By Holly Lyn Walrath
On the day the saints remove their habits—shedding black veils, letting their long locks free in sheets of amber cotton or untamed tangles of black, twisting around heads like halos—on that day, the flower man comes.
They rid themselves of the dark swaddling. The saints expose bodies of every shape and size, black and white and brown and every color in-between. The sackcloth reveals lacy pinafores and white t-shirts and plain blue jeans and leather bags into which they tuck forbidden items like lipstick, blush, eyeliner, a comb, gold rings, vials of perfume, hidden but worn proudly on the arm like a badge, a tattoo of numbers, a scar, as if to say: I am proud to choose.
But the Flower Man comes.
He slips into to the cathedral of light and paints a cage of petals, long threads of vine pricked with thorns, his brush so wet it drips ink onto the cobblestones and daisies well up between the cracks. The Flower Man smears white petals, teal vines, red flowers, and green leaves. Dried, they come alive, twining into walls, across metal gates, through the smallest of keyholes. The flowers blot out the light, break through the stained glass, matting steeples, knotting statues of marble, creating a cathedral of dusk.
The saints crash against the wall of flowers but it is as smooth as glass. The vines snake over their newly freed limbs in riots of flora, creeping into their eyes where petals curl under eyelids, thin veils of sugary perfume, translucent and yet opaque.
I’ve freed them, the Flower Man says, as the women grow wider, larger, towering over him, ten times the size of normal women, lips gently parted but voiceless. He sets up a salon in the garden, flouts the power of art, of restoration, watching the women flatten, reduced to layers behind layers, their bodies merging with the vegetation, their hands prickling leaves, their eyes folded anthers, their ears closed pistils, their stigma the stigmata of the Flower Man’s making, crucified again, anchoresses.
People linger near the flowers, barely noticing the women behind them, trying to see the cathedral, pilgrims to the dark. How wise the Flower Man is, they say, look how he’s saved the saints.
So, the saints retreat. The few too slow sink into the grass, pollen pouring out of their lips, coating their bodies in gold. The rest don the habits once more, tuck hair under black. The fabric is a sudden safety, a sudden power. Wrapping itself around their bodies it gives them teeth, claws, horns. Fire sears from their fingertips, flames coat the cathedral, flowers burn to ash, white-hot at their feet.
The people sift through the ashes, but the bones of the Flower Man are nowhere to be found. Perhaps he’s gone on, the people say, to paint another cathedral. But the saints of the cathedral of light know better. They wait in the light, drinking fire late into dusk, biding their time.
© 2017 Restoration by Holly Lyn Walrath
Tucked in the Folds of Our Eyes
By Allison Thai
Don’t be ashamed of the shape of our eyes. They are forged in fairy dust and dragon fire.
Think of a time long before foreign invaders touched Vietnam’s soil…yes, even before China’s thousand year rule. The birth of a people, our people. Do you remember Lạc Long Quân, the dragon lord of the sea? Âu Cơ, fairy queen of earth? From their union we emerged, from a clutch of a hundred eggs, and to this day we call ourselves Con Rồng, cháu Tiên—children of the dragon, grandchildren of gods. Doesn’t seem that way now, does it? Time is a chisel chipping away at the magic, wearing it down with each turn of a century. Our dragon scales peeled away. Our wings fell off. We are shadows, shells of glory past, beaten and conquered and killed. I may have made it to America in one piece, but the sea tore my family apart. Sickness took my two brothers and Thai pirates took my mother. I refused to cry because I had to be strong. Save my energy for living. By the grace of God, Buddha, my ancestors—whoever answered my prayers—a foreign ship rescued me and thirty others crammed in a river skiff with no business being on open sea. Why couldn’t we have been thirty-four? Could I have done better to protect my brothers, fought harder to keep my mother? Only then did the dam break and I cried. Tears burned my eyes and seared my cheeks. Then I heard my family through those tears, heard them amid the waves. Their bodies borne on fairy dust. Their voices burning like dragon fire. You’ll be all right, they whispered. Get on the ship. We’ll come along. The magic never died…it lives on, through me, through you.
Keep it safe and keep it close. Magic is tucked in the folds of our eyes.
© 2017 Tucked in the Folds of Our Eyes by Allison Thai
By Melanie Bui
She had often wished she could build rooms made of memories. Rooms with walls of space and time, decorated with pinpricks of the past–perfect moments. No stale frames or looped lines chattering at you through a veil, but real as your own heart. A room that, once it has you, closes in and grips tight, flooding every sense with true resurrection.
The present could be so loud, so filled with hurt. It made her hairs curl in on themselves and her bones seek dark corners to fold into. She found herself just casting fishing lines backwards into the darkness of time, hoping to pull in a moment sweet and warm enough to ease the relentless bitterness of now.
She wished and wished for the power to build these rooms, and she did finally, reeling in her catches and cementing them together, one memory-brick at a time.
The first room: Last day of school. Barreling through the house, across the deck, and onto the swings out back. The sound of the screen door still seesawing, her bare soles hot from slapping the hardwood. She can feel the sticky Virginia heat already creeping up her arms as she shrugs off her backpack and all its worries. Summer begins now. Summer lasts forever.
The second room: Sleepovers at Grandma’s house. Staying up late to watch Cary Grant movies, wriggling their toes against the electric fan to dry fresh pedicures. She sleeps in a girlish nightgown she has long outgrown but still wears for the old woman’s sake, and she is loved.
Another one: Cheek resting against the cool car window as the crowded minivan fumbles down I-95. Her mother has her legs crossed up on the dashboard, sunglasses perched atop her head, as she pops the tab on a coke fished from the cooler. The sun cuts across her bare ankles in a honeyed frame. She believes it will always be like this — everyone together without even trying.
Another: Watching him as he watches the sky. Feeling the horizon tip sideways every time he laughs. The image of his profile, his sun-tipped eyelashes, laid against the verdant hills bleeds into the backs of her eyes.
Another: Midnight on a southern beach, when he tells her, voice thick with unspent feeling, that he is in love. He pulls her onto the sand for a lasting kiss as the water sings and the wind weaves through the marram grass. It’s summer again.
And another: Grabbing at dandelions in the park. Her father calls for her, camera pointed and ready, but she doesn’t turn back. She likes to be sought after, needed. She thinks she’ll always be able to hear his voice coloring her name. She thinks he’ll live forever.
She plotted and stacked these rooms into a sprawling house, and then she built a door.
She went inside and locked it behind her.
© 2017 Home by Melanie Bui
What She Left Behind
By Stewart C Baker
Aya wakes to find that Lea has already risen; on her pillow and the sheet lies a dust-fine layer of salt.
Their last real conversation was little more than disconnected sounds. Aya writes them down while Lea walks the garden on the salt-lined furrows she has made of her tracks.
The sounds are sharp and unflinching, all edges and flats like the tines of a rake, the blade of a hoe; Aya is surprised when she writes them to see that they really form words.
On the living room table lie packets of seeds; Aya holds them up to the words on her list, but none of them are there.
The words say things like “bitch” and “die” and “fine” and “you” and “love” and “sorry.”
That night, Aya wakes to a half-heard moan from the garden; she turns on her bedside light but the sound of it is nowhere in the list she has compiled.
The salt-piles rise beside the furrows; the wind pushes them in drifts across the roses, the vegetable beds, the flowering cherries; Aya is too busy teasing sentences from words to sweep them away, and Lea–whatever she now is—cannot.
The sentences say things like “I love you” and “shut up” and “please, just go the hell away” and “who do you think you are, my mother?”
Aya writes each sentence on a separate strip of paper which she anchors to the porch with smooth, round stones from the riverbed nearby; the papers snap and flutter in the breeze as though they are anxious to leave.
Everything is caked with salt: the grass, the flowers, the trees, the river, the inside of their home; it gets in everything Aya eats, her steamed white rice and iced green tea and tiny little English-style tea cakes.
When the wind dies down, a hush falls over the garden; Aya hikes over the salt-piles but Lea is gone.
Aya goes to bed well before sundown; she waits–list in hand–until midnight, but all she hears is thunder, rainfall, howling winds.
The next morning the plants of the garden are brown and broken, the ground around them sodden with water; the salt piles have vanished, and the paper strips she anchored are gone.
Next to the riverbed, Aya finds a single mud-smeared footprint, on the kitchen table a rose cutting, fresh and green.
Aya digs a hole in the center of the garden and plants the rose within it; as the sun reaches noon, she draws a breath as deep as longing and sets out for parts unknown.
© 2017 What She Left Behind by Stewart C Baker
About the Authors
Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer of poetry and short fiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Crab Fat Magazine, Mithila Review, and elsewhere. She is a freelance editor, contract editor with Writership, and volunteer with Writespace, a nonprofit literary center in Houston, Texas. She currently resides in Seabrook, Texas.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Allison got her first taste of stories from true accounts of how her parents fled from communism as war refugees. Manga and talking animal stories pushed her down the path of speculative fiction to the point of no return. When not reading and writing, she swims, draws, delights in all things science, hoards graphic novels, and enjoys fishkeeping. She’s also self-taught in her goal to attain polyglot status.
Melanie Bui lives with her husband in Maryland and works for an interfaith nonprofit devoted to reproductive justice. She loves puzzles and becomes disturbingly competitive during friendly board games. She hopes it’s cute. It’s probably not.
Stewart C Baker is an academic librarian, speculative fiction writer, and occasional haikuist. His fiction has appeared in Writers of the Future, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, and Flash Fiction Online, among other places. Stewart was born in England, has lived in South Carolina, Japan, and California (in that order), and currently resides in Oregon with his family—although if anyone asks, he’ll usually say he’s from the Internet.
Webster’s defines Restoration as the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it or cleaning it. The act of bringing something back that existed before – bring back to a former position unimpaired or improved condition, representation or reconstruction of the original form – renew, refresh, revive, reclaim, replenish…
I am drawn to language and imagery in prose and when they mesh to create a meaningful story, I find myself lost in the pages. I would like to thank the authors who shared their work with us. We had many thoughtful and well written submissions. It was difficult to narrow it down to four. The four in this “Restoration” issue were chosen not only for the restorative theme but because I found myself lost in each. Restoration and healing are deeply connected to peace – contentment. Whether one finds it (or it is inescapably encountered) through one’s vulnerability, memory, or tears, letting go is the first step to finding a way back. Upon reading each of these pieces, I found myself sitting in silence contemplating each powerful image. I found myself responding with a quiet WOW (yes, that’s possible).
A special “Thank You” to Joy A. Lang for allowing us to use her beautiful artwork (I am now calling “Restoration”) for this issue and allowing me to hang it in my home and look at it every day.
About the editor
Leslie Archibald is a graduate of the University of Houston, majoring in English, Creative Writing with a minor in Women’s Studies and currently works at a full-time office position while writing and editing part time in Houston, Texas. Leslie is a volunteer at Writerspace in Houston and is currently submitting applications to masters programs. She participates in local literary events to maintain a connection to Houston’s writing community.