A woman's dead father appears at a farmer's market.
A woman recalls an endless lifetime of near-death experiences.
A girl's interaction before her Coming Out dance.
"I had no idea about myself, whether I was pretty or different or what. That I had not yet attracted a boyfriend was a failure that weighed on my mind. If I was pretty, I figured, I would have one already. But if I was different, a fresh idea for me, that would explain the problem, for I thought that boys didn’t like girls who weren’t the same as every other girl they knew. I didn’t play varsity sports and look like it, and I wasn’t fey, I didn’t play an instrument or go in for the arts. I was smart, though. “Boys are intimidated by your intellect,” my married sister once told me, meaning it as a compliment. But I didn’t act nearly as smart as I was, so I couldn’t believe that was true."
A postapocalyptic world, motherhood, and centaurs.
"The girls were born the day before the world ended. You had eighteen hours of bliss and then the satellites went out, and with them the systems that sent news around the world. An asteroid, you heard people say. Huddled in your darkened hospital bed, your daughter’s mouths so pink and empty. Like birds. One asteroid and then another, and another, and then so many more that no one could keep track. They pounded into the oceans and the hills. The shaking made the earthquakes come, and from them, the volcanoes. The oceans rose. The clouds that came in the wake of the asteroids were thick and hard, studded with cosmic ash."
A farm family is beset by body horrors, crows, and the appearance of a mysterious figure.
"I wish some flood would cover me and bring me peace and comfort. Every day I miss my mother. My heart seems to have been torn from my chest, just like my father’s. Sometimes I go up to her sewing room when Janna is busy with our father. I close the door so that Fig can’t follow, and I sit in the armchair that no one ever used, the one our mother draped swatches of calico over when she didn’t have anywhere else to put them. The room is full of Mother’s smell, lavender and starchy cloth, and the hyssop that flavored her tea. It has also retained her silence, the atmosphere of quiet contentment that she exuded when busy with her sewing. Her ancient Singer sewing machine seems to dominate the room, its black enamel and fussy gold lettering giving it an air of slightly pompous authority as it perches on the battered oak desk. The dressmaker’s dummy occupies one corner, iron hoops and wooden moulds in the shape of a lady’s torso, its head a shrunken knob. The window opens outward, and you can climb over the windowsill and step out onto the roof."
A young man's struggle with his mother and his physical traits.
"When it was my turn to hide, I dreaded the moment of being found. What I hated more was the thought of all my mother’s attention focused on me. My father was out the door, smoke between her fingers. I didn’t know him, my mother having removed any evidence of his existence, but I knew that I resembled him. Darkness was the only place that gave way to my imagination. I pictured his face, laughing at our state of incompleteness. Crouched in a laundry hamper and waiting for the game to end, I’d grow fearful, then angry. My mother was husbandless, and I was squatting in a basket. She was too pretty to work. There was nothing she could do, but there was nothing I could do. I thought about really being lost."
The travels and migrations of a troubled young woman.
"Women made warnings of my peasant blouse and pouting thumb to children grown past frightened, but not yet ripened with rebellion. Men offered me rides. Maybe I took the rides. Maybe I left before they offered, tripped on a stone and tended to my bleeding knee."
Two lovers, a new home, a repeating cycle.
"That night, I will dream a dream of trains, and of the sound of waves. I will dream that I am the woman searching for something lost. I will dream the man’s dream, and walk into the night alone, guided by the moon. The earth is cool under my feet. It is summer. I can smell the light from the sun that has left the trees. I am knee-deep in the swaying ferns. They are so tall I only have to bend a little to reach them with my fingertips, and then I let my legs fold under me, and I lie down in the ferns. I close my eyes and listen to the ferns, try to understand their secret whispers. When I open my eyes again, the ferns begin to blossom, their fragile white petals bright against the night sky."
The interactions and memories of a gas station attendant on the outskirts of Atlantic City.
"I make coffee at 4:30 in the morning: the parking lot full of idling big-rigs, their headlights on, their cabins dark. I arrive before the guys who work the pumps. All of my prep work is done in the dark, without the store’s lights. The men watch me moving in the lone gas station on a highway through South Jersey. The store a box of windows."
A boarding house for ghosts; coping mechanisms of family deaths.
"My mother forbade me from going to the Haunt-Away, so I went every day after school. My aunt and I had never been close. Her husband, George, had died thirteen years prior, just months before I was born. Now, each afternoon, I watched her wash sheets and remake untouched beds. She set out plates of cookies and brewed pots of tea which, when poured, grew cold in unused cups. She talked and laughed to empty rooms, and sometimes when I entered, I had the distinct impression that I was interrupting."
A mother tries to get herself abducted, first for money, and then for appreciation.
"After all, Tim could not replace me with just any woman he plucked off the streets. He’d have to date first, and then there’d be nannies and maids to pay, restaurant bills, and eHarmony fees. Not to mention the time he’d lose on the endeavor, which, multiplied by his hourly rate, would cost a considerable amount. Viewed in this light, my value was significant. I used to work in marketing and view matters at all levels of illumination."
A story about growing up and sexual identity.
"They have contests, about everything — cough syrup as a substance to abuse, swearing accidentally in class, having sex in the parking lot with their girlfriends during passing periods (the record seventeen times in Matt Haney’s truck) — their lives a haze of baby Tylenol, whip cream cans, Ray Bans, pot, beer, Smirnoff ice, Mom’s Vicodin — everything at the ready in the glove compartment."