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Issue 31, January-March 2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 31.3

Flash Fiction

Maryann Ullmann
Sensory Research

Pete Stevens
Niccolo de Quattrociocchi and
Never Never

Sensory Research
by Maryann Ullmann
followed by Q&A


B.J. Buckley
Solitary Vireo

Marcia Aldrich
The Perfect Stroke

Solitary Vireo
by B.J. Buckley
followed by Q&A
The Perfect Stroke
Marcia Aldrich
followed by Q&A

Right now everything I am is understood
by the word swimmer. 

I am a long way from home, severed from my mother 
and that particular history of trouble.  

Lonely and not lonely: what swimmers call the zone
the sum of me concentrated into my stroke.

It doesn’t matter if the water is frigid  
or if I am alone or with others, I am complete.

What works for me doesn’t work for everyone.
Some people don’t enter the water and breathe more deeply.

They need to be upright, to hold onto to something,
If you loosen their blankets and free their limbs, they twitch like babies.

But water doesn’t work that way—you can’t bend it.
Subdue yourself. Swim inside the water.

I am not plunged into the darkest of moods
when I read of a young person pulled under in a rip tide

Or trapped under a floating dock. 
Water contains a history of drowning in its depths.

The breast stroke is my stroke.
I lie in the water face down,

arms straightforward and legs extended to the back.
I plow my head into the water

the way a beaver ducks under the ice.
Timing is tricky.

For the arm movement, 3 steps:
Out-sweep, in-sweep, and recovery.

Out-sweep, in-sweep, and recovery.
The story of my life.

Usually being a quiet person hurts me.
In the water the quietest person is the best swimmer.

Working against water is exhausting.
I’ve been held under inside a kicking wave

And then spit up and out and back to shore
like a piece of sea kelp whose holdfast failed.

If my life had a title, it would be Inside Water.
A fraught birth, drowning, attempts at rescue, a raft,

Corpses borne on a current, funeral bier at sea,

No one’s a child anymore.
Sometimes when I’m waiting for a lane to open up,

I watch the other swimmers going up and down
The lanes at the exact same pace, using an unvaried stroke

As if a giant metronome ticked in the sky above us.

I’m far out and no one is paying the least attention to me.
I might be invisible.

I’m swimming on my back looking up at the sky.
The song that I sing is so beautiful that sometimes it breaks me.

It is a small song, a mere echo in the vast empty room.

Marcia Aldrich is the author of Girl Rearing, published by W.W. Norton and part of the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers Series. Companion to an Untold Story, selected by Susan Orlean for the 2011 AWP Award in Nonfiction, came out in September 2012 with The University of Georgia Press. For further information


Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I conceived of “The Perfect Stroke” as the final piece of writing I would do on swimming. I was wrong and have since written two more pieces. I have a history with swimming and a history of writing about swimming and I hope I’ll never exhaust what swimming means to me. In this instance a quote from Keats provided inspiration. “The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to shore, but to be in the lake. To luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out; it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.”

We serious writers huddle in the corner of the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton. The rest of the conference-goers herd on to the next panel in the next ballroom. But we detain ourselves in commitment to our craft: literary hipsters and aged nerds with berets and sweatpants under the opulent chandelier. We are ready for the experiment. 

We had been discussing the importance of sensory research, of going beyond the books. “My protagonist is a vorarephile, a man with a cannibal fetish,” the thirty-something in the tweed flat cap and gray hoodie had said. “And I’m having trouble finding an access point into his psyche.” 

“You mean he gets off on eating people?” asked an author on the panel. He had published three novels set in Indiana. 

“Not so much. More, he gets off on being eaten. It’s for real, this desire to be devoured. It exists.” 

“I don’t doubt it.” 

“Maybe,” suggested the flat-cap guy, “if it’s entirely consensual, of course, if anyone’s interested in trying it out, I mean, we could all write about it after, what it’s like, to be eaten, to eat flesh, to witness the act, whoever’s interested, you could meet me in the corner after, over there,” he pointed to the spot away from the windows, where painted Victorian ladies sipped tea in soft lighting. 

After, now, we stand over there, waiting for something to happen. 

“This is ridiculous,” I say. “We’re not going to go through with this. We’re writers, not sadists.”
Others nod. We make to leave. 

“Wait,” says the flat-cap guy. “I’ll do it. I’ll be eaten. We’ll start slow. We’ll start with a sliver off my pinky. Would anyone like to, dare I say, eat me?” 

We giggle; we look around. 

“I would,” squeaks the graying curly-haired woman in the pink scarf. We’ve seen her in other panels, espousing her affections for Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro. 

“Brilliant,” says the flat-cap guy. He sends a Hilton attendant to fetch a sharp knife. 

He grows excited. “If anyone finds themselves sexually aroused by this event, even slightly, at any given point, please do let me know.” 

The attendant returns and the flat-cap guy flinches at the shining blade, but grips it in his palm. He holds it to the end of his pinky like a paring knife, like one might peel a narrow carrot. We wonder if he might be a chef, the way it’s poised. In the quiet, we watch his hand shake. He whispers to it—“Stop”—like he’s cooing to a scared kitten. His hand obeys and slices the knife down. The fresh red bubbles up and we all lean in, mouths agape like women applying mascara. He glides the knife along the edge and narrates the experience for us. “It stings,” he says. “And the skin wants to cling. It’s not so easy, breaking it apart. The flesh is alive.” He manages to pull a sliver free and hands it, wriggling like a minnow, toward the woman in the pink scarf. 

Her mouse eyes do not widen, but focus tightly on their task. She takes it and holds it over her outstretched tongue. A few of us turn away and cover our mouths. We hear her say, “It’s salty. It’s warm. It’s like a microwaved rose petal. It’s slightly creased like the sea.” 

“I’d like to try,” says a young man with a red goatee. 

“I might be getting aroused,” says a girl in a vintage cardigan. 

The woman in the pink scarf is still chewing, her eyes closed; a twitch of her lip betrays a moment of registered disgust. 

That it’s difficult to pry myself away unsettles me. More so, that I am the only one who does.

Maryann Ullmann is a Whitford Fellow and MFA candidate in fiction at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Her writings appear in Permafrost, Halfway Down the Stairs, Cultural Survival Quarterly, and Whole Terrain, among others. She traipses around the globe with an imaginary llama named Svenz who feeds on alfalfa and dulce de leche, her most stable home at


Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: This piece was inspired by a dream I had following the Midwest Gothic panel at AWP Chicago. In the dream version, I was about to eat a sliver off my own finger, but woke up just in time. 

Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volumes 1 and 2Learn more...

Lara Dolphin
Three Tons Wait

Natalie Parker-Lawrence
The Idle and the Blessed

Though I know the music of this vulnerable world
is not an orchestra nor any bird mere instrument

the sweet deliberate tuning of your impudent
violin, vireo, bow of instinct, song

from the lacework of new leaves: out of the hollow
of your bones, melody – though I cannot see you

hidden in the green. Or your polished wing, brink to
branch taut sail trimmed to the wind; nor nest

a little loose and pendant from a slender fork,
resplendent: wasp paper, strips of bark, egg case and silk

of spider, blue or yellow shred of envelope (a fragment
of lost word) – lost world today I cannot mourn

for you’ve eluded cat and Cooper’s hawk,
barnstormer bob and dip, and the abyss,

that nothing opening beneath, to you
is nothing – cloud broom, swept space of sky,

hawks hung soundless golden in the blue
in seeming contemplation of the infinite. Below,

neglected garden, hellfire orange poppies
bowing to your antic flight, your pizzicato

call, quick trill and tremolo for the female
brooding on her nest: Four eggs, oval, pointed,

creamy white, sparse spotted black and brown,
smooth-shelled without gloss. Within

a choir, quartet of tiny strings:
chamber music, ripening.

(Note: information on the nests and eggs of vireos from
Petersen’s Field Guide to Western Birds’ Nests, 1979,
by Hal H. Harrison; and my own field experience)

B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet/writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools/Communities programs throughout the west for over 30 years. She is currently Writer-in-Residence for Sanford Arts at Sanford Cancer Center in Sioux Falls, SD. Her poems have appeared widely in both print and on-line magazines, including Cutthroat, The Cortland Review, Big Sky Journal, Green Mountains Review, Visions International, Up the Staircase, and Mezzo Cammin. She is the 1st and 2nd Place Winner of the 2012 Comstock Review Poetry Prize. Her letterpress chapbook, Spaces Both Infinite and Eternal, is forthcoming from Rick and Rosemary Ardinger’s Limberlost Press, Boise, ID.


Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I’m most happy outdoors, and have had many opportunities to observe birds and wildlife in the areas of rural Montana where I’ve lived. This poem emerged out of fascinating multiple field observations of a solitary vireo pair and their nest over the course of an entire season, coupled with my frequent consultations with field guides and fellow bird watchers. Fall winds eventually brought down their nest, so I was able to examine it closely–a rare privilege!

Three Tons Wait
by Lara Dolphin
followed by Q&A
On my mind this morning is rubber, a lot of rubber. Last week the swing set we ordered for the backyard arrived in two large boxes that now sit on the porch. My husband and I, on track to be parents of the year, are investigating what, if anything, to put under the monstrosity to protect the kids from falls. Back when I was little, my sister and I rode our swings into the stratosphere over the concrete in the breezeway of our parents’ house. We never broke a bone though we stood on the swings and did all manner of tricks. Still, today things are different. The kids ride in car seats, then boosters; our baby sleeps on his back not his belly and the water in our house never heats above one-hundred-twenty degrees. In the world of playground landscaping, the gold standard in safe surfacing is rubber mulch, which is currently used under the White House playground.    

Made from environmentally friendly recycled tires and ninety-nine percent wire free, the rubber mulch is available in a rainbow of colors from earth toned brown, to eye-catching red, to shock-the-neighbors blue. Having done my research online, I place a call to the company to find out more. Someone named Julie tells me that the mulch arrives in two-thousand-pound bags. “Based on the dimensions of your playground,” she says finishing the calculation, “I would recommend three bags.” 

“Where do they leave it?” I want to know.

“They deliver the mulch to the end of the driveway.” She says that we’ll want to make quick work with a shovel once we see the pile looming in front of our house. “Three tons of rubber mulch is very motivating.” 

Undeterred, I wait while she calculates the cost. The gobsmacking quote she finally gives me turns out to be five times as much as the cost of the playground itself and convinces me that woodchips or even grass will suffice. When I recover from the shock, I thank her for her time and hang up, but not before devising a motivational theory, namely—a job once started begs to be done.


Since the birth of our third child two months ago, time is a stonkingly hot commodity. With barely two minutes to rub together between feedings, diaper changes, and looking after the older kids, I am on a perpetual quest to squeeze extra minutes from the day. A dab hand at list making, I tried that approach. I gave it up, though, when I came across a list reminding me simply, “Eat.” Armed with a new theory I decide that I will approach tomorrow by starting a bunch of tasks, completing none of them, with the hope that, by end of the day, the sheer cataclysm that surrounds me will motivate me to complete the chores. 

The next day begins full of promise. With the morning mayhem over and all but the baby safely on their way to work or school, day one of my experiment in slapdash living begins. I make an imperfect attempt to fix my hair in the rear view mirror, and then head into the house. I deposit the baby snug in his car seat in the first floor laundry room. I start the dryer for background noise and close the door. If all goes according to plan, I have an hour before he wakes for a feeding. 

After a quick call to the prothonotary’s office to check on passport processing hours, I dash around the house starting half a dozen small tasks. Up goes the lid on the coffee maker reminding me to make tomorrow’s brew, which my husband will drink and I will not. The sheets come off the beds, though there is no time to put new ones on. Dental floss comes out of the drawer and onto the counter, and scolds me for forgetting to floss the kids’ teeth yesterday before bed. The manual for the car seat hits the same counter, reminding me that the baby’s five-point harness needs to be adjusted. The broom comes out of the closet hoping to be a guitar or a horse and play rock star cowboy with our son. Instead, it reminds me of the unswept crumbs carpeting the kitchen floor. I am going full steam when the phone rings. It’s my husband calling from work. I provide a recap of the morning so far. “You sound like you’re on speed,” he says. 

“I’m getting a lot done,” I say. So far, I’m half right. The house alarm starts to sound. “Got to go.” The keypad sends out a warning. “Zone 28. Low Bat.” I disable the alarm, and then head for the kitchen. I grab fresh lithium batteries from the freezer and put them on the counter. Then another sort of alarm goes off. This signal is coming from the laundry room. 

“Hold on, Henry. Mommy’s coming.” 


After a diaper change, we settle into a comfortable chair for the midmorning feed. Holding my baby’s small hand in mine while he nurses, I remember my grandfather. His hands were wide and strong, befitting of his name, Peter, “the rock.” A decorated military hero, college graduate, salesman, and family man, his hands were forged through years of combat, study, work, and sacrifice. I remember how he clapped his hands when he laughed, how he rested his bent head on them when knelt in prayer, or how he’d make a point in Italian to anyone who would sit awhile. Most of all I remember, when his legs were going numb and he could barely stand, taking his hand for support and surprised by his strength. 

After months of battling pneumonia and kidney failure in an intensive care unit, he died the day after Henry’s birth. Still, exhausted and elated from the delivery, I got the call in my hospital room. Unable to go to the funeral, I find it hard to comprehend his passing. Today, after feeding Henry, I place him in the bassinet and head up to my room for a moment. I take my rosary from its drawer and put it on the night table. When I can, I will say a novena for my grandfather, il mio caro Nonno. Until then, the beads will remain, a reminder of my unfinished work. 

Then, when the time comes, I will feel my grandfather’s loss like a three-ton weight on my heart.

Lara Dolphin is a graduate of The University Notre Dame and The Dickinson School of Law. She practiced for four years as an attorney. She now spends her time writing and refereeing four kids. 


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: I was surprised that the process of writing about the death of my Nonno created in me some inner space in which to hold his memory. 

"I do know how to pay attention . . . how to be idle and blessed . . ."
Mary Oliver

We rumble past signs: Esso Mecanico! Servicio Technico! Every few dry kilometers along the highway, we pass faded buildings with patched and abandoned beginnings of compound courtyards: cement block, corrugated metal, graveled rocks, painted aluminum, brown stones, graffitied advertisements. Those who erect these walls leave for reasons we cannot imagine. They are undone.

Esso signs proffer gasoline when our bus breaks down among pink-washed houses with blue windows. 

In Central Mexico, we writers come from everywhere but here. 

We let slip the sweaty dogs of summer. We wander. 

Two kinds of cactus, those with spikes and those with spires, compete with the flesh-plowed fields, no cactus, only the promise of corn. But in the sparse orchards, planted long ago, cactus thrives; the needled shrubs grow even if no one plants them, specious protection like a hedgerow.

Factory smoke, like molé, rises from fifteen chimneys, no attention to filters or regulations, blowing hundreds of miles, dropping its thick brown heaviness on crops and lakes on its way to the ocean where it rains into the sea and ascends as wooly clouds over Cuba. 

We step over old women, squatting on the rough steps outside the fleck-chipped door. We turn our heads to avoid the searching faces that could belong to our own grandmothers. We whisper that there, but for the grace of god, go we. We hurry through the blue door to buy rolls. 

Men hold babies and bicycles, waiting after school for sweet big-eyed faces. Perhaps their parents hide the ugly children the way we do in America. We hide tiny white coffins. They pile them high in their storefront windows next to the dress shops.  

One three-year-old boy plays with a raw egg on the earthen floor of the market. The only toy anywhere around him; the yolk breaks and commingles with dirt-straw. He stirs it with a stick from a spindly tree. He sings.  

The old women cook gorditas filled with barbacoa. Their hands fold dough over a pinch of goat or pig meat. No one offers the salty coolness of avocado bisque or ochre fritters made of squash blossoms.

Soft mountains, worn down by wind and by oceans and by war and by mining, lean over the old man and his plow, a thick metal blade, cutting through the parched desert earth with his strength and his horse cabled to his gray-sand donkey.

They are the ants. 

We are the locusts.

We pay a dollar for a lunch that costs eight bucks 1,200 miles from here. 
We unhinge our jaws to complain about heat and dirt. 
We gorge on cold guacamole.
We ride in a bus with a movie, chilled air, and matching tires.
We borrow street anguish as inspiration to increase our page count.

We wash the stories down with shots of vodka in a country that grows no potatoes.

Natalie Parker-Lawrence earned an MFA in creative nonfiction and playwriting at the University of New Orleans. Her work has been published in Slice of Life Magazine, The Barefoot Review, The Palimsest Journal, Stone Highway Review, The Literary Bohemian, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Tata Nacho, Orion Magazine, Wildflower Magazine, Edible Memphis, The Commercial Appeal, Alimentum, World History Bulletin, and The Pinch. She has work forthcoming in The Southern Indiana Review and Uneasy Bones. She teaches AP English literature and AP world history, and is an adjunct instructor in the communication department at the University of Memphis. Natalie lives with her husband in midtown Memphis in a 100-year-old house where her daughter, five stepsons, two daughters-in-law, one grandchild, and one Golden Retriever come and go.


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: I am like most writers: our first drafts are golden, brilliant even. But, at this stage we are delusional and caught in our own egos. It took me a year to cut this essay in half because I was certain the reader could not get every turn with the minutiae I had loaded into its mounded and burdened paragraphs. To cut the essay, I had to use new eyes to see what the reader would need as essential information as opposed to what was overwhelming. I wanted to keep the poetic rhythm and the intense details. I wanted to keep the extended metaphors and the themes of social justice. I wanted to keep the speaker’s voice as woven as possible with a narrative rather than too much philosophy, one who learned from her experiences along the journey as well as the people inside and outside the bus. 

The Idle and the Blessed
by Natalie Parker-Lawrence
followed by Q&A
2 Stories
by Pete Stevens
followed by Q&A

Never Never 

​I watched as my brother was consumed by flames. Mother told me to open a window. I did. The smoke, tiny particles of my brother, rolled out the kitchen window like nobody’s business. Mr. Swanson (kids called him “Swanny” or “Dickface”) always said “nobody’s business.” He was also fond of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” both of which seemed appropriate. After my brother finished burning up, I crawled out the window to see where he went. I found him perched in a tree eating peaches from a paper bag. He called me a wanker and threw a pit from high above. I imagined I was a jungle cat and began to climb the tree. Anyone watching would have to admit I climbed like nobody’s business. At the top, I discovered my brother had gone. I looked across my neighborhood, at all the trees like mushroom clouds against the horizon. Mr. Swanson said the world would soon end at the hands of a madman. Sometimes, at my window, I’ll see the bomb blasts getting closer and closer, pillars of smoke rising tall in the sky, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

Niccolo de Quattrociocchi 

​Take sixty-four blank business cards. Find sixty-four lovely ladies, sixty-four different shades of red lipstick, and have these lovely ladies plant a fat red kiss on each card. Arrange the sixty-four kiss-smacked cards in a square grid, but tilt each off its axis just so. Give the impression of nonchalant splendor. Now take your eight-by-ten glossy of Niccolo de Quattrociocchi, the one with Niccolo sporting a smile and a sharkskin, the one with Niccolo’s razor-sharp mustache, his soul-piercing eyes, and lay it on top of the red-kiss grid. See the kisses surround Niccolo. See the kisses dance and flex and swirl around Niccolo with something like love. See these sixty-four kiss-smacked cards as representations of the sixty-four heartbreaking beauties that came and passed through Niccolo’s life. Know there was a sixty-fifth. Know this woman, Clarice, took our Niccolo’s heart, placed it in her purse, and boarded the first flight back to Sicily. Niccolo was broken, void. He searched for his heart in the subway, on the pier, he looked behind locked doors, but Niccolo de Quattrociocchi was luckier at roulette than at love, and his heart was never found. 

Niccolo, or Nicky Q to his friends, spent a life of luxury and sophistication. Trained at an Italian nautical school, Nicky Q found his way to America, to the land of opportunity. He found work walking dogs, sculpting bridal couples for wedding cakes, making pretend love to Pola Negri on the silent screen, and finally, as a gourmet chef for New York’s elite. Soon, Niccolo was the owner of El Borracho, the pinnacle fine-dining experience in all of Manhattan. Here was a man women swooned for. Here was a man with ravioli that melted in your mouth like a puff of cotton candy. And yet, here was a man of regrets. He was a man with a misplaced heart, a heart back in Sicily with his sixty-fifth, Clarice. No, Niccolo would never forget. He died alone. He died with a hole in his chest. He died with a photo of himself in his hand, the one taken by Clarice, the one where Niccolo was content, the very same one you placed on your kiss-smacked grid. Now take those sixty-four red-kissed cards and throw them high into the sky, let them flutter and spin and fall down around you. 

Pete Stevens is the Fiction Editor at Squalorly. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cardinal Sins, The Legendary, 101 Fiction, Eunoia Review, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere. He lives in Bay City, Michigan. 


Q: What inspired these pieces?
A: With “Niccolo de Quattrociocchi” it started with a food memoir, Love and Dishes, by Niccolo de Quattrociocchi that my girlfriend, Rachel, picked up at a downtown Detroit used bookstore. On the back cover of the book there’s a picture of the author surrounded by these cards with lipstick kisses. When I saw that image, the look in his eye, his smile, I just had to do something with it, I was captivated. I knew my job was to tell Niccolo’s story in my own, postmodern, twisted sort of style. 

With “Never Never” it started with the first sentence. I walked around with that sentence for days, weeks, waiting for the right inspiration. It seemed, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from all the doomsday talk in the news. So I decided to write a piece that explored the way a child’s imagination might react to all these end of the world concepts that they might hear from teachers or other adults. And I wanted the imagery of the piece to reflect the vivid imagination of a child.