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Zero Readers http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org Tue, 24 Oct 2023 13:22:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.4.3 http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Untitled-design-150x150.png Zero Readers http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org 32 32 Misplaced Karenina http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/misplaced-karenina-aniket-sanyal/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 12:47:41 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1022 I am perhaps in awe
of your feathered-cap majesty,
you hypocrite princess,
our transplanted Karenina
of a Kremlin motorway.
What good or what rot,
in being a century short or tall,
when I cannot put thumb and finger
on your oily roots …
I see such strange wounds
in your sideways gaze.
You are inverted, translucent
before my searching eyes.
Around us, in evening’s light, gleam
far fewer fields.
Only god-abandoned husks,
left scorched, empty, as configurations
of any good atheist’s faintly-familiar famine.
Everything given and, so, everything taken.
With your hair neither
wet nor parted,
and I,
neither living nor dead.

Aniket Sanyal’s poetry and fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL, D.F.L. Lit, Terror House Magazine, Expat Press, and Daily Science Fiction among other places. Aniket was born in India, lives in New Jersey, and is a graduate of Rutgers University. He can be found on Twitter @AniketSanyal6.

I Was Told I Was a Natural Pianist http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/i-was-told-i-was-a-natural-pianist-luke-carmichael-valmadrid/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:40 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1051 Your words have faded, once perched
between the lines, now aloft in eddies
more erstwhile than eccentric, that distort
the shape of sadness that hangs over
more than it looms. Your shadow
has lengthened, once tailored to an acerbic wit,
now high off karmic eutrophy, spins
redbud stories into redwood sagas
that in their grandeur still cannot hide
the kinds of trees they are, and at one time,
years ago, yesterday, your words were yours
and mine as well; they once held hands
in dark hallways, at farmland weddings,
where they echoed and wed, irrespectively,
indifferent to the sound made by a promise to bounce off the walls forever,
a euphony ohne worte, a song without words,
where one person plays two voices
and it sounds good.

Luke enjoys cooking tofu, qualitative research, IU’s prolific body of work, and playing video games with faraway friends. Is also an M1 at UCSD. Hopes to make some music soon. One time.

Point Nemo http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/point-nemo-mark-imileski/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 12:47:40 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1048 I was told truth is the oak
that holds

its leaves each winter. A promise

As it turns out, I forget
the rules. I never can

know them. This one is another
mask for doubt.

This one is the cover
for an empty bed.

This one is the sheet drawn back—
the old clothes

gathered in the corners
of every room I’ve ever known.

Evening settles like ash
on the snow. Another bird

on the feeder. Does it realize
the emptiness

it fills? This one is the sense
traced on a sheet

of frost. The cold that takes
residence between glass

and bone. This one is the moment
that passes

as soon as you arrive.
The bird lifts

from the feeder. Flies off
because it does

what birds do. If I knew
the rules I would make

my home like a bird—
gather the things that are

most important: This Stick. This Thread.
Safe in the knowledge

this one is the truth that holds
everything together.

Mark Imielski is an attorney who lives in Geneva, Illinois with his wife Christine and children Harris and Gabby. He is fascinated by the “why” which informs all of his work. He aspires to write more than one poem per decade.    

The Letters Between Us http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/the-letters-between-us-cat-dixon/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:40 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1026 1.
Did you hear the horse thunder and taste the dust
in your cabin? The wild hooves kicked up a storm
last night. The hours passed as I reread your letter,
licked the envelope flap you sealed, traced your name, 
and wondered if you were reading my poems.
Nothing fills this pit except your words—
cursive and hurried across the yellowed page. 

In a parallel universe we’re on a ranch, 
on horseback, gathering cows, fencing 
the earth, as if we could control the wild. As if 
the shelter we built to weather the storms will 
withstand such winds and hail. Perhaps 
you wear a cowboy hat and are open 
to my embrace and my kiss. Perhaps there’s
no other place but here with the dust and mist. 

Flames beyond the curtains were all that 
reflected in your eyes that last night. The day
before the horses stopped their trot and the water

dried up due to drought. Are these hoofprints
left on my doorstep the only souvenirs? Are the letters
scattered around the cabin all that’s left? What 
else can I do but sit in the burnt pasture and wait? 

Cat Dixon is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection What Happens in Nebraska (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2022) along with five other chapbooks and collections. She is a poetry editor with The Good Life Review and an adjunct instructor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Find out more at her website: www.catdix.com

skybound http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/skybound-claudine-guertin-ceric/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:39 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1068 She’d only meant to ride the elevator down to collect the mail. Now she was trapped in it. Contained by sleek, unclimbable metal walls, a round chrome rail that raced around the space to nowhere, a dark touchscreen panel of buttonless buttons, and underneath her, the same grey-veined carrara marble floor that lined the lobby and had helped sell her on signing a lease. Now the panel was dark, the car dim, stuffy, unmoving, and nobody seemed to be hearing her shouts for help. People hardly died in elevator cars frozen between the twenty-first and twentieth floors of a downtown highrise. Twenty-one had flashed on the display before the panel went black. In fact, all had gone black for some terrifying minutes until a quartet of backup lights blinkered from the baseboard corners, casting a glow that might have been romantic if she weren’t alone. If the man she’d married weren’t out there somewhere, oblivious to her predicament. Her spine kissed the back wall, one vertebra at a time, uncountable and indistinguishable from its neighbors. Her panic had ebbed hours ago. Eight hours? Nine? An eternity ago, her yelling and flailing had melted into whimpering, resignation and waiting. No cameras were visible. If they were present but invisible, there was no man at their monitors. Why did people envision a man for that job but never a woman? She rented the apartment only a month ago because of her pending divorce. A new highrise with modern everything and steps from the lake. The thermostat could be adjusted from her phone, even while she was away at the office, in between serving The Idiot. Now that was a hard job. Thankless really. No one appreciated what an executive assistant had to deal with. Calling to arrange “lunches” with assorted women who could only be mistresses. Being asked for a “hot top-off” to a three-quarters-full cup of coffee, his hand thrust out like some robot who couldn’t bother to look up from his monitor, as if she herself were a robot and not someone with her own ambitions, her own intelligence. She knew his clients well enough to write the summary reports he read on flights overseas to seal the company’s multi-million dollar deals. She stayed behind, swiveled over the skyline behind his black monitor and imagined the power of his position like bubbles in a bottle. How delicious it would feel upon release. The readout panel inside the elevator was still dark. What if it had blipped to life between eye-blinks? Without electricity or the whisper of levering cables, a surprising vacuum of anti-sound filled the car and, at first, had caused her to think she’d gone deaf when the elevator groaned ominously to a halt. It was only after screaming and sobbing and beating her hands tender against the insulated doors, clamshell tight and bulletproof, that she realized, in fact, her voice was perfectly audible. While The Idiot was away, she Googled the women. Sometimes they were on his Facebook friends list, and it was only as a joke that she’d sent him a friend request in the first place, but he accepted. The women’s last names rose to the surface of the Internet search waters, and she saw for herself there was nothing special about these women. What made them special? Was the answer written in the way their eyes tracked with their smiles or didn’t, or whether their foreheads creased naturally or had that paralyzed over-injected look? His actual wife had a dented forehead and crow’s feet. That the woman did not use fillers was a marvel since her husband could afford such things and would certainly get one-hundred percent behind her desire to look desirable. Then he may not have felt forced to have “friends” with lunch benefits. Her own divorce was actually a divorce in the making. In the dim light, the white tan line where her ring had sat for five years was barely visible. Now the ring was tucked in the wooden box her still-husband had given her for their first anniversary, sitting inside on a purple velvet mound, waiting. As if she could decide for herself to put it back on her finger and reverse the past six months, an ordeal of conflicts and fights until they finally, exhausted, had agreed to separate for good. Things needed to change, but the direction of that change had turned unexpectedly. In the end, which of them had said the word? Here, inside her elevator coffin, correction, car, the word passed her lips. Divorce. A sledgehammer sound, heavy with failure. Upstairs stood her new deluxe studio apartment with electronic micro blinds, which raised and lowered by a right swipe on her phone, that proved a real divorce was on its way. The papers were still getting drawn up. Her lawyer would notice she was missing before her still-husband, who had once promised to love her until death. How had they achieved such distance? Even with therapy, the picture was in fragments. At least her skin was too young for wrinkles. She’d find someone new. After her rescue. The dumbest thing about this elevator, with its sleek design and marble flooring, which already bore two pancakes of darkened gum, was that the red HELP button, the lifeline of agoraphobics everywhere, didn’t work. She did not fear enclosed spaces, nor heights. She rode elevators all day long to and from her ante-office on the fiftieth floor, coming and going to fetch her boss a sandwich from the lobby cafe, or an afternoon latte from the basement bistro when he got tired of the acidic grind their company provided for free, and if he was trying to reduce his pernicious belly tire, a fruit smoothie from the stand next to the bistro. She would never tell him each smoothie packed more calories than a lunch-sized portion of fettucine alfredo. She was only paid to fetch and deliver. All those rides ridden, up and down, without thinking once about the emergency button, without ever considering that might be her last failed lifeline. That it couldn’t function without electricity was the most ridiculous notion in the world. Even her new oven turned on with two taps from her phone. The phone that lay upstairs in her deluxe studio apartment on the twenty-sixth floor, nestled in the front left quadrant of the mail basket, newly purchased and placed on the small foyer table, also just purchased. This was just a quick trip downstairs to check her mailbox. Why should she need a phone for that? It’s not as if she were one of those millennials who couldn’t live without it for five minutes. The agreement from her lawyer might be in her box, waiting to snuggle up alongside her phone on the foyer table until she worked up the courage to open the envelope. If she had tried harder, could the marriage have worked? If she’d been a better cook or enjoyed soccer more or worn her hair longer than she liked or agreed to refill his coffee instead of saying she got enough of serving men at work and he could do it himself since his hands weren’t broken. He knew where the coffeepot was. In fact, he picked their condo because of the kitchen and its counter nook ideal for the coffeemaker. Her still-husband had gotten mad. A harmless request, he called it. Well marrying him had seemed harmless. That was the moment it began to unravel. That was when, if she thought further on it, and thinking time was all she had, she’d started putting up layers, thin as tissue paper, that accumulated nonetheless. Not setting his dinner plate on the table first, walking the dog past the newspaper stand on Sunday instead of buying one for his beloved crossword, sitting at her desk and watching her phone screen awaken and ring while her hands rested in her lap and eight slow breaths passed until his call got kicked to voicemail. Any moment, the power might return. Or might never. Her still-husband had given her a watch last Christmas even though she was perfectly content to check the time on her phone. It had a quartz movement and a small diamond at the twelve mark. It sat upstairs in the wooden box next to her ring. Even without her watch or phone, too very long had clearly passed. A whole day? Two? Someone should have come. She allowed herself to pee in the opposite corner of her coffin, no, car, for fear her bladder would explode and compound her predicament, but as she squatted and held her panties a safe distance from the hot stream, an irrational fear took hold that she was being captured by some hidden camera. Ridiculous. This whole situation existed because there was no camera. Or because no man was manning it. She prayed, for the first time since she was seven and decided Jesus was just another baby like her brother and not someone who required special behavior on her part. What she wouldn’t give for a simple cup of water. A glorious, shiny, holy, wet cup. Food? Better to not think about it. How could someone feel thirst while holding so much pee? She wouldn’t drink it off the floor. BooBear might have if he were here, but he was with her still-husband in the duplex condo, where every room sported at least one pane of glass connecting the occupants to the outside. Even the bathroom and closets had glass blocks. Days by now. Eons. Eternity. In truth, her damn car could stay stuck forever and no one would care. The five other elevator shafts might still be pumping like arteries, shuttling cars filled with lives up and down between deluxe studios and jobs and bars and happy hours. Where was the heart of it all? What lay at the heart of anything? Ultimately, it came down to every man for himself. Every woman. And now, since all the other thoughts had been thought, she could be honest. This car was no lonelier than her marriage had been, still was, since it was technically unfinished. But the final turn, the plummet down, had occurred when she sat at his monitor and turned on the black screen. She’d forgotten her own laptop at work and wanted to replace her running shoes before the twenty-percent sale ended at midnight. His monitor had flickered to life, and there sat The Chat, its cursor blinking. That’s what she called it to her friends, like it was a movie or a series. Something that had happened to someone else. The Chat became the big laugh with colleagues when they met in the lobby bar after work for martinis and tapas. As if all of her marriage could be reduced to a joke over gin and five-dollar scallops. She would kill for one bite of patatas bravas right now. Or even a bacon-wrapped date, despite her fear of bacon nitrites, which her still-husband thought was silly. Everything causes cancer, he said, not enjoying life gives you cancer. And The Chat made it clear he was throwing his whole heart into remaining cancer-free forever. After she confronted him, he cried real tears and begged forgiveness. It was only one chat, he said. But she was her boss’s fix-everything and find-everything. In fact, without her The Idiot would not be able to do his job. Without her, he’d probably get fired. Only she knew he could not clear a paper jam from the color printer despite the step-by-step instructions illustrated on the machine’s display. Or that he didn’t know how to scan a document or locate the directory of files for last year’s record-breaking project. And so she discovered that The Chat was actually More Chats, which lived together in an archive of files from many dates, and she’d felt ill. That he saved the conversations sickened her worse than his engaging in them at all. Consciousness faded in and out. Or sleep. Or she was dying and wasn’t it all actually the same thing? Four and a half floors above her, inside the red leather attaché that her mother gifted her for getting the job, sat a thumb drive containing All The Chats, in case she might want to read them someday, far from now, when she was remarried and had a mini-me or two scampering around. By then her home wouldn’t be a loathsome studio but a house, with its own entrance and one sturdy flight of stairs to the outside world. She’d pour a glass of pinot and kick up her feet after closing a million-dollar deal, and her fingertips would brush the drive in the bottom of her bag. She’d fish it out for a laugh, slide it into her laptop and click the icon. On her screen the words would unspool, and somewhere between the lines would be the answer, the one still hidden from her.

Claudine Guertin-Ceric is a Chicago-based fiction writer. She holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. Her writing has also appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Digital Americana, r.kv.r.y. and other journals. Follow her on Twitter at @guertinceric or see what she’s been working on at claudineguertinceric.com.

my plan for marriage http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/my-plan-for-marriage-merri-andrew/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:39 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1066 My plan for marriage
was courage
the way a plane
lands by sinking
then with a rush of strength
flexes to kiss the tarmac
as an equal

a drama soon forgotten
as we wait to see
whose luggage is whose
looping round the lucky horseshoe
magnet pull of what will emerge
and what must be swallowed again

but when I’m nearly asleep
and my hand starts
to fall from his shoulder
and I wake sick once more
with knowing I am still
not the person I want to be

not someone who holds on
instinctively like a baby
or an animal
or a baby animal

not someone who falls asleep
and lets go
and it means

is it not a kind of courage
to lift the curse, my hand
and place it on the sheet
between us?

Merri Andrew writes poetry and short fiction, some of which is published in Strange Horizons, Five On The Fifth, Cordite and Baby Teeth. She lives on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country in Canberra, a city hiding in the sub-alpine bushland of Australia. Merri can be found on Twitter @MerriAndrewHere

conversation http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/conversation-merri-andrew/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:39 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1064 He tucks the $5 into his sock
and looks up at my baby

When my son was a baby
I used to sit up all night
to make sure he was breathing

I am screaming
in my head
he is also screaming
in his head

With practice we can
listen past the screaming

Yes, I say
I hold my breath
so I can hear my son’s breathing
but sometimes my heartbeat
gets too loud and

I need air

Air, he says

Merri Andrew writes poetry and short fiction, some of which is published in Strange Horizons, Five On The Fifth, Cordite and Baby Teeth. She lives on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country in Canberra, a city hiding in the sub-alpine bushland of Australia. Merri can be found on Twitter @MerriAndrewHere

the cha cha slide http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/the-cha-cha-slide-claire-heinzerling/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 12:47:39 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1055 the DJ wants us to do the cha cha slide.
the DJ wants our claps our stomps our
“cha cha real smooth”—the DJ
asks us to give breath to death and
breathe seething into laughter and stand
a couple feet apart on the laminate
dance floor and turn our insides into
our outsides. the DJ would like us to
shout our father’s name. the DJ
would now like us to shake each
other’s hands blithely. the DJ implores
us to throw out our phones. the DJ
wishes she could remember what color
her eyes are, but looking just reminds her
of those zoo lemurs that always
populate her nightmares. look now,
the floor is shaking with sweated sole.
listen, the speakers are playing that
song always on the tip of your
tongue. the DJ would now like us to
recall the first time we were injured
by faith, would then like us to forgive
faith. it couldn’t have known the bite
of its fangs.

Claire Heinzerling is a trans writer living in Colorado. She writes because it reminds her to breathe.

the world: part http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/the-world-part-daniel-clark/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:38 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1061 This is how… We read the signs. We read
the gaps around the signs
that said STOP. We filled in forgiveness. We saw
ourselves inside the bottle. We splashed
water on our faces but the water was wine
and our faces grapes
crushed into bottles
in crates in lorries
in toddlers’ hands. We raced
around the plastic track. We smashed
glass to pass the time between making shards
and sweeping them up. We held
our dreams then let them slip like lids
that spilt into piles of lids… we saw the world

Daniel Clark is vegan for the animals. His poems and stories have appeared in Acumen, Ethel Zine, Spelt and The Sunlight Press, and he co-edits Briefly Zine. He performed eco-poetry at COP26 and tweets @dang_clark.

at dawn, a woman http://zeroreaders.pencilhouse.org/2022/09/25/at-dawn-a-woman-marcella-eve/ Sun, 25 Sep 2022 16:47:38 +0000 https://www.zeroreaders.com/?p=1059 at dawn, a woman
drags herself through cobbled alleys
wailing, and then begins
over a plate of dry eggs
to speak

and from the doorway of a key shop, a man
with no teeth yells at a plaza
of tables and chairs, and smokes so much
a rain-cloud forms over Los Angeles

and the drinking fountain in the plaza becomes
a freshwater ocean, and the woman swears
that if she ever eats again
the fish will have to catch her

and the city walls break in ancient crumbles
to the sea

Marcella Eve is a poet who lives, writes, and bakes in San Diego. At present, she is
completing her first collection,
Letters from Zagreb. Find her on Twitter @eveofmarcella.