How an apartheid-era psychiatrist went from torturing gay soldiers in South Africa to sexually abusing patients in Canada.
An abused woman reacts to her downstairs neighbor's murder.
"Laurie thinks he tries to cry, and she appreciates the effort. She kisses Jimmy in return, pretends it doesn’t hurt when he scrapes his teeth over her collarbone, and ignores the phone when it rings. If it’s her mother, she’ll call again soon enough; if it’s another reporter, well, Laurie doesn’t have much to say."
Memories of an abusive father and a mother's ghost.
"One night, he didn’t come home, and we went to bed without dinner. After you’d fallen asleep, I went to the kitchen to make a peanut butter sandwich. I didn’t make you one. I came back into our room and ate quietly. When our mother’s ghost appeared near the foot of your bed, she startled me: I had never before seen the moment of her appearance, and now I did, the flash of it, quick and bright, like an eye opening. I dropped my sandwich on the floor."
An overweight teenager's psychological test with an unhappy neighbor.
"Mrs. Butler never commented on my weight. I wanted to believe she didn’t see my layers of fat or hear how my breathing quickened if I exerted much physical effort. My neighbor wasn’t gorgeous like a supermodel, but she moved her long graceful limbs with an elegance I could only envy."
An abusive, neglectful husband gets his comeuppance; Zora Neale Hurston's 123rd birthday.
"Delia’s work-worn knees crawled over the earth in Gethsemane and up the rocks of Calvary many, many times during these months. She avoided the villagers and meeting places in her efforts to be blind and deaf. But Bertha nullified this to a degree, by coming to Delia’s house to call Sykes out to her at the gate. Delia and Sykes fought all the time now with no peaceful interludes. They slept and ate in silence. Two or three times Delia had attempted a timid friendliness, but she was repulsed each time. It was plain that the breaches must remain agape."
A debt-ridden young woman lives as a mysterious servant to a pair of artists.
"Charles looked me up and down and said I was worth every penny. That first night, we did not lie down together. He taught me how to play sixes and sevens. I did not tell him I already knew how to play because I could see that teaching me would make him happy. In service, I have learned it is good to make sure those you serve stay happy."
A poetic story of a variety of childhood memories, detailing hopes, abuse, and dismantling.
"Our dad left without saying goodbye or taking any of his stuff. We took to poking around in the basement where my mom had thrown all his belongings in a corner. We started smoking his cigars. At first it felt like we were getting back at someone, which felt pretty good, even if we didn’t know who. We’d climb out our window on to the roof of the porch, and even if neighbors were awake, they never looked up to see us. We felt on top of things even though that’s not how we felt at all."
A woman, troubled by a terrible accident, takes care of her boyfriend's baby from a previous relationship.
"The mother of my boyfriend’s youngest child, Anna Lisa, handed me her daughter, still in her carrier, as well as a large duffel bag. She nodded toward the bag. 'The baby’s things.' I looked at the baby, neither cute nor ugly, a blob of indeterminate features. We stood quietly, listened to moths and other insects flying into the bright, buzzing lamp covering us in its light. My shoulders ached. The air was damp and heavy. Anna Lisa is beautiful but she looked tired. She wore a loose pair of sweat pants with fading block letters down the left leg. Her t-shirt was stained. Her breasts were swollen. I could see that. Her hair hung limply in her face. She smelled ripe. There were dark circles beneath her eyes. I don’t know that we looked different."
A trio of addicts--a man, a woman, and a prostitute--venture into Las Vegas to find a dealer.
"At the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, we are swallowed by a cheery, comforting crowd of good mothers from Wisconsin and fathers from Minnesota, out as late as they ever have been. It is a sea of gaping purses. Flip-phones are holstered to belts, tucked under big bellies. Half-drunk gallon-sized tubes of ruby-red beverage crowd the trashcans and I have no qualms about picking one for myself and gulping it down. The liquid is warm and syrupy, but under it all there is the low burn of rum, a small relief. Deborah has powdered her nose and is eyeballing the frat boys on the periphery. Only Shelly is looking lost, still sweating around her underarms, her eyes bugging and the space under her chin, dipping up and down, swallowing nothing."
A man embarks on a troubled relationship with a psychic.
"She called it, so, fine, I gave her twenty bucks. But I forgot all her predictions, being the king of the drunken blackout. My brain tries its best to sweep up, and most times I do appreciate it. I had some residuals the next morning from her reading, mainly of outrage and disappointment at what she saw for me, but no specifics. It really wasn’t fair having her walk around the bar like that. Everyone was there to meet their future, and then she walks by, selling it. And then those of us who are ugly. And those of us that can’t dance. We’re gluttons for punishment: we’re desperate for good news."
Haunted by the abuse of her former cellmate, a prison inmate seeks companionship with an inflatable Cell Buddy.
"Keeping one eye on the cell door, Amanda opened the box and pulled out the folded plastic figure, gently removing the sealed packaging, complete with a two-part pump system she assembled after a few minutes of difficulty. (Amanda was pretty handy but sometimes struggled with instructions.) Now with her back to the tier, hiding the plastic figure from view, Amanda slowly pumped up her Cell Buddy until it was fully inflated. She then stood back, admiring her new friend."
Life and death envelops a polygamist family.
"Walker Getty led us to the candle with thirteen flames, which he said symbolized our family. Twelve small candles circled and bowed to one large flame. Hiram lit the large flame with a butane lighter, and one by one we wives lit one small candle with his big candle. Six candles stayed unlit, Walker Getty said, until the Lord saw fit to bless Hiram with more."