Category Archives: Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Telephone by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Locked in the bathroom, all the pale woman could hear was his snoring and her own heart thumping. She scratched the pink polish off another nail and looked at her phone again. This time, there was a signal. She called one friend, then another. No one was picking up. She scraped the polish off her last nail, touched her bruised right eye, and tried again. This time, there was an answer.

Mike, Mike! You’ve gotta come get me.

Nina? I can barely hear you. The connection’s bad.

Mike, listen, you’ve gotta come pick me up. If you don’t, I’m gonna . . .

Honey, I can’t understand you, and it’s three in the morning. Call me back at a civilized hour?


Nina sobbed. Then, she took a deep breath, unlatched the door, and opened her knife.

Moments later, the man stopped snoring. The flat’s front door opened and shut. Feet in the hallway sounded like dancing.


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Dream Boats by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

The Inauguration Day Windstorm had blown out half the downtown lights to celebrate its twenty-first birthday. Two old friends flecked with gray snow and white hair sat on the boulders that kept the Sound from sweeping away Myrtle Edwards Park.

Look at all the branches floating around, he said.

When I was a little girl, at summer camp, we used to glue shells and a candle to driftwood. We called it a dream boat.

He laughed. Great name.

She blushed. Awful name! But our counselors said our wishes would come true if the candle burned out before it sank.

Did it work?

I live alone in an effiency studio and work at Tully’s. What do you think?

You still paint; I don’t have time anymore.

I’ve never had a show.

You do art walks.

Amateur hour in Edmonds. The truth about the dream boats is that they were teaching us to let go of our dreams—literally, physically.

Not a bad skill to have. I thought I’d be famous by now, but . . .

You gave up.

I like my life.

But don’t you ever wish you could be more?

He reached out to her, but she kicked off her shoes and slid down into the water. A minute later, she scrambled up the rocks, carrying a dream boat.

I’m going to re-light it when it dries.

What if the person who made it doesn’t want his dream anymore?

Dreams are all I have.


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Watching the Clock by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Benjamin did everything by the clock. He ate when the little hand pointed to five and the big hand pointed to six. He danced when the little hand pointed to three and the big hand pointed to seven. He slept when they both hit twelve.

To be more precise, he did everything according to his copper pocketwatch. It was hand-wound, and it ticked too slow as it ran down, and it ticked too fast when he wound it back up. Benjamin never tried to set it aright.

His friends called him spontaneous. He’d consult his watch in the middle of a movie and stand up, asking if they wanted tacos. He’d sleep on the beach, on a bus stop bench, in a French restaurant with his head in his plate. His relationships never lasted long. Neither did his jobs. Fortunately, Benjamin was a good enough writer to make a living beginning an article every time the big hand passed four.

One day, his watch stopped and wouldn’t wind. Benjamin thought about getting it repaired but knew it wouldn’t be the same. What had he lived for all these years?

He packed a can of kerosene in his rucksack and made his way to Westlake Station, where he watched the giant terracotta clock.

—When the big hand passes eight, I’ll douse myself and burn.

Then he realized he’d forgotten his lighter.

For the first time, Benjamin was lost.


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Linda Vs. Sound by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Normally, after her shift, Linda would make herself a latte, untie her apron, and study at one of the tables. That evening, however, KEXP kept playing songs with grating guitar riffs, and loud laughers were everywhere. She chugged her coffee, burning her tongue. Then, she dashed out the door and down Olive Way.

Once downtown, she marched straight to the library. The bottom floors buzzed with schoolchildren and the un(der)employed, but Linda had planned for that. She knew she had to take the escalators past the glass encasing the bookstacks and make her way to the top floor with its glorious views of the Sound and the lights. More important, to her, was the reading room. For fifteen perfect minutes, she had it to herself. Then came the announcement: the library was closing.

Fucking budget cuts.

Where else could she find quiet? Her roommates would be home by now. Then she remembered that the Pike Place Market would be closing. She ran down Pine and across the brick road. She squatted on concrete that reeked of lavender and salmon. As she was about to take out her books, she heard the rhythmic clunk of traffic on the Alaska Way Viaduct, which some asshole poet years before had taken for “Puget Sound sounds”.

I give up.

She trudged up Pike to the Bartell Drugs and bought earplugs. Thus fortified, Linda survived a bus ride home beside a teenager with Lady Gaga leaking from his headphones.


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The Arctic Express by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Sky: Snows, turns dark.

Street: Freezes. Remains on a hill.

Traffic: None on this block.

Two: Did I miss the bus?

One: You either missed it, or it didn’t come.

Two: Hasn’t come.

One: One or the other. Which one?

Two: I don’t know; I asked you.

One: I meant which bus.

Two: ST220X

One: I’m ST325.

Two: How long have you been waiting?

One: Holds up a wrist well-layered with gloves and sleeves, drops it before exposing anything. I don’t know. My watch froze.

Two: Since you’ve been waiting?

One: Since I’ve been waiting.

Two: You’ve been waiting long.

One: Have I? I don’t know. My watch—

Two: Froze.

One: Right.

Four Hands: Rubbed together, stuck in pockets, pulled back out and breathed upon.

Two: Is that a bus?

One: Headlights anyway.

Traffic: A white bus swirled with ambiguous blues and greens takes ten minutes to traverse a block.

Bus: Stops. Opens door. Displays no number.

Driver: Get in fast. The brakes can’t hold for long.

One: Bounds onto bus, flashing pass.

Two: Which bus is this? Where are you going?

Driver: Everywhere we can get. This is the Arctic Express; get on.

Two: Steps away.

Bus: Begins to slip.

Driver: Your loss.

Bus: Closes door. Crawls away. Disappears after five minutes.

Two: Must be fog. Maybe they’ll let me sleep in Starbucks.


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King Street Station by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Despite the newly bright bricks and the working clock, Cassie couldn’t help but take a deep breath before entering King Street Station. She had always tried to hold her breath when her family cut through it on the way to Mariners games but had never succeeded, not even the summer she was disqualified for staying underwater too long at the start of the 50 fly.

This time, she didn’t breathe until she passed the Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out The Watchtower. They had never been there when the station smelled of mildew, feet, and piss. They came with the scent of paint, bleach, and plaster.

When she passed through the mahogany doors into the waiting room, Cassie inhaled again but sharply. The restored ceiling reminded her of Rome, where she and Angie had gone to celebrate leaving the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

—Mormons, she whispered, fuck it.

She was still staring at the ceiling when Angie embraced her from behind.

—You have no idea how glad I am to see you.

—So Salt Lake wasn’t great?

—The lake was fine. My family . . . well, you warned me.

—You won’t be going back then?

—No, I think my conversion’s complete.

The two women held hands as they passed through the Compass Room, discussing where they should have dinner.

—I’m fine as long as they serve booze, said Angie.

Outside, January’s first rain had begun.

—And hot drinks, she added.


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Rash Reading by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

I got a rash under my wedding ring. I took it off and filed for divorce the next day. Mike begged me to stay. But when you can’t trust your judgement, you have to trust the signs.

Mommy had a rash like that. I used to see it in the shower. People think it’s strange we washed together until I moved away, but when she stood behind me and shampooed hair, I knew daddy hadn’t broken anything important. Was it wrong? I can’t trust my judgement.

At university I dated a man with long dark hair, but my roommates said he treat me badly, so I never spoke to him again. They set me up with a man who took me to LDS ward meetings. If I wanted to sleep in late instead, he would yell. But everyone said he was nice, so I stopped complaining. When I dropped my favorite mug one morning, I should have known it was a sign.

The next week, I had the flu and couldn’t get up, so he beat me. I called an ambulance after he left. I never went back to his dorm, and my roommates kept him away from mine. Then I met Mike.

After I left, the rash spread to the palm of my hand. Mike took me back and bought me hydrocortisone cream. The rash went away. When you can’t trust your judgement, you have to trust the signs.


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A Dutiful Daughter by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

The first indication I had of what I look like came when a man put me back on the rack, remarking that I was too pink. Over the weeks that followed, I gained a few more ideas about my appearance from the comments of people in the shop. My photographic side had been taken at sunset, or maybe sunrise, and depicted some church. There was disagreement as to which one; I’ve never seen any of them, so it doesn’t matter so much to me. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what a church is supposed to look like at all.

When I was finally purchased by a young woman, I had grand hopes of being sent to her lover, of feeling words of passion etched across my back. As it turned out, she sent me to her mother.

Having a wonderful time in Venice.
Wish you were here,

She didn’t even mail me until she got to the airport. Not Marco Polo, the dingy Ryanair one.

I just hope her mother displays me somewhere interesting. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that a postcard’s life is glamorous.


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Class by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Before they ever spoke, Linda and Meg had sat next to each other in the cramped lecture hall for three weeks, their thighs touching, while Dr. Laurens showed slides of ancient Japanese art. Meg’s eyes never left the screen, but Linda glanced at her as often as she dared. Meg sometimes mentioned visiting museums when she was teaching in Japan, so she must have taken time off from school after her BA, but there were no white strands in her black hair.

At the end of class, Linda invited Meg over to her apartment. —My roommates and I have a weekly DVD night.

—I’m pretty busy. I’m not sure I can. What are you watching?

—Lost in Translation

—Then no. I hate that movie.

Linda flushed and pulled her purse to her chest. —I thought you’d like it since it’s about foreigners in Japan and . . .

—No, it’s about rich white people whining about how hard their lives are. Japan’s a backdrop.

—I . . . didn’t realize . . .

—The girl goes to a Buddhist temple and then gets upset because she didn’t feel anything, but why should she? She’s not Buddhist

—I haven’t seen it before. Um, I’ll see you tomorrow?

Meg nodded. The next day she sat in her usual spot, but Linda sat in the last row.


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A Bad Haircut by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

When Jenna started wearing long sleeves in the summer, her friends advised her to get a new haircut.

—It’ll give you your confidence back.

A co-worker gave her a card for Wicked Salon on 15th.

As soon as Jenna stepped outside with her shorter do, however, she knew something was wrong. Most haircuts are satisfied with being looked at in any shop window, but this one insisted that she go down to Broadway and look in the window of Castle, the sex toy megastore her Japanese students had told her was listed as a landmark in their Seattle guidebooks.

When her new inverted bob drove her on past the lingerie and dildos to buy a pair of handcuffs, she didn’t know what it had in mind. She didn’t really understand, in fact, until her husband’s body, still wearing the cuffs, was dissolving in lye in the bathtub.

Realizing what she had done, Jenna faced herself in the mirror on the antique dresser in their bedroom. She held up her arms. It would be another few weeks before the bruises faded and she could wear short sleeves again. Or go sleeveless: why not? He would never tell her she looked slutty again. In the meantime, her haircut was sure to get attention. She just hoped it would be the same after she styled it herself.


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American Birthdays by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Cherry was America’s least favorite pie. Her mother made it every year for her father’s birthday because “daddy doesn’t like cake.” America had to wash the bowls, the wooden spoon, the plates and finally the Pyrex dish. Her brother got to “contribute” by climbing the tree in the yard and picking the cherries.

One year, America complained that it wasn’t fair. Her mother said, “Just be grateful we have a sink you can reach from your chair.”

Another year, America asked for apple pie for her own birthday. Her mother said, “Just be grateful you have friends here” and served chocolate cake with buttercream roses.

Yet another year, America asked why her family had moved to a country that made war on theirs. Her mother said, “Just be grateful you were born here.”

The year before she left for college, America asked if it could have been American weapons that made her be born without legs. Her mother said, “Just be grateful. If we got the visas three months later, you might not have had arms. Six months later, you might not have been born.”

For her first birthday away from home, America tried to make an apple pie, but it burned. She bought red velvet cake instead and told herself she was lucky that she didn’t miss the last accessible bus back from the store.


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Here Lies Jack by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Here Lies Jack
Family Man, Community Leader, and Honest Businessman
with two families

Here Lies Jack
Beloved Husband and Father
of two wives, which I guess makes him a tax cheat too

Here Lies Jack
Look, I don’t know who you are or what your problem is, but please stop defacing my husband’s tombstone with your lies.
Don’t believe me? I can prove it. Meet me here tomorrow at dusk. My son has his eyes.

Here Lies Jack
without a tombstone:
his wives spent the money
on each other
at Ann Summers.


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The Evacuation Queue by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

The ticking must have gone on for an hour before Kathy realized it wasn’t a clock. When the line finally moved, the rhythm changed. When the queue stopped again, she glanced behind her and noticed a woman in torn jeans and a filthy sweater tapping a heel on the concrete.

Kathy couldn’t remember the last time she’d worn dress shoes. Who wears heels in a disaster zone?

She looked down at her own ragged boots. Maybe the woman didn’t have any other shoes. The concrete would burn bare feet.

The line moved a few more times before the sun disappeared. The heat remained. In front of Kathy, a mother rocked an infant in her arms. Whenever the line moved, she had to prod her two toddlers awake. Kathy thought they would have been cute with round faces.

The sun had reappeared by the time the family reached the gangway to the ship. Kathy was looking at her feet again when she heard the mother scream. The guards were insisting that she had to leave one of her children behind.

Kathy asked if she could give them her pass. A guard said there wouldn’t be another ship for months.

—I might make it. They won’t.

Kathy walked away before the mother could thank her. The woman who had been behind her, however, had enough time to shout: If you’re going to die anyway, could I have your shoes?

People never change: Kathy was glad to be staying.


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Girlfriends by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

—That was harsh, said Jen as the bathroom door slammed behind Melanie.

—Mel’s my best friend, not yours. She needed to know that shade of blue doesn’t go with olive skin.

—Viv, you said she looked like a whore.

—That’s how our friendship works. Remember eighth grade when she warned me about my muffin top?

—You passed out in PE from not eating.

—Whatever. We’re gonna be late for chemistry. Mel can find her own way there.

Melanie never made it to class. After twenty minutes, Mr. Schmidt asked if they’d seen her.

Jen denied it. Viv said she was probably with her boyfriend. Jen snickered. Melanie had only ever gone on one date, at Viv’s urging, to dispel rumors of lesbianism.

After another twenty minutes, they heard ambulance sirens.

—Some goth must’ve cut her wrists too deep, Jen stage-whispered. Half the class laughed.

Ten minutes later came an announcement: the period would end early for an emergency staff meeting. Viv took advantage of the break to smoke a cigarette behind the school. When Viv sat down in study hall, Jen leaned over and said she was right about the wrists. —The senior hall bathroom’s a fucking crime scene.

Ms. Lee came in five minutes late with red eyes. Jen had been wrong. It wasn’t a goth.

Viv, sobbing, ran out of the room.

—So they really were dykes, whispered Jen, quietly so that only Viv’s boyfriend could hear.


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The Secret Life by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

When we were very young, we didn’t tell because we didn’t know any better.

Now we are six, and we don’t tell because no one has believed us since we told the story about the vampire upstairs.

Now we’re twelve, and we don’t tell because our family’s weird enough, living in an apartment instead of a house.

Now we’re sixteen, and we don’t tell because if it happens at home, why wouldn’t it happen in our boyfriend’s car?

Now we’re twenty, and we don’t tell because we’ve held too many friends’ hands in the ER. We know how the cops treat rape.

Now we’re thirty, and we don’t tell because it’s easier to write.

Now we’re forty, and we don’t tell because no one wants to hear about it anymore.

Now we’re fifty, and we don’t tell because we’d rather climb to the top of Mt. St. Helens, or what remains of it.

Now we’re sixty, and the sunset is neither russet nor gold, but the shadows of dead trees are lovely tonight.

Now we’re seventy, waiting for the stars to appear.


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Sisters by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

the blonde the redhead
dye job henna
the pretty one the smart one
pink & khaki black & white
makeup lip balm
straightening iron unbrushed bun
daddy’s little girl father’s daughter
gymnastics hiking
1100 calories vegan
cheerleader KEY Club
swim team swim team
captain coach’s award
business major English major
Juris Doctor PhD
summer intern research trip
hotels hostels
indoor pool skinny dipping
Margaritas whiskey, neat
Rosé Shiraz
Xanax Mary Jane
dad dies
fly home
leave the wake early
to catch a flight back
junior partner tenure track

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Drink by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

His father didn’t drive his mother to drink. He hit her to it. And left her to it. There was another woman, of course. The last time he saw his mother, she was yellow and bloated in a hospital bed.

His lover knew this because he told her two months after they met—the second time they saw each other, second time they touched other, second time they shared a bed. The last time she saw him, he left bruises on her arms that turned yellow two weeks later.

I didn’t hit you. I shouldn’t have shoved you, but I’d never hit you.

fuck that distinction, she texted back.

I love you, even if you don’t love me.

She didn’t reply. She had three-quarters of a bottle of whiskey left. She drained it. Down the sink. She knew it would kill him if she drank like that.


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Three by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Ann was the third child. Her father died when she was three. Her brothers called it lucky that she couldn’t remember him, so when she moved out, she rented a third-floor flat. When she bought shoes, she’d buy two pairs and throw away one of the left ones; she’d carry the extra right in her backpack, along with three copies of one book and three notebooks.

At Cafe Allegra, she’d have three drinks while scribbling down haiku and triolets. Whenever a couple came in, she’d think how lovely it would be to date them. Ann would have liked to marry and have a child, but she couldn’t stand the thought of being two before becoming three.

One day, while Ann was reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a man she had seen in the cafe a few times before came in with a labrador puppy. He bought two drinks and sat down across from her.

—Here. It’s a triple latte. I hope you don’t think it’s creepy that I’ve been watching you. I’m Joe.

No, she didn’t think it was creepy, and his dog was adorable. They made a date for Saturday.

—Bring your dog.

—Of course. By the way, I love David Mitchell. Do you think I could borrow your book when you’re done?

She pulled a copy out of her bag and offered it to him.

—You sure that’s OK?

—It is now.

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The Waiver by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Emotional distress, injury, acts of God, acts of war, lightning…

—Bubonic plague, really?

—Madam, you’re not required to read it. The gray-suited functionary scratched his mustache. He would have to trim it soon or face regulation court. Mandy knew how unpleasant that could be; last time the computer had sent her to . . . she couldn’t remember.

. . . inappropriate desires, police actions, alien abductions, oil spills . . .

—And spontaneous teleportation?

—As I said, the Corporation does not require . . .

—I won’t sign what I haven’t read.

—Does reading it make a difference?

. . . cracked gears, sonic booms, brainwashing, rabies . . .

—If the Corporation hadn’t lost my . . . friend, I wouldn’t need to enter the Zone at all.

. . . green flashes, salmonella, death, undeath  . . .

—Gina signed the waiver you’re reading now. All employees do, and it clearly states that we are not responsible . . .

— . . . for unexplained disappearances.

—Then you’ve reached the end.

Mandy nodded and scrawled her name across the screen. She handed the pad to the gray-suited functionary, who glanced at it before pressing the red button on his desk that opened the door to the Zone.

—Call from any white phone when you’re ready to leave, but remember, if the circuits are down . . .

—I know: ‘we are not responsible.’

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A Tale of Two Birthdays by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Kelly typed “Thrift Store Work” and hit CTRL-P. That title was crap, but the poem was good enough to workshop.

“So happy birthday to me.” She started on the bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. No need for a glass. No need to share. No one had said a word that morning in seminar, no happy twenty-second for her. It didn’t matter that a week ago she’d mentioned her birthday while they discussed astrology in verse. It didn’t matter that she’d bought a six-pack for everyone else’s party.

Last year had been different. Jessica, the Production Supervisor at Value Village, had bought a cake from petty cash, and Kelly had blown out the candles during morning break. The other department pricers had insisted on taking her to dinner at Vic’s Pizzeria and, of course, on paying for her first legal can of Oly.

“I know you said you never do anything for your  birthday,” Margo had said, shifting an armload of priced clothes from the line to a rolling rack, “but that’s exactly why we have to do something.”

When Kelly had been accepted for grad school, Jessica had bought another cake out of petty cash. The card everyone had signed now hung over Kelly’s desk.

She glanced over the printed poem—one final proofread. The buzzer rang. Could someone have remembered? When she answered the intercom, it turned out to be a pair of Mormon missionaries.

“Just leave me alone.”


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The All-Nighter by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Kayla thew her head down and pressed her tear ducts. Why had the eyedrops started to sting so much? Overuse?

She sat down at her desk again, opened and closed a book without noticing which one she had picked up, and glanced over her printed paper without reading it. Her alarm clock said 4:01, her laptop 4:02. A month ago, she would have been able to see the first hints of light in the sky; now, she kept her drapes closed. She needed to sleep, but it was too late. The first four hours were for nightmares now, and she needed to be in class by eight.

The alarm would wake her up. She’d tremble, maybe cry out. If she was lucky, she wouldn’t remember his weight pressing her down. In dreams it broke her bones, burst lung, heart, liver . . . No, Kayla, don’t think about that. Pour more coffee from the French press.

His hand burst out of the dark brew. She dropped her mug and scalded her thighs but hardly noticed that pain for the roughness of his hand against her mouth and the taste of blood as her lips were pushed back against her screaming teeth.

Kayla lifted her head from the desk and slammed the alarm off. She shivered in the boiling shower. But she made it to class on time and turned in her essay. He’d taken her nights. She would never let him have the day.

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Shooting Stars by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

—Can it wait until morning?

Emily was shaking Mark’s foot.

—It’s 1 am. The Leonids will peak in an hour.

Two cups of coffee later, they headed for the woods. Mark kept a hand on his wife’s shoulder because she had banned flashlights so their eyes could better adjust to the dark. When they reached the meadow, they lay down side-by-side with her head on his chest.

Several meteors had streaked through the sky when Mark told her he was going to stop hunting.

—Why now?

—Because it bothers you that you’re turned on by it. I’ve heard you throwing up in the morning.

—That’s not the reason . . . I went to the clinic today. I’m pregnant.

Mark wrapped his arms around her. —I thought that might be it. I also don’t think you’d be so . . . aggressive if you didn’t need to think you were punishing me in some way.

Emily laughed. —You know me too well, but what difference will it make if you stop? I’ll still be imagining . . . and you’ll still eat meat.

—I’ll stop that too, but on two conditions. One: we name the kid after one of my parents. Two: you never stop fucking me the way you’ve been.

—Deal. Hey, did you see that? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a meteor that bright.

—Yeah. I can’t wait to be a dad.

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Summer Camp by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Emily’s family wasn’t poor. Their apartment didn’t smell like Jackie’s did. Emily knew poverty stank because every year they cut through King Street Station, where bums lived, on the way to watch the Mariners lose to the Yankees. Emily’s mom didn’t dig up roots in the lawn to boil for dinner like Chue’s mom did. Chue and Jackie were her only friends in the complex, and Jackie had stopped inviting her over. When the gifted program was at another school, it was OK, but now everyone saw Emily walk into a classroom full of kids who always had the latest toys. How much worse it would be if they knew how big their houses were? If Emily were athletic like her sister, it wouldn’t matter.

Her family wasn’t poor, but when her class had gotten fliers for space camp, she didn’t even ask her mom. She only got to come to Camp Sealth because she sold so much candy. Was it worth standing outside Safeway until her fingers froze? She leaned back against the cedar; its scent said yes.

When her classmates had asked if she was going to space camp, Emily said she liked reading better than science. —Besides, they don’t have vegetarian food. My mom asked.

Her mom wouldn’t do that. She always wanted Emily to have “just a little” meat.

Emily’s counselor ran over and asked if she wanted to play capture-the-flag. Emily looked up. —No. I’m writing a poem about the stars.

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Antlers by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Mark had wondered what had gotten into his wife. Emily was never that aggressive in bed. When she confessed, he faked a sneezing fit to get away.

—Sorry. Must be my hay fever acting up.

Now, as he watched her sleep, he wondered what to do. One of the reasons he had married Emily was that he thought that a vegan would never fetishize his hunting the way some of his exes had. Trophies, they had asked for: hooves, horns, teeth, anything . . . it disgusted him. He only hunted for what he could eat.

Emily stirred. —Why aren’t you sleeping, Mark? What’s wrong?

—Just allergies.

—Poor you.

She snuggled up against him with her head in his lap, and he began stroking her hair. What could he say to her? What about your beliefs? Well, what about them? She wasn’t killing or eating any animals. He wasn’t going to start hunting more because the thought of it turned her on; if anything, he’d do it less. No, there was nothing to say. He loved her. That was that, unless she asked him to put antlers on the bedroom wall.

Mark coughed a few times. Emily turned but didn’t wake. He lay down beside her and put an arm around her waist. He was going to have to get used to the ropes.

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Venison by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

It was disgusting, but Emily couldn’t stop looking at it.

Every time she came into the garage to get a book or a box of next season’s clothes, she’d open up the freezer, and no matter how long ago hunting had closed, it would be full of meat. Worse, no matter how far Mark had gotten in the butchering process, all she could think of was Bambi’s mom.

It had been one thing to respect hunting from a distance. Of course it’s more honest to shoot your own prey than to buy it, sanitized and certified cruelty-free, from Whole Foods. But to marry a hunter and have the carcasses in her home, to kiss a man who could hold a gun and end a life . . .

—Well, shit. What do you do when you’re a vegan and hunting turns you on?

Emily closed the door and called his name.

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A Weekend Away by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Sam sat for the last time among the basalt tidepools she had come to know so well that weekend. Her eyes followed ghostly crabs climbing past anemones, but she didn’t see them. Even on the climb down from the campsite, when her hands gripped the sharp ridges left as the lava cooled, she thought only of Lisa’s soft tanned skin and all the places on that slender body she would never see again, let alone touch.

Sam had been so pissed off about sharing a tent with a cheerleader.

“Experienced campers need to take care of newbies,” the youth leader had apologized.

Lisa, however, turned out to be anything but new to the woods. They had spent the past two nights discussing edible and medicinal plants by flashlight; Lisa even knew legends about salal that Sam had never heard. Late Saturday night, Lisa had claimed to be cold and slipped into Sam’s sleeping bag. The hours that followed had been the best of Sam’s life.

They would never be repeated. Lisa had kept her distance at breakfast, and Sam knew she was a good Christian girl who couldn’t be a lesbian. Nor could a cheerleader befriend a freak who used a notepad to communicate with people but talked to plants and animals.

Sam breathed deep of salt and kelp. One perfect night would have to be enough. She rose and began the climb back to where the other girls were packing and laughing.

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Up in Smoke by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

The car had always been the one place he could smoke, at least as far as Jenna knew. She knew when he got up in the middle of the night that he was going to sit in their little yellow Subaru with a pack of American Spirits, even if he did come back with fake blood trickling down his cheek. At least, she hoped it was fake.

She had never told him she knew. His elaborate plot to make her think he’d become a vampire was too amusing: the ever-darker glasses, the refusal to eat at Italian restaurants because garlic upset him—eventually he even stopped going outside during the day and had thick drapes installed in his home office.

And she was grateful now that she had allowed him that one haven in which to smoke. It meant she could slip outside when the insomnia got to her, curl up in the driver’s seat, and smell his last remaining trace.

She was grateful, too, that in the note he left before hanging himself in that darkened office, he had asked to be cremated. It gave her something to argue about with his very old-school Catholic mother. A welcome distraction from grief.

Besides, there was something nice about having him in a box in the glove compartment. Smoke and ashes in the little car they had driven from California to Juneau. That would have to be enough from now on.

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