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Issue 41, July-September 2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 41.5

Flash Fiction

Keith Rebec
The Awakening

Jodi Barnes
The Greatest Narcissist on Earth

The Awakening
by Keith Rebec
followed by Q&A


Thade Correa
Three Poems

Wendy Mnookin

Three Poems
by Thade Correa

Wendy Mnookin
followed by Q&A

​The child is allergic.
They must give the cats away.
Oh which should she give up first,
and how far, and how long?
All? she asks.
Yes, all. And so 

she forgets her slippers, 
pink, with sequins, when she hurries 
to Slipper Day at school.
They wait all day on the counter, abandoned
with a few soggy Cheerios,
hardening crusts of toast.

One by one the cats come home–
the decree lifted–
moody, demanding
bits of turkey, a shoulder to knead.
They wrap themselves
around chair legs, her legs,
purring loudly.

And though her mother says
everything will be fine–
which means everything
will be forgotten–
the child refuses ice cream
and keeps her losses close.

No: she eats the ice cream,
chocolate and vanilla both,
and keeps her losses close.

Wendy Mnookin’s latest book is The Moon Makes Its Own Plea (BOA Editions, 2008.) Her other books are What He TookTo Get Here, and Guenever Speaks. Widely published in journals and anthologies, Wendy is the recipient of the Sheila Motton Book Award and a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches poetry at Emerson College and at Grub Street, a non-profit writing program in Boston. You can find out more about her work at


Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: This poem was written over a course of years. The anecdotes about the cats and the one about the slippers were originally in two separate poems, based on experiences of two of my nieces (thank you Julia and Sophia!) But I couldn’t make either of the poems work. It wasn’t until I combined the two that I was able to come up with the last stanzas, which bring the poem around to how I dealt with loss and disappointment as a child. 

It was April when we found the woman floating in the ditch pool.

“What’s that?” I asked. 

“Lord Jesus,” Mom said, and stopped the Buick.

We got out. The woman was submerged to the shoulder blades. Her arms were thick and bare, the skin taut, and clumps of vegetation coalesced around her armpits.

“You okay, ma’am?” my mother asked. “It’s a miracle you aren’t froze to death.”

“Go to hell, bitch,” the woman said. “And mind your own business on the way down.”

My mother tightened her winter jacket. She frowned and tugged at the edges of my hat, her breath rolling atop my cheekbones in dainty puffs. “I’m not sure what to do,” Mom said. “It’s clear she’s not right. We can’t just leave her.”

I nodded.

“Hello,” Mom said. “Are you mentally touched? We can help.”

“Fuck off,” the woman said.

I toed a rusted muffler clamp until it sank into the mud. My father was probably home from the Eagle Horn Tavern, cussing our missteps.

“She’s kind of like a wild dog,” Mom whispered. “Sometimes they’re as stubborn as the devil, but once they get cold and hungry, they always come around.”

We stood along the road for a long time waiting for the woman to come around. Snowflakes clung to our eyelashes—our fingers and lips hurt, turned purple—so we retreated to the car. The woman belted Irish songs, caught falling ice with her tongue, and stayed, with only the whites of her eyes aglow, until dusk. Then she emerged, nude and chapped—the dark patch between her legs caked with soil—and rapped on our window with a wet knuckle. 

“Cowards,” she said. “You’ll never live life being afraid,” and she strode back into the darkness.

I waited along the fringe for most of my life before I finally followed.

Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student working on an MA in Writing at Northern Michigan University. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, Midwestern Gothic, Devil’s Lake, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among others. He’s the managing editor for the literary journal Pithead Chapel, and you can learn more about him at


Q: What can you tell us about this piece?
A: The inspiration for this piece began as an image of a woman submerged in mud along a rural road in northern Michigan. Then when the mother and son entered the picture, the story just took off on its own.

Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volume 1 and 2Learn more...
Flash Nonfiction

Bill Riley

Ray Scanlon
I. Dawn

Swarms of white bees teem in the streets, 
clouds of stars. Houses, cars, streetlamps 

pitch and careen: the world spins anchorless 
as silence drowns the hours one by one 

until time shrinks and stands alone, banished 
to a shadowed corner. The space it leaves behind 

floods with whispers: We come from nowhere, 
and go away nowhere. To hide its secrets, 

the snow builds a room without walls, 
a house in the wind, and the moment, 

free of before and after, wears nothing 
but a robe of water and light.  

II. Windows 

for J.H.

In rooms they stand sentinel. There might be papers 
covered with numbers on a desk, books filmed 

in dust, battered chairs in which absence sleeps 
under the false suns of lamps, paintings suffused 

with remembered light. In cloisters of dim air 
in which all music rusts, they keep vigil 

over the possible. They are wounds in time 
bleeding blue wind, fragments of the sky, 

wells of hope. You lift your head and meet 
their eyes: in them, sunlight wanders the streets, 

grasses knit the scars of graves, birds follow 
the pale voices of stars home to trees heavy 

with tomorrow. You turn away.  
It is now. It will always be now.

III. Storms

Along suburban streets, spring leaves of trees 
blister in black winds, magnolia blossoms 

lift their lips to drink a roiling sky, 
then scatter in air, a flutter of eyelids, ghost-pink, 

across windows shut fast to strands 
of cold pearls falling. Pillars of lightning, 

precipices of cloud. A braying, whirling 
and raveling in thickets of noon-day night. 

Here is passion: lashed with leaves, 
the grass of manicured lawns aches and arches, 

suburban brick houses, spacious and sterile, 
stand drenched in a sea that streams across miles 

to clutch the new earth in arms of flame. 
Close your eyes. Feel the storm that rages 

across vistas of breath, surges untamed 
toward blue forever, and sink into your life. 

Everything that grows begins in darkness.

Thade Correa hails from Northwest Indiana. He received his B.A. from Indiana University, his M.A. from the University of Chicago, and his M.F.A. from the University of Notre Dame. His poetry, translations, and essays have appeared in various venues, including The Ostrich Review, Actuary Lit, Prime Number, RHINO, Asymptote, Paragraphiti, Ibbetson Street, The Aurorean, and Modern Haiku. In 2012, a collection of his poetry garnered him an Academy of American Poets Prize. A composer and pianist as well as a writer, he currently publishes his music with Alliance Publications. Currently, he works as a teacher of both writing and music. 

These poems are excerpted from Correa’s first poetry collection, entitled The Falling Light (2013). 

Bill Riley
followed by Q&A

We see each other more than the people we call friends, and, for some, the people we call family or more. We spend ninety minutes three times a week picking, rolling, boxing out, passing, and sometimes shooting successfully.

We are not close, though the closeness is what makes my wife cringe when, over dinner, I tell her about the blood down Steve’s shirt or how quickly Rupert’s shirt turns from red to black with sweat. You’re always touching each other, she wonders. And, you undress and shower next to John and then see him in the hallway later that afternoon. 

Here’s what we know: Pat used to teach kindergarten until he couldn’t get down on the floor to play with the kids as easily. Now he’s an education professor and burns all the guys with newborns a CD of Pete Seeger songs. 

Murry was a professor but now he’s emeritus after celebrating a publication by smoking weed in his office. We don’t count three-pointers but he shoots them anyway.

Paul is a writer for one of the most right-wing publications in the country. A lot of times I guard Paul and he’s ten years older and two steps faster than I am. Sometimes, I think of the differences in our politics as motivation. Sometimes I also guard Mark, one of several Marks, who I refer to in conversation with my wife as “Republican Mark.” Republican Mark and Jon are two of the best players, and sometimes I think they use their politics as motivation as well. (Jon is writing a book about queer sexuality, poverty, and Whitman…so it’s a hunch they don’t agree on the Affordable Care Act.)

Tall Mark played at Dartmouth and was an au pair for Bruce Springsteen’s kids one summer. Big Mark has broken his jaw and won’t be back for a year. 

We call our own fouls, some more than others. We hate when the undergraduates play with us because they’re quick enough to get open and macho enough not to know when they suck. We revel in the too few moments when a screen leads to a pass which leads to a cut which leads to an open basket. We hang our heads when we must stop for tangled legs and popped knees.

Jeff’s wife had a daughter, then, three months later, he didn’t. SIDS.

We know that Vikrash will always take an open 20-footer rather than drive, so we stay up on his hip. We know that you must front Dan in the post because he knows where he is with his back to the goal and has only two post moves but both of them are very good. We know that Magic—that’s what we call him, the guys like me who haven’t played for years and years don’t know his real name—will drive, throw up the stupidest looking floater and make it time after time. We know that Jimmy protects himself when he shoots by driving his knee up but we know we won’t complain because he is over 60 years old and tore his quadriceps one winter shoveling snow. We know that Jerry gets quiet sometimes and we think that it’s because he played wide receiver in the NFL and he’s at least 70 and he’s probably lost count of all the concussions he suffered.


We know you can’t guard Scott’s hook shot but he’s had two knee surgeries so you can probably deny him the ball. We know that just the a few months ago Jeff’s wife had another daughter, but we don’t know how happy he is because he stopped playing.

We know that this game—folks showing up to Rec Hall at 11 in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—outdates most of us. We know this game has existed for years. Sometimes we hear stories about the guys who started this game, how they used to run four courts full of games. Now, about 16 show up regularly. We know the games were more physical back then because this one former Marine used to play and he punched someone once. 

We know your weekend was fine, and ours was too. Thanks for asking. 

Bill Riley is a lecturer at Penn State and a graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Ohio State. He is writing a book about the current Milan High School basketball team (the high school that inspired "Hoosiers" in 1954), and has published work in Indy Men's Magazine and Spry Literary Journal. 


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: What surprised me is how much the guys I play basketball with know about what each other does—at home, at work, on the basketball court—and how little we know about how each other feels about it. I’ve spent all this time thus far in my life (I’m 30) assuming that the people I spend the most time with are my friends. That’s not entirely true anymore, and it’s something I didn’t quite realize until I wrote down all of these facts about my basketball crew and wasn’t able to identify a single emotion for any of the characters. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difficulties of starting and maintaining adult friendships, especially between men. I want to be upset about the gap between friend and acquaintance that I’ve noticed, but as you add more and more to your life—I’m recently married and a new father—maybe what we need is more acquaintances that we only have to spend physical energy on, not emotional.

The Greatest Narcissist on Earth
by Jodi Barnes
followed by Q&A

I forgot how masterful you are, way better than a pickpocket. After our meeting, I drove home with one hand. It felt funny but I figured I'd absentmindedly put the other in my purse or tossed it into the backseat with my jacket.

In my driveway, two metatarsals tumbled out the driver's side door. My spleen is a splatter on the right rear hubcap. At least they explain some minor aches and pains. 

Before I could grab the ibuprofen in the kitchen, I saw my reflection in the microwave door: my throat a bloody mess, larynx flapping against my collarbone.

I thought back to walking through the shiny door, ordering my coffee, sitting down across from you. As soon as I spoke, you interrupted, called our child a liar, a druggie, but not a whore like last year. I was grateful she wasn't there; it's taken her 14 months to put herself back together.

I don't remember you touching me, no handshake or the slightest brush against your Rolex on my way out. I wondered why it got harder to hear you; I just found what might be my left ear. I think I'm losing the better half of my heart.

What do I do with these pieces? You have bought up all the ice on this road. You own every hospital for miles; all the doctors are in your pocket.

As much damage as you've done, I have to hand it to you—here, take this one—you're the man, making people think they can come apart all by themselves.

Jodi Barnes’s flash fiction can be found on 100 Word Story, Prime Number, Wigleaf’s Top 50, Camroc Press Review (forthcoming) and Fictionaut’s Editor’s Eye. Her short-short stories have made finalist on Glimmer Train, Sixfold and in Press 53’s Open Awards (2011, 2013). Her chapbook, unsettled (Main Street Rag), was runner-up for the Oscar Arnold Young best poetry book award in North Carolina. Other poems are in Iodine Journal, Blue Collar Review, and in several anthologies. She founded 14 Words for Love, literary experiments for positive social change.


Q: What can you tell us about this piece?
A: Losing body parts seemed a more interesting, nonsentimental way to express one parent’s emotional aftermath of a difficult meeting with an ex-spouse about their child.

​Pencil to paper, my grandson copies theorems out of the text-book, the better to cement them into his mind and make them his own. He's studying for his geometry final exam, and I'm there for backup. As he works problems I ask the occasional leading question, affirm correct answers, maybe raise an eyebrow at careless arithmetic errors. Mutual ribbing at faulty understandings is part of the drill, too. The duty is light, and I have the leisure to reflect on the serious improvements a few months of brain development have wrought in him. You can't get too attached to your mind's picture of your teenager; he'll keep achieving pieces of adult maturity in virtual blinks of an eye. The boy's organization, focus, and attention span are impressive. His elders are palpably relieved.

After close to two hours of congruencies, parallels, and perpendiculars, the boy pushes his chair back and announces it's time for a break. He invites Dad to play some basketball; I say invite, but the challenge is always there, either overt or implicit. We gather up the ball, the adult beverages, a cigar, and head down the cul de sac to the hoop.

I may have blurted out some lame-ass bullshit about geometry's application to basketball. It is, of course, useless. Euclid never had to deal with this game of spin, trajectories, and ridiculously imperfectly elastic collisions. Even calculus could not bring deliverance to a player in the heat of the game. Far better for the boy to use it afterward in a moment of calm as elegant verification of what he already knows through muscle memory and hours of practice—and maybe to discover the critical angles and velocities which determine whether the ball drops through the net or pops out after circling the rim.

Dad and the boy—these aficionados of skill—play horse, pig, ox, around the world, shoot-out. The boy is physically adult and still growing. Dad feels no compunction about using his razzle-dazzle shots. With vicious acceleration, the boy dribbles and feints, laughing for sheer joy. Hoping to throw off Dad's rhythm, he elicits outraged delay-of-game protests. He and his father are close enough in skill so that it's no rare thing for the boy to win, and neither is shy in offering his opinion of whose butt is going to be whipped. My only active role in the games exactly matches my ability. Two out of three times I can stop a stray ball if it comes straight to me, not too fast. Otherwise, my part is to observe and revel in the moment.

The athletic tradition in my family was less strenuous. After Sunday dinner at Grammy and Gramp's, we kids and the elder two generations sat around the living room and, in the season, watched a baseball game on the television. (To more precisely date myself, the TV used electron tubes and had to “warm up.” It was black and white. It had twelve VHF channels sucked in from the ether through a rabbit-ear antenna. There were no remotes: you changed channels by walking over and turning a knob on the TV, and you had to fine-tune it with another knob. You could adjust the contrast, too. There was no slow-motion instant replay.) My grandfather, belonging to the first generation of his Anglo-Irish family born in the United States, had no trouble adopting the national pastime as one of his sports. However, he'd reached the age at which sitting in front of a TV led pretty much inevitably to dozing off—it was impossible for me to fathom this then, but now I'm all too familiar with the phenomenon. We kids paid little attention to the ball game, but Gramp's snoring was a reliable source of amusement.

It was good to have small places in our lives that were familiar and predictable, even though “random” and “zany” were hardly hallmarks of our nerdish upbringing. It is good now, too, that I can claim to be in on the ground floor of another family tradition, for so these two-man basketball contests are shaping up to be. This evening ritual provides structure and rootedness that are valuable in a culture that's not necessarily always your friend. It will certainly evolve as my grandson goes out into the world, but I have high hopes it will persist in recognizable form for years to come.

Dad will take shuffling baby steps with his walker until he's in position under the net, the erstwhile boy beside him. “Underhand, right-handed, backboard, right-only catch,” the geezer rasps. Both of them have long since mastered this shot; most likely could do it blindfolded. I'll be there, getting the hang of my new ectoplasmic form, ready to tweak gravity to ensure the needful results.

Ray Scanlon. Massachusetts boy. Has grandchildren. Extraordinarily lucky. No MFA. No novel. No extrovert. His work has been published recently in Camroc Press Review, land that I live, and Stymie. On the web:


Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 
A: Early on I wrote a snarky bombastic irrelevant paragraph detailing how I feel about professional basketball. I tried to force transitions into it and out of it, but it was out of place, just painfully wrong. Finally I realized it was going to have to die, and I found it surprisingly easy to kill that particular baby. Ripping it out felt good, and then the rest just kind of flowed. Including the ending, which often enough afflicts me with weeping and tearing of hair.

Ray Scanlon
followed by Q&A