Joey Schuman


I was chopping the peppers when Elvis pulled me back to San Antonio. In my ears swam his warm honey voice, then the music of children playing, splashing. Sunlight made love to the pool water, blurring everything in glittering yellow tones. In this golden light, rules didn’t matter. Little boys ran, jumped, flew, carried by the breeze, and I watched with elation and jealousy from under my umbrella. Their wet feet slapped harmoniously against the same concrete that scratched my butt through my swim trunks.

Elvis sang, you should’ve heard those knocked-out jailbirds sing, and Mom hummed along at my back. She lounged, magazine in hand. Her sunglasses were bigger than the world, and shinier, too. Her hat was bigger still, with a brim on which stray birds might make a home for the summer. This image of her was like something out of a movie. She pulled her eyes from the gossip pages to attend to me, and she smiled with her mouth closed tight. “Why don’t you go play with the other boys?” she asked (begged), and suddenly my feet became very interesting and I had to look at them. Elvis implored us to rock, everybody let’s rock, and Mom sighed. I was watching the other boys move, dance, and rock, when I saw him.

He had a body like the statues you’d find in an art museum, godly and beautiful. He glowed. I can see him now, blond and tan and dimpled, with long legs descending out of his lifeguard trunks. I couldn’t watch the other boys anymore, because light cascaded from this man and into my chest and I was enamored. When he smiled, the sky exploded, taking me with it. I was reverent. Elvis sang, you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see, and the boys rocked, but I didn’t notice. The lifeguard was ephemeral and flickering as a flame. A king in his tall white throne, unaware of my unwavering gaze. I was still, devout.

Then a sound from the shade behind me, a tut of resounding disapproval, yanked me. I turned, and Mom sighed, and there was a moment of the worst kind of understanding. I could see her eyes through her sunglasses and oh, she knows, she knows. The birds in her big hat chirped, oh, they know, they know.  The other boys had stopped rocking and they stared with wide eyes, they know. The beautiful man, up on his heavenly precipice, bore down on me with disgust. He knows. I pulled myself deep into the shade of the umbrella, away from the golden light that stripped away my shell, and laid bare the twisted little fluttering thing underneath. They know. They know. They know. Elvis sang, sad sack was sitting on a block of stone, way over in the corner weeping all alone. A slip of the fingers, and then a slice, sharp inhale. I was bleeding. I’d long finished chopping the peppers.

Isabella Briggs


The last owner said, “Keep her.” 

“Her.” Not “it.” I didn’t give the word much thought at the time. But now, standing in the house with nothing but my boxes and furnishings, it hits me. They didn’t leave anything. If a piece of furniture wasn’t nailed down, it was gone. From where I stand near the door I can see a few appliances in the kitchen, but the cavernous entryway is eerily quiet and completely empty. So why didn’t they want the painting? And why did they call it a ‘her?’

Yes, the painting is of a girl, sort of. An almost girl. A doll, really, but it has so much detail it could be real. I find myself staring at her—I shake my head. At it. I find myself staring at it: Blonde curls, blue-grey eyes, a light daffodil yellow dress decorated with bows and lace, a string of pearls around her neck. The ornate golden frame and murky dark background accentuate the warm colors and her features. She’s exquisite. Truly a sight to behold. I can’t stop myself from reaching a finger to brush against her porcelain—no, her painted skin. But the paint feels like porcelain beneath my fingertips. It is—smooth. So smooth. Like she is real, or as real as a doll can be. 

My fingers drift to the satin dress, the feathery lace, it’s all real. Why did I ever think it wasn’t? Gemma is real and always has been. Gemma. The name rolls off my tongue as if I am referring to a friend. A family member. Someone I have known all my life. 

There’s a twinkle in her silvery blue eyes. 


One week later I drop the old set of keys into a younger woman’s hand. I have successfully removed all my things from the house. She catches me on my way out the mansion’s looming front door for the final time. 

“Um, excuse me, miss? Don’t you want the painting?” She asks kindly, her eyes drifting in Gemma’s direction before looking back at me. I simply shake my head. 

“Keep her.” 


Paul O’Connor

Mother and Son

The items race forth, and work eagerly begins. Before they even reach the grasp of the bagger, one must mentally categorize the items, thinking about weight, size, fragility, perishability. Then, one must lift and scan the items until the bell of affirmation rings through. Next, one must peer through the bag’s opening, examining for rips or tears. And finally, the bagging. The bagging is distinct, complex, and purely personal, but the goal is uniform: efficiency, organization, and accessibility. Bradley and I differ by method, however, we’ve maximized our speed and efficiency, not suffering the tragedy of a ripped bag since our first year on the job. On top of that, we color code. It’s a large and difficult task, however, the challenge expands the artistic quality of the work. For twenty years, we’ve loved our jobs at the supermarket. In fact, our married life began here. Bradley proposed during our lunchtime break, the ring buried in a crinkly blue grocery bag. We’re a fantastic team.


We have a twenty-year-old son named Derek. He’s in college. We’ve both agreed he’s a bit of a disappointment. A practical thinker, cunning, ambitious. I truly can’t understand him. From an early age I would sit him in the living room, leave to gather plastic bags and soup cans, spices, fruits, and perhaps a bottle of wine, and show him the process. But he eternally despised it, protesting, complaining, insulting. He wanted to read, play sports, make friends, and through the years, an endless stream of teachers raved about his accomplishments: honor roll, football captain, class president. I only pretended to care. He’s not an artist, and I wish he were different.


Business school! How awful! That’s where our money must go?


Mr. Cripson, the long-time store manager, died yesterday. He was eighty-six years old, and died an immensely decent, pleasant man. The funeral was soft, dark, and musical. And the store’s absolute disorientation was completed by a teenage bagger quitting, citing a need for college. I thought of Derek and sent him a letter, telling him of the job opening. Our correspondence has been fleeting over the years, and I haven’t received an answer.


Today I entered the store and saw Derek, waving and smiling near the counter. I beamed, imagining he accepted the bagging position. I moved closer and read the shirt label. Manager. My heart began to droop. “Good,” I said. I took my station and began work, but everything was terribly wrong. My focus lagged, the bell was harsh, the items pointless, the color missing spice and life. Ms. Timmons, a usual customer, stretched her arm and lifted a teeming bag: the plastic tore, erupting in a tragic, endless crash. She cursed, and the eyes of my son gleamed from the office. I reddened, gasped, and collapsed among the splattered wine and bruised tomatoes.