Kasbeer holding Blackie, and Black holding Kasbeer
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I found my soft, shiny stuffed dog on a tree of puppets at a souvenir shop in Big Sur. He was the color of asphalt with glossy plastic eyes that disappeared under his dark fur and floppy ears, making him look more like a bunny than a black Lab. His rear-end was plump and his tail thick. Through an opening in his chest, you could slip your hand inside. The feeling was intimate, like reaching into a shirt when one of the buttons has been undone.

The first time I did this, he came alive, opening his mouth to show off his pink tongue. I asked if he wanted to come home with me, and he nodded, his tail wagging from the flicker of my fingers. When I scratched behind his ears, he lifted his head as if he were relishing in the feeling. More… “Everyone Gets a Dog”

Sarah Kasbeer’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Elle
, The Hairpin, Jezebel, The Normal School, The Rumpus, Salon, Vice
, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Is it Cancer” received notable mention from the Best American Essays 2015.

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I’m what’s left of when we
swam under the moon
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

In the summer following my completion of grad school, my boyfriend Jonathan and I moved into an apartment in East Vancouver. Our search for a home had been an exhausting dead end until the final days of June. We were driving around the city, windshield wipers on to clear the summer rain, a sense of hopelessness sweeping us forward, when we saw the vacancy sign.

That’s always how it goes — you wait in a constant state of impatience for something to happen, and then suddenly everything turns on its head. A couple had already signed for the apartment and were meant to move in the following day, but they’d had to break the lease — a domestic dispute, the landlord whispers as he hands us the papers to sign.

The apartment is on the top floor of a three-story walk-up. There are ten apartments in the whole building, all of which are empty, because the landlord says that they’ve been renovating the building for the last year. More… “Ghosts Live Forever”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay

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I’m sitting next to a wall covered in photos of Umm Kulthoum. From behind her omnipresent sunglasses, she looks down sternly on the crowded teashop, sharing wall space with dozens of other notable personalities from the Middle East. Along the ceiling hang WWI-era rifles, dusty phonographs, and lank flags discolored by years of cigarette smoke. My new friend Omar orders us another round of Karak Chai and resumes his animated explanation of why the pop star Shakira is such a great dancer — he insists it’s because she was born in Bahrain; I learn later she was born in Colombia. While Omar speaks, all sweeping gestures and croaking voice, I take a sip of scalding tea and compose my face, trying not to betray the fact that my heart is lurching wildly, like a drunk trying to skip rope. I take another sip and tell myself it’s just the highly-caffeinated, sugary tea, and not the heart attack my anxiety disorder insists is imminent.

I’m on the island of Muharraq in the Kingdom of Bahrain to explore Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy, a site known colloquially as the Pearling Trail. Currently in the midst of construction, the serial heritage site will encompass a segment of the seafront, three offshore oyster beds, and 17 buildings connected by a three-and-a-half-kilometer pathway running through a historic neighborhood. The Trail is Bahrain’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site and will offer visitors a vision of the culmination of the 7,000-year Arabian Gulf pearling tradition. This summer, over and over again, I keep returning to walk this path with my notebook and water bottle in tow. “But it isn’t finished yet,” people tell me, worried I’ll be disappointed; but seeing it at this time, in the midst of its birth, when some parts are done and some parts are still old and crumbling, is exactly why I can’t stay away. After a year when my world was swallowed up by cataclysmic anxiety, this is supposed to be the summer that I change, too, and so I keep returning to be near something else that is being transformed. More… “Pearls of Wisdom & Fear”

Natasha Burge is a Pushcart Prize and Sundress Best of the Net nominated writer from the Arabian Gulf region, where she is the writer-in-residence at the Qal’at al-Bahrain Museum. Her writing has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Establishment, among others. More can be found at www.natashaburge.com.

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If you need to be mean
be mean to me
I can take it and put it inside of me
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

I have a picture of us from when we were ten years old — Rose, Audrey, Sam, and me. We’re standing on the gravel shoulder of the highway that cuts across our hometown like a life line across a palm. Our arms are wrapped around each other, affectionate and possessive with the weight of preteen desires. Have you noticed the way young girls cling to each other in photographs? Maybe we knew then the terrible possibilities of separation. If we hadn’t held on to each other so tightly through childhood, how would things have ended?

That was all before we grew apart. That was before I hopped on a plane, before Rose came to meet me, before we ended up in the mountains of Italy, alone in a 300-year-old farmhouse. That was when we still lived in our small universe of Halfmoon Bay, in homes secluded from the highway by long gravel driveways and undisturbed forest. What would have happened if the ghost had shown up then, when we were still so connected, instead of a decade later, across the world when there were just two of us in the middle of the night? More… “Gone Ghost”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay

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She was a 14-pound lab-hound mix rescued with her siblings from a cardboard box on the side of the road in Kentucky. She was lanky and floppy, with big paws and ears she’d eventually grow into. When my husband picked her up and cradled her against his chest, she looked up at him and licked his chin, like she already knew she was ours. We called her Penelope Chews — Penny for short.

I was told getting a dog would be my gateway drug to wanting a baby. There are the obvious joys: When we get home from work, her tail wags furiously and she darts from my husband back to me, splitting her affection equally, pressing her body against our legs and turning her face up toward us, so grateful we have returned to her. When my husband and I take her for a run, she grabs the leash in her mouth to slow him down because I’ve fallen behind. When her velvet ears shift back on her head like a sail adjusting to the wind, or perk up into silky quotation marks, framing what I imagine to be thoughts of, “BONE!” “TREAT!” SQUIRREL!” When the light hits her sleepy eyes, making them into yellow wolf-like slits. When she circles the space next to me on the couch and drops into a tired pile against my thigh. More… “Puppy Parenthood”

Alena Dillon is the author of the humor collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean. Her work has appeared in publications including Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, Bustle, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, and Weston Magazine. She earned her MFA from Fairfield University and teaches creative writing at Endicott College and St. Joseph’s College. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and the very spoiled subject of this essay.

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Just don’t leave me alone
Wondering where you are
I am stronger than you give me
Credit for
– Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

Sometimes being a girl is like being possessed. I look back on us, on our childhood on the Coast, on running away, on returning, and I wonder: Did any of this really happen?

There’s a picture of us as kids. I used to have it in a frame, but somewhere along the way I started using it as a bookmark. I won’t think of the girls for months, and then I’ll pick up a book and the picture will fall out. There they are; how could I forget them? Rose, Audrey, Sam. I say their names aloud and it becomes a spell — like magic, I’m ten years old again. More… “Ghost Girls”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay

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I sat on my tall stool behind the counter in my parents’ music store, looking past my open history textbook to the dirty snow and paper trash blowing down the street in the darkening afternoon. A lone figure shuffled down the opposite sidewalk, past the jewelry store, and stopped on the corner in front of the drug store at the stoplight, his helmeted head cast down, waiting for the traffic light to turn. I scanned a few more paragraphs in my textbook until he entered, heralded by a chorus of automated door chimes and blown in by a gust of frozen air.

“Hi, Louis,” I said. More… “The Ultimate Currency”

CJ Bartunek lives in Athens, Georgia. Her work has appeared in Pacific Standard, The Big Roundtable, and other publications.

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That first blast of fall air can bring sensational reminders of good ol’-fashioned school days. If not received already, many will be getting an invitation to attend a school reunion this fall. Reaction to these invites, however, is often met with great angst. On balance, responses from alumni are less than sanguine and may be sour.

Considering going to a reunion could conjure up sundry emotions such as: “Why do I want to go back to see those jerks?” or “Nobody I hung out with will be there” or “I see the people I need to see in my life now” or “I would love to go, but what if I see (him/her) again; I just could not bear it.”

Certainly, such emotion is understandable, especially if it is your high school reunion — adolescence is a tough and awkward time for all. While Hollywood gave us the good feeling that we can overcome the deep and personal pain of those school days, as did members of The Breakfast Club, sticking one’s neck out in the schoolyard again is too much reality. More… “Reunited . . .”

Stephen F. Gambescia, professor of health services administration at Drexel, has perfect attendance at school reunions.

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In my real life, I get flashbacks where I’m playing Call of Duty, standing in a silo, hiding from a tank. I have to count the tank’s assaults so I can run out of the silo in between blasts, then sprint close enough to the tank to throw C4 explosive on it, run away, not get shot, and click a button to blow the tank up.

Even if I’m successful, I’ll still die soon, when some rival soldier hits me with a shotgun blast, or sniper bullet, or knife to the face.

But this is an online multiplayer, so my death lasts only a second or two. I respawn back to life, on some different part of the battle map, where I have to run back to the silo, to help my team, or to revenge-kill an annoyingly talented gamer who keeps putting holes in me. More… “Withdrawal of Duty”

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I interviewed Karen Armstrong, the deep-thinking comparative religionist and former nun in 2009 and still remember vividly the openness and subtlety of her thoughts on religion. Now, more than ever, her insights into the kinship among religions and the value of compassion and empathy seem worth hearing. Her landmark book is the 1993 A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. • More… “Celebrating Karen”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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