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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Global Pandemic x The Thing I Took For Granted


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Letter from the Editor It had been a few weeks living with the new realities of a global health crisis when the idea for creating a special creative nonfiction issue was born. As writers ourselves, we felt both the urgency to document this moment but also a growing sense that many writers were finding it difficult to write about anything. Having a specific theme to write toward—something missed and previously taken for granted until now—a limit of 500 words, and a short window of time to submit felt like a good, if not motivational, solution to offer. We intended to pick our favorite ten pieces for publication but we weren’t sure what to expect. Would we get any (or enough) submissions? Would they all be heartbreaking? Would they all be about the same thing? Like never before, writers overwhelmed us with the variety, depth, and introspection of their work. So much so that it quickly became clear choosing only ten would be impossible. We increased the number of published pieces to fifteen, plus five additional writers for honorable mention. The one common thread we read time and again in the cover letters to the dozens and dozens of submissions: thank you for having this call for submissions—it is the first time I’ve been able to write in months and it felt wonderful. The pieces we received were all heartfelt and ranged from funny to sad to pragmatic to hopeful. Writers from all over the globe—from big cities and rural landscapes to everything in between—told us what they were missing most, what they’d been contemplating in new ways. In few words they brought us into their worlds and reminded us we have more in common than we often remember, that at base we all miss the same things just in different ways: each other and who we are when together. We hope you find some solace and see a piece of yourself when reading these fifteen pieces, that you are reminded that despite what’s happening right now, you are never truly alone. xo Kristen, CNF Editor

Editorial Board Founder: Brendan Todt • Editor in Chief: Benjamin Woodard Poetry Editors: Liz Ann Young & Summar West Fiction Editors: Whitney Bryant & Cathy Ulrich Creative Nonfiction Editor: Kristen M. Ploetz • Assistant Editor: Mike Nagel


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Table of Contents Becky Robison

I don’t miss coffee, but

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Sarosh Nandwani

blueberry cataclysm

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Sue Mitchell

An Impurrfect Life

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Lauren Otolski

winter/spring

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Sutton Strother

Nostalgia Is

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Deb Rogers

Being Lucky

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Greg Oldfield

Deadweight

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Gail Dottin

The Checklist

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Jane French

Another Day to Ruin Dinner

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Jennifer Fliss

I Cannot Wash It All Away

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K Chiucarello

Gossip Line

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Kate Gehan

The Small Sorrow of This Magnificent Body

Gracie Beaver-Kairis

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Take Time to Stop and Wear The Roses

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Sidney Dritz

I Miss My Nemesis

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Eimear Laffan

Aspirational Self-Portrait as Reindeer and Fox

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Call for Submissions

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Contributor Notes

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Special Issue, Summer 2020 Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Sioux City, Iowa www.atlasandalice.com atlasandalice@gmail.com

Š Atlas and Alice, All Rights Reserved


Becky Robison

I don’t miss coffee, but There’s something menstrual about the smell of coffee, thick and bitter as the beans are ground and brewed to liquid. I don’t drink coffee—only a splash when it’s drowned in something sweet. But I miss the smell of it. I miss the churn of machines and the hiss of steam, the clink of glasses, the clatter of china on the bar, the bird calls of baristas, mocha-for-Ted, Americano-for-Rachel, the soft strum of something acoustic, all while I try not to eavesdrop on first dates, job interviews, language lessons, it’s dò svidànya, DÀNya, DÀNya, all while I try to focus on my own words, squeeze stories from within until they bleed from my pen onto paper.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Sarosh Nandwani

blueberry cataclysm after the cataclysm, my parents, rightfully paranoid, hoarded almond milk and cashews. no fruit, dad said. this is like being back in Pakistan. there, we do not eat anything cold because that is where the viruses flourish. if it has not gone in the microwave or the air fryer or the oven, it will not be eaten. my parents clean everything down to the neglected space behind the washer and dryer. when mom comes home from the pediatric clinic, she immediately changes clothes, praying the virus dies faster in the hamper. she puts a shower cap on her hair, where dad says the virus lingers. I think I miss the strawberries and blueberries the most. before, I used to chop the strawberries and pop slices into my mouth, wait for the tart to make me pucker and the sweet to coat the roof of my mouth. did you put some strawberries in your bowl of whipped cream? mom would ask me, after I aerosol-ed my strawberries. when dad arrives from the pediatric clinic, mom has already laid out a few Walmart bags and Lysol outside the house. the bags are for his shoes and socks. the Lysol is to be sprayed all over the driver’s seat. he walks in, acknowledges us with a distant air hug, and shuffles into the shower. the blueberries I would put in the freezer. they would come out sounding like marbles but tasting like soft candy. once, I dropped frozen blueberries all over the kitchen floor, and it sounded beautiful. one night, dad thinks harder about where to get PPE. his patient sewed him a mask already, but there are no disposable scrubs. he gazes down, thinking. he puts a single 7


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue finger up, and I nearly expect a lightbulb over his head. he makes disposable scrubs with a garbage bag and a stapler. yesterday, I asked mom if we could buy frozen blueberries and strawberries, or if we could wash them in vinegar. she said the ones that are washed in vinegar or already frozen wouldn’t taste the same, an ersatz version of fresh, juicy ones. the worst my parents used to come home with was a cold.

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Sue Mitchell

An Impurrfect Life I yowl at the offending empty can and turn imploring eyes to Mum. When it comes to pleading, Shrek’s Puss-in-Boots is a mere gifted amateur. Me? I’m a pro. A master manipulator. Utterly irresistible. Mum and I stare into the tuna can void, willing it to magically replenish. I bat it with a paw. Why is my every whim not being fulfilled? With hope cruelly crushed, I shove my nose in and rasp my tongue around the crevices for the phantom fleshy flakes, the tantalising odour making me drool. Until recently, I had fishy treats on demand; tribute to my feline fabulousness. Now, Dad returns from his hunting expeditions through the echoing supermarket canyons remarkably lightly burdened. He mutters darkly about shortages of canned goods and toilet paper. His failures weigh heavily upon him. Incompetent human. Phttt! I stretch languorously in a patch of sunlight. Toilet paper, indeed. How ridiculous are humans? I am being rhetorical. That’s not a challenge. You don’t need to repeatedly prove how insanely inept you are. Fantasising about fish is futile. Instead, I listen to their furtive conversation. Plebeians wittering on about kindness and community, about sharing, and pulling together—whatever that means. I watch through sun-slitted eyes as Mum rechecks the larder. None of my tuna, but I spy canned salmon. Hmmm. I twitch my tail in anticipation. Worth a try, even with creatures as unintelligent as humans. Perhaps I can induce her to share. She returns empty-handed to the couch. “Watch this,” I purr, sitting directly in front of her, and gracefully raising a rear leg over my shoulder. “This is how a superior being avoids toilet paper problems.” I demonstrate, slowly and methodically, but realise even if she was smart enough to

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue understand the lesson—which she isn’t—she lacks the requisite flexibility to perform gymnastic ablutions. Mum giggles, moronically. “They don’t teach that in my yoga class, but I’d like to be that limber.” Dad raises an eyebrow, but wisely says nothing. Resigned to a fish-free pandemic, I maintain eye contact as I nudge a mug off the coffee table to remind her I’m still the boss.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Lauren Otolski

winter/spring On nights like this, our fluorescent-lit bedroom was the last bright window. The traffic lights five stories below cycled through their colors for empty sidewalks. Graphs spilled across her computer screens, calculations lined my whiteboard, and the room filled up with exhaustion forced upon us by assignments of tangled, angry equations that scrubbed away hopes of sleep. But also inside this room were video game soundtracks through laptop speakers and nests of blankets and me running my hand across the back of her flannel pajamas. I’d slip over to her side of the room and engulf myself in her nest for a few minutes while she trailed her fingers through my hair. It’s one of those nights, and we belong there. I wish I was outside your window, she types, because classes have moved online and campus has emptied. Our apartment is vacant, too, because our families want us home and safe. Pandemics don’t care that the school year is, implicitly, our promised time together. You could come inside, I say, and I imagine her eight hours down the Mississippi, tucked in her house surrounded by verdant grass in a state where trees already bloom. I wonder if her bedroom lamp draws out the silver and gold in her hair like our apartment light does. I wonder if she’s made herself tea because I can’t, whether it’s chamomile and wispy steam is curling from the cup. If she steps out of her window and lifts her arms and lets sand-colored wings unfurl like the barn owls she loves, will she finish it or let it grow cold? Oh, she says. Please let me in. I stand. The roof is vacant. A Christmas-light-adorned shrub glows on the other side of the street, but otherwise the neighborhood is dark. I unlatch the window and heave it open. A chill winds in and creeps across the carpet.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue Window’s unlocked, I type. There are no clouds, just a speckling of stars. I shiver, but lean against the window frame anyways. If she’s flying, it will be even colder. Wind will tug at her hair, work its way through her jacket, and numb her fingers. I hope she’s wearing gloves. I hope she still has time before morning to work on her lab report once she gets here. Carefully, I slip one foot through the window, duck my head beneath the lifted pane, and sit on the rim with my feet on the shingles. I’m on the sill. The night is deep enough that I believe in her flight. It’s still enough that I believe in settling her in the glow of my desk lamp, wrapping her in my purple blanket, and sitting next to her on the floor, running my fingers through her hair to tease out any stray bits of moonlight. Second window from the right, I type, as if that will let her find me here, waiting, with my socks catching on the roof.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Sutton Strother

Nostalgia Is Not as fun as it was a year ago at 2AM, dancing with your husband across the living room to hits of the 90s. More important now. No longer just what it felt like to push a Lite Brite peg through paper or wearing your mother’s lotion the night of your first kiss but a conversation from your last brunch and a new friend’s crooked tooth and her hand resting easy against your back as the waitress snapped a group photo. A privilege, and sometimes a danger. You try always to make certain you’re holding it in careful hands, seeing it clearly, each memory for what it is, inasmuch as anyone can do that. Some memories are blueprints for the life you hope to build on the other side of this plague, but there are nights when you know you’re looking back in case you never get another chance. A life before red ambulance lights turned your bedroom into a morbid discotheque. Every city you inhabited before New York. A hometown that will never be the center of anything. Your grandfather plucking tomatoes off the vine, canning them at the kitchen counter while he sang along with the Shangri-Las: tell him that I love him, tell him that I care. Don’t think about the frail creature slumped in his wheelchair mistaking you for your mother. Don’t imagine him with fever on his way to a hospital he may never leave. 14


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue Don’t enumerate the moments he can no longer recall. Recall them for him instead, the ones you were present for, the ones he told you. Remember him as a voice booming from a pulpit, how even when you’d outgrown belief in the Word, you still believed that voice could hold you safe. A super power. Not quite time travel, but as close as you can get. Never enough. The sun-and-moon-faced clock that sat beside your bed in fourth grade, calling you awake with your horoscope. Libra, now is the perfect time to plan for the future. You find one just like it for $34.95 on eBay, swear you’ll buy it if you survive this. You put no stock in astrology, but you’d pay any price for what it promises: a new day, one with you in it.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Deb Rogers

Being Lucky Gamblers talk a lot of shit. Poker table, casino, bingo hall, or strip mall arcade, it’s all the same. The banter swarms. Some dude talks himself up. Or runs himself down. Or runs you down. Or just talks to let his voice hold air, to see how high it will pull him. I talk a lot. Sometimes it’s friendly, because we’re all in it together, this vice that is performed in public. Sometimes it’s part of the game, a psy-op to get you to play right into the talker’s hand or a gentle tug that causes you to reveal your tells. It’s never silent in those joints, even when it’s quiet. We need each other to play. We’re close together and it’s dirty in every way. The chips are filthy, the players reek of booze and flop, the cash—who knows, right? The filth is half the fun. The other half is winning. For me, anyway. Some people want to lose. We need them, too. I miss it all, but I really miss the chance to steal someone’s luck. You can’t do that online or at a distance. If you want to steal luck, you need to move in close. You need to get in there and take theirs away if you want some for yourself. You need to feel the waves of fortune dancing off of a winner. You need to whisper to it, coax it over, brush a shoulder or a hand when you reach for dice or a card. You need to touch a hot machine while their hand is still feverishly cooking it. There’s no way around it: you have to be there to get lucky. .

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Greg Oldfield

Deadweight Food and exercise. Those were my only priorities on the eve of Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order. I stalled on the second one because I wasn’t thinking about the gym rats, the doit-yourselfers, the millions of Americans working from home, overseeing their kids’ education while squeezing in disrupted fitness routines. At the time, we still had parks, open air, playgrounds, and ingenuity. We also had N-95 masks, toilet paper, jobs, zero deaths, and leadership talking tough even though the moment for action had passed. Adjustable dumbbells. That’s all I wanted. Specifically, Bowflex Selecttech dumbbells. Something the family could share but with enough resistance that I didn’t have to lift three Target weights in one hand five hundred times until I felt something. I didn’t realize I’d missed the chance to jump on the disappearing stockpile of home fitness equipment. I checked all the standard places. Bowflex, Amazon, local sporting goods stores, national fitness suppliers, department stores—all gone. After a week of browsing, refreshing, loading into virtual carts until “Item Out of Stock” appeared, I gave up. Switched my focus. I haven’t been a power lifter for years (OK I’ve never been), but barbells and bumper plates would offer enough versatility. I started a new search. Amazon. Sporting goods stores. Local fitness suppliers. Nothing. National fitness suppliers, limited stock. I’d become adept at switching between two or three tabs, a bar from one site, ten-pound plates from another, thirty-fives from a third. The list grew. Spring collars? Definitely. What about a floor system? Can’t smash the weights on the basement floor. I had it all set up. Backorder. Notify Me.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue Arrive by June 15. By that time, I’ll have gained twenty pounds and eaten through five boxes of chocolate chip brownies. This carried on for another week. Consumed my writing time, table conversations, even replaced TV. Work? Depression set in. I’d be living in a dungeon of burpees, push-ups, and pull-ups on my daughter’s Ninja Warrior line. Then my wife texted me from the other room. Kohl’s. This couldn’t be real. Only three left. Worth the price of our annual family gym membership? I didn’t care. Name, address, billing. Place order. After the third time, the purchase cleared. Finally, I had a major piece of the quarantine home gym I’d envisioned. Within minutes, I found the matching weight rack on QVC and the adjustable bench. Goodbye, local gym. Hello, home gym. No more complaining about TV shows while on the treadmill, excessive locker room nakedness, wiping down someone else’s sweat, three competing musics, cropdusters in the free weight area. I went to bed that night at peace. The world was falling apart, but at least I’d have a positive outlet to offset those daily glasses of wine. In 7-10 business days, I’d feel whole again, a sliver of pre-pandemic life restored. The next morning, I received the email: product no longer available, order canceled. And so, my search continues.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Gail Dottin

The Checklist

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Jane French

Another Day to Ruin Dinner Retrieve bulk sausage from the freezer to make pasta sauce. Simply brown it in a pan, add tomatoes and spices. This sausage, however, was actually a disk of whole wheat pie crust dough. Explains the weird appearance and flavor. Could happen to anyone, really. Grab corn starch to thicken broth. Simply combine with water, then pour the mixture into a simmering pot of homemade soup. This pour, however, triggered an eruption of foam all over the stovetop. Turns out I actually grabbed baking powder by mistake. They look so similar. Prep vegetables for stew. Simply chop, chop, and chop. While prepping, I spy a crumb on the countertop, press it onto a fingertip, and lick it into my mouth. Immediately, an involuntary spit. The crumb was actually a dead spider. This dinner wasn’t so much ruined as canceled. I am dry heaving just typing. Shop online for a cookbook. Simply scroll webpages, add selection to the virtual shopping cart, and proceed to checkout. After describing a new recipe to my husband, he gently took my hand and actually said this, “Look, I don’t want to start a fight, but don’t you think you should use the cookbooks we already have?” I love him so much, really.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue Tomorrow belongs to no one, most especially a bad cook. I want to ruin more dinners, and I won’t take them for granted anymore. I will count my many blessings, really.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Jennifer Fliss

I Cannot Wash It All Away It is true what they say, the hands age first. They belie the life that is still living, still loving with the vigor of youth. My hands are no longer soft. The skin there not as resilient as it once was. I knew this was coming, but it arrived earlier than expected. Suddenly, in my fortieth year. The word quarantine comes from forty; it’s appropriate. In eighth grade I learned the skin loses its elasticity over time. Here, my teacher said, pinch your skin. See how it snaps right back? That’s because you’re young. My fading elasticity has moved exponentially forward. Aging, getting perilously closer to that time when we are told we are no longer of value. I once thought I knew what time was and then they changed the clocks. Forward when it was supposed to be back. The hands of the clock shockingly as fickle as my own. The elasticity of all the hands. After that science experiment, cuddled up in bed with my grandmother, I would pinch the skin on her hands, watch how it took seconds—a long time for a young girl— to return to its home back tight against the body, hugging it, protecting it. I wash and I wash and I rub my hands together. I lather each finger, enveloping it in soap. I caress the soft spot where my thumb meets my palm, under my fingernails, in the U of my cuticles, over the precious veins at my wrists. I am saving a life when I do this, I’m told. Many, perhaps. I have never before taken the time to get to know my hands so intimately. None of us have. I have learned though, that your life line and your love line stay intact after all this friction. Isn’t that interesting? The pointing the punches the sucking the thumb. The peace signs. The thumbs up. The signing of “I love you.” The pinching the holding the grasping the gripping. My ring finger is permanently indented and, if I look close enough, my fingernails show my every deficiency. 26


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue My hands, though chapped and textured, though unpretty after all this, though tired of the continual stretching and washing, can still rake the knots from my daughter’s hair. They can knead dough and twiddle uselessly. They can avoid my face and they can cradle my daughter’s. These hands of time, they’re the only ones I have.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

K Chiucarello

Gossip Line I ring Taylor and tell her about the threesome last night, a spontaneous combustion of loose alcohol and not enough talking, desire fingering its way through cotton cloth. In the morning I wake to weed wafting from the steps, John dangling under peaks of sunlight, shouting Mets statistics between neighbors who took first breaths within Queens hospital walls. We go to the karaoke bar and for forty-five minutes debate the possibility of committing to Emotional Rescue, rehearsing a Jagger drawl, repeating lyrics back to one another before the highlight scroll begins for public expenditure. Kelsea and I meet at the restaurant that only serves roasted chicken and a white sauce sold separately. We order dark leg drippings, dialogue sliding all over the table’s honeyed light. There is a silence on my block that I cannot emulate when the sun goes down. I step outside during what some still call work hours and an ambulance siren is steadily harmonizing with the birds, a singsong of meat tenderized down to chewing proportions. The same Queens hospital is filled with family members now recalling lifetimes alone; John is stranded in Florida. What did we even talk about before this? How did spaces cradle our bodies with their slow consumption for lineage? I begin a diary of quips I would have had in person, fodder I write down to bring up again when we can argue about anchovy to sake ratios for winning marinade recipes. We’ll stand in the middle of the F train headed downtown towards Brooklyn, ping-ponging about a crush I took stock in for six whole days, you talking of the email your father sent you via LinkedIn. A teenage couple makes out across from us, toppling the patched orange seating. I take my diary and read our parts aloud for comfort, languish to a land of definitive time before. Quartered seasons were on track rather than blurring into a trickling whitewash of 24-hour frames ending in -day. Words were pointed then in a direction that is besides my own. Now the only thing living in my sandwiches are

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue pauses and halts that stack thick through a dizzied digital Internet exchange, unwelcomed dividends shoved into forced isolation. I talk to April about March, tell her what it was like to witness strangers and sit on stoops placating with bubblegum and beer. April tells me we can pour one out for the winter months. I ring Taylor and I give her the gossip. I say: I’m reading to you tonight from a horror book, simple dialogue, lonesome characters, unpredictable plot. I’ll spoon feed this to you until the book fills again with dimpled radio waves and checkered blankets.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Kate Gehan

The Small Sorrow of This Magnificent Body Last year I held out my prism when the Target cashier asked how I was, if it was still raining outside. The color spectrum fanned across the carton of milk on the belt, then bled all over the apples, the broccoli, the vitamins to keep my nails strong, and in this way, I didn’t have to say I cried on the drive over through a drizzle. What a mercy, to pull the cool glass from my pocket and open my palm aloft so the store lights could tease out weak purples and blues to say it for me: I was too old for the baby inside me and it was both there and also barely detectable, which was to say I had a puzzle with no acceptable solution. The prism didn’t trick like my voice would have—it simply emanated the depth of fact, and the cashier and I packed milk and cereal into reusable bags with the solemnity required. We agreed that in the space between blue and violet, wickedness shifts to kindness only to flicker back again. I wrote a lot of poems about daffodils when I was ten and my mother said I overused the word JOY to describe them, so I crossed joy out. But I have since learned daffodils are not fussy about soil and they trumpet the heat blazing in my core with mellifluous grace. When I slipped the empty shopping cart into the parking lot rack after unloading my bags, I pointed at a joyous clutch of arrogant flowers beneath a fir tree and said aloud: This too, the surprise of possibility.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Gracie Beaver-Kairis

Take Time to Stop and Wear the Roses The floral patterns have begun to bloom. I see them dangling suggestively from the end-caps of aisles at Target or Walmart while I rush by, my arms full of frozen dinners, a scarf twisted over my nose and mouth. I take them in like I’m guiltily speed reading, their bright springtime hues a jarring, welcome contrast to the Pacific Northwest drizzle. I want to ply the cheap fabric between my fingertips at my leisure, judge the poppies for being too garish or the irises for not being the perfect shade of blue to compliment my eyes. I want to hoist an armful of them and retreat into a 4×4 foot room and put them on one by one. Different flowered skins with all the time in the world. I want to hold in my stomach and listen to the satisfying zing of the zipper sliding up my side while I imagine this A-line skirt transforming me into the most beautiful girl at a party (remember those?). The sun shines on my bare arms and I smile charmingly at someone’s anecdote that isn’t about death tolls or capitalism or mortgage forbearance or unemployment rates or how she took up decoupage in an attempt to stave off madness. At this party, where I am the prettiest, everything is okay, and that isn’t a lie. But there’s no time to wonder how an orange lily jumpsuit might flatter my curves because I’m too busy treasure hunting for bare necessities, my paranoia building at the slightest sniffle from a stranger. I’m grabbing frozen tater tots at breakneck speed. I’m second guessing my every move as non-essential, risky, stupid, dangerous. I’m using the words “braved it” to talk about buying tampons, like I’ve survived a grueling tour of duty with nothing but a can-do attitude, Purell, and strategic breathing. I took for granted shopping without guerrilla tactics. No critical mission. My closet at home bursts with the flowers of summers past. I’m surrounded by the detritus of before, things I wore to concerts, or staff meetings, or haircuts. Even if I wanted to shed them and become a late passenger on the bandwagon of sparking joy, 31


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue Goodwill won’t take potentially contaminated COVID cardigans. Consumed by claustrophobia, everything looks frumpy. Pluck the petals off the hanger; I wore that on a day that a customer yelled at me. I want something new. Something with possibility. A dress I can save for something special, because didn’t we used to have special things? We did, didn’t we? Didn’t we? Nothing is new anymore. Same tired news and same tired threads as the season’s fresh flowers wilt on the rack.

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Sidney Dritz

I Miss My Nemesis It’s frivolous but my lease ends in September and I wanted one more summer with the pool just two blocks away, so close that I wouldn’t even need to decide to go swimming, I’d just let my feet have their way, barely stopping to slip into sandals on my way out the door; down the road, round the corner past the liquor store; through the tiled, beige anteroom to the changing rooms, and then straight into the chlorineblue water. I have a nemesis there at the pool, though he doesn’t know it. I don’t swim during lap-swim times because I can’t quite swim in a straight line; I lap my way across the pool in meandering backstroke zig-zags, but at least I try not to get in anyone’s way. I try to choose a section no one else is in, and to keep my imprecise flailing to myself, or as to myself as possible in a community swimming pool teeming with summer camp kids. This man doesn’t seem to feel any such compulsion. Instead, he swims along one side of the pool, then turns at a right angle to swim along the connecting edge, and then the next, and then the next, circling the edges of the pool, so that any quadrant I choose to swim in, all I have to do is wait a few minutes before he’s swimming towards me. Sometimes he switches directions as he follows the pool around its edges, just to keep me guessing. I am not sure I have ever in my life felt this level of fury towards a person whose name I don’t know, but now I suspect I won’t be seeing him carving his way through the artificially bright water, heading towards me obnoxiously, again this summer, and, preemptively, I miss him. I wanted one more summer, and I suppose I could still have it. But even if we’re out of lockdown by the time summer comes around, I can’t imagine anyone feeling all that safe flinging their sweating, breathing half-naked bodies through a shared accumulation of public water any time soon, no matter how heavily chlorinated it is, no matter how much we may miss each other. 33


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Eimear Laffan

Aspirational Self-Portrait as Reindeer and Fox In the beginning there’s a flimsy coat of snow on the brickwork porch outside my ground floor apartment, a copy of King Lear limp on the coffee table. Twitter reliably informs me that Shakespeare wrote the tragedy during the plague. I score a copy from the local library an hour before it closes indefinitely, along with a copy of Ulysses. Aspirations are important, this word that derives from Latin: aspirationem, a breathing. A function a ventilator can perform should you be unable to do so on your own. After considering the possibility of no travel, I visit the Svalbard Islands courtesy of YouTube. It is home to the northernmost town on earth, poetically named Longyearbyen. I never imagined going anywhere the sun doesn’t rise. The risk is rewarded. I am quickly seduced by the Svalbard reindeer. When the Arctic sun embarks on its own vacation, the reindeer cease to eat. They stand unmoving on frozen ground in a state not quite torpor, not quite hibernation. I work to embody this spirit as the snow recedes and the sun comes out of hiding. A local doctor writes of his neighbourhood banging pots and pans in unison from the confines of their individual gardens. A new evening ritual. All I can hear is the sound of spruce keys from the pianist on the second floor. This is not a complaint. He plays Bach, Chopin, jazz tunes my knowledge doesn’t extend to. There are novels that offer worlds in a single building. Think Life: A User’s Manual, The Yacoubian Building and The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The latter centers on a philosophy reading concierge who conceals her love of Marx and Tolstoy. She (spoiler alert) ends up getting knocked over by a dry cleaner’s van, reminiscent of the accident that would kill Roland Barthes. When novelist Muriel Barbery was finished with the concierge, she went to the sixth floor, settled in with the food critic; Gourmet Rhapsody becomes her subsequent novel. Because we’ve already met Pierre, we know he is dying.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue As I traverse Longyearbyen, I am thinking of Frida Kahlo. At six, polio made one of her legs shorter than the other. At eighteen, a bus accident fractured her pelvis, her shoulder, her spine. At forty-six, her right foot was amputated. She wrote: “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” I am thinking of erasure poetry, where what is taken away continues to stalk the page. On my travels I also meet the arctic fox. Between its white coat of winter and brown coat of summer, it dons a mottled variation. Not quite one or the other. We are in the world now but not of it. It moves with the animals now waking, with the single stellar jay who used to busy herself gathering twigs, confident she could make a winter home in the maples outside my window. I return to Kahlo, to her bathtub and beds. “I paint self-portraits,” she once wrote, “because I am so often alone.”

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Call for Submissions ______________________________________________ We’re always looking for writing that spans genres, that demands to be read, that might be considered the black sheep of a family. Art and science thrill us, but so does the simple image of a man standing at a crossroads. Surprise us. Thrill us. Make us laugh and cry and cringe. Tell us your thoughts. We can’t wait to hear from you! For submission guidelines, please visit http://atlasandalice.com/submit/

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue

Contributor Notes ______________________________________________ Gracie Beaver-Kairis is a Pacific Northwest based writer. Her humor and satire work has appeared in The Belladonna Comedy, Slackjaw, Points in Case, and others. This is her first published creative nonfiction piece. Find her on Twitter @beaverkairis. K Chiucarello is a queer non-binary writer and editor living in the Hudson Valley. Their current and forthcoming work can be found in Trampset, XRAY Lit, Longleaf Review, .them, Lammergeier and others. They are a contributing short fiction editor at Barren Magazine and a flash reader for Fractured Lit. Twitter quips on gender and writing can be found @_kc_kc_kc_. The son of a builder of the Panamá Canal, Vivian M. Dottin raised his daughter Gail on vivid stories of black Canal Zone life. With humility and honor she’s sculpting his words into an oral history. It’ll be dedicated to her father whose absence is pain at her core every second. Sidney Dritz is a former copywriter, currently on-pause popcorn professional who finished her three-college tour of America at the University of Southern Maine. Her poetry has recently appeared in Glass Poetry Press’s #PoetsResist series and in Claw & Blossom, and her horror stories have appeared in anthologies published by Soteira Press. You can follow her work as it develops on Twitter at @sidneydritz. Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose writing has appeared in F(r)iction, Hobart, PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere, including the 2019 Best Short Fiction anthology. She is the 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow and a 2019 recipient of a Grant for Artist Project award from Artist’s Trust. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com. Jane French is a freelance writer and an advocate for low-income seniors. This is her first published CNF and she is honored. She is also stoked about a homemade “shelter 37


Atlas and Alice, Special Issue in place” batch of drywall spackle she used on a ceiling repair. You can find her at janedfrench.com and @janefrenchwrite. Kate Gehan’s debut short story collection, The Girl and The Fox Pirate, was published by Mojave River Press in 2018. Her writing has appeared in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency, Literary Mama, The Stockholm Review, Sundog Lit, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, WhiskeyPaper, After the Pause, Cheap Pop, and others. She is nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Say hello @StateofKate and find her work at kategehan.com. Eimear Laffan’s work has appeared in Ambit, MoonPark Review & Wildness Journal. She lives in Nelson, British Columbia. Find her on Twitter @cadmiumskies. Sue Mitchell swapped her teacher’s desk for a writer’s desk. Her short stories have appeared in several publications, but her tribe of cats remain in luxurious isolation, declining publicity. Sue has a growing Twitter following, @pagancatmommy. Sarosh Nandwani is a mechanical engineer and anthropologist, and is particularly interested in the overlap between those subjects. She loves experimenting with her curly hair. She is a reader for the Longleaf Review, Anomaly Lit, and Periwinkle Literary Magazine. Greg Oldfield is physical education teacher and coach from the Philadelphia area. His stories have appeared in Hobart, Carve, Barrelhouse, and Maudlin House, among others. He also writes about soccer for the Florida Cup and rambles about the game on Twitter under @GregOldfield21. Lauren Otolski is a undergraduate student majoring in bioproducts engineering and minoring in creative writing at the University of Minnesota. She likes hiking, tabletop and video games, and squirrel-spotting. Becky Robison is a karaoke enthusiast, trivia nerd, and fiction writer from Chicago. A graduate of UNLV’s Creative Writing MFA program, her stories have appeared in [PANK], Paper Darts, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. When she’s not working her corporate job or walking her dog, she serves as Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Split Lip Magazine.

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Atlas and Alice, Special Issue Deb Rogers is a writer and media producer who lives in St. Augustine, Florida. Her essays and creative work have been published online and in the anthology Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox. Find her on Twitter @debontherocks. Sutton Strother is a writer and English instructor living in New York. Her writing has been featured in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at suttonstrother.wordpress.com. She tweets @suttonstrother.

Cover Photo: de an sun Interior Photos: Katherine Chase and Heather Gill

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Profile for Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine

Atlas and Alice - Global Pandemic x The Thing I Took for Granted  

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