Amy Li is a young writer from Georgia. Her work appears in or is forthcoming in the Lumiere Review and the Aurora Review, among others. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography, playing piano, and procrastinating.
Iman Saleem is a writer from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Alison Zheng‘s work is published in or forthcoming from Francis House, giallo lit, The Westchester Review, Rabbit: A Journal For Non-Fiction Poetry, Rigorous Mag, and more. She’s a poetry reader for Non.Plus Lit. She tweets from @aliberryzheng.
Ashley Bardhan is a poet and journalist from New York. Her writing has been featured in Pitchfork, Mel Magazine, Terse Journal, and lots of other places.
Sofia Fey is a Queer and Non-Binary writer living in North Hollywood, California. Primarily they are a theatre maker, filmmaker, and a writer of poetry and graphic novels. But to pay the bills, they can be found pouring a latte or a nice shot of espresso. They have just written and produced a short film that is called Midwestern and it is in post-production. Most recently their work has appeared in Sobotka Magazine and The Collective Magazine. Currently, they are the founding editor at Cabaret Contributor’s Journal. They are hoping to eventually write for TV and publish a chapbook of their poetry.
Sydney Vogl (she/they) is a queer poet who lives and writes in San Francisco. In 2020, she was chosen as the poetry fellow for the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. Her work, which was nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net 2020, has been published in Ghost City Press, The Tusculum Review and Variety Pack. They currently serve as a poetry editor for The San Franciscan Magazine, host a Bay Area reading series, and work as an educator to Bay Area youth.
From the Walgreens line, Sandy scans the post-Easter candy sale. Should she get yellow Peeps instead of pink? No, the pink matches her Plan B box, a tiny pill locked inside a clear plastic cage. She’d hate to be the sad lesbian that gets pregnant from a one-night stand.
The man behind her holds five packs of hair ties like a deck of cards. He examines them, touching his daughter’s silky brown hair. The young girl looks at Sandy’s Peeps, then up, at her thin hair in its messy bun. She probably thinks the box is a video game.
“They slide right out of her hair when she runs around at school,” the dad says to Sandy.
She must have been staring.
“You should try the bumpy ones,” Sandy says.
“They don’t have them,” he says. The girl shakes her head dramatically like they looked for the bumpy ones for ten hours. Her hair dances along the hem of her polka-dotted tank top. Her dad hands her a pack of really long ones lined with heart decals. “We’ll try these.”
Sandy admires his language of partnership with his kid. Pleased, the girl takes the rejected packs and sets them atop a rack of circus peanuts and 2/$5 trail mixes.
“Seems like a good choice,” Sandy says. She wonders if the dad is single, if he sits the girl in front of her cereal bowl every morning and brushes her hair into a pony, spit-smoothing flyaways and advocating for sneakers instead of sandals, so she can really run at recess. Sandy likes the pair but thinking about family makes her head fog.
She’s hungover from a Monday night spent with Michael, a thumb of a guy she met playing tennis at the Y. She’d just returned from visiting her ex, Kate, in Chicago, a grade-A weekend of slow mornings and afternoon sex, making out on the L, and talking all night.
“Look, we beat monogamy,” Kate had said, flashing a text from Linda, a flirtatious co-worker she’d told Sandy all about because they could be open like that now, before setting Sandy’s coffee on the nightstand and burying her face in Sandy’s neck. “Aren’t you proud of us? We can just be. We’re winning, like, the lesbo Olympics.”
Sandy had looked away, at the framed printer-paper drawing on Kate’s nightstand that they had penned when they were coworkers. Her heart ached some place deep. With you, I like monogamy, isn’t something she could make come out of her mouth. Kate would ask, why though, and Sandy would mutter something about her anxiety and Kate would remind her that her insecurities were her own to work through, and Sandy couldn’t refute that.
Kate had seen her eyes veer, Sandy knew. Kate had felt the second in which she could ask what Sandy wanted or needed, pass. Then they had sex again. Very good sex, during which Kate was right there, catching Sandy’s gasps in her own mouth, like that was the purest way to communicate.
Hours after landing, Sandy slammed a rock-hard neon serve at Michael. She sucked in her stomach like she rarely felt inclined to do. The lit rooftop of the Y, a green and blue painted platform, floated like an alternate dimension of downtown. As she jogged to grab a stray ball from the chipped edge of the court, she felt her head turn back towards Michael and her lips part.
In the clunky elevator, he asked her to get pizza down the street. She ended up in his bed. It was fun to turn him on, to play with easy conventions. Nothing important loomed unsaid. It was like she left half her brain in Chicago. He threw her a white undershirt to wear after sex and she thought it was a joke. In sleep, his arm snuck around her to cup her breast. She let it stay. The unexpected comfort of his soft heat, more satisfying and interesting than the sex, should have made her better understand Kate’s insistence that some of her friend crushes were solely cuddle buddies, but it only made Sandy curse how Kate gets too hot in the night and kicks the covers to the floor, leaving Sandy bare and shivering.
The morning was too much for her, though. Micheal’s gross-sweet sleepyhead voice and joke about sharing a toothbrush made her guiltily wish for an outdated masculinity that would smooch her hard on the lips, put on a suit, and leave her wrapped in silken sheets, alone. She weasled her way out of Michael’s, claiming her car’s meter overdue.
In the Walgreen’s line, she presses the sharp corners of the plastic box into the flesh of her palm, pissed at both Michael and Kate. She throws this little girl’s mom in the snake pit with them. Did she leave unexpectedly, suffocated? Did she have new lovers every month that she promised came second, but not really because she didn’t believe in relationship hierarchies? The little girl’s own wish to run free and happy on the playground makes this especially offensive.
Then, the daughter points to a single Reese’s egg and gives her dad baby eyes. He nods and she grins and then the dad grins at Sandy, as if to acknowledge the blessing she’d received in witnessing this morsel of unspoken father-daughter connection, and Sandy steps up in line, damning the too-cute pair, too, and their trusted codependence that, out of attachment anxieties, likely makes them ignore their vast incompatibilities.
Sandy slides her box and the Peeps towards the pimply teenage cashier. He looks at her, about to ask for ID, and then smiles sideways. He’s too cool to ask—their little secret. He unlocks the box, as she opens the Peeps with the edge of her car key. She drops the pill in her purse and tries not to remove her chip card too soon. She doesn’t want to have to say sorry.
Kelly Thomas (she/her/hers) is a queer writer of fiction and personal essay. She recently completed her MFA at University of California, Davis. Her work has appeared in 14 Hills, Duende, Metazen, FIVE:2:ONE, and Autostraddle.com. She’s currently working on a novel about rural queerness, marriage, chronic pain and an internet forum crush.
Now when she watches Nadira dance
Now when she watches Nadira dance, Naima imagines how cold Nadira’s bones must feel in the dirt. She looks up from her laptop and through clouded vision sees a pink lizard glued to the ceiling of the room she is renting from an artist-friend. Jetlagged and dehydrated, she had been warned plenty about Lahore’s summers—“Your American nature won’t tolerate it,” her father had said—but bought a ticket anyway. She had never told anyone about her real interest: Nadira. Now she drips and bakes on a hard bed with no reprieve from the heat. “I’ll get to you later,” she snaps at her unpacked suitcases, and deliriously shifts her gaze back to the old YouTube video.
Nadira glitches before she drifts, wrapped in a white sari. Gardenias hold her wrists, gold weighs down her ears and ankles. An arm swoops, a neck cranes away only to curve back, a body trembles with the rhythm of the tabla that beats off-screen.Then, the fog of the 1990s jars the Pakistani dancer’s last performance into black and white static. The distortion reminds Naima of foam that tugs icy waves to the shore and back.
Morbid curiosity fills Naima’s body with a different kind of heat as she switches tabs to an article covering Nadira’s murder in 1999. The article is the only one of its kind and Naima has read it dozens of times before, as if it were written for her eyes only. It reveals just enough information to stoke obsession—Nadira was shot three times—A suspect was taken into custody but remains anonymous—There was no known motive.
The morning call to prayer finally lulls Naima to sleep. In her dreams, a pink lizard ventures into the earth and makes a home out of a beautiful skull’s eye-socket. By mid-afternoon, her artist-friend comes in to check on her, but she is still asleep.
Now when she watches Nadira dance, Naima has been in Lahore for three months. She only sometimes misses home. The city continues to tantalize her with its blend of the dead and the living, of tradition and the emergent. Every day, she tries to write about all this in an attempt to find herself.
One evening, Naima watches another apocalyptic sunset. Hooded crows caw madly into the red sky. Hundreds of bats soar out of a palm tree to feed, like ashes blowing in the wind. It’s like they’re all screeching Nadira Nadira Nadira, she thinks.
Every time Naima tries to write about Nadira, a malaise takes over her fingers. Nadira’s expression is above language and hovers between the restraint and generosity of flesh—of dance. Naima, meanwhile, has two left feet and a stuck mind. She attends a few performances, but the dancers fall flat in comparison to Nadira. Impossible, she thinks.
To clear her head, Naima drifts through crowded streets. She buys incense, fresh juice, books, pirated DVDs she’ll never watch. She avoids her relatives, just as she avoids wayward motorcycles and rickshaws. She meets all kinds of men, sometimes only in their gazes. She’s pleased by how her presence throws a curve in their lives. But in a city of men, Naima always returns to Nadira. Maybe desire is a form of dance, she thinks. In it one dwells but can’t be made to stay put.
Now when she watches Nadira dance, Naima reads that Lahore has become the most polluted city in the world. She sits on her friend’s patio alone with the smog. It makes her chest heavy but doesn’t stop her from lighting another cigarette. This is a new habit she’s picked up. When she ashes her Dunhill in a painted tray she sees what appears to be an airplane drifting overhead. She can only make out faint, blinking lights as it descends towards the nearby airport. Her time here is up and she has realized that there still remains a chasm of difference between her and this city. It’s not an issue of blood, she tells herself. Lahore is confused.
A couple of weeks ago, she had finally mentioned Nadira to an older, stoned writer-friend who said, “Oh, that one. She was murdered by a musician’s manager—but he wasn’t really a manager, he was just a shoemaker who the musician hired because he was his only literate, cellphone-carrying friend at the time—anyways, she wanted to collaborate with the musician and the manager thought she was stealing his one client from him so he knocked on her door and when she answered he shot her dead.”
“That’s it?” Naima had said.
“Everyone knows this,” the writer-friend shrugged.
Naima then tried to find the musician, a flutist, at the shrine he performed at every Wednesday. For hours, she stood among men who stared at her through hash smoke. The flutist never showed up. So much for tradition, Naima thought.
When her artist-friend comes out onto the patio to ask her if she’s all packed, Naima looks at her as though she were a stranger and silently goes to her room. The electricity is out again so she lights a candle and uses her hotspot to play Nadira’s video, like a ritual. She keeps replaying it without finishing it. She types, “The glitches hold her in place before releasing her into possibility without resolve.” Resolution in non-resolution.
It’s time to go, the artist-friend says. Naima shuts her laptop and blows out the flame while the one inside her has already turned to ash.
Noor Asif is a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has appeared in The Juggernaut, Peripheries, Entropy Magazine, and Juked.
Portrait of Wreckage
Maggie Yuan is a junior at Rice University, where she double majors in English and Visual Arts. She is happiest when reading new poetry, wandering around thrift shops in Houston, or re-watching Conan remotes on YouTube.