top of page

june 2023

Nest of Grief
by Rue Karney

          It waits at my front door, tapping at the wood with its beak. I will not let it in.

          Across the fence the woman from next door waters the plants on her veranda. When she catches sight of me she frowns, and goes inside. I don’t understand why.

          The thing is not at her door.

          It is not after her.

          In her yard, the flapping of tiny clothes on the line hums a happy ending.

          I pick an apple from the fruit bowl. A grub raises its head through the shiny green skin. I want to pinch it, crush its dark head between my fingers but the day exhausts me, and I have no plan of attack or defence unless, perhaps, the house is willing to help.

          ‘Will you?’ I ask.

          The grub in the apple pulls in its head while the house breaths out something that is not quite a promise, but close enough. I take a notepad and pencil into the living room. It’s in the centre of the house and is the one room that never shifts when the house rearranges itself. The walls and ceiling are sky-blue and the timber floorboards run from side to side, never front to back, which is a blessing. They hold me steady. When I’m in the living room I am sure of my place even if I can’t be sure where I will end up when I leave it. I open up the notepad at a blank page and draw a square. In the middle of the square I write


          and cover it with lines for the floorboards. I draw a circle to show where the cuckoo clock sits on the wall. I take a deep breath, face west and walk straight ahead.

          I count thirty-five steps before I find myself in a room with purple carpet and matching velvet drapes, which are not to my taste although the furniture is lovely, an elegant French style, and I sit in a broad-seated armchair of shiny black leather with brass studs. Next to me, on a side table, is a thick book. When I open it, it smells of bedtime stories, but as I turn the pages, pictures and letters fade at the touch of my fingers. I put the book down with a sigh and draw back the purple curtains, wishing for a garden.

          Instead, a blank wall.

          A shiver passes through my body. I check over my shoulder. My notepad on the black leather chair is fading along with the chair and the room and I run and snatch the pad, fleeing while I still have my flesh and bones about me.

          At once I’m in a huge kitchen. It’s spacious and sunny, and in the centre of the room is a yellow table with two long wooden benches, enough to seat ten people each side. Outside, Pink Lady apples, peaches, pears and plums weigh down the branches of a dozen or more trees. Ripe fruit drops onto green grass. It’s so pretty my insides ache. I sit on the bench and study the marks of time impressed upon the table. The scraped knives and forks, the scuff marks and stains, the knocked edges and pits in the surface where someone, sometime, had not taken enough care. I press my cheek against its worn surface and breath in the scents of meals past. A winged shadow passes across the table. With stretched fingers I reach for my notepad, and as the shadow lengthens I bring the pad towards me and slide off the bench. Taking safe, backward steps out of the kitchen, keeping my eyes downcast so I can’t see what joined me in that room, I shut the kitchen door behind me. On my notepad I mark the kitchen and its location relative to the purple room.

          I breathe in, and write

          PURPLE ROOM

          breathing out, I write


          and draw a box around each.

          Ahead of me is a wide corridor that smells of hospital, and has a floor covered in sturdy grey linoleum. Along the corridor are too many white doors to count, most of them closed, so I scurry down until I reach an open one and stand at the edge of a room filled with junk. Piles of magazines, a bundle of broken lamps, cords entangled like a nest of snakes, skyscrapers of empty take-away containers that sway towards the ceiling as if blown by a breeze, baskets of wool, bolts of fabric, a large glass jar filled with buttons of every colour, shape and size and, against one wall, a tower of drawers. Against another wall is a stack of clear plastic boxes, the kind used for storage when things are outgrown but too precious to throw away. Some filled with bright baby toys, others with tiny garments, small shoes and the bits and stuff necessary with the arrival of new life. Blue things. Yellow things. Purple and pink and red and green things, all bright and cheerful.

          I creep across the room, the notepad against my chest a shield, and peel the lid off a box. A drift of small brown moths flutters out, and when I put my hand inside a tiny larvae curls around my fingertip. I snatch out my hand. A rumble echoes around the room. Drawers rattle, the floor shakes beneath my feet and the towers of stuff sway and threaten to topple, so I turn and run, escaping the room, hurtling down a corridor that narrows and narrows until the walls touch my sides. My chest squeezes tight. I grab the handle of the nearest door, fling it open and stumble into a space that is all translucent light. No ceiling, no walls, no floor, and although I don’t understand how it holds me upright. I’m floating, peaceful.

          I flip open my notebook and mark on it


 with an X beside it


          LIGHT ROOM

with a big TICK

          I relax and drift, and let my guard down. The light behind my closed eyes turns sombre and when I open them the

          LIGHT ROOM

          has become a

          GREY ROOM

          because the winged shadow has followed me here.

          My stomach drops. My feet drag against a solid surface with metal on metal squeals. An unseen force pulls me into the grey and though I wriggle and kick and scribble on my notepad


          the greyness grows thicker and darker, it stuffs up my nose and dries my mouth.                  The scream inside my body cannot escape and my wide eyes cannot un-see the thing in front of me. The thing that has found its way into my home and tricked me into a room it can enter. It engulfs me in its stench. My panicked heart booms. The thing that had sat outside my door crushes me within its thick, grey bulk and I battle against it with straining muscles, punching, screaming, tumbling, falling and when my nerves are fit to split, everything stops.

          For a moment, there is nothing at all.

          Grazes cover my bare arms. My skin stings. I push myself upright and wipe spittle from my mouth, blinking into the dull afternoon light. Around me, a mess of baby clothes is strewn across the floor.

          A rainbow of jumpsuits.

          A kaleidoscope of rompers.

          A prism of booties and bonnets and bibs, washed up like debris after a storm.



          The clock sounds the hour to mock me.



          The acrid scent of grief fills the room.



          A cuckoo bird, that is the thing, the no-thing that sat outside my front door, the no-thing that crushed me in the room that had been LIGHT until IT had smothered me with GREY. I reach for a tiny yellow jacket and rub its softness against my cheek. I breathe in its fading newborn scent and when the cuckoo bird enters the room, a fat grub dangling from its beak, this time I do not fight it, this imposter in my room, in my house, who has taken my child and replaced it with a nest of grief.

          Mist seeps through the floorboards. It rises up the sky-blue walls and drifts across the ceiling. The yellow jacket fades and crumbles to dust between my fingers. The cuckoo bird drops the grub at my mouth then stalks around my body, clawed feet scratching at the timber floor.

          The grub arches and creeps, arches and creeps, closer to my lips, until it pokes its small black head into the corner of my mouth and its tiny hairs prick my skin. I open my mouth and bite it in two. It sits bitter on my tongue. Closing my eyes, I swallow it down, thinking maybe this will break the spell, maybe this will bring back the light, and wish hard for the LIGHTROOMLIGHTROOMLIGHTROOM.

          I open my eyes.

          Grey paint rains from the ceiling.

          The floorboards run from front to back.



          The clock has fallen from the wall, and the bird pecks at the soles of my feet, black eyes bright among the faded scraps of fabric that line the nest it has built around me, my flesh and blood woven into its warp and weft, its sticks and stones and feathers of grief.

          I curl into the nest, and wait for light.


Rue Karney lives in Meanjin/Brisbane, Australia and loves to read and write stories that are strange, unsettling, bizarre and weird. Karney’s work has appeared in the anthologies Hauntings, In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep, Monsters Amongst Us, Pacific Monsters and Nothing as well as the magazines SQ Mag, Midnight Echo and Hinnom Magazine and online at Dread Imaginings. When not exhuming the strange places and people from her head to create stories, Karney enjoys learning French and reading about psychopaths.

Whale Fall

By Abigail Kirby Conklin

When a whale eventually dies, it usually sinks to the bottom of the ocean as whale fall and creates a special marine habitat nourished by the dead whale for decades.

—Royal Ontario Museum



How fast, though?


At what speed

does god’s biggest creature,

Gaia’s eldest child,

the school bus’s top


stop living?


Is there a yawning

cave of sound, like a ship

heaving open

from its heart,

curving downwards

into the hole

of the sea?


Is there

a service? Do the children



If untouched

by man or tuna net

is it heart

or head

that flattens first

on the ocean’s

ticking monitors?


Who is the last

to hear

the stuttering slow

of the life

in its echo chamber,

the end of a song

falling from the metronome

into unknowable



Abigail Kirby Conklin is an educator and writer currently based in Toronto, Ontario. She is the author of the 2020 chapbook Triage (Duck Lake Books), the Substack "Recently," and a variety of other works that can be found in the Tule Review, Sugar House Review, Elevation Review, Lampeter Review, and Wild Roof Journal. She's online at and @akc_poetry_prints.


By Aria Dominguez

Why can’t we just paint the kitchen ourselves instead of waiting for Bud to do it?” you plead.

            “Paint’s expensive, it would take too much time, and he wouldn’t allow us.”

            “But it’s our apartment.”

            “He owns it, Aria. We just live here.”

            “That’s my point: we live here. I’m sick of worrying that the ceiling’s going to fall in my food. I mean, come on, look at it.”

            Dad’s gaze follows the path pointed to the cracked, crumbling plaster, the paint chunks hanging on by their fingertips, the bare patches long abandoned by less-determined flakes that fell flippantly to the floor, disregarding the distress they would one day cause by their absence.

            “It’s soooo embarrassing. And Muffy’s, like, rich. Really rich. I can’t have her see this.”

            “I’m sorry it bothers you, but I don’t know what to do about it. If she’s your friend, she won’t care where you live. Anyway, painting the kitchen isn’t going to fool her into thinking you’re something you’re not.”

            Something you’re not, like not-poor. You had never really applied a label to your economic situation until the other night, when Dad was arguing with Momma after you were supposed to be asleep. His voice was an angry wasp, a low buzzing from where he pulled the phone into the kitchen. After a long silence (so hard to stop Momma as she gathers steam, chugging down the well-worn track of bitter accusations and reclamations), the wasp stung, “Jesus Christ, Karen, do you think I can pull money out of my asshole? When the fuck are you going to figure out that I’m poor?”

            You had always heard your parents say, “I don’t have much money,” or, “There’s no money for that.” Statements that made it seem as though perhaps one day they could have money just as well as not.

            Poor, though, that’s a label for a stable situation. Poor implies that the next ten years are likely to go much as the first. Poor sounds like an indelible line drawn between you and Muffy, over which you can call to her but not cross. Poor is a place where a rich girl would slum for the weekend before returning to the elegance and comfort of her Summit Avenue mansion perched upon the lofty hill overlooking downtown Saint Paul.

            You stare up at the ceiling in consternation. There must be something to do about it before the Saturday sleepover. Adults always say that you don’t respect limits, but they invent arbitrary boundaries: the time for fun is over; you shall sit in that desk and read this book; it is the appointed hour to eat; you must sleep even though you’re wide awake; sorry, that’s just the way things are. If Bud bars you from painting the kitchen, that’s just a barrier you’ll have to sidestep as you figure out how to avoid the humiliation of letting Muffy see the sorry state of the ceiling.

            “Could we cover it with cloth, Dad?”

            “No, I don’t have that much cloth, and we’d have to nail it up or something, and that would make holes.”

            “But there’s already holes.”

            “That doesn’t mean we can make more.”

            Another brilliant idea ruled impractical by an oh-so-logical adult. You look around for further inspiration.

            “How about we cover it with tinfoil?”

            “What? I don’t think so.”

            “Why not?”

            “Well, uh, how would that work? I don’t think it’ll stay up, and it probably won’t look like you think it will.” You sense a chink in his resistance—he doesn’t actually have a reason behind this objection.

            “We could tape it up. It would look cool. Please?” He wavers, but still balks.

            “I only have a little bit left.”

            “I’ll ride my bike to the store and get some more. It’s cheap. And you can take it out of my allowance. Please, Daddy.” He shrugs his shoulders, smiling slightly as he gives in to your obstinance once again.

            “Okay, if it’s that important to you, I guess it’s fine.”

            Dad hands you two dollars, which you stuff into the pocket of your jeans. You grab your bike from where it leans against the front steps and fly to Herbst Market. There’s not much Sunday afternoon traffic on University Avenue, so you cross against the red light. That’s totally against the rules, but you’re on a mission, a quest that will not wait for an unthinking eye to delay your progress.

            You grab a slim blue box off the dusty shelf and take it to the front. The more ancient of the Herbst brothers is perched on a stool next to the cash register. His head is slumped against his chest, which moves slowly up and down as he sleeps. You clear your throat loudly; his head bobs up as close as it gets to upright on his perpetually hunched neck. He’s a nice guy, but you can’t help but jiggle your foot in a fit of impatience as he slowly, oh so slowly, counts out your change and slides each individual coin across the faded counter.

            “Thirty-seven…thirty-eight…there you go.”

            “Thanks!” you shout over your shoulder as you yank the door open and dash out, bells jangling sharply.

            Back home, you mount the table with tape measure in hand. As Dad holds the other end, you find that the kitchen is exactly ten feet and one inch long. Then you measure the other way: just under six feet. There isn’t room to lay out ten feet of foil in the kitchen, what with the sink, stove, refrigerator, and table, so you take it to the main room of the efficiency. You pull the crisp aluminum off the roll, carefully measuring out six sheets at 121 inches long each.

            You have Dad hold one end while you, one foot on the small stove and one on the tiny table, start taping up the other. At first it seems too loose, like every gust of wind from opening the door will blow it down. Maybe you need stronger tape. Maybe Dad was right. But then you start pressing it against the ceiling, and it clings to the cracks quite nicely. You had in mind a smooth, shiny expanse, but this will do. You wouldn’t have thought metal molded to marred plaster would work, but the flaws become intrigue. By the time you are done, they web across your shimmering sky like roots or branches.

            When the last square inch has been transformed to twinkling, you lay down on the blue linoleum floor to survey your handiwork. You are most pleased. The naked bulb’s lambent light sparkles overhead. Muffy may have crystal chandeliers, but you have a whole winking welkin. Even when you leave the room, everything seems to gleam with the residue of refulgence, your eyes’ memory of a silver sky.


Aria Dominguez (she/they) is a writer whose poetry and creative nonfiction navigate the terrain between beauty and pain. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, and she was winner of the 2021 Porch Prize in Creative Nonfiction, finalist for the 2021 Lighthouse Writers Workshop Emerging Writers Fellowship in Nonfiction, winner of a Fall 2021 Brooklyn Poets Fellowship, and winner of the 2022 Sunlight Press Essay Contest. Aria works with a nonprofit focused on food justice and lives in Minneapolis with her son.

bottom of page