Word Riot

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A forgotten birthday cake sets off a chain of unexpected events.

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A forgotten birthday cake sets off a chain of unexpected events.

"The door to the bakery is meant to be pulled, but I push hard against it, like a bird hitting the glass. The lady behind the counter settles eyes on me, so I pull myself up as straight as I can and pull the door. On a wooden board above the register a TV is playing The Today Show. Jane Pauley and Madonna won’t shut up about Madonna’s dress like it’s gonna end the Cold War and I have to wonder if I’m the only person in the world living with trouble. Be-hind the glare of the case, I can see the Cinderella cake covered in icy blue frosting thick as a comforter. A glass carriage flies across the surface in needle-thin icing. I put my hand to the glass—forgetting the lady behind the counter—smudging it, until she clears her throat.

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The evolution and deterioration of a marriage, told through interactions on/around a piece of furniture.

"Often, at the breakfast table, he reads a magazine from one of his many subscriptions. After a long article, he’ll lean across the table and open the window. Whenever this happens, it’s best if the blinds are unbound, so that the wind, clueless of human grief as it is, may work its way through their lofty protection. And often, when this happens, he’ll look out the window and think of himself as another person. Often, he’ll be walking beneath an umbrella in a foreign country, down some unrecognizable street, one which he can’t identify; or he’s standing on the stern of a fishing boat, one just recently bound by a rope, dark and wet from the sea, to an ancient dock in the Mediterranean, his body slowly rocking, coursing, in a semi-circle of moonlight, calming him to the point that he even forgets what he’s forgotten, and it’s all real, and actually moving, alive within the maternal ebb of the ocean; or he’s in another home, a shack in a forest, and never knew his own life: his job or wardrobe or wife, as he lies back in a cold, twin-sized bed, which keeps only himself, and the darkness, and the quiet; or he’s just a ghost, dancing in the hallways of his home as his wife stumbles through, drunk and mourning, with his absence everywhere, and then counting the strands of her hair as she does her single load of laundry for the week, consisting of only her nightgown, the jogging pants and old t-shirt of his that she relaxes in while spending her evenings at home, her seven pairs of flesh-toned underwear, and work uniform, for the job she had to find after his passing in order to both support and occupy herself—all the while at the breakfast table."

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A farmer's marriage to a Native American woman is plagued by problems and supernatural phenomena.

"The other thing about Lily that half-annoyed and half-charmed me was her belief in all sorts of supernatural horseshit. I figured she couldn’t help it, for the most part, being unavoidably disposed to things like honoring her dead ancestors and crop ceremonies and who knows what else; but every once in a while she took it too far. One of the biggest arguments we ever had came after I found her tacking up little bundles of bones and animal guts over all the windows and doors of the farmhouse. She’d gotten it into her head that the farmer’s spirit was still wilting around in the rafters of the front porch. He was just melancholy now, she said, she could feel it; but he might turn malevolent if we didn’t communicate to him that he didn’t live here anymore, that he needed to cross over."

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A man is tasked with tracking down his eccentric, troubled neighbor.

She pleaded with me to go up there and talk to her husband, persuade him to come home, up there meaning to Shandon Street where he now lived in solitude with Hannibal, his terrier, living out a threat that had consumed him for so long, no-one believed he would ever do it, to cut off all ties with his old established life. Her daughter had tried and his brother, useless, for all he did was stay inside the door. He might listen to me.

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A series of sociological observations made while shopping at a Salvation Army.

" Sometimes, I'd wish that we were real friends, the other women in the store, and me. Then the glow would last a little longer, then we'd walk out arm in arm, our huge bundles floating light as down pillows as we sauntered down the street. We'd have our coffees and linger for a cigarette or two before going our separate ways, back to our apartments and all the riches a Saturday night in New York City could hold."

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A teenage girl observes her parents' work in a "dying parlor."

"It doesn’t take a genius to figure out dying people like to have a kid around to remind them of happier times. A teenager though, that’s something they’ll skip for their last two hours on earth. No one looks back on their life and says, remind me again of what it was like to be fifteen. Yeah, those were the days."