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Short Story Prize 2022 3rd place prize winner: GOOD JOB PRESSING - Jessica Lee Richardson

Illustration by Martin Stubbington //

I did not cause the advanced flowering stations. They appeared as an unsung bench does, quilted with backpacks and simply there. As permanent as a fixture can be. Emanating a feeling sure as warm wood.

I couldn’t have conjured the advanced flowering stations. I’m a practiced lucid dreamer, but I don’t know how to work them. Possibility hovered like a glimmer, but I was befuddled, honestly. I’d sit in front of their glass transparencies, ogling bright twists of petal and bent spines of stem for long, peaceful spells.

The growths seemed to float. No soil hugged their roots, just water and air and a bloom in a glass box. The squares on the floor stayed inert when pressed, despite the sense they possessed of being buttons. Was this a test of sight? Of appreciation? I appreciated the buttons, but still, they would not light up.

Whenever I sensed the air thicken with the charge of pointed attention, I awoke. My days roughed me up again, gripped my shoulders and shook.

It wasn’t too terrible. I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. I am equipped with a flair for the dramatic, my mother tells me. But I still live with her and her overly thin boyfriend Joaquin, so it isn’t all strawberries and cream either. Even if I were a purely rational being, which doesn’t exist, there’d be flair-ups.

By day, I work at an art museum for near minimum wage. I’m not an emblem for the plight of the working class, but I’m lucky I have Mom, or I’d be unhoused. Maybe this has fueled the obsession. I’m so fixated on the advanced flowering stations; they occupy me at work too. Even before they appeared I was experiencing a tricky reversal. My dream life thickened.

Ever so slowly, my dreams drifted into prominence and my waking life receded into the backdrop. I’ve long imagined the dying slip, hour by hour, into an over-there of dream. But I was not dying. As far as I could tell I was shamefully healthy. Still, awakening felt like falling asleep, and I resisted it the way a child might.

Today, my bedroom smelled like afternoon socks, and I was sore in the abdomen. I heard my mom rustling and hoped she’d leave before forcing me to emerge. No such luck. Her presence was like smoke, thick and billowing.

“Ronnie, you look like you’ve been hit by a truck.” She checked me for fever. Her eyes were nervous sparks.

“Just didn’t sleep well,” I lied.

She scrunched her face at me, aware something was off. “Your grandmother arrives this afternoon.”

“I know.”

“She’ll want to spend time with you. You haven’t seen her in a year.”

“I know.”

“Dinners and things. In fact, dinner tonight,” she said, expectant.

“I left the check in the pen basket,” I said and pivoted down the hall. I was paying rent now. It was only fair, but I resented it because it was Joaquin’s idea. He was unemployed.

My shower was a siege that left me lightheaded. But, finally outside, I regained composure. The air reminded me of rain, though it was mostly light and wind. I crunched on a mint to insist upon crispness. The atmosphere was unresponsive.

The thing about your days receding to the background is they become as special and strange as dreams once were. Wallpapered with odd imagery that sits on the border of meaning, but never crosses all the way over.

One of my bosses, Jen H., was in the break room tapping her pen. I practiced invisibility as I stored my backpack, but it didn’t work. She tapped harder.

“You haven’t earned a Starkey in a while, Ronnie.”

“Figured I should let someone else shine,” I said, leaning my elbow against the cubby frame. Starkeys didn’t earn you raises. They were just head pats, there to convince you to be kind to patrons. If you walked a patron to the bathroom, you could earn a Starkey. But you had to do it in a big show off way to catch the eye of a manager.

I helped plenty of elderly patrons to the bathroom, but did I stretch my arms wide and shout, “Right this way?” Did I sputter and wink? No, I did not. It ruined authenticity to search for reward. Plus, it felt cheesy.

“Maybe today is your day?” Jen H. said, insisting upon my future Starkey with the lava cores of her hot stone eyes. I could never remember what the H. on her nametag stood for, and I didn’t want to call her Jen, so I hushed.

The morning was so uneventful there was practically a poem in the air. No patrons required assistance and I fell asleep during my lunch hour, which is really only a half hour we’re not encouraged to take.

As soon as my chin hit my chest, I dropped down into my new real life, the advanced flowering stations before me.

It used to take time to arrive, but my dream self knew the way now—left at the labored breath, fling into the fuzz feeling. The fuzz feeling is the gateway.


The flower’s tanks appear cloudy. Opalescent. The water is buttered with mineral sheen, dotted with microscopic stars of talc. Or plankton?

My dream eyes can see from above, beside, below, and inside. I do the rounds but prefer to settle into an approximation of my body and do.

The flowers are undisturbed. Eerily bright as ever. Their spindling colors are the palette of a puppet show, strong pinks, frog greens, burning oranges.Their lines are clean as fruit. I look down in a reverence I can’t help, practically bowing. When I do, I see the buttons on the floor are lighted from beneath.

A thrill plummets down my core and I reach out my fingers without a thought. But before I can press, something presses on me. It’s tiny and sharp and I wince.


The prick of pain mailchuted me back into the break room. Jen H. poked her pen point into my thumb.

“Ouch.” I retracted my hand like a paw and concocted hurt animal eyes. Hiding my annoyance seemed the right move.

“Lunch is over, Ronnie. We have a field trip at 1:00.”

“Sure, sure.” I reached for a mint but thought better of it.

“Plenty of opportunities for Starkeys.” She shot me an ominous eyebrow.

“What does the key open?” I roused myself into the sterile space. “A star?”



“Hah,” she said. “The key opens you keeping your job, Ronnie. Get with it.” Jen H. seemed tense. No one liked it when Jen H. seemed tense. It probably meant someone from the board was visiting. But I couldn’t feel bad. She yanked me from my buttons and flowers. I wrapped myself in my vest and ran my fingers across my scalp.

Out on the floor the modernists were aglow in the silence, which only lasted seconds before the eight-year-olds clattered in. Their sneakers squeaked on the floor, their heads and arms bobbled like dashboard toys, teachers reminding them of forgotten agreements about lines. Not unlike the modernists themselves.

I pointed the way to the children’s wing, where they could build putrid sculptures, or watch themselves digitally deconstruct to their great delight.

Jen H. was watching, so I followed behind to settle them in. I turned expecting praise like I was supposed to, but she was scribbling in her notebook.

I couldn’t wait to go sleep in my car. I longed to see what the lit-up buttons did to the flower stations. Or to me.

The docent drawled on with stories of artistic triumph amped to catch the strands of wonder clinging like cobwebs to the children’s brains. On cue, they gasped, “Wow,” trained for surprise.

I hovered waiting for one to have to pee, but there wasn’t a wiggler in sight. With Jen H. bearing down there weren’t many options. I would have to earn a Starkey in the most difficult way.

I sat before a glow board. I drew a ship with intricate sails and a haunted-faced crew lit from behind. When the children filtered into the maker stations, they ooh’d and ah’d.

“Would you like me to teach you?” The kids elbowed and raised hands and shouted. I exercised my MFA for the first time in months.

“Can you draw a flower?”

“Yes!” They said in unison.

“Great, let’s start there. Show me what you can do.” Jen H. was nowhere to be found. Their flowers were so horrifying they were good. It passed the afternoon.

After they left, I started to unvest myself. Of course, that’s when Jen H. appeared. She shook her head vigorously. We were under no circumstances supposed to unvest on the floor. But everyone did it, Parker J., Amitav C., Delanne R.

“Did you see the lesson?” I said, gulping.

“Ronnie, it’s not enough,” she said. “We can’t have you falling asleep, eating on the floor.”

“This? It’s just a mint,” I said weakly and crunched.

“You’re out of uniform.”

I could see a stern and well-dressed man looking on from the impressionist hall.

“I’m sorry, I’ll do better.”

She sighed. “We’re going to have to let you go, I’m afraid.”

There was a quiver in Jen H.’s voice. She didn’t want to do this, which made it hard to fight her, but I did.

“I have to pay rent!”

“Don’t you live with your parents?”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I stormed away without my backpack and then had to sulk back in to retrieve it while Amitav C. and Parker J. pretended not to look smug.

In the car I shut my eyes.


A thin skein of silk hangs over the tank. The buttons are dark. I enter and the water is clear. Unspeckled. The flowers are moody. I understand this.

I return to my embodied position outside the tank and sit in stillness pondering the silk. I do nothing at first. Then an urge hits. I begin peeling the silk off with my fingernails. A knocking startles the effort.


Jen-the-dream-killer-H. knuckled my car window with customary self-regard. I rolled it down. This time I didn’t hide my annoyance. “I don’t work for you anymore,” I said. “I can do what I want.”

“Is this some sort of protest?”

“Maybe.” Jen H. frowned. “No,” I admitted. I pressed my face against the steering wheel.

“I think you’re depressed, Ronnie.”

“Well, no shit, Jen H.! Who the shit isn’t?”

“Wait. Do you not know my last name?”

“I know it.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t have to play these games.”

“You don’t. You don’t even know my last name. Fucking unbelievable.”

I’d never heard Jen H. curse. I smiled.

“Anyway, I came out to give you this.” She couldn’t help but smile too as she slipped me a card for a wellness institute. Names of therapists were listed.

“Really?” I said. “Not to ask me on a date?”

“You think I want to date the depressed kid?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

She blushed. It might redeem this day, so I pressed. She was only a few years older.

“Coffee,” I said. “Nothing crazy. Just coffee.” She squinted, but finally nodded through pocketed lips. She wrote her number on the wellness card with her retractable pen.

“Halverston,” she said and walked off without looking back.

Joaquin watered our limp hedge and waved as I pulled in. I cursed his name and shuttered past him in a flurry hoping he wouldn’t talk to me. No such luck.

Instead, he “taught me” how to trim the glossy holly. He handed me scissors and lathered me in small talk.

“Uh-huh,” I said, sorry for the bush limbs. “Yep.” Snip.


“Yep.” Snip.

“You think this administration is doing a good job?”

“Well.” Crap. Snip. I didn’t know if the administration was doing a good job. I was just yessing him like a robot, obviously. “Sometimes,” I muttered. “Not really.”

Joaquin eyed me like a squirrel.

“No.” Snip.

“You know your grandmother’s visit is important to your mom.”

“I know.” Snip.

“They have a strained relationship.”

“I know.” Snip.

“Loving you is the thing they can agree on.”

I eyed Joaquin like a pigeon. He didn’t usually say smart things. What was wrong with him? I snipped the poor bush while he ruined it, making some arrogant claim about fertilizer.

I excused myself when my hands hurt. Joaquin asked if I’d bring him a beer, but I pretended not to hear.

My bedroom was pure paradise. I scrambled under the covers and breathed in the smell of myself, rosemary shampoo and scalp sweat. I asked my brain for a dream. It took a couple of minutes, but the thunderous paralysis finally arrived. I stifled the instinct to fight it, surrender was the way into lucidity. I whipped into flight, thirsty and fevered.


Instead of enjoying the air, I tunnel straight down to the stations, hovering in enchantment I can’t define. A rush of joy trundles in as I near the glass enclosures with their tangling blossoms.

The floor responds to my steps, seeping light around my feet. The silk is gone, the buttons inert, but there’s something new. This time in the daffodil box.

A small insect crawls out from the stigma of the flower’s bell. It’s tiny, but I can see every detail of its body and being silvering in elegant lines. It’s lonely. Hungry for color.

I know I’m supposed to speak color back, but an unprecedented shyness washes over me. I know I’m supposed to comfort it with lemon yellows and starburst pinks, but I feel a tickle in my hair and the outline of the pillow in my distant bedroom. The tickle is the cold wrinkled fingers of my grandmother papering like stem husks, branching and blooming.

“Wake up, Ronnie, it’s almost dinner time!”

I am an embodied thump.


My grandmother’s face was the insect’s hanging over me, sympathy and expectation fanning from her eyes in wrinkling layers. The fuzz and flower vanished. We talked in our soft way. I pretended she was in the box, and I could offer her what she needed. My mother called us for dinner.

At the table I prepared for my role as peaceful interloper inside their ancient mother-daughter tensions. I stirred gravy into mashed potatoes, exhausted. My mother cooked old-fashioned things when Grandma came. I admit I enjoyed it.

“How was the train, Grandma?” A performative question.

“I listened to an audiobook about bats.”

“I love bats.”

“Me too.” She winked.

I watched my mother try to lie about sharing a bat affinity. I rescued her. “Mom was promoted, Grandma, did she tell you?”

“Still a secretary though, right?”


“Mmmm. Did you know they can survive being encased in ice?”

Joaquin coughed. “Bats?”

“Ronnie was a bat for Halloween in fourth grade. Do you remember, Sweetie?”

I nodded. “Fruit bat.”

“How is work going for you, Ronnie?”

Of course, Grandma would ask about work. Why hadn’t I prepared my story? Mom and Joaquin angled toward me too. I coughed gently, then harder.

“Water,” I croaked.

“There will be more variants,” Joaquin said unhelpfully.

My mother poured me a glass while I searched for a middle way. The right middle way would marry the truth, that I was fired today, with the lie that work was going great. It would meld them into a muddle that confused them off the scent. I often searched for middle ways.

“I’m meeting with the management this week for a coffee,” I said.

“That sounds promising!” Grandma said.

“I think so too,” I said truthfully. “We’re going to discuss the future.”

“Wow, Ronnie, you didn’t tell me this!” My mom flushed. Joaquin blinked excessively.

I felt proud of myself, for what I wasn’t sure. “Who knows, it might be nothing.” I waved my hand. I told myself I wasn’t worried. I’d just paid rent. There was a whole long month ahead.

My middle way was more like a sidewalk, but it worked. They stopped asking. We descended into a tranquil game of family Scrabble. Joaquin disappeared. I got the X and the J and my mom got the Q but my grandmother won with the Z and a penchant for triple word score. We sipped honeyed tea.

When I was finally in bed, I couldn’t sleep. I can always fall asleep. I opened my window for some soothing night noises. Instead, there was a low buzz and a persistent toad trilling for a mate like a broken phone. I finally dozed off scrolling desperate late night social media posts. Never arrived at the flower stations.

The next morning, I woke up refreshed. It was lucky, because we went to the mall all day and I got treated like a twelve-year-old. Plus, I had to prepare for my coffee with Jen H. In my mind I called her Halverston comma Jen, and she laughed at an imaginary table set with candles and a chicken in the middle. I texted her. We were all set for tomorrow. I would woo myself back into my job, and maybe the warm crevice of her neck.

Halverston responded to confidence, so I practiced with the mall clerks. The one at the sneaker store tilted her head, rubbing her hair onto her pink and sweaty neck. I took it as a sign and bought a pack of socks. Well, my grandma technically bought the socks.

She and my mother tensed up over the worth of a watch. I suggested cookies. They acquiesced and the three of us sat on a bench, minding our crumbs. We watched children jump on super trampolines. Middle-aged men planted faces in rings and received mechanical massages from tired women with swift fingers.

“They say malls are dying,” Grandma said from her cookie trance.

“This one seems to be pulling through okay,” I said from mine. But Grandma looked sad in the cheekbones.

“Grandma, people are dying. Species. It’s not malls we have to worry about.” This saddened her cheekbones more.

I gave her a bite of my cookie.

“So, what are you going to say to your manager tomorrow?” She asked, smeared with chocolate chip. “At your coffee?”

“Will you ask for a raise?” My mother asked, glad to rejoin the conversation. My mother had nary a thing to say about dying malls. It wasn’t her kind of chitchat. She wanted to talk about so-and-so’s kid’s lost scholarship, or how so-and-so got a divorce. Grandma and I didn’t care about so-and-so’s drama, but we cared about Mom.

I shrugged. Best to steer them toward another shiny thing. “Come on, Gals.” I tossed their cookie sleeve trash. Grabbed their hands. “Let’s play Space Invaders.”

I loved a good vintage game with my matriline. They screwed their faces into bonkers patterns and screeched. It might have started with a lie of omission, but it morphed into joy. A middle way. Shooting light at wavering invaders. The whole problem.

Soon it was time to go home. I complained of a stomachache so I could tunnel into bed. I tugged the sheets up and larvaed myself in. I felt the pressure in my brain that meant a lucid dream was on its way. What a relief.


I arrive at the advanced flowering stations, but something seems off. The petals are pinched. The colors dull. The stems curling.

Or maybe they’re fine?

A petal drops onto the glass floor of the box. That’s what petals do. They drop. Ask any flower girl. Was I becoming my mother? My mother’s mother? Needing to shoot at something? Needing something to not be alright so I could be alright by contrast?

Leave the flowers alone, I tell myself, and I do. I just sit with them, in whatever shape they’re in.


I missed dinner and everyone was asleep when I got up for a drink. It was as if I hadn’t slept in weeks. But I couldn’t fall back asleep, into my dream or anywhere else.

I sipped orange juice, bleary, and opened a book on bats. Thumbed through. Some facts I remembered. 300 fruits depend on bats for pollination. But I’d forgotten how bats obsessively groom and pollinate medicinal plants. How their guano is used in soap and antibiotics, and they limit malaria, Zika, and dengue by eating thousands of mosquitoes every night. They’re so healthy, and everyone is afraid of them when we’re the dangerous ones.

I thought reading would help me sleep, but it riled me. I drew a picture of a big-eared bat. When the sun rose, I conked out with the pencil in my hand.

No flowers.

Woke up groggy but commenced grooming rituals for the long-awaited coffee. My grandmother wished me luck and I wilted in the pectorals.

Jen H. didn’t want me to pick her up. Plus, she wanted to meet at the chain, not the cozy coffee shop. Bad sign?

She was there waiting when I arrived three and a half minutes late. She was in the corner, reading a newspaper.

“Who reads newspapers anymore?” I said.

“Me. You don’t read the news?”

“I mean, I do. On my phone.”

“Paper soothes my brain,” she said and folded it.

“Look a tree in the eye and say that.”

“Look a newspaper editor in the eye and say that.”

Jen H. swatted me with her paper. Good sign?

We shared a too long stare. It sent an echo into my groin, and I sat. “Can I buy you an espresso? Or should we discuss the double bind of capitalism?”

She raised her cup. It dribbled green around the rim. “I’m good,” she said.

“Whatcha got there?”


She stared at me like next question please. Instead, I got up and ordered a matcha too. “Ronnie!” The barista shouted even though I was right there.

“This is terrible,” I told Jen H., smiling.

“Why are you smiling then?”

“It’s hot. And sweet. Pretty good for terrible.”

“That’s you,” she said. “Pretty good for terrible.”

“And hot and sweet?” I curtsy-bowed in my chair. “Thanks!”

She smiled. There was an awkward silence.

“Did you ever have a lucid dream?” I asked. It was sort of a blurt.

“I want to.” She appeared interested. “Have you?”

I nodded. Considered whether to divulge anymore. But I literally had nothing else going on in my life besides eating cookies with my grandmother at a dying mall.

“I might be addicted to it.” Another blurt. Oh boy.

“Better than sex addiction.” She blew on her matcha.

“Is it?”

“Or uppers?”

“Says Halverston, sipping stimulants.”

“Antioxidants.” She raised her cup.

“I might have discovered a secret. Or something? In the dreams. I don’t know.” There went the confidence. Ah well. It was always only tentative.

“What did you discover, Ronnie F.?”

“Wait, do you not know my last name?”

“Foster. I signed off on your hours!”

“You could never marry me.”

Jen H. spit some matcha. “Marry?”

“Jen Foster. Too common. No one could google you.”

“You have me taking your name? I’m not taking your name. Even in a FULLY imaginary marriage.”

“Ronnie Halverston. That has a nice ring. Fine, I’m taking your name.”

“Marriage is for suckers.”

“Sugared Matcha is for suckers, but here we are drinking it.”

“Cheers. What did you discover in your lucid dreams?”

“Advanced flowering stations.”

“Uh? Say more.”

“I will if you hire me back.”

“I wish I could.”

“I’ll do anything. Even reception.”

She considered it but dropped her chin. Changed the subject.

“Advanced flowering stations. What happens at these? You uh … flower?”

“Maybe.” I held her eyes. “Janitorial?”

“You have an MFA, Ronnie. Why do you want to be on janitorial?”

“It’s public service. Why are you judgy?”

“Why don’t you paint your advanced flowering whatevers? You’re good, Ronnie. You can do something with your art.”

“Like what? Teach a bunch of resentful high school students?”

“Yes. Sure. Or paint?”

“That’ll pay the bills.”

She grumbled. This was tanking. I had to rescue it. Everything rested on Jen H. right now. Whether I was desirable, employable, whether my obsession was translatable, whether my family would love me and thus each other because I was still a solid thing in their wrecked world, a worker, a facilitator of art if not an artist, the one in the family with the mop. I would be the one with the mop, fine, no problem. A small cavern churned between my lungs.

“It’s a good idea, Jen. I’ll paint the advanced flowering stations for you.” I was nearly shouting.

“For me?”

“And Etsy or Saatchi or whatever.” My eyes burned and she beamed.

At home I could hear yelling from outside the door. Upon entry, the first thing I spotted was Joaquin waving his hands in a go away gesture from the bowels of the kitchen. In the living room, my mother and grandmother prowled around each other like cats, hollering like I hadn’t heard them holler since I was seven and we moved. They flashed their faces at me for a moment and I knew there was no intervening, so I disappeared myself into the hall.

Once I got to the family photo section, I bounded into my room and stuck my headphones on. My stomach was air kicked by the emo playlist I worsened things with. I tugged the blankets up and twisted them around me, searching songs, podcasts.

Eventually, hours later maybe, I felt a vibration. Mom, tapping.


She swung around the door, stared a mom stare and plopped on my bed. I turned the music off. She was quiet a stretch.

“Into bats again?”


“She’s sick, Ronnie. My mother. She didn’t want to tell us because she wanted to take the trip.”

“How sick?”

“It’s so stupid! We argued.”

“Yeah, you could call it that.”

“She shouldn’t have come. You have a right to know.”

“How sick?”

“Sick enough she won’t visit a while.”



“It’s back?”

“It had only shrunk in the first place. Is the gist.”

I hugged my mom. I said expected things. Got up to heat water. She followed me. Thankfully it was just the two of us in the drafty kitchen.

“Where’s Grandma now?”

“Resting. I didn’t mean to upset her.”

“I know, Mom.” I concentrated on the table so I wouldn’t cry. “She knows that.”

But how did I know what Grandma knew? Or anyone? I felt bad for her having to deal with illness, and I felt bad for my mom who might always be fighting her mother, even after she was gone. And I wondered, what if this was my last visit with my grandma? Her last impression of the fruit of her progeny? An unemployed liar who lets her buy unnecessary flirt socks. Once Mom was calm and yawning, I excused myself.

No dreams. Not even a leaf.

I awoke, somehow, before the sun. I heard something in the light blue gaze of morning. We were all sleepers, so the noise was nonsensical. I sprang up. Only to find my grandmother in the living room, wrestling with the front pouch of her luggage. It appeared suspiciously packed.

“I thought you were here until Saturday, Grandma.”

“I was, but …” She fluttered her eyes. “They overbooked the train. Offered a voucher if I’d leave early.”

“That sounds like a lie, Grandma.”

“White lies are not lies, Ronnie.”

“You’re my moral compass?”

She laughed. The middle way might be genetic.

“What happened with Mom?”

“The usual.” She lidded her eyeballs, like a full-on brawl was no biggie. “What happened with work?”

“The usual.” Though it was unusual. Jen H. and I had descended into loveless but tender post-matcha sex on her IKEA pullout couch. Then we both freaked out a little but pretended not to. Grandma lidded her eyeballs in a different way. When she opened them, she pulled an envelope from her purse.

“I’m a grown-ass person, Grandma. Please. You don’t have to.”

“I know I don’t. I’m a grown-ass person. It’s not much, take it.”

I could see she needed me to. I did. Something burst and swelled me. I needed her to need me to. I missed her already.

“Do you need a ride?” I didn’t want to talk about sickness. Just something real.

“I called an Uber.”

“Look at you!”

“It’s not rocket science, Ronnie, you press a button.”

I hugged her. “Good job pressing.”


“Grandma, what’s your dream life like?”

She pulled back and thought for a second. “It’s gorgeous, kid.” She winked. “But so’s this.” She held my face. Like she knew something. And she probably did.

In art school, kids were always mixing their tears and bodily fluids with their paints and I thought it was so stupid. But I took it all out on the canvas that night. It was my only choice. Even snots got in. Disappointing. Thought snots would add more texture.

I sprinkled dust from behind my closet door onto the stigma and let my brush strokes wild. I mixed the brightest colors I could and streaked them deep into the canvas grooves.

Daffodil, how do I flower?

Well. It’s advanced.


Eventually, hours later, I open the window and let in the hum and the toad in the wind. I press a pane of glass up against the growing image and secure it. The glass crushes the paint into anemone grasps. They sprawl like dandelions stretching their slender arms from the pits of their green chests. Far off I imagine boxes breaking, unmatched against the push. Soon I’ll face the painting toward the sun like an open door, a welcome mat, but not yet. First, I’ll rest awhile.

I squeeze another tube of paint onto the plate. I rub my face on the brush and speak color alone, painting the light of the floor.


Jessica Lee Richardson goes by Jess/she/her and lives in the Eastern U.S. where she teaches at Coastal Carolina University. She is the author of It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides (FC2) and stories that have appeared or are forthcoming in Adroit, the Commuter at Electric Lit, Gulf Coast, the Rupture, and Slice Magazine among others.

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