Here you’ll find merch, Issue #24 story excerpts, and the issue’s Spotify playlist. So take a look, and make sure you haven’t missed anything!
Artwork by N’kai DeLauter
I stood in the smoker’s area not smoking. I was freezing my ass off but I could withstand that better than my peers. The cafeteria was overcrowded and some poor friend group always got saddled with me for lack of space. They leaned as far away from me as the bench allowed, shooting me pitying glances every thirty seconds. Today, I slipped outside before they could start. At least the smoker’s corner, tucked between the cafeteria and gym, would be empty. Its usual residents — heavily eyelinered goths and other alternatives — avoided it now that Soledad smoked here, choosing to dodge teachers in the bathrooms instead.
Soledad chose that moment to push open the rust-hinged metal door. She nodded at me. I vaguely knew Soledad the way one knows everyone in a town of a couple thousand. I knew she wore worn-out Dickies and old work boots a size too big to school every day. I knew she smoked during lunch because her parents didn’t put money on her points card. She leaned on the wall a few feet from me, pulling out a cigarette and tapping it against the side of the pack.
She shouldn’t even be here.
Teena knew that. On a Sunday afternoon she should be sitting on the covered porch of Cantina 1211 sipping half-price palomas in the heat with her best friend while they cackled like hens. Her lips pursed. The tang of the cocktail was just what she needed right now. Instead, she was letting herself into the bank branch where she worked, to do quarterly reports and employee reviews.
And break the rules.
It wasn’t her fault. Every bank had the same regulation: dual control. Nothing to do with bank security or funds was done alone. Two employees had to be present, always. When locking and unlocking the front doors, when accessing the vault, when auditing a cash shipment.
No one was surprised when Old Solomon’s eyes were taken. He was always turning them towards other people’s backyards and windows, stealing glances and sneaking peeks and seeing things he had no business seeing.
The surprise was that the rest of him had been spared, for Maruwada was a demon of the old order, and nothing if not efficient.
It was Ludo who found Old Solomon wandering among the sunflowers on the morning of Monday the fifth, hands held out in front of him, moaning like a phantom. Well, it was Ludo and Bliss, but Bliss turned up a few seconds late, having broken his slippers again and been forced to run barefoot through the field.
At first, Ludo said, she didn’t realize what was wrong. She called out to the elderly gentleman: “Papa Solomon! Papa Solomon, why are you bumping into the flowers?”
It was only when the man’s bony fingers closed around her arm that Ludo looked up into his face, saw that there were holes where his eyes should have been, and screamed blue murder. By then, Bliss had caught up and joined in the screaming.
It is amazing how some things never change. Where we grow older, crawling from youth into adulthood and all its attendant responsibilities, some things remain unfazed, unbothered by passing years — perhaps even existing out of time — as though its sole purpose is to anchor you to a particular moment, a particular memory, a particular place. As I stood in front of my childhood home that late October evening, I felt like I was staring at a Polaroid from 1992. The brick walls were the same watery pink, faded by an unrelenting sun; the roof was the same lichen-spotted affair of interlocking shale tiles; the rusted drainpipe hanging down the west wall like some limp mechanical phallus. Even the clothesline still sagged between two poles as though it had only recently been relieved of fresh laundry. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine I was twelve again, playing football in the front yard with Deji and Chinedu and Nonso, while my mother threatened softly through the kitchen window to let my brother play with us or she’d give me the beating of my life, so help her God. But I wasn’t twelve anymore; Mama was several years in the ground, and my brother, well…
Home is a merciless, recurring return. It waits for me there. When my mind momentarily floats up into my daydreams, it steals my breath. Gasping as its grasp envelops me, always. My present, my past, my future is stained by its presence and I must always return.
But for now, I am free to hover. I focus on the photo of a family caught in mid-laughter in front of me. My fingers rub against the leather chair bursting like cracked apple skins. Clicking on her mouse, my counselor scrolls through my life’s efforts simplified into letters. She stops briefly, using her flamboyant feathered pen to scribble something in her notebook.
“You know, your grades are pretty good. You could probably get a scholarship depending on which major you pick.” Her hazel eyes meet mine. “Is your major still undecided?”
“Umm, well, what do you like to do? Let’s figure out a good fit. Any hobbies?”
“No…” I go to school, to work, do my homework, repeat. I like being away from home? Maybe something with traveling? Get me as far away as possible. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“Yes, you do. Take your time, this is your future we’re dealing with.”
At eleven p.m., when Monica has been back in Salida for less than twelve hours, she finds her mother in the garden, scattering what prove to be teeth.
Cramps bite at Monica’s midsection, and an unpleasant squish informs her she’s overflowed her menstrual cup again. Good thing she doubled-up with the pad. She traipses out to the garden, full of vibrant orange chrysanthemums. “Mom!” Helen starts and pulls her thin satin robe more tightly over her powder-blue nightgown. The white lace at the hem and square neckline glows in the moonlight against her dark brown skin. “What are you doing out here?”
Helen glances down at the yellowed matchbox in her hand. A cuspid lies in it. Monica shines her phone’s light at the ground, revealing two incisors a few inches away from her mother’s bare foot. Helen shifts; her big toe had hidden a gold-topped molar. The teeth nestle into the soil, and the leaves spread over them almost protectively.
Monica wants to pulverize that small bit of gold, smash it, shatter it, render it powerless.
She stays still.
Poem: Waking My Niece to Alienate Her Body in a Green Planet by Zaynab Bobi
Poem: It’s a Wonderful Life (In the Kitchen) by Lisa D