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Sister Stop Breathing

What can you do if you want your sister to stop breathing?

Ice her up and drive north. Head to Santa Cruz. There you will find a main street called

Main Street. You can showcase her to people. Go to the Kinko’s parking lot and introduce her. Say, “I bet you didn’t know I had a sister! This is she. She’s made of ice.” The kids will want to touch her arm, and the sister will move in tiny waves. Once you have asserted that the sister exists and she is made of ice, breathe down her frozen face. The sister will begin to melt. The children will scream.

“You are melting her! She’s disappearing.”

And you know this is precisely the intention. To melt her into nothingness. There will be no more sister. There will be no more life for the sister and no more form. This, you think, is for the best and it is better than cremation.

 

The Guillotine

I got my hand cut off—the one I write and touch with—the perfect hand to sever.
I walked to the end of the paved road and reached a cul-de-sac. A boy waited for me there. He came from Poland and wore a fur hat. He displayed a miniature guillotine, one that was made for hands. I looked at the blade and back at my fingers. My nail polish was purple, which I didn’t like anyway. I asked myself what the problem was. Was it the permanence of the act that scared me? People did permanent things all the time. It was like getting a tattoo. I put my hand in the guillotine and chopped it off. Or he did. I was left with a stump—a short arm that could not grab or hold on to anything. I could only smooth out whatever was there. What the hell was I thinking getting my hand cut off like that? But it was too late. The stump
did not bleed. It simply drip-dropped down.

 

 

Linen Trunks

 
The wife comes home while I am in the attic. I’ve become accustomed to retreating there and taking out the old trunks. She has come to pick up the linens from when they slept in the same bed.

I hear her voice downstairs.

“Happy New Year to you,” she says to the husband.

“The sheets are in the attic and she is in her pajamas,” says the husband, giving away my hiding place.

When she comes upstairs I know I look like an orphan. My stringy hair, my pale, round face. Politely she shakes my hand and repeats, “Happy New year. I have come to take my things.” The fact that I am in the midst of taking a voyage into the past is of no interest to her. This upsets me and also rings a bell: what am I doing in this attic, scavenging through boxes? Shouldn’t I get a haircut and proceed toward the world? Shouldn’t I be presentable to her? She is, after all, the wife. I rush to the mirror, try to fix my hair up, but it’s too late.

“It’s not a race,” she implies with a detached and rigid smile, “I just want my linens back.”

I kneel over the trunks. I know perfectly well which one holds her sheets. I push the wooden case towards her feet.

“Thank you,” she says. She picks up the trunk, brings it down the stairs and addresses the husband.

“She is not well, my dear. You should get her to cut her hair.He responds with a concerned voice explaining about my attic afternoons. “It is impossible to reach an agreement with her! All she does is go up there and perch on old things.”

“Well off I go” says the wife, “thankfully this is the part of the story where I am not called into play. You wanted her. She is yours to keep.” And she hurries out, lace and ruffles spilling out of the wooden chest.

 

The Maniac at the Beach

The maniac is a regular at the beach bar. They feed him sandwiches. He sits alone at the table overlooking the sea, ruminating like a cow. White bread and ham take his mind off the things of life—another day looking at topless girls at the beach, another day alone, another day walking for miles before seeing what he wants, another day of not speaking. He wears Bermudas to try and fit in, but the shorts are dirty, consumed from years of beach guy emulation. Being a beach maniac every day has made his skin coarse. His nose hooks into his mouth, hiding where nobody can blame him. It wasn’t like this when he was thirty, though it’s hard to believe he once was thirty. Once he was a child who didn’t look for naked girls.

His routine is to roam, like in an inferno’s circle, the beaches of the coast. He strolls with his whole life ahead of him, but his hair is white and the new girls doubt he is capable of having an erection, which is the reason he is considered harmless: a tolerable, aged pervert.

He likes to rest on beached trunks. He openly stares at every curve, every body, every smile. When he spots the topless ones, he digs a hole, a sand crib where he can lie and spy. When he’s dug in and his stomach touches the ground, he rocks back and forth, trying to work up an erection. The girls laugh him off. Poor man, moving about in his sand cocoon. And to think there was a time when the second he sensed the sand seep inside his bathing suit, he’d be alive like a python. Now his limp member is buried. The ocean hums in his ear and the girls no longer flee when they see him.

 

The Arizona Shadow

Two friends, one Italian, one British, move to Arizona. When they arrive a few things unsettle them, starting with the uprooted oak tree just outside the window.

“Bad omen,” says the Italian, but the other friend is resilient.

“We can still go to the park.”

This Arizona choice feels confusing, nonetheless.

“What do we do now with all this space?” The Italian girl wonders, taken by her usual
pessimism. The British one suggests inviting her boyfriend along. “But he’s fighting pirates in the Atlantic Ocean!” says the friend. “I know he’ll find time.”

They decide to call.

“Hello my love,” says the British one longingly into the receiver, and passes it onto the friend, who displays a sturdier tone, “We have a big, sunny house in Arizona that surely will get your mind off pirates.”

The man on the other side resists, as his conflict with the pirates has recently morphed into a business opportunity. “We are high on drugs and coming to an agreement here. But I do need a break.”  The girls prepare for his arrival. The Italian one cuts the back out of a burgundy dress and fits it on the British one. “There you go. With the new house and the bare back he’ll die for you.”

When the boyfriend lands in Arizona, the friends greet him in the spacious, sunny home. The British one suggests they take a walk alone. What better time to do some cleaning, the Italian girl thinks. The walk-in closet is a dark corridor filled with useless cleaning products and debris. She gets on her knees and begins to throw everything away.

By the time the couple returns, the closet shines with new life. “Come and see, it smells like soap!”

“I think I’ll go home, now,” says the man, suddenly gloomy, looking as tall as his shadow in the Arizona sunset.

The British one complains, “You’re such a moody prick! You just got here! And the closet is clean for us!”

You can do anything you want there!” the Italian girl adds.

“I know, I know,” he smiles sheepishly, “It smells wonderful too, but closets and me don’t go well together.”

“Especially not if you’re this tall,” says the Italian one, deriding his elongated figure. The British girl, disillusioned, waves her hand to exhibit indifference.

“Let him go,” she says, “If anything he’ll call.” And together they bid him farewell.

 

 

Polish and Beautiful

 
If you are Polish and beautiful, mind the gap when hopping onto the train. You are not allowed to bring buckets of jewelry aboard. Keep the jewelry somewhere where nobody can see, and watch out for guards. You can step off anytime.

If a previous lover gets on the train, be vigilant. She knows how to approach beautiful Polish girls. She’ll stand next to you and sneer. She waits for the moment when the jewels are out and she can be rich too.

 

 

Los Angeles

 
If you are young and you live in Los Angeles you can’t do much because you don’t have a car. One thing you can do is hop fences to get where you’re not allowed to be, away from school. Make sure your backpack goes over the fence before you jump. The risk of injury is high.

If you end up in a hospital because you were injured jumping a fence, get all your friends to sign your balloons. If the terrorists come, be prepared for the balloons to pop. They might wither away out the window and you’ll never get them back. Do not ditch school if you are not good at hopping fences.
If you are still bored because you don’t have a car, you may dress up in your mother’s clothes and walk like a prostitute on Sepulveda Boulevard. When the cars honk at you, you can flip them off and tell them you’re not “working”.

 

 

Waking up with Legs

 
When you wake up in bed, you fidget and push all additional legs out of your way. What should you do when you are fidgety? Men hate it when women are too loud. They prefer it when they take off a few thighs and shut up about the extra legs.

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Fiction Editor J. Ryan Stradal lives in Los Angeles, where he works as an editor-at-large at Unnamed Press. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest and the editor of 2014's California Prose Directory anthology.

Associate Fiction Editor Ana Ottman is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her stories have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, The Rumpus, and Uno Kudo, among other publications.

Associate Fiction Editor Leah Tallon's book reviews, interviews and fiction have been published at The Manifest-Station, The Collagist, The Rumpus, and other places. She lives in Milwaukee.

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