“I drink from the water of the abundant well of the cactus,” River declared. She bounced gingerly from one foot to the other while straddling the miniature ravines, our aloe plants held on either side in round and square containers, battened down with ratchet tie-down straps and thick metal stakes.

As she moved up the hill she dropped her head and opened her small mouth against the lip of every container, lapping up what water she could, dirt smudging her cheeks and tiny teeth. We let the children have the most water, and I watched with a mixture of envy…

Every morning I rise before the rest to meet her.

Dew pads dead grass to my bare feet and I walk and walk — passing the houses and high school football field and boat docks, where everything starts to smell like salt and dead ocean stink. Past the blinking red light, matted behind the fog, though the simple intersection where pavement turns to compact dirt. I climb the steep rock cliff leading me to the ocean and once at the top, I look down and the water is demure after a night of enjoying the full moon.

I delicately make…

I am tip-toed close to the edge, peering. I ran hard for a very long distance and stopped short at this crag, with my tiny tits and bony sternum heaving, nearly falling over from Rushing. I pause and it’s quiet except for the wind and the bugs chirping, hidden in the sparse grass. It’s warm and the sun is a sterile grey-yellow behind a wispy cloud. My cheeks burn red. I pant.

Breathlessly close to what I almost was. Nearly dried out: dead, “peeling, limping, losing juice, and going blind.” I sat up straight in a cab in the middle…

“People leave here feeling differently than when they came in. You’ll see.” Viv smiles at me as she quickly works my hands over.

This nail salon is one of my places of light and transience, it’s where I go when I’m within transition phases of something dying so something new can come about.

Many old things have died in my life, as they always do, so I’m now in no-man’s land, where the buds have yet to pop through the ash and the lava has just now cooled, but I can feel it.

It’s coming.

It’s this time when although…

Once there was, and once there was not, a lost girl.

She arrived first at her office every morning for she had been taught to be early was to be on time, and to be on time was to be late. She liked the quiet because she could hear herself think, and an open office didn’t lend itself to allowing her to stay in her thoughts for very long.

It was a miracle she had survived as long as she did, for without a compass she was like the wheat in wind: bendable to the whims of the seasons. That…

I’m in my house, upstairs and frightened. Darting, hiding — scary things keep happening: the dogs bark, lights flicker and dim, yet my younger sister and I keep going back to the room this ghost is haunting us in.

This specter is energy or a person, a murderer, but we can’t see him (and he’s a him). He taunts, and we continue to return to his room.

I’m outside, alone. He’s kept a picture of his wife’s corpse, blown up as a big poster and hung under our tree.

What’s left of her body is wrapped in a white muslin…

I’m molting, crushing, untethering, revealing, unpeeling myself from myself. I’m dead every moment before every moment. Before every breath, I die.

Will you still love me when I am reborn? Unpredictable in my metamorphoses, will it shock you to wake up, to blink, to sigh and see a new woman? Someone you don’t fully know?

I buried myself for too long, chewing on dirt, letting grubs scrounge around my brain. Cozy we were, pink and dark with slimy, chubby complacency, watching.

I prefer to die this way, so dead, done, that true death is less of a shock. It’s freedom…

Phoebe Claire Conybeare

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