Flash Nonfiction

The Envelope by Lynn Magill

The Envelope | By Lynn Magill

I recognized the slightly shaky, looped handwriting on the outside of the envelope. It looked much like my own, only bigger and hastier – just like its author. It was addressed to me, and the postmark read: Waterloo, Iowa

I let it marinate on the black granite kitchen counter unopened for a day or so, like a clog I was hoping Liquid Drano would take care of for me with no unpleasant interaction on my part. No such luck. There’s just no way to deal with either of my half-sisters without getting some shit splattered on you, really. I could make out purple hydrangeas on the inner card, opaque, like everything else in this relationship.

Deep breath.

It’s just a card. You don’t have to open it if you don’t want to.


I hadn’t heard from my older half-sister Julie since, what? 2018? Amanda, our younger sister, had been silent even longer– 2015, when she’d blown up in a meth-fueled text tirade over my not calling her within 10 minutes while I was inside the county hospice center, seeing my mother alive for the very last time. Holding her weak, impossibly pale hand and fixating on the flecked institutional linoleum so she didn’t exit this earth worrying about me crying. When I’d walked out of the aging one-story facility to my rental car, the summer humidity hadn’t yet turned to fall and the scent of the recently harvested cornfields was like my own hope: freshly plowed under. I wriggled my nose to dislodge some of the beige dust from the dirt roads that still managed to seep in through the a/c vents. I plugged in my phone and it managed to pick up a one-bar signal as I turned out of the parking lot: 43 fucking texts? Now?

Not today, Satan. I stuck the card upright between the Black & Decker coffeemaker and the microwave, brushing away a few grounds and crumbs from breakfast as I walked away.

When I awoke from a fitful nap, my husband said “Aren’t you going to open it? I’m curious.”

I wasn’t. But I slid my index fingernail under the flap and moved it along the seam, the paper separating from glue sounding like a page being torn out of a book.


Thought you might want this picture of you. I have a new job in town now, closer to my house. It is much better! I can walk to work.


And I began to laugh. The picture – what was left of it – was one from 1972, taken in front of my father’s orange floral couch, brown wall paneling. Kindergarten. Smiling, hands clasped in front of me; wearing a white chiffon dress. Someone had even combed my wavy hair. Easter. I had this exact same photo; my mother must have had copies made back then. Except the one in my album had four people: my father (long dead), my half-sisters, and me. The one she so graciously sent me had telltale original rounded edges on the right side, and on the left the edges were, in contrast, sharp: it had been cut in two from its original rectangular shape.

They had cut me out of family photos and were sending the discarded halves to me.

Half-sisters indeed.

About the Author:

Lynn Magill lives in Western Washington with deep Iowa roots that influence many aspects of her work. She writes poetry and nonfiction and is also a painter and visual artist. She is scheduled to graduate from Central Washington University in Winter 2021 with a master’s degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She has two nonfiction pieces scheduled for publication in Spring of 2021 in an anthology via McFarland & Sons, as well as a poetry piece in Route 7 Review. Lynn loves to travel and spend time with her husband on their Texas ranch herding goats and finding any excuse to avoid being within range of cell phone reception.

Flash Nonfiction

Better Off by James Penha

Better Off | By James Penha

My ninety-five-year-old aunt says she wants to die at home. Not in a new place—a senior living place where she will know no one (though she knows almost no one living anywhere anymore… except the caregiver who cares a few hours per day at a handsome rate off the books… and the well-tipped building superintendent… and the old lady down the hall who complains about every noise from my aunt’s apartment but only wants what my aunt wants, she says, and that is for her to stay home.) And so I will continue, I know, to get emergency beeps and texts and calls at irregular hours regularly, and I think for the first time ever that my aunt would be better off, as she has often said herself, dead “because ninety-five is plenty for anyone.” I wonder if in twenty years, when I am as old as she is now, who besides me will wish me dead.

About the Author:

A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work has lately appeared in several anthologies: The View From Olympia (Half Moon Books, UK), Queers Who Don’t Quit (Queer Pack, EU), What We Talk About It When We Talk About It, (Darkhouse Books), Headcase , (Oxford UP), Lovejets (Squares and Rebels), and What Remains (Gelles-Cole). His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha

Flash Nonfiction

Cohesion Forces in an Avalanche by Kathryn Stam

Cohesion Forces in an Avalanche | By Kathryn Stam

There are people whose job it is to model cohesion forces in avalanches. To build a snow chute in Switzerland, to freeze ice and simulate wet and dry snow, to calibrate the instruments, to measure the centripetal pressures of the avalanche’s head and tail, to graph molecular bonding, to examine precisely how much stress can build before the skier is crushed in a tumbling ball of ice and stone, and any amount of dynamite prevention still makes her a dead skier. Did she do her job to bring a shovel, a probe, and a beacon, the newest model that would allow her to detect the heartbeats of buried victims and flag their location under the unstable mass of ice and snow, branches and boulders? The people whose job it is to sell beacons caution that the plane of the antenna’s broadcast is crucial because it is easiest to find the victim if she is at the correct angle, lying down horizontally.

There are people whose job it is to force other people to carry rice for soldiers, or light the match that sets fire to a Karen village in Burma. To load the BA72 rifles and chase Hser and Prikadi into the hills in their pink plastic flip flops, where they hide all night hushed in tall brush, then sneak toward the Thai border where they will be told they cannot cross because they do not have papers. There are people whose job it is to wait at camp and console new arrivals. Pawsersoe hears they are coming and stokes the fire with a smoldering ear of corn to cook them some sticky rice and bamboo soup. She unrolls a ratan mat and hangs a mosquito net for them. They will sleep next to Tamla Win, who arrived twenty-two days ago but still hasn’t found his daughter Hainey yet. There are people whose job it is to wash wounds with stream water and poultices of morning glory, and wrap them with soiled strips of plaid blue and grey lungi cloth. There are people whose job it is to count the dead Karen as if those numbers mattered somewhere to someone. Whose job is it to tell refugee stories?

At our community center in Utica, NY, my job is to wash the dishes with a rag I make out of a flannel shirt from the donations pile. And to laminate the signs that says, “Don’t move the ping pong table,” and, “no spitting into the garbage, please.” As a writer, our job is something else though. Poet Nick Flynn tells us that “…this is the ultimate purpose of why we are here — to create a scrim that others can project onto, so they can actively participate in trying to make meaning out of this, out of everything….” (Flynn, 2013, 70). I take his words and rush to create a scrim, a ratan scrim, something I might be able to produce from the pile of crap in the back of my silver Toyota Yaris, with the betel nut candy wrappers, a pink booster seat, Hemish’s bathing suit, and a radish that rolled out of the recycle bag into the spare tire well where it waits for a sweltering day to fully realize its fusty essence. My job is to question every assumption and make wild claims, and trust you with this meandering tale. The one word I am forbidden to use is the only word my mind can muster, but seven-minute bursts into my subconscious and other words emerge in purple pulses and threadbare scraps of sound.

When I was twenty-nine years old and visiting a Nepali ashram, Swamiji told me upon first sight that I knew nothing of yoga. We would not do yoga poses because that’s just the superficial thing. Our job was to sit here under the Bodhi fig tree on Chinese plastic chairs, to eat salted popcorn and drink chai and gaze upon the snow-capped foothills of the sacred mountain Gauri Shankar. We breathed in the prayers of Shiva and Shakti that would waft on cantering wind horses, lungta, with wish-fulfilling flaming jewels on their backs.

“But don’t eat the fatty things, Stamji. You are too fatty already. Breath is all you need. The rest is the shallow thing. We will sit here and I will teach you the chakras and the structure and secrets of the universe and God. You will not suffer. You will release your baby, your Thailand baby whose solid body expired after only three cleansing breaths. God goes to God, Seed goes to seed. Look around, this ashram is overflowing with filth and rats but everyone here is happy.” 

Swamiji’s job was to ease suffering. That morning, he would teach me about the four forces of life currents, the forces of life being, and the nineteen elements of the cosmic body. Swamiji’s orange-robed disciple’s job was to flush his master’s deposits down the squat toilet before anyone else could smell or see it.

A few years later, my job was to become a mother again. A real mother who got to go home from the hospital with a real baby, a boy with adult-sized ears, big brown eyes, and flat farmer’s feet like is father’s, and whose job it was to cry, loud, at the top of his tiny little lungs, a beacon to tell the whole floor that he was here, even before the staff rang their baby bell. A most spectacular boy who grows and twenty-three years later is still spectacular.

Inspired by: Bartelt, P., Valero, C.V., Feistl, T., Christen, M., Buhler, Y., and O. Buser. (2015). “Modelling cohesion in snow avalanche flow.” Journal of Glaciology, 61 (229), 837-850

About the Author:

Kathryn Stam is an anthropology professor and creative non-fiction writer who is obsessed with all things Himalayan. She volunteers with resettled refugees and teaches about cultural diversity. She has spent the past several years learning how to slay a few of her most pernicious enemies.