’s drift through the blinds, the skin of darkness slipping, burning through the visible, that I could no longer see my mirror image, just a black smudge of a figure, like a humanesque haze, standing before me unknown to me, my bed, a block of impenetrable darkness, and I was afraid to return to it, fearing I might fall into its prismatic abyss, but the windows, still bright, yet I stayed away from them, how I might blindspot other things, these stains of night that day cannot absolve, how I may never see your image again, because I cannot sleep.

Raul Garcia is a filmmaker from Jersey City, NJ.

Art by Raul Garcia.