A woman sat in the back corner of the restaurant. She ate quietly while her young son bounced energetically around the dining room.
First over at the toy machines, he touched every one of them, testing the knobs. Then over to the takeout menus, pointing to the glossy dragon on their covers. At the table, he picked up the small glass bottle.
A plate of garlic chicken sat cooling at his seat. His mother sat, swiping left and right on her phone and chewing absent-mindedly on a crab rangoon.
She only wanted peace. He only wanted the world.
The Office (Purgatorio) ~ John Gabriel Adkins
There was a protest growing outside the office again. Five or six people pacing the cracked concrete lot with that photo of David's face, smiling awkwardly, blown up placard-size. They chanted something--saudade, saudade--that I'd been told was Portuguese.
I wrist-flicked another folder of depreciated information into the fire barrel by my window. The floor was beginning to fill with smoke. The alarms had been removed last month. We'd smashed holes in all the glass, our fists wrapped in sackcloth and shipping envelopes, so we could stick our heads out and breathe, hold it, turn, flick, turn, exhale, breathe.
David's face was multiplying outside.
When I was hired, my floor stamped red circles onto blank paper. Our stacks would disappear by morning, before we clocked in again. Then these new folders started to appear every afternoon, while we were out to lunch. After a week we were drowning, and I suggested the fire barrels.
Just before David went to Heaven, he'd flashed the same awkward smile as he had in the photo, the one staring up from the protesters' hands, stretched all the way back to the horizon line. Earlier on that day, he'd used the punching bag in his cubicle to teach me how to box. He'd told me, "We'll all get out, someday."
Ma's Blood ~ K. Slattery
I can’t ever bring a woman home because the sound of my mother’s dialysis machine distracts me completely. I have to work at Denny’s, because it’s the only place that will give me a split shift, and mom needs her dialysis done twice daily.
The living room smells like talcum powder and burnt plastic. Mother sits in the corner in a sun-bleached pink easy chair. Beside her is the machine, with its fluid tank, cycling device and filter.
“How’s work? Meet any nice girls lately?”
Because I’ve never brought a woman home, my mother thinks I’m a queer. She doesn’t know I can hear her praying for me. The truth is, since this is such a small town, all the women here know I used to be in special ed, on account of I bit a chunk off a boy’s ear in the third grade. The girls in special ed have jug ears or headgear or smell like tomato soup.
The tourniquet goes on, then the needles go in. Connect the fluid lines to the syringes, tourniquet goes off. Flush each line with saline, draw the plunger back and forth to mix the blood in.
“Sometimes I wonder at how delicate you are, ma. If I pushed this plunger just a little too far, you’d have an embolism. You know that?”
She smiles at me. “Did I ever tell you you were stillborn?”
“Your heart stopped when you were born, and the doc said you were dead. I knew better. I stuck my finger right between your little ribs and kickstarted your ticker. Your brain was without oxygen for almost two minutes. That’s why I’ll never get cross with the funny things you say. You can’t help it.”
The machine whirrs on with a soothing hum.
Abigail Morrow is a mother of two who works a day job in finance, but someday hopes to publish a collection of short stories.