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Cover
Table of Contents
Editor's Notes
Donations
Submission Guidelines
Website

Stories & Essays
...gone tomorrow
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By jp Rodriguez
Barbie and the Burn Scars
_ By Dion OReilly
Bright Lights
_ By Nicole Exposito
Cricket Theory
_ By Sophia Alev
Dieciseis
_ By Kate Delany
Fines Double In Work Zone
_ By Brian Stumbaugh
Guy and Doll
_ By John P. Loonam
Lake
_ By Erlynda Jacqui Chan
Lala's Diner
_ By Nicole Exposito
Laundry
_ By Allison P. Boye
Love Story
_ By Cynthia Burke
Magic Bags and Forgotten Princesses
_ By Ken Goldman
Squirrels
_ By Benjamin Buchholz

Poetry
Baking Bread and Other Subtleties
_ By Leland Jamieson
Corpus Christi
_ By Taylor Collier
Early Cold
_ By Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb
Ekphrasis at the Mall
_ By James Owens
Games In Your Uncle's Den
_ By Robin Stratton
My Spanish Rose
_ By Jose Rivera
Northern Lights, Southern Soul
_ By E.F. Kramer
Posted on Fifth Avenue
_ By J.R. Salling
Sirens
_ By Naiya Wright
Summer Sojourn
_ By Cheryl Butterweck-Bucher
The Himalayan Sunset
_ By Rohith Sundararaman
Time Decays, Clots
_ By Kristine Ong Muslim
Turn
_ By Terrance Schaefer
Where You Rest
_ By Stephanie N. Barnes

Art & Photography
Bissan Alhussein
_ Paintings
E.W. Hung
_ Photography
Papa Osmubal
_ Drawings
Linda Pakkas
_ Drawings
Anastasiya Tarasenko
_ Paintings
Filip Wierzbicki
_ Paintings and Digital Photography
Nancy Xu
_ Paintings and Drawings

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Lala's Diner
By Nicole Exposito


Lala’s Diner had been falling apart for years. It was built just six feet up the tree in Reba’s backyard, on a branch that had once seemed unbreakable. The cheap plywood, after daily wars with dewdrops, finally showed signs of battle fatigue. There were leaves on the balcony from last autumn, the autumn before that, the autumn before that, and probably every autumn for the last thirty years. And seeing as it was autumn, there were freshly fallen leaves as well, silhouetted on the white floor by morning light. Beautiful leaves in saffron and scarlet. They’d be brown and putrid by tonight, smeared on the pink floor in a coat of decomposed muck.

The branch that supported the main hutch now had mushrooms growing on its underside, yellow, tumor-like lumps that had first bloomed a decade ago and now threatened to engulf the protruding arm of the tree and suck it dry. It was an oak tree, it dripped acorns every year around this time, and it was very possible that little sprouts had taken up in the decomposing leaves, turning the diner into some kind of artificial, wooden egg sack.

Yet Lala’s Diner still stood, long after the roses around it had withered for the last time, the bushy grass had grown wild, then died from lack of water, and the swing that hung from a low-down branch had, on a clear, still April day, simply fallen, as though finally realizing the futility of its struggle and given up.

There had been wind storms, after the 21st Reba lost count; a record heat wave fifteen, then seven, then two summers ago; sprinklers that had given out in late ’95 and never been repaired; terrible soil, dead cats, spawning insects, dandelions, rusting metal, frosts, weeds, bugs, and yet the diner stood, stood to spite her, stood just to prove that it could do what it darn well pleased, stood to remind her every day of her life that what man or woman has created cannot be so easily destroyed. It was pink. Pink and white, little girl colors.

Reba never knew how it stayed so pink; she would have thought that leaded paints faded after a few years. It was cute enough to look at from the outside—pink hutch, white roof, white balcony with a pink fence. And it was ironic that worms were eating out the insides, burrowing into the pink walls. When all was stripped away, Reba knew, it was only the surreal-ness that sustained her, the detachment that none of it should be real, yet it was. Then she saw Annie, and all was right.

Annie in the window of Lala’s Diner, Annie, with her blonde curls, laughing, always laughing, flying down the rope ladder like a little pink-cheeked canary, painful to look at, yet impossible not to. She reflected light.

“Annie come here, come here darling.”

“Mama! Look at me!”

“Come here, my darling. Let me braid your hair.”

“Push me, Mama! Push me on the swing!”

“Tell me again, darling, what’s your tree house called?”

“It’s called Lala’s Diner.”

“So tell me again why it’s Lala’s Diner.”

“I don’t know. It just sounded like a cool name. I make all my teddies eat there, and my dollies too, but not today. Wanna know why?”

“Tell me everything, darling. Darling come back...”

But she was already gone. Gone to find him, most likely. Reba knew that’s where Annie went when she wasn’t looking at her.

That imbecile! She hated him. She pitied him because he knew she hated him. How many times had she seen him wince as she cut vegetables with the butcher knife she kept at the front of her drawer? And how many times had she heard the squeak of his key in the lock and dreamed of putting that knife to better use? She knew he never slept until she did. That imbecile, she should have killed him when she had the chance. But she never did anything, never even screamed, never whispered into his ear as he sat on the couch smoking a pack of Camels, never taunted him, never acknowledged to his face what a sick psycho he was. She had him.

She remembered the time she mentioned to him, what, ten years ago? Twenty? That he should take down that God-forsaken tree house, and he turned and ran. He came back, of course. He always came back. He feared nothing out there, all he feared was Reba. She dreamed about it, about his blood splattering against the wall, fantasized his face as she brought down the axe, yet she did nothing, and now her chance was gone.

(Turn the page)