Issue #90

Spring 2024

Four Stories

by Seth Wade

Socrates Mocks My Midlife Crisis at Waffle House

"Tell me, do new and better breakfast bowls remove your need to eat?"

I am a grown man now, weeping into his hash browns.

"Does progress necessarily produce happiness?"

I try to explain how I did everything right, that I played fair and don't deserve the life I've lived. That I wanted something else.

"Have you not gained from those around you? Have you not savored the sweet and crunchy waffles this symposium provides?"

I want to say no.

But I can't.

Because for too long I consented. Believed in rules. Thought grit could salve my flaws.

So I never gave up.

I squirt ketchup at my hash browns, snivel, and fork a chunk into my mouth. I wipe my eyes with a napkin and look up. I tell him not all lives are worth living, once examined. I share all I slaughtered chasing dreams. That I thought I could do anything, and I am now sad and angry.

Socrates smiles, refilling my mug with the worst coffee in the world.

"Should you obsess over what you cannot be or strive to know what you can become?"

***

Seasons of Regret

Every summer in a city by the sea, heavy storms rain regret drop by drop.

A boy fell face-first into a puddle and got a mouthful of cavities. A grandmother forgot to wear her coat outside and sprouted rusty piercings and vulgar tattoos. During one season, grades sunk and debts grew and gardens withered—meteorologists estimated small leaks in faulty umbrellas produced twenty to forty percent more sorrow.

None of those warnings stopped storm chasers, like us.

Before that summer, we were in love.

Before that summer, we wanted our child.

***

Spiraling

One night I see a man chasing himself down the street; over and over he loops.

Rushing past me, he asks, How are you?

Okay, I reply. You?

He's starting another lap when he shrugs, shouting back, Just one of those nights!

***

Homebody

Months later I look outside my window and suddenly the trees are green. Tonight, I transform into:

a root system that aids flood control,
someone who gives a damn,
all the candy in the world chained to an anchor,
my parents who really thought they raised me better,
angry diners still waiting for their morning coffee,
hungry eyes & pounding ears,
barred owls & fruit bats in the branches of dark fir trees,
this giant sequoia someone slobbered all over,
clogged nostrils & numb tongues,
dead flies clicking down the windowsill as the wind blows.

Author Bio

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Seth Wade is a tech ethicist studying and teaching at Bowling Green State University. You can read his fiction and poetry in publications like Hunger Mountain Review, Strange Horizons, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, HAD, Apparition Literary Magazine, the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Gateway Review, and now The Cafe Irreal. His work is also forthcoming in hex, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and BAM Quarterly. You can follow him on Twitter / X: @SethWade4Real