Kombucha mother by Sandra Arnold
When the country went into lockdown several things happened. Emily was made redundant from her job as cook at a local restaurant; the aunt who’d brought her up died of coronavirus in her nursing home; Emily was not allowed to attend her funeral; her husband of ten years told her he’d been seeing someone else for the last six months; he then packed his bags and left.
Emily cried for the loss of her job and her aunt. She didn’t mourn the loss of her husband, except now there was zero chance of having a baby, which was the only reason she’d stayed in her dismal marriage. For a week afterwards she sat by her window gazing at neighboring children playing in their gardens, watching ‘essential workers’ get in their cars to drive to their jobs, kissing their spouses before setting off.
After another week of lassitude she stirred herself. She packed away all the baby clothes she’d been crocheting and turned her attention to baking sourdough bread, planting vegetables, sewing face masks and researching new ways of storing food. This led her to discovering the process of fermenting which she’d previously had no time to investigate. Soon her pantry filled with fermented beans, sauerkraut, kimchi, and all kinds and colours of pickles.
A bottle of kombucha with recipe attached arrived on her doorstep one morning from someone in her craft group. To make the next batch of kombucha, the recipe stated, she would need to make a ‘scoby’ – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, also known as the ‘kombucha mother’. Following instructions, she fermented lactic acid bacteria, acetic acid bacteria and yeast together which, to her delight, resulted in a living organism resembling a jellyfish with bubble-like arms and legs. The scoby would absorb all the sugar from the kombucha, the recipe assured her, which made the kombucha an excellent health drink. For two weeks she fed the scoby on black tea, sugar and kombucha.
The more kombucha she made the more scobys formed on top of the original. The recipe advised her to make a ‘scoby hotel’ where she could park the baby scobys until they were needed. It stressed the importance of ensuring that the jar she stored them in was big enough and that she remembered to feed them. Several times a day she went to the pantry to check they were healthy. She wondered why people said scobys were ugly when they were such beautiful little creatures.
One night she woke in a panic after dreaming that the little scobys had climbed out of their jar and had made their gloopy way across the kitchen tiles before collapsing and dying. She leapt up and ran to the kitchen. She flung open the pantry door and switched on the light. The beads of light reflecting on the gelatinous blobs inside the glass looked like tiny frightened eyes.
“Everything’s alright now,” she crooned, cradling the jar to her heart. “Your mummy’s here.”
The need by Michele Powles
The first time they went to the water, the cold clanged like brass bells in their ears. Their hands clenched, eyes tight, the slap of it making their hearts strain at their casings and racing (lub-dub, lub-dub) against the threat of death.
The second time, (a secret, dont tell) the day had been too hard to sit still and wish it better, so they ran, fell, screamed into the water. It was life and rebirth – a pause like the breath they were supposed to be taking. The water though, was trapped in eddies. Was limp weed and plastic bags stinking like cabbages left too long in the sun.
They went home. Stayed home. But without the hissing, bright song of her tides and the promise of wet oblivion, nothing worked. Their bodies were stuck, staring at pale, mute walls. Without her they shrivelled (lub-dub, lub-dub) with the threat of death.
Solitaire by Sandra Cimadori
She was not his first love or his most important love, but she would surely be his last love and maybe the death of him. Now she paced the balcony.
“The authorities say we must remain at home,” he repeated as he sat on the white leather couch. Cool and introspective, he observed the view of the Ligurian coast through sliding glass doors, the expanse of blue sky and the sea sparkling as if nothing were amiss in the world.
He had no trouble entertaining himself. There were his precious books, a library that stretched from floor to ceiling and wrapped around the entire living room; there was the baby grand piano, music and paintings collected over his eight decades; there were the photos of family long dead, the ashes of his wife on the mantel. And outside, the garden was always a comfort.
But nothing here amused her for long. She was tired of playing Solitaire. “I want to go to my apartment,” she said, gathering up the cards from the coffee table.
She was not an obedient woman. Her apartment was in the next town on a congested street not isolated and safe like his hilltop home. “I will be back in a few days.”
This is how they had lived for many years… back and forth, fight and make up. It made them both feel perpetually youthful, la dolce vita without end. But things had changed quickly – life was no longer sweet. He had been born in wartime and now it was quite possible that he might die in a new world war.
“If you go, do not return. We must obey the authorities. We must respect the quarantine. There is no remedy.”
She grabbed her car keys, shoved the cards into her purse. The door slammed behind her. If only he had said stay, stay with me forever…
She sped through hairpin turns on the Via Aurelia, and wept.
Full Armor by Andrew Stancek
Mom and I were familiar with Dad’s lines: He was travelling. He was working that night. He was meeting an important contact. Most of the time there wasn’t a line; he just didn’t appear. I stopped asking and Mom, I’m sure, stopped expecting.
Every morning on my way to school, Edo elbowed me in the gut, snatched my bagged lunch, stomped on it, kicked it into the gutter. Every night monsters, toothy and leering, took bites out of me, wheezed that I was worthless, worse than worthless and I would never, ever be loved.
Mom, no, I could not tell her. She came home night after night, eyes ticking from exhaustion after battling her jabberwocks. She screamed at the pots and pans, at the dry bread on the kitchen table, at me. She had her battles and I had mine. My armor was courage, cunning and imagination.
When I opened the door, he was home. The earth shook. Mom shook. I shook.
I ran into his belly and he squeezed me to suffocation. Mom glared, told him to stop it, stop it right now, but she also glowed. I knew that this was the time he’d stay, to be with me forever.
“No food in the house,” she grumbled. “If we’d known, I could have shopped, cooked, prepared the house…”
He laughed. “Surprises are best, aren’t they? We’ll go out, have fireworks now, fireworks later, nothing but good times. Let’s dress for a ball, for the coronation of a new Emperor, for the end of a long war. Let’s celebrate like there is no tomorrow.”
She was shaking her head in disbelief but his elation caught up with her.
“We…we,” she stuttered but he squeezed her too, danced her into the bedroom, began unbuttoning her blouse.
“Ferd, stop,” she was laughing, “You can’t just…”
“Shhh….Where is the red dress, the one from that party…”
I’d never heard her giggle before, in all my six years. “Wait, wait, let me…”
“Go look for your best clothes,” he turned to me. “I know you have a white shirt, I bought it myself. There is a bow tie in the house. You’ll be dressed like the Crown Prince of Tramtaria. Get dressed.”
I closed the door, intoxicated by ecstasy, found a pair of dark blue slacks, a shirt with only a speck of brown sauce, dark blue suspenders. I heard a yell, something falling but I had my mission. With Dad home now, I knew the magic would complete, would become real. I reached into the far corner of the wardrobe. My armor, illuminated by the eyes of faith, shimmered. I squeezed into it. I was ready to face all foes, wearing my Brave. Dad would supply the sword.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer with a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia and is the author of five books. Her most recent are a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, 2019) and a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK, 2019). Her short fiction has been widely published in New Zealand and internationally. She held a Robert Lord Cottage Writers Residency in August/September 2020 to complete a new collection of flash fiction. http://www.sandraarnold.co.nz
Sandra Cimadori was born in New York and grew up in South Florida in a multilingual home. She graduated from Florida State University. She teaches and writes, dividing her time between North Carolina and Florida.
Despite training in law (or perhaps because of it), Michele Powles has been a writer, producer and dancer across the globe, from India to Bosnia, Brazil to Edinburgh. She is now the mother of two boys, both equally obsessed with creating new worlds (mostly under their beds). Michele was New Zealand’s 2010 Robert Burns Fellow and her fiction and non-fiction has been published widely across many mediums and broadcast for radio both in New Zealand and the UK. As an emerging screenwriter, she was selected for the 2018 FilmUp program and the 2020-2021 FFS International Talent Lab held in conjunction with Toronto, Rotterdam and Sydney International Film Festivals. http://www.michelepowles.com
Andrew Stancek is published widely, including SmokeLong Quarterly, FRIGG, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review and Jellyfish Review.