family

183 articles
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American Fare

A prison cook reflects on her daughter as she prepares a prisoner's last meal.

"See what I mean? Fussiness knows no bounds. Not even for inmates. We don’t serve shit-on-a-shingle, but sometimes you’d never believe it. Last week Brenda and me whipped up fifteen pans of German chocolate cake and don’t you know some idiot come up to Brenda complaining about the “presentation,” said his mama always made German chocolate cake in two layers, not in a sheet pan. Everybody’s a critic."

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The Wide and Lonely World

A widower takes his children to visit relatives under vague, suspicious circumstances.

"One day he said he was taking us on a trip to meet his people in Missouri, relatives we hadn’t known existed. They were farmers of German descent, with exotic-sounding names like Fritzi and Helga and Smit. We loaded up the car and just drove, right out into the country. If our mother had been alive, she’d pack a cooler full of bologna sandwiches and Mars bars, but there was none of that. The windows were down and hot bursts of wind boxed our cheeks and made the Cubs cap on our father’s head twitch."

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This Must Be the Place [Excerpt]

A series of memories and addictions from various years.

"I come here after my shift at the record store and sit around at picnic tables outside, scribbling into notebooks while drinking shitty coffee and waiting for my girlfriend, Velvet, to get off work so we can go get high. The crowd here is varied: AA people alongside art people and punks alongside dirty Deadheads and downtown casualties. There are many open mic poetry events, usually outdoors at dusk. One night I decide to read. I go to the mic and drop weapons. I go to the mic and read about Kuwait City and southern Iraq. I go to the mic and read about prostitutes and hashish and drinking homemade wine made out of grape juice in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I go to the mic and curse over and over again. Nobody claps. Nobody moves. I am not asked to read again."

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Birdie

A woman's involvement in an unstable Detroit activist movement.

"The houses we set out to destroy had already been inscribed by the city. The city had earmarked them as tear-downs during the first stage of a larger urban planning initiative – a large ‘D’ for Demolition had been written in white chalk on the front doors of the dilapidated multi-family structures, veterans of a time when Detroit was still a factory town, a place where the music of Motown fumed larger than the gusts of exhaust unleashed from the chains of cars which tumbled off the assembly lines at the auto factories and straight onto those glistening American freeways. The electric streetcar line along Woodward Avenue had been replaced by gas-powered buses. There’d been the great race wars. Even still, at the time those houses had been erected on that tender Northern riverbed which skirted the Canada border, the word future seemed more a promise than an urgency."

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Verdict

A man considers his broken family life while awaiting a possible selection for jury duty.

"And then there I was sitting in the jury stand, listening as the judge explained what he meant by admonition and the prosecutor’s burden. I’d never been in a courtroom before, and it got me thinking. Isn’t it unfair how Maggie treats me like a criminal? I mean, seeing as it could have happened to anybody. Thing is, I’m still serving time."

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The Adventures of Eagle Feather

An excerpt from Goebel's novel: a man's strange world of peyote, addiction, family, and conflicting identities.

"I dropped tobacco from a cig I took apart and kept the loose stuff in my palm, and I circled the tree counter clockwise, like the turn of the earth, and dropped the tobacco staring up in the tree and praying, like an old wide-faced (I)ndian showed me to do in rehab in the snow in Minnesota around a big oak tree, horses in the field of night, snowflakes falling like drunks, like a dream, stars holy above, and as I finished dropping the last speck, finishing a circle around the ponderosa, praying for the old man in the Upper East Side to have, there it was, standing up in a rich grass, by its quill, right out of the ground. Get it? EAGLE FEATHER. This is a wild trip."

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Reflections on Villaplane

A French soccer star's rise and fall from sports to cons to the Nazi Party.

"I watched, horrified, as she let Villaplane into her home, followed by three other men. I took aim, putting my finger on the trigger of my pistol. Then I remembered the Communist Party order not to assassinate individuals, and as the door closed, I ran to find my friends. It was too late: they had been arrested by the Brigade Nord-Africaine. An Arabic soldier pointed a gun at me, telling me to give up any weapons and join the others. My comrades and I were marched to a ditch and ordered to line up with our hands on our heads. I stood on the far right as three men in SS uniform marched into view."

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The Twitches

Middle school and family unease; a mysterious neurological condition.

"I knew something bad was about to happen right before it did. My face heated. All the sound cut out, like a huge furry helmet had been dropped over my skull. The room, it didn’t look right. I’m trying to think how to explain it, but all I can come up with is that the colors separated, kind of fizzed around—the green and red marks on the dry-erase board hovered like insects, the purple of Mr. Franz’s tie pixilated. I had that greasy swirl in my stomach like when you’re about to fart and are still praying there’s a way it will be silent, like when you go to the bathroom after a science lab of intolerable closeness to your intolerably cute lab partner and see that yes, the tingle on your nose was actually a tumor-sized whitehead erupting."

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Hide and Seek

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."

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Champ de Mars

A woman's attempt to maintain stability with a troubled daughter and an architect husband succumbing to Alzheimer's.

"Even a year ago, he had still been the old Dory, the real Dory, forgetful, but not so much that it turned his insides out: he couldn’t remember the name of Ellen’s place of work, the institute that she’d founded decades before—The Children’s Place? The Children’s Center? It’s the Learning Center? Are you sure? Then he couldn’t remember how to adjust his drafting table, then he didn’t know where his fine-tip pens were."

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Far from Home

A story of assessments as the end of the world nears.

"I'm afraid to look at first, but then I get my bearings and turn in the direction where the river should be. On the other side is home and if I'm right, the towers. There's no bright, white plume of smoke on the horizon to help me, now. The towers will be quiet. Shut down and dead."

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One Saturday Morning

A day in the life of a child in 1960s England.

"Carrie’s father was studying, in the evenings and on weekends, for a degree in politics, but on the day of a party he had to leave his books and submit to the different laws of the female domain, obeying the instructions that his wife rapped out, vacuuming and tidying, setting up the drinks tray. She followed impatiently after him, because he had no feeling for arranging the cushions or the flowers; he thought these things were not worth having a feeling for. The children exchanged sly looks and jokes with their father behind their mother’s back, conspiring against her remorselessness. But as soon as the guests arrived she relaxed into smiles, as if that other, sterner self had never existed."

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Mere Increments [Excerpt]

The life of a conflicted IT worker from Iowa.

"Roger Jeffries is given to bouts of fantasy in which he speculates the possibilities suppressed by his current set of circumstances: that, indeed, he could have, if he had chosen to make the effort, packed a moving truck full of his stuff and left UNI for more cultivated frontiers. The Twin Cities, maybe, or Chicago, or back East to New York. Westward to the Pacific, perhaps, a destiny realized in Los Angeles. At any rate, he frequently imagines a young self packing up his stuff and driving for days—regardless of how close this destination might actually have been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of the UNI Panthers, he always envisions driving for days, young, stubbled, over-caffeinated and chain smoking—to some more prestigious or renowned place."

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An Object in Motion

An outtake from Backswing, Burch's latest story collection from Queen's Ferry Press.

"It started getting too big! I hadn’t planned ahead – didn’t stop and realize its size until it was too late. It was too big to fit through the garage door and the pieces were so interlocked and crosshatched, it took me a week just to break the thing down into manageable pieces to be able to move it. For a couple days, I was worried I might lose more of the work I’d done up to that point than I did."

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Lost in Space

A budding scifi writer attempts to overcome his parents' reservations and his own mental issues.

"I stuffed nearly a dozen scripts in my bag before I left my dorm this morning, just in case somebody important happened to be here. It’s been a while since I sent them out. I figured I wouldn’t hear much back from anyone I sent it to. Sending scripts to random slushpiles doesn’t yield great results. I read that on the internet."

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From Clay

An American woman's travels and memories of her Russian husband.

"When Bramya was abroad, Sarah mixed adhesives, ordered glaze, saw friends, and lived without the expectation of change to this arrangement. She read his letters and answered his phone calls, and they talked about the things they did when they were apart, neither acknowledging that separation had come to be as familiar as the shape their bodies took together. But when she knew his flight had landed, she sat at the kitchen table with painful patience, rolling clay from hand to hand until it was made pliable by the heat of her skin, piecing together anxiety animals, anticipating the sound of the cab door closing that told her Bramya was on her street."

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Brass

An Arizona family unwittingly approaches the cusp of tragedy.

"He looks up at me quick and decides to be pleased. Usually he won’t look at a person direct. He says eye contact is counterproductive to comprehension and communication. He’s got any number of ways to justify himself, that’s for sure."

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Unkept

Two sisters, a mother's dementia, and a "magical" bean tree.

"I thought about it some more. Even if there were a magical tree, why would she be chosen to keep it? I’ve seen her walk into more glass doors than I could count. The whole scenario rank of Big Foot. I couldn’t tell if my sister was playing a joke on me or if someone was playing a joke on her."

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What People Are Made Of

A young man works as an apprentice to his mortician uncle.

"I have learned a number of corollaries to that in my time as an apprentice. I have learned that, sometimes, your relatives will ask us to remove gold fillings from your teeth so that they can sell them. I have learned that some of your acquaintances will wear jeans to your funeral. I have learned that, all too often, your closest friends will not come at all. They will text during the service. They will sneak outside to the parking lot when it’s time to sing hymns to smoke cigarettes and steal swigs from flasks of whiskey, telling each other that you would’ve wanted it that way."

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Depth Perception

A small town paramedic reflects on her troubled yet protective uncle.

"Inside, Lou washed our faces and made us some lemonade. I changed my pants. He turned on the radio in the kitchen. He made us peanut butter and crackers. He dealt out hands of Crazy-Eights and told us a story of Mom learning to milk a cow. Not once did he look out the window. After an hour, Lou picked up the phone and called the coroner."

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The Naturals

A son goes to visit his dying father in a story about various forms of storytelling.

"He ripped open his shirt and crushed the mutilated tomato against his chest. Juice glistened in dark burls of hair. He thought that maybe he was about to make a serious declaration, or even try to laugh the whole thing off, when he felt a twinge, a test cinch for another spell of nervous woe. The Belt of Intermittent Sorrow, which he somehow now named the moment it went tight, squeezed him to the kitchen floor."

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Myopathy

A father struggles after a layoff.

"Now John was paralyzed. For three weeks he’d been on the couch, drinking whiskey out of a dirty glass, or stretching out and turning away from the TV, burying his face in the back cushions and trying to coax a nap out of his subconscious. All the while he felt consumed by a quickening in his heartbeat, or he’d stare at his hands until he was sure that he saw his pinky finger start to shake. He breathed in on a count of four, held it for a count of four, out for a count of four, hold for a count of four. During one of the safety trainings at the mill they’d told the workers that it was a way to regulate your heartbeat during times of shock."

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Scorcher

A heatwave serves as a catalyst for personal and physical breakdowns.

"If Lily hadn’t intervened she probably wouldn’t have seen anything. She wouldn’t have looked up from Coral Casey and her sea critter pals. She wouldn’t have glanced at the maroon Lawson Shrub Service truck speeding down the road. She wouldn’t have bit her lip at the sight of Tim Lawson in the front, his arm wrapped around a woman in the passenger seat. She wouldn’t have glimpsed the unmistakable head of her mother, hair too long for a woman her age and streaked with the fuchsia hue favored by teenage experimenters."

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Treading Water

A fragile relationship teeters during a family vacation.

"At the restaurant, I enjoy myself for the first time the whole trip: I try fried plantains and sopapillas, washing them down two real margaritas (made from tequila and lime; that’s pretty much it). There is a live band, and Inez pulls Alan up to dance. Her hips have probably never been told no. Erik and I watch from the table. He holds a hand out to me and raises an eyebrow. I shake my head."

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Souvenirs: An Excerpt

Abandoned children make a home in a hollowed-out school bus.

"The dead squirrel lies shocked on the floor, spun down by lightning last night, claw-up and crusted. The little girl uses a knife to split the thing down its belly and starts peeling. Lucky, she says to her brother. You’re lucky I’ll share with you. Aunt Helen brushes their hair, one by one, picks insects and sticker vine from their legs. A night like all nights: She leaves through the front door without saying goodbye. The children blow kisses. They pray for their mother. They sleep."

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The Haunt-Away

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."

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The Headstrong Historian

A mother defends her family lineage against disruption from envious cousins in this 2008 story by National Book Critics Circle award-winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

"His cousins, during the funeral, took his ivory tusk, claiming that the trappings of titles went to brothers and not to sons. It was when they emptied his barn of yams and led away the adult goats in his pen that she confronted them, shouting, and when they brushed her aside she waited until evening, then walked around the clan singing about their wickedness, the abominations they were heaping on the land by cheating a widow, until the elders asked them to leave her alone. She complained to the Women’s Council, and twenty women went at night to Okafo’s and Okoye’s homes, brandishing pestles, warning them to leave Nwamgba alone. But Nwamgba knew that those grasping cousins would never really stop. She dreamed of killing them. "

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Wake in the Sky

A distraught brother is given a Ziplog bag of his sister's ashes.

"So where should he stow a Ziploc bag of his sister’s ashes? Not all of her cremains, mind you. About a third, according to his father. Noah didn’t like the idea of their dad divvying her up, like a drug dealer, weighing out bags of powder. But more than that he also doesn’t like having that baggie now. On the airplane. Heading back to San Francisco. After the funeral."

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The Sky is Electric

A high school senior's day is filled with unique crises.

"I hit the refresh button over and over, faster than the phone could even communicate with the server. I almost didn’t believe it when the screen moved down a quarter of an inch to make way for a new message. It was from the admissions committee. My years of soup kitchen volunteering, vocabulary cramming, blogging as a competitive sport, and butterfly-stroking in freezing-cold swimming pools in inconveniently located athletic facilities all boiled down to a single verdict that was probably a sentence long. If that."

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Irreducible

A scientific and psychological examination of a gunshot.

"This is how you feel a bullet. You have certain sensory receptors that detect pain, these are called nociceptors. When a nocicpetor receives a painful stimulus, it sends a signal through its neuron to the spinal cord, which sends the signal to your brain, which sends it to a number of different areas for processing. The location and intensity of the stimulus is deciphered by the primary and secondary somatosensory cortex, for example."

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Ericka

A young man's connection with a circle-drawing, perceptive young woman.

"Ericka left for two weeks that summer to go to Colorado. Her brother was in the hospital again, and I got the idea that it might be for the last time. I still pictured her in the waiting room. She would be drawing those loopy circles on the hospital’s copies of Vogue and People and Golf Monthly."

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Δx Δp > H/2π

Uncertainty principles applied to modern domestic life.

"But there were always more things to add to the list—don't speak of body issues in front of daughters or read magazines with tweaked and smoothed images that were—hadn't she read this—actually altering the brain chemistry for young girls. Plus the magazines were paper, wasteful, though reading on line wasn't great for macular degeneration and other ocular issues and who wanted one more thing—glasses—to have to remember to pack every day? Plus glasses might make her feel older which wasn't terrible—she's happy where she is and needs to lean in lean back push onward and show this—but glasses might make her feel sexless and that would make her less present in the moment."

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Present Perfect

Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.

"Our conversation continues! He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper. You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh. Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled! Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!"

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Between Here and the Yellow Sea

A former student and high school coach travel to California to kidnap the coach's daughter, an adult film actress.

"I would watch her green eyes, the smile that always closed them. I remember her face lit by a Bunsen burner's quivering flame, laughter bursting from her like confetti. Once, I saw her slap Junior Wendell's hand away from her skirt, and I felt the confinement of a teenage girl. The way her mind was full of longings—a knot of emotions constantly rising to the surface, washing over her, carrying her through a harrowed suburban field, past the shopping mall and long acres of bluestem grass, into the back seats of cars, truckbeds."

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Our Father in The Belly of The Fish

Sons and fathers, fish and mud.

"Us brothers, we each of us take turns fingering that word father so that our father might see it, so that he might rise up towards, a river-bottom fish swimming up towards the light of the moon: a fish leaping up, breaking through the sky of the river, opening up its fish mouth to take a bite of the moon."

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First Husband

Modern family structures are explored when an ex-stepdaughter asks for emergency babysitting help.

"Without Aaron, there would be no Caleb. Lovey had to remind herself of this sad fact. Her ex-stepson-in-law caused a lot of trouble, but, because of him, here before her was a boy for her to love, who loved her. Caleb would grow up and perhaps grow away from her—there was no shared blood, and someday he would understand that. Someday he might untie the knots of those prefixes that labelled Lovey, ex- and step-. He would turn into a teen-ager and disappear, like his father, into the night."

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Concretia Dementia

An elderly man's work on a complex sculpture confuses those close to him.

" I sit on the plastic pot bench with my feet dangling in the water, drinking beer with my son, and it occurs to me that this is the first time in a long while that we have done something together that wasn’t planned to death or didn’t involve other people. I keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to spoil the moment. But Wallace spoils it for me. He starts telling me about his speech. At first I don’t understand what he is talking about, but then I start to hear something. He says that expectations are changing, and that the things that sustain us are not always recognizable as such. But what I hear him saying is that he thinks this thing I am building is what I believe is keeping me alive. He still doesn’t get it. He thinks maybe I am depressed, so I turn the conversation to something more capitalistic."

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Inheritance

A story of time passage and land inheritance.

"While we watched the flame chew the wood, I thought of the years of sun and rain that had turned a tiny sapling into a towering spruce: Grandpa had introduced himself to Grandma at a church function. They married a few years later. They purchased River Farm from a family who’d owned it for three generations and were moving somewhere north near Baptiste or Athabasca. There, they raised a family of eleven, and harvested a barley crop fifty-five times in fifty-five years. And then Grandma, once Grandpa had passed, moved into the city when the farm became too much."

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Male of the Species

Tensions rise when a high school teacher fails a star student-athlete.

"Word spread: Jimmy Carter, the prize of the Permian Basin, the boy who could flat-out fly, the jovial kid who never turned in work but still somehow always got Cs, was in danger of getting yanked off the team, all because some Yankee teacher had to show his moral fiber. How convenient that his son just happened to be the backup."

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Listening Carefully

A boy attempts to find common ground with his troubled younger brother.

"Dad glanced at me and his eyes were angry and pointed, but I thought his stern look was the end of it. We pulled into Friedrich a minute later and dropped Tommy off with the other kids in front of the lower school, waiting under the graying sun to be led single-file into classrooms by their teachers. When we got to the middle school carpool, Dad drove right around the circle and back toward the exit without dropping me off. Normally I would’ve been excited at the prospect of being late for school, but as we pulled out onto the main road a thick sense of dread sloshed around in my stomach."

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The Future Looks Good

Three generations of women endure the trials of a turbulent Nigeria.

"Almost a year into their courting, the war comes. Her people are Biafra loyalists, his people think Ojukwu is a fool. On the night of their engagement party only her people attend. And when she goes by his house the next day she discovers he has left the country."

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The Inker

An older brother attempts to break free from his wayward younger sister.

"And at once Avi knew it all—his sister was head over heels in love with him, the inker. Just as she had been head over heels in love with the recovering junkie stand-up comedian in the East Village, a guy whose entire routine centered around his days trading oral sex for heroin. Or the peach farmer named Karma, a man-boy who had wanted to marry her in spite of the fact that he was, well, already married."

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Carl the Raping Goat Saves Christmas

A Southern defense attorney's complicated family Christmas, told through the point of view of his child.

"Every Christmas Daddy throws a 'Taking the Christ Out of Christmas' party and invites everybody. Everybody loves my Daddy except for a small percentage that want to take their revenge, so it's lots of people, old clients, other criminal defense attorneys, Rey Mason from the feed store, everybody. No Jesus cause it makes Daddy angry and both his hands already broke."

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Ornament and Crime

A young woman seeks an appropriate way to dispose of the ashes of her father, a fervid design critic.

"He always wished to be a geometric form (so often did he rail against 'the tyranny of the organic') so I could tell myself he’d be happy, but he also hated bric-a-brac and I think right now he’d qualify, being a small object with no function."

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Dumpling Night

Comic miscues ensue at a private family dinner.

"Also, I’m a pretty big guy, so I often find myself appointed the unofficial bouncer on these sorts of occasions. It was Dumpling Night. I know that because when I walked past the steam table, a teenage girl was there with tongs and she said, 'Dumpling?'"

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Kite

A childhood evening in a barrio.

"Now they’re bossing all the kids around. Just because they have the nicest soccer ball in all of Cuatro de Marzo, they think they can slave-drive the other kids to make the soccer field, to carve it out from the dirt street. They think they can practically reinvent the game. The ball is pretty nice. Nobody knows exactly where they got it, but they never let it out of their sight. They take turns guarding it, sleeping with it at night. It’s the same kind the Guadalajara Chivas use, one that looks official—all red, white and blue with their coat of arms on the side."

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23 and You

On recreational genetics, privacy and the new vulnerability of family secrets.

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Find the Bad Guy

An estranged husband recaps his odd marriage to a German woman.

"Back then, though, we weren’t sleeping together. That didn’t happen till later. In order to pretend to be my fiancée, and then my bride, Johanna had to spend time with me, getting to know me. She’s from Bavaria, Johanna is. She had herself a theory that Bavaria is the Texas of Germany. People in Bavaria are more conservative than your normal European leftist. They’re Catholic, if not exactly God-fearing. Plus, they like to wear leather jackets and such. Johanna wanted to know everything about Texas, and I was just the man to teach her. I took her to SXSW, which wasn’t the cattle call it is today. And oh my Lord if Johanna didn’t look good in a pair of bluejeans and cowboy boots."

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An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving

When their parents are called away, the children of the farm set about creating their own Thanksgiving.

"Eph took his fiddle and scraped away to his heart's content in the parlor, while the girls, after a short rest, set the table and made all ready to dish up the dinner when that exciting moment came. It was not at all the sort of table we see now, but would look very plain and countrified to us, with its green-handled knives, and two-pronged steel forks, its red-and-white china, and pewter platters, scoured till they shone, with mugs and spoons to match, and a brown jug for the cider. The cloth was coarse, but white as snow, and the little maids had seen the blue-eyed flax grow, out of which their mother wove the linen; they had watched and watched while it bleached in the green meadow. They had no napkins and little silver; but the best tankard and Ma's few wedding spoons were set forth in state. Nuts and apples at the corners gave an air, and the place of honor was left in the middle for the oranges yet to come."

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Arboreal

A mental disorder in which the protagonist believes he is a tree.

"There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again."

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The Stare

A clash of culture, sex, and need between an English wife and her Greek husband.

"On this day Mary goes home excited and restless and sits in front of her looking glass and examines herself. She often does this. She is plump, pretty, with ruddy cheeks, black curls, and a lot of well-placed dimples, and Dmitri calls her his little blackberry. But she has gray eyes, and he says that if it weren’t for those cool English eyes he could believe she has Greek blood. His black eyes easily smolder, or burn, or reproach. Mary leans her forearms among the little bottles of scent, the lipsticks, the eye paint, and tries out expressions. She puts a long unsmiling unblinking stare on her face and frightens herself with it."

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The White Envelope

A father and daughter face complicated sexual dynamics; NSFW.

"Back home, he is watching Formula One on television and bingeing on my mother’s homemade apricot sorbet. Ayrton Senna is on pole position. I’m going through a L.L. Bean catalog, seated right next to him on the couch, turned sideways toward him, knees to my chest so that when I wriggle my toes, I can almost feel the rough fabric of his pants. His eyes are riveted on the screen. He leans forward to place the empty bowl ice cream bowl on the coffee table. The moment he sinks back into his seat, I jump on his lap knees first, like a puppy on its master, wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him on the mouth. He pushes me away. I lose my balance and fall from the sofa to the floor, bumping my head against the solid wood coffee table. The fake silver spoon trembles inside the empty bowl, a lingering echo mocking my collapse."

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Grandpa Dies

Memories of a grandfather's seemingly endless chances to demise.

"Grandpa died in his bathroom when I was eleven, slipped on the tiles when I ran into his house to get him up for Christmas morning. Grandpa died when we were making a giant diorama of the solar system for my eighth grade science fair and he fell on the table saw. Grandpa burned in camp fires, had aneurisms at football games when I waved to the bleachers, choked on turkey bones and once a pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Instead of studying for tests, I learned the Heimlich, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, drew schematics for heart paddles salvaged from toaster ovens."

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Salvage the Bones [Excerpt]

Children in Mississippi prepare for a hurricane's arrival in this excerpt from 2011's National Book Award winning-novel.

"If one of Daddy's drinking buddies had asked what he's doing tonight, he would've told them he's fixing up for the hurricane. It's summer, and when it's summer, there's always a hurricane coming or leaving here. Each pushes its way through the flat Gulf to the twenty-six-mile manmade Mississippi beach, where they knock against the old summer mansions with their slave galleys turned guest houses before running over the bayou, through the pines, to lose wind, drip rain, and die in the north. Most don't even hit us head-on anymore; most turn right to Florida or take a left for Texas, brush past and glance off us like a shirtsleeve. We ain't had one come straight for us in years, time enough to forget how many jugs of water we need to fill, how many cans of sardines and potted meat we should stock, how many tubs of water we need."

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Gravel

Two sisters struggle to adjust to changing family circumstances.

"When we got outside, the first thing we did was loosen and let trail the scarves our mother had wrapped around our necks. (The fact was, though we may not have put the two things together, the deeper she got into her pregnancy the more she slipped back into behaving like an ordinary mother, at least when it was a matter of scarves we didn’t need or regular meals. There was not so much championing of wild ways as there had been in the fall.) Caro asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I didn’t know. This was a formality on her part but the honest truth on mine. We let the dog lead us, anyway, and Blitzee’s idea was to go and look at the gravel pit. The wind was whipping the water up into little waves, and very soon we got cold, so we wound our scarves back around our necks."

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Bad Jews

An uncle sets out to find his wayward niece.

"I pick Jerry’s and I’m right. A couple of old people are hanging out outside the pizza place and next to them groups of highschool kids. I see Sara. She’s sitting on a mailbox, leaning over a guy, her back to me. The sharp outline of her spine showing through her tank top and she doesn’t look like she’s been eating. She’s a good looking girl though, I can tell. An old Ozzy Ozbourne song plays from the open door of a Lexus next to them."

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Mold Wall

A dead son's markings appear in household mold, thus beginning a new form of Butler's surreal, creepy family dramas.

"I’d always felt my boy would live forever. He seemed strung with a different make of vein. I’d once watched him bang his head hard on a lathe out in my workshop in the midst of chasing moths, and instead of crying, whining for mother, his body shook with hiccupping elation, a brook of blood tracing his cheek down to his diapers. Only months alive he’d had large canines. When I’d let him, in his mother’s absence, he liked pounding nails with the tiny hammer I’d provided. I’d caught him more than once chewing on hunks of dirt or even glass, which he’d swallow grinning as I tried to make him spit. How he could stare straight into a blowtorch, beg for me to lay the hot blue light in his hands and sit like that for as long as I could stand to hold it with him. Three years old and already beyond anything I had imagined in a son."

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Close Your Eyes and Think of England

A day in the life of a twelve year-old girl: feminine sacrifice and reversed parenting/gender roles.

"When she's not ricocheting between coasts to spearhead corporate sales and yoga retreats, our mother is skipping off to islands (Cuba, the Canaries, Greenland) and leaving me typed notes that become more and more blunt and encoded. She doesn't spend much time with our father--none of the mothers do--and they have all become so hard and muscular and breastless that you wouldn't want a hug from them even if you were feeling bad."

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Haunting Olivia

In this 2005 story from MacArthur winner Karen Russell, two brothers search for the ghost of their drowned sister.

"Olivia disappeared on a new-moon night. It was exactly two years, or twenty-four new moons, ago. Wallow says that means that tonight is Olivia’s unbirthday, the anniversary of her death. It’s weird: our grief is cyclical, synched with the lunar cycles. It accordions out as the moon slivers away. On new-moon nights, it rises with the tide."

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Devotions

Memories of the magical, enlightened daughter of a religious leader.

"It was in this moment that we began to wonder when her father might sense these happenings and descend upon us; when we turned to look, he had only just begun his approach, had only just caught sight of his daughter. He betrayed no surprise but drew himself up, preparing to mete judgment, and quickened his step as though eager to commence the necessary violence—"

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Victimless Crimes

A team of superheroes disrupt the life of a family.

"She tried to do errands like any other day. When she bought toilet paper, she thought to herself, 'What am I doing at the drug store? They took my baby. I should be doing something.' When she went to buy groceries, she felt like everybody was watching the star of 'Mom Jacked by Action Squad' picking out the freshest rutabagas for her now–childless family."

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There Are Two Pools You May Drink From

Memories both unique and ominous surround a woman's childhood.

"I liked to visit the Moon kitchen, a grease-laden cave that stank of meat. The table had a plastic covering patterned with wagon wheels and rustic scenes. The Moons cooked foods I’d never seen before in vats studded with dumplings. At dinner the Moon men mopped up their stews with slices of white bread and guzzled cartons of milk. They had a big cat-killing dog that they had trained to sit upright on a chair at the table, and they took turns feeding it buttered toast smeared with jam. After dinner Mr. Moon sat in the kitchen when he wasn’t at the tavern, drinking beer and bluing the air with swearwords and tobacco smoke."

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Catskin

A poisoned witch sets forth a lavish plan for revenge and renewal.

"The inside of the catsuit is soft and a little sticky against Small’s skin. When he puts the hood over his head, the world disappears. He can see only the vivid corners of it through the eyeholes—grass, gold, the cat who sits cross-legged, stitching up her sack of skins—and air seeps in, down at the loosely sewn seam, where the skin droops and sags over his chest and around the gaping buttons. Small holds his tails in his clumsy fingerless paw, like a handful of eels, and swings them back and forth to hear them ring. The sound of the bells and the sooty, cooked smell of the air, the warm stickiness of the suit, the feel of his new fur against the ground: he falls asleep and dreams that hundreds of ants come and lift him and gently carry him off to bed."

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The Dumpster

A husband and father throws away old junk and painful memories.

"It's such a relief; I feel so wholesome, so pure, the toxins drained from my blood. I want to find more, so I dig up the shame of getting fired from my first job out of college. It's a nasty gray thing, like an old dried out iguana, hidden in a dark corner. As I pick it up, it begins to flake and crumble in my hands. I throw it into the dumpster like a football and it bangs against the metal wall. Then I find an ugly little puss-filled creature, looks like an over-cooked eggplant, my guilt for losing my temper and smacking my daughter once when she was five. I hold it far in front of me as I carry it out and chuck it in the giant metal bin. I dig up the anxiety about whether I'll make the next round of cuts at my job, the disappointment in myself for being a weak athlete in high school, and the remorse over not having spent more time with my dad toward the end of his battle with cancer, each thing strangely malformed and grotesque. I dump them all."

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Knight of the Swan

Her grandfather, she found out decades after he died, was not her grandfather. Who did that make her?

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The Pura Principle

Changes forced by cancer put a Dominican-American man at odds with his family.

"The fever lasted two days, but it took a week before he was close to better, before he was spending more time on the couch than in bed. I was convinced that as soon as he was mobile he was going to head right back to Yarn Barn, or try to join the Marines or something. My mother feared the same. Told him every chance she got that it wasn’t going to happen. She was the tiniest person, but she posted up on him like she was Gigantor. I won’t allow it. Her eyes were shining behind her black Madres de Plaza de Mayo glasses. I won’t. Me, your mother, will not allow it."

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Frontstabbers

After texts and phone calls are hacked and leaked, women across America are murdering each other for insults, slights, and dishonesty.

"Mom was trying to board up the window. She was terrible with hammers, with nails. Our living room was a sea of glass. The window was everywhere and everything was wrong. I wanted to tell someone about this but I couldn’t call Guncha. The phones didn’t even work anymore. That was how America was trying to fight. Just get people to stop interacting. There were curfews in effect. The phones were shut down. They figured if they could keep us from being near each other then maybe we would stop killing each other.

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Werewolf

A party game drives a woman to reflect upon a history of manipulation.

"After each killing, Claire tried to be kind—defensive of those who were accused of being the werewolf and suspicious only of those making accusations. And throughout each round Claire asked questions about how the game was played, whose answers, in all honesty, she did not have figured out. (Though again, was that the werewolf playing the game, posturing innocence even in her private thoughts? Yes, it probably was. This freaked her out.)"

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Within the Cathedral, An Echo

An unemployed banker drifts along Occupy protests, his crumbling life, and a crime scene.

"Against the bleachers’ far end, beyond the scope of the cameras, Michael was thinking again about Brussels. The bullet had rung out with plunky subtlety he knew to expect but found disappointing, still. He remembered a cathedral there and the sound he had heard inside of it. This was years ago. The sound he recalled was a cane that he’d heard falling onto the cathedral’s marble floor. The way sound survives inside a cathedral. He remembered looking across the aisle to a hairless woman with earrings dangling halfway down her neck. In the darkness of Chicago, the boy’s body called to him for a closer look, he still had his phone after all, a camera. He could hear the sirens approaching."

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Victory Music

A young Sikh narrates gender identity issues to a dead friend.

"I just stare at him for a minute. It’s a minute that hangs in the balance. He may be batshit. But then, I’m the one seeing disappearing boys. I may be batshit. Something about what he says is true though. It’s unavoidable. There is something different inside of me. Something besides being a boy and a girl and neither. Maybe that something is what kept me alive all this time, kept me from shattering. An emptiness that sustains."

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Good Neighbors

The opening of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom; the complexities and relationships of a wholly American couple.

"For all queries, Patty Berglund was a resource, a sunny carrier of sociocultural pollen, an affable bee. She was one of the few stay-at-home moms in Ramsey Hill and was famously averse to speaking well of herself or ill of anybody else. She said that she expected to be 'beheaded' someday by one of the windows whose sash chains she’d replaced. Her children were 'probably' dying of trichinosis from pork she’d undercooked. She wondered if her 'addiction' to paint-stripper fumes might be related to her “never” reading books anymore. She confided that she’d been 'forbidden' to fertilize Walter’s flowers after what had happened 'last time.'"

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How Much You Want It

While worrying about her obese father, a teenager develops an eating disorder.

"Selma’s parents aren’t dieting. Whenever I see Dr. Garza, he’s in green scrubs, fresh from delivering a new batch of babies. I can’t tell how thin he is, but I know for certain that he isn’t fat, and I doubt Mrs. Garza is repulsed by him. I’m convinced that Papa is the only obese parent at my school and I hate him for eating thirds at buffets and for serving himself a heaping bowl of butter pecan ice cream most nights. Around January I convince my mother that my breakfast, usually biscuits and hot chocolate, is lacking in nutrition. What I need is a breakfast shake packed with vitamins. Each morning I mix protein powder with skim milk and drink my shake. This is all I ingest for breakfast: one hundred and ten calories and half a gram of fat."

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Heaven

A boy in Texas comes of age as a frequent visitor to an adult video store.

"Ricky pushes open the blacked-out door and heads to the counter at the back of the room. Ed trails slowly behind him, pausing to look closely at the shrink-wrapped magazines and their pictures of men and women together. They look bestial, naked, sunburned, mouths open and showing teeth. The magazines Ricky has at home are not like this, magazines of women only, alone, their clothes caught while falling off them, or running naked through the surf at the beach, the surf covering that one exact spot."

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Ambistoma Mexicanum

A girl, her pet salamander, and some family strangeness.

"Ambistoma’s gills stick out of his head instead of being tucked to his flanks. The gills are like Mamá’s hair when she wakes up. Her hair is so curly, orange, crazy. In the mornings when she pulls away from Papá’s arms, she walks towards the bathroom as if she were electrified. Her hair is knotted in tiny corkscrews, tangled here and there like coral branches. It jumps all over like thoughts of fire."

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Runs Girl

Struggling to pay for her mother's medical care, a young woman is drawn into the sex industry.

"The man arrived in a BMW, a Be My Wife, Njideka teased. He was tall and dark, his simple linen buba and sokoto crisply ironed, and his shoes shone even in the dim evening light. He reached out his hand and took mine. He drew my hand upwards, and tipped his head just a bit as he placed a kiss on the back of my hand. He wore gold rings on three of his five fingers. They were not massive rings, but small diamonds circled each of them and sparkled so that the rings appeared much larger than they actually were."

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The Worst Thing That Happened

An eldery Nigerian woman tends to her deteriorating body and a family crisis.

"Her last child was thirty-seven years old. He had lived with her until nine years ago, when he traveled to China—via Libya, then Qatar, then Malaysia—in search of a better life. He was married now, to a Filipino woman he had met in a textile plant in Zhengzhou, and they had two children, a four-year-old girl whom they had named Corazón after his wife’s mother, and a one-year-old boy who was called Ramón after his wife’s father. He had sent his mother their photographs with the last parcel of canned pork and imitation-leather handbags that arrived from him with climatic regularity. The letter that accompanied the parcel informed her he was doing well, that he no longer worked in factories but now tutored Chinese professionals in the English language, and that he might come to visit next year with his family. In her reply she had urged him to come quickly because the eye trouble had recurred, and she wanted to see her grandchildren before she went blind."

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When The Weather Changes You

An unlikely romance between a film star and an enormous man flares up during a cold, ashy year.

"People began to inhabit their homes like mice, holed up in tiny corners, hiding from the cold and trying to remember where their passions lived. Intellectuals wrote books about desert climates, and polar exploration finally lost the last of its charm. Oasis Parties became popular among the very wealthy, who would build up bonfires in fire pits where guests would dance in wild costumes and drink absinthe. More often than not, these parties ended in orgies or house fires. Sometimes both. People were starting to lose their minds a little."

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Taipei [Excerpt]

Disorientation and dissociation in urban Taiwan.

On the bus Erin slept with her head on Paul’s lap. Paul’s father slept one row behind. It was around 10:30 p.m. Paul stared at the lighted signs, some of which were animated and repeating like GIF files, attached to almost every building to face oncoming traffic—from two-square rectangles like tiny wings to long strips like impressive Scrabble words but with each square a word, maybe too much information to convey to drivers—and sleepily thought of how technology was no longer the source of wonderment and possibility it had been when, for example, he learned as a child at Epcot Center, Disney’s future-themed 'amusement park,' that families of three, with one or two robot dogs and one robot maid, would live in self-sustaining, underwater, glass spheres by something like 2004 or 2008. At some point, Paul vaguely realized, technology had begun for him to mostly only indicate the inevitability and vicinity of nothingness.

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The Gore and the Splatter [Excerpt]

Greek heroes and gods roam suburban America.

The goddess hiked her gowns and climbed as softly as she could the creaky wooden steps into his house. She had snuck into a home a million times, and the hardest part was carrying the shield through the door with it hitting anything, or not knocking overcoat trees or a vase. Or keeping on her helmet without its tall purple that got nudged off in low doorways. All of this and more had happened many times, and it was never not embarrassing; there were instances when people thought that she was not a god, but just an oddly-dressed intruder. She’d stopped wearing metal combat boots a hundred years ago and now she wore her flip-flops, though she made sure her father saw her in the boots when she was leaving Mount Olympus.

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Angel Wings

An oral history of a murdered prep basketball star.

"All I can think is how narrow the drive-through is and how it's full of exhaust and grease and the vent where the air blows out and how they couldn't move, couldn't go backward or forward 'cause there were five LAPD cars and how Tenerife must have been trying to call me. Trying. I just took two more. I know I had some wine. I don't care."

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A Small Wild Road

A niece's tense, monotonous visits with her bedridden aunt; an unexpected, grisly turn of events.

"Uncongenial was the word for that atmosphere; but not painful, not ugly. Then, quite soon, with the utmost perverseness, it turned very ugly indeed. Sophie faithlessly developed a horrifying and terminal, but not very promptly terminal, illness. And after a series of live-in nurses (friendly, but beset by all the normal misadventures of daily life) had held the fort spasmodically, Sophie had ended at Holly Hill, and Edie in the first major possession of her life: a midget and not particularly nice apartment, but sunny, quiet, except for music and casual voices, and never, never, never a source of shock."

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The Number

Desire and dental surgery in Northern India.

His father leaned back on his hands and tilted his face to the sun. Daniel bent over his cushion. In the habit of telling The Number his thoughts, he had already begun to narrate for her his feelings about the woman."

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Transatlantic [Excerpt]

A nineteenth-century family in the ice-harvesting business.

Jon Ehrlich guided the barge past the sandbanks into port and packed the wares in an underground cellar along the riverfront. An ice dealer from Carondelet Avenue came and inspected the work. Crisp bills were counted out. It was good business. It was as if Reconstruction itself knew how to make things work. Hotels. Restaurants. Oyster shops. Rich men in fancy homes. Even sculptors who wanted to carve from giant ice blocks.

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Staking Out the Slopgoblin

When their trash cans are mysteriously ransacked, a family devises a series of fantastical solutions and hypotheses.

"After we go in, the kids devise traps for whatever got into the trash. I’m not sure who starts it. They get scratch paper from my desk—one-sided printouts of old story drafts—and they lay out their schematics in marker. Emily sits on the floor at the coffee table, her legs curled Indian-style underneath. Her traps are complicated, cause and effect, involving counterweights, nets, and ropes. With a practicality she didn’t get from me, she only incorporates objects we actually possess: laundry baskets, blankets, and—in a stroke of inspiration that chills me—the plastic coffin of our cartop carrier."

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The Mud Man

After a gardening mishap, a meticulous, harried family man finds himself being replaced by a grotesque clone; from the author of Red Moon.

"He, the mud man, stands in the middle of a shallow crater. His joints issue a series of blistery pops like pitch pockets boiling out of a log thrown on a fire. Clods of dirt fall off him and patter the garden, freckling the daffodils and hostas. He has all the calm of a tree, the breeze rushing around him, bending the loose vines and leaves hanging off him like hair, carrying a smell like worms washed across a sidewalk after a hard rain. The mud man seems to be staring at Thomas, though it is hard to tell as his eyes are hollows with black scribbles in them, like the insides of a rotten walnut."

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White Boy

A high school runner is torn between championship meets and quality time with his drunk, racist father.

"It’s five thirty. Mom called Dad, but he’s not home. Must be on his way, she says. I nod. We’ve made this exchange a hundred times. I’m wearing a new camouflage t-shirt from the Army-Navy Surplus outlet. Mom bought it. You look like a little soldier, she says. I made her buy face paint too, but I’m saving that for the woods."

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Double Take

After a young man's death, his college friend and his mother reassess their lives.

"Many of these details Ben learned while he stood in the lobby of the funeral home on Madison Avenue before the service that warm September Saturday. He was looking for a place to stash his suitcase and people were saying the body was in good shape; it was nice to be able to say goodbye. Perhaps it was the jetlag, but Ben never realized they were talking about an open casket in another room and so he never went to see it. Later, when he started believing he was seeing Mike in London — in the turn of a cheek, a certain stride — he regretted this. He thought maybe the problem could have been avoided if he’d said goodbye with more finality, had seen Mike’s dead face. That seemed like part of the problem; it was hard to accept that Mike was gone. He’d worked harder than most for everything he’d attained. How could it be that the one thing he couldn’t work for was not granted to him in large supply?"

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Babushka

A baby born in New Jersey grows and takes on the characteristics of a headstrong Russian woman.

"She was her parent’s second child; the first was Glenn, a boisterous seven year old obsessed, as his father had planned, with football. In fact, it was Glenn who first noticed the peculiarity of his little sister. As he stared into her crib one morning making faces at the baby, he noticed that she had swaddled herself in her soft, pink knitted baby blanket. She looked at him with a focus that seemed preternatural for an infant. She drooled, but she held the blanket tight around her face, like a little babushka."

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Lock and Gun

A young couple's moving day, complete with a variety of mishaps.

"The door spring is rusted and doesn’t really work anyway so I get a screwdriver and take the thing off its mounting. I take the broken couch leg and stick it in the upper corner of the door to prop it open. When I come inside a little while later to check on things, the movers are wrestling with my mattress on the stairwell. Bright streaks of fresh blood mark the white plaster in the living room and on the stairway wall. Rod is in mid-staircase, holding up the bottom end of the Macy’s queen that Kelly’s mom bought us for a wedding present. 'You exposed a screw on your front door when you took that thing off,' he says. 'I cut my arm open on it.'"

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Homecoming

A high school athlete from a troubled Brooklyn family tries to stay on the right path in a small Virginia town.

"But it didn’t take long for Marcus to get around to missing Brooklyn. On weeknights his granny would be in bed by eight, and since the television in the living room got such poor reception Marcus would go to his room. The windows in Granny’s house had no curtains or blinds, so when it was dark he got a creepy feeling, like he was being watched. There were no yellow streetlights, no sirens or car stereos, nobody calling out to anybody else outside. Just unfamiliar sounds rising and filling up the air until it sounded like they were invading the room itself. Frogs? Crickets? He couldn’t tell. He’d make up his bed and lie down in it and put on his headphones and close his eyes and think about home."

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Lullaby

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."

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Half A Life-Time Ago

From 1855 comes this gripping tale about the consequences of acceding to a deathbed request.

"Let me go. Let me go!" said Susan (for her lover's arm was round her waist). "I must go to him if he’s fretting. I promised mother I would!" She pulled herself away, and went in search of the boy. She sought in byre and barn, through the orchard, where indeed in this leafless winter-time there was no great concealment; up into the room where the wool was usually stored in the later summer, and at last she found him, sitting at bay, like some hunted creature, up behind the wood-stack.

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Cowgirl

An exploration of tensions and drama from an experimental master.

"...it was me like a cowgirl, swinging the cord around my head; it was the date saying, you’ve got issues; it was the date saying, serious ones; it wasn’t always like this though; it was a good time with that ID; I was a good time with that ID; I met guys and it was a good time back then; it was the ID always getting me in; it was the ID always getting me what I wanted;"

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If King Hammurabi

With two children in tow, a woman prepares to witness her lover's execution by lethal injection.

"Lyell gave her a shove, then she gave him a shove, and they raced to the guest bedrooms and put on their nicest outfits. Twenty minutes later they sat at Cornelia’s dining room table, waiting for her to speak. She inhaled deeply. Her fine blond hair was wrenched from her scalp into a tight, high-sitting barrette. 'Where we are about to go,' Cornelia whispered, 'must remain a secret. Can you children remember that?' They nodded. 'Today, we embark on a farewell mission,' she said, 'a goodbye mission for a friend who will enter the other side—which is to say, children, that he will be killed.'"

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Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning in?

A former Facebook executive critiques Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement.

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Three Arctic Relics

Three vignettes taking place in far northern reaches.

"In the crystalline quiet where no one watches an iceberg calved with the shrieks and growls of any birth. A part of her shivered then rumbled then slipped, splashed into the ocean to announce an arrival with ripples of frigid blue waves."

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That Year in Rishikesh

A dying grandmother shares a story about meeting George Harrison.

"I went to my room a little catatonic, in a mixture of religious awe and fascination with my grandmother. I confirmed the information and yes, Rishikesh was that city in India where the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram was, where the Beatles had stayed in the late 1960s and where they had composed a bunch of songs. It was incredible that Gran had managed to associate the song I had played with all that. And remembered the song, and that it was by George, and included herself in the story, to boot."

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Smiling to Himself

A man's colonoscopy causes him to reflect on aging, mortality, and family life.

"For a moment, Pete wondered if he should say something else, anything, but the guy had already picked up his magazine again, leaving Pete to ponder not only his inadequacies, but his colonoscopy, something he was suddenly looking forward to and maybe even deserved."

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Here Is Your Weather

A weather forecaster finds her life unraveling in multiple ways.

"Broadcast meteorologists, on the other hand, were supposed to smile through everything. That was one of the first lessons Beth had learned. It didn’t matter if you were talking about heat waves or blizzards or forest fires. Mother Nature was never bad news! Nothing we can’t handle! Her first broadcast job was in Mobile, Alabama, and she had kept smiling as a Category 5 hurricane spiraled toward their coast, kept smiling when the TV studio went dark and the walls shuddered. It was exhausting, all that smiling."

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The Anointing

A woman struggles with her faith while caring for her addicted husband.

"She stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. She would choose to believe the anointing had worked. That there would be some change. That she and Mitch would embrace and begin the path toward healing. God would never give her more than she could handle. It said that in the Bible. Nothing beyond what you can bear. She and Mitch were only being tested, refined like silver."

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Break All the Way Down

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."

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Florence

A man balances a lonely job and a lost love in a future universe where thousands of years can pass in the span of contemporary minutes.

"How will I get her to stay this time? I pull out the brochure for this place. It's yellowed and crumbling. The marketing slogan for the planet is at the top: It's Livable! The picture shows a human woman and a male Xorbite. The Xorbite is pointing at his main lung with a tentacle, as if to say, I am really enjoying this non-toxic nitrogen-based atmosphere! The previous version brochure had the woman holding a fish, until someone's mother sued the tourism bureau for false advertising claiming her son died because the picture misleadingly suggested that it was possible to catch fish here. The dead boy's mother won and the bureau had to change the brochure or stop printing it, but since the bureau has no funding, instead of retaking the picture, the bureau just touched up the image so that the woman now appears to be holding a football (or possibly a pizza) in one hand and giving the Xorbite a thumbs up with the other. The happily breathing Xorbite is giving her a tentacles-up sign as well."

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The People's Champion

In a fictionalized Haiti, a man explains the inner workings of the political landscape and his own shady rise to the role of Prime Minister.

"Yet…deciding to recount the entire tale, the whole historical record, as in order for events to work out as Richard wanted them to, then yes, he’d have to make good on his promise that everything would be made clear, revealed in one fashion or another—it’s probably best if I explain: Jean was once a senator in the Haitian senate, the second-youngest senator in Haiti’s history in fact, and as a senator, he was wildly inept. You can’t really find him totally at fault however, because Jean’s parents bought him his seat when he was fresh from school. I can’t fathom why, but my guess is that they knew he had no head for business and that there was nothing else he’d really be good for, so they had hoped that a career in politics would both keep him busy and allow them to control a portion of the country without too much effort. But well, Jean, Jean bloody fucked all that, what with his reckless politicking and all."

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Grace

A woman, originally hired as a tutor for a now-deceased girl, finds herself in the middle of a wealthy couple's mournings and problems.

"At Grace’s next session on Park Avenue, Mrs. Bank does something she hasn’t done since the first session: she comes into Perry’s bedroom. Grace is flipping through online photos of kids who stuck with the theater program when she senses she’s not alone and pretends to be scribbling history cards. But when she casually turns a minute later, it’s obvious Mrs. Bank isn’t paying attention to what she’s doing at the desk. Instead Mrs. Bank is sitting in Perry’s pink armchair, the one that’s usually colonized by old stuffed animals and American Girl dolls, looking out the window at Midtown."

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Distance

A family man visits his wayward, troubled brother.

"I've driven here after all these years to figure out—maybe for the first time—the person my brother is. My brother who I've known only in memory. And in two-minute phone calls and birthday cards and rumors. My brother who is sometimes kind and sometimes cruel. Kind when he brought me pizza after my accident, when, at two in the morning with an IV poking through my skin, we ate and laughed to the rhythmic beep-beep of the heart monitor. Cruel when he chased Tommy Gleeson—our autistic neighbor—down the street with a pipe, cornered him, and then stepped on his stomach until he vomited."

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Double Happiness

A woman attempts to find her own closure following losses on 9/11.

"The Rumson police, the Little Silver police, the Middletown police especially insisted, they’d already had funerals of their own and knew what to expect. The roads were cordoned off from the Sea Bright Bridge to the Avenue of Two Rivers and cars parked for a mile all the way down Rumson Road, women in black sling-backs climbing the rutted grass along the road, made the shortcut through the tennis club across the school yard to the gray shingle church, capacity four hundred, someone said a thousand stood inside and out to hear Father Jim say no words could gather the force he needed to say his prayer, they would all join him in silence. Kathleen in the choir loft, alone, sang “Danny Boy” for her brother, for her father, and the thousand beyond prayer, beyond tears, shook and trembled now."

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Roots

A Hanukkah story revolving around anarchists, crooks, and vandals. [Free registration required.]

"'Anyway, what's this talk about roots?' he said and immediately regretted it. He could see the magazine covers already. The Return to Religion: The New Tribalism. He liked it better when Wendy was insolent and yelled 'Death to the pigs!' at a couple of off-duty cops having a cup of coffee at a local diner before Frieda pulled her away."

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Rheumatic Fever

A young couple, laying low in Maine, is menaced by the reappearance of a suspicious father.

"Jesse is small, but solid in the way some short men can be. He has thick hair, dyed black, parted distinctly in the middle of his head, and he is wearing slacks and a clean, white tee-shirt. In his small hand, he has my journal."

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Artisanal Baby Naming

An artist of baby names explores the meticulous details that go into selecting the perfect moniker.

"Not all prospective parents are comfortable with me watching them have intercourse and that’s fine if you want to cut corners on the name your baby will carry for the rest of her life. The parents who allow it are sophisticated enough to understand that there’s no better way for me to know a child’s essence than to be there for the erotic act from which that child is created. But if you’re too modest and you’d prefer that I name your baby with one hand tied behind my back, so be it. You can make a video recording of the conception and send it to me."

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Alligator Language

Family faults, loss, and discontent arise when a widower watches his grandson during a summer in Florida.

"In the calm that follows his tears, Fowler sees clearly how Mary, in dying, not only took herself away from him, but also widened the gap between he and his daughter and his grandson. Fowler would have to take on his wife’s best qualities — her patience, her unconditional love for people despite their flaws — in order to stop that gap from widening. This realization terrifies him — he doesn’t have that kind of strength — and as his heart beats fast with that fear, he notices the boy’s socks on the floor near the bed. He picks one of them up and uses it to wipe at his eyes. He blows his nose into the sock, breathes in the fabric’s sour scent."

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None Of Your Business

A grim conversation with a gas station attendant.

"Look, he said, none of my business but in my experience the longer you live in a car the bigger it gets. So as you never find your way out."

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A Collection Of Favorite Holidays

An Uzbek man, partially settled in America, reflects on his ties to his childhood home.

" Paper space helmets, old rubber gloves. The girls held the unwieldy cardboard rocket. Their faces appeared through the windows, and their bows veered above: green, red, brighter red. Again, poems were recited, this time about Gagarin, the way he must have looked at earth from above with his new eyes, the eyes of a hero."

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The First Confession

A young boy deals with mean relatives and religious extremes as he embarks on his first communion.

"Then, to crown my misfortunes, I had to make my first confession and communion. It was an old woman called Ryan who prepared us for these. She was about the one age with Gran; she was well-to-do, lived in a big house on Montenotte, wore a black cloak and bonnet, and came every day to school at three o'clock when we should have been going home, and talked to us of hell. She may have mentioned the other place as well, but that could only have been by accident, for hell had the first place in her heart."

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There's Someone Behind You

Fears both real and imagined permeate a woman's affair with a married man.

"Ruthie often meets William at his office, which is only five minutes from the software company she works at in Reston and a good forty to fifty minutes from either of their houses and either of their other lives. She started going to him last year after waking up with an impacted molar. She likes his office with its little green awning out front, located in a brick office park area between an insurance agency and an optometrist, the professionally stenciled 'William Fairfield, D.D.S.' in silver letters on the front glass door."

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When The New Wing Broke Away From The Old Mansion

A metaphorical tale of a wayward younger brother and his icy relationship with his siblings.

"The fifth brother, Joseph, was much younger. By the time he came of age, there were no comfortable rooms left for him, and so he was given the raw rooms in the mansion's newer wing. Joseph was a strange, solitary, somewhat frightening child, and although his brothers loved him, they were relieved to have him out of their hair. Joseph wished to be a gentleman like his brothers, but life was difficult in the raw wing of the mansion. The new wing was a place of Protestant industry, and Joseph went to work."

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Champlain

A mother and her two daughters vacation at Lake Champlain; an exploration of fears both mythological and personal.

"A few months ago, we saw a documentary piece on Champ, part of a low-budget sea monster show on PBS. We converged in the living room, feeling defensive of our lake, our monster, our private August world. The camera panned across sepia-toned photographs of the steamboat from which Champ was sighted in 1870, portraits of distinguished believers pointing to their graphite renderings of the serpent. Mallory’s fingers tightened on the arms of her chair as she watched a computer-generated Champ dive and surface, as a blonde actress standing waist-deep in the lake shrieked and snapped the iconic Champ photograph: a humped back and a slender brachiosaur neck rising from the dark water."

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Hunger

An immigrant girl compulsively hides food in an intense state of depression.

"They couldn't get her to stop doing it. Crusts of bread, leaves of boiled cabbage, twenty-six grapes, flour in small plastic bags choked with red twist ties. They couldn't get her to stop doing it until she stopped doing everything, and after that it wasn't long until the end. Half bananas browning in their peels, dollops of sour cream in drawers, potatoes in slippers under the bed, red beets bleeding through the pockets of her pale yellow bathrobe."

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A Good Man Is Hard To Find

A family, headed to Florida, encounters a gang of criminals in this grim classic.

"The old lady said that in her opinion Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy."

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The Dream Of Doctor Bantam [Excerpt]

A young adolescent goes to IHOP with her nihilistic older sister in the middle of the night.

"She got into the car next to her sister. Tabitha lit a cigarette, a tulip of fire surrounded by the black petals of her painted nails. Against the light her eyes were red at the edges. She turned the key."

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In Their Proper Place

While dealing with her fractured, fighting family, a girl tries to find out why bananas keep appearing in her home.

"With a sigh, Rachel got up and pulled the vacuum out of the cleaning closet. She plugged it in, turned it on, and immediately turned it back off. Coming from inside the dust compartment was a loud thumping sound that died as the vacuum's motor slowed to a stop. Opening the compartment, she discovered that the source of the sound was a long, yellow, banana."

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My Brother In The Basement

Two gay brothers--one semi-closeted, one out--navigate a lifetime of tensions and problems.

"But something changed between Davis and me the afternoon we met downtown for lunch, sitting in a coffee shop in a small vinyl booth, facing one another. Davis leaned forward as he talked. When we were in high school, he confided, he'd sometimes taken our mother's Impala and driven downtown to have sex with a Korean man he'd met in a park, an accountant who lived in a boardinghouse near Dupont Circle. He and the man never really spoke, Davis said; nothing was exchanged between them, nothing but sex, which was hurried and guilty, and which provided only the most momentary relief, followed by Davis's long drive back to our house in the suburbs, listening to the call-in shows on stations our mother had preprogrammed on her car radio. He'd also had sex a few times with a popular boy, he said, a football player he'd occasionally brought back to our house while our mother was working, offering him some beer or a little marijuana, though the boy never acknowledged him afterward, not even with a quick nod if they happened to pass one another in the hallway the next day at school."

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Hanwell Senior

The history of a relationship between a son and his mostly-absent father.

"He lay down. His spine pressed into the soil a notch at a time, undid him. Upside down was a land of female legs. He was fond of these new bell-shaped skirts, wide enough to crawl under and be kept safe, and wished he had waited to marry, or married differently. He thought, What if I stayed here? Let the sun swallow me, and the orange dazzle under my eyelids become not just the thing I see but the thing that I am, and let the one daisy with the bent stem, and the rose smell and the girl upside down on the pub bench eating an upside-down ploughman's with her upside-down friend be the whole of the law and the girth of the world."

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Cube

Picnicking families stumble upon a mysterious iron cube.

"Nobody knew what to make of the thing. It was too big to have been carted in on a pickup truck. It would be too large for the open bed of an eighteen-wheeler, and even then there were no tire marks in the area, no damaged vegetation and not even a road nearby wide enough for a load that size. It was if the block had been cast in its spot and destined to remain. And then there was the issue of the inscription."

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Vasectomy

A woman deals with the potential consequences of her missed period.

"Still, after I’d hung up the phone, I went on sitting dully in the kitchen, thinking about all the wasted sit-ups I’d done in the last two years and wanting to die. Not that I could admit that to anyone. Because if it were Steve who would be walking around for nine months with hemorrhoids and a dull backache, with the elastic waist of his maternity jeans crimping from overuse, I’d be able to be happy; I’d be thinking about how to fit another car seat in the minivan and whether I should start buying rice in bulk. I’d be sitting at the desk in my office practicing the breathing exercises, prepping."

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Local Bounty

Visiting his daughter in San Francisco, the author longs for food delivery in Manhattan.

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You Leave Them

A troubled mother and daughter spend their first day in Los Angeles.

"I wonder what we looked like then, that day we drove over into California. My mother could probably still tell you what we wore. We were driving to California from Bay City, Wisconsin, just the two of us, so I could be a television star. We'd taken Ted's Mobile Credit Card and stayed in motels, charging gasoline and Cokes on the bills. We dug up to our shoulders in the ice chests, bringing the cold pop bottles up like a catch. We'd stolen vegetables all across America, anything we could eat without cooking. My mother spotted the trucks."

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Stupid Girls Never Go Crazy

Two troubled high school friends cope with their families and depressions.

"A half-an-hour later, Bambi slipped through her front door, hoping to sneak upstairs unnoticed by the mass of humanity that lived at her house. She shared her space with four younger brothers who’d been born so close together that they all resembled the same kid in a different stage of metamorphosis. So much testosterone flowed through the house that she had gotten lost in the shuffle. Her dad really didn’t know quite what to do with her and tried to avoid the discomfort of female emotional interaction. He focused on the easy rapport he had with her brothers and spent most of his free time talking sports or taking them fishing. Her mom was usually frazzled and easily irritated. She was starting her cocktail hour a bit earlier every day and was usually comfortably anesthetized by dinner time. She seemed to have slipped into a complacency that bordered on being in a coma."

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Little Marvels

After their father leaves, two siblings set up a humane pest control business.

"Neither of us signed on for anything, I want to point out. That's the way it is with families. You're born into someone else's mess, their tics and crannies, their cancers, their travel lusts. We didn't stand a chance, I want to tell him. Instead, I try to comfort the voles by sticking my hand into their cages, letting them run across it, roll in my open palm, nibble at my fingertips. I don't even flinch when nibbles turn to bites. It's their nature, I tell myself. It is who they are."

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The Dark Spot

A person seeks solace from an overwhelming family visit.

"I held my head in my hands and wondered if a hundred years in this filthy closet could be enough to undo the past four days. I felt my inner eye zeroing in on an escape, but there were rides to be given to the airport in the morning, babies to be cuddled, dishes to be washed. The polite thing to do was stay."

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A Desertion

Amid rumors about her beauty, a young woman returns home from work to make a tragic discovery.

"On her way up the long flights the girl unfastened her veil. One could then clearly see the beauty of her eyes, but there was in them a certain furtiveness that came near to marring the effect. It was a peculiar fixture of gaze, brought from the street, as of one who there saw a succession of passing dangers, with menaces aligned at every corner. On the top floor she pushed open a door, and then paused on the threshold, confronting an interior that appeared black and flat like a curtain. Perhaps some girlish ideas of hobgoblins assailed her then, for she called, in a little breathless voice, 'Daddie!'"

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Reckoning

A classroom of troubled children take a trip to a bowling alley.

"Mr. Chiasson shouted at him to stop. When he wouldn’t Mr. Chiasson seized his shoulder and shook it. Then he moved over to Ryan. Ryan’s snoring head lay on his desk. Mr. Chiasson never tried to wake him when he fell asleep. One day a supply teacher covering for Mr. Chiasson made the mistake of waking him up and he bashed a bowling trophy over her head. They had to get a new trophy, and a new supply teacher."

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Five Fictions

A series of random and unsettling snapshots of two brothers.

"Michael’s brother is on the diving board again and then not, his body in the air and taking up so much space. He gets closer and closer and the water turns to glass. Michael feels like he’s dreaming. The water cracks and breaks and scatters. Michael’s brother is in pieces. He screams and Michael deep-breathes and Michael closes his eyes"

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A Series Of Astrological Disasters

A mother and daughter seek various forms of spiritual guidance and stability.

"The waitress came over and her mother ordered a coffee, plenty of cream and sugar, and Melissa ordered a pop with everything—Coke, Sprite, and Dr. Pepper but no root beer. The psychic ordered a side of bacon and an iced tea with three slices of lemon. He touched her mother gently on the hand and said, Shelley, you are a Gemini. Pollux, one of Gemini’s stars, is the nearest giant star to Earth. Her mother ooohed and went glass-eyed, and Melissa wished she could take her mother home, where the two of them could wait on the porch for dark, and when it came, Melissa would point and say, There, Mother. There’s Gemini. Right there. But Melissa didn’t know where Gemini was."

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A Lost Art

A father and son attend a Mexican bullfight, experiencing a clash of time and cultures.

"My son cheers loudly now. His eyes are bright and he sports shiny cowboy boots. I try to smile and clasp my cool fingers together. The woman sitting behind me leans over to her friend again, 'No more American rodeos. Bullfights are much nicer. Quieter. The bull is an elegant animal. And lastly,' she says, 'We are Spanish.'"

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The Bedford Quarry

Residents of a small New Hampshire town deal with various problems and hardships.

"I unchained my bike and rode out through the center of Carlisle towards Jack’s house. A couple of times, I had told Wesley that I was done being a thief. It was like when Jack decided to stop drinking. Quitting’s easy, Jack told me, I’ve done it hundreds of times. I was scared at night, when I would hear cars pull up, and wonder if someone I had ripped off was after me."

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The Better Of The Bitter

A young man awaits a conversation with his father, with the Egyptian Revolution in the background.

"I am standing and waiting on my father to come home. He is well-educated and serves quite the purpose in one of the state dailies. He works among the bureaucrats, in their offices without walls, only partitions, and aspires for me to do the same when he is promoted. Promotion is not contingent, it is imminent. Our side will win and the present situation will end, but for tonight I hope political talk will trap itself somewhere on the road from Tahrir to our apartment and that my father and I can focus on our cocktails."

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Uncle Skillet Rides Again

A grifter uncle visits his fundamentalist family.

"Uncle Skillet had stayed the same as he was in the stories my dad told. He had become a nomad, somebody my parents argued about in loud hisses, thinking they were whispering while they thought I was asleep. The idea of Uncle Skillet thrilled me. He was one of the bad guys from the Bible, a nomad on a permanent adventure, no agenda. Wild, dangerous, sinning all over the world, a life like the underside of the lawnmower."

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The Tunnel [Excerpt]

A poetic support of the downtrodden, and a father's refusal to buy a family dog.

"My dad wouldn't let me have a pal. Who will have to walk that pal, he said. I will. And it's going to be snowing or it's going to be raining and who will be waiting by the vacant lot at the corner in the cold wet wind, waiting for the damn dog to do his business? Not you, Billy boy Christ, you can't even be counted on to bring in the garbage cans or mow the lawn. So no dog."

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Hobby Store

A single father and his children examine and hypothesize the actions of his felonious, unstable ex-wife.

"They wanted possession of facts. And they each wanted in their own distinct ways that fit their own distinct lives, now forming and shaping in this new old-house, a clear and logical understanding of why she was the way she was, why she did those things, what sinister motives propelled her through those jagged movements that in turn transported her into legend."

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Our Lady Of Guaza

Following their mother's death, two Colombian half-sisters visit a cathedral built within an old salt mine.

"She had imagined the church where the funeral was held, but pillared with white salt instead of gold and marble. A sort of whimsical confection. Only upon arriving at the mountain in Zipaquirá does she realize what this sight-seeing really entails: she and Valentina must descend with hundreds of people 600 feet into the earth. It’s a disturbingly morbid activity to undertake so soon after her mother’s death. But it is also something to do, so she buys their tickets and joins Valentina in the long line near a tall cement cross that marks the entrance to the mountain."

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River Of Smoke [Excerpt]

An elderly woman and her extended family make their traditional pilgrimage to a cave shrine.

"Much depended on the weather, for a trek up the wind-swept mountain could not be undertaken except on a fine day. When the conditions seemed propitious, the bandobast would start the night before. The feast that followed the puja was always the most eagerly awaited part of the pilgrimage, and the preparations for it occasioned much excitement and anticipation: the tin-roofed bungalow would ring to the sound of choppers and chakkis, mortars and rolling-pins, as masalas were ground, chutneys tempered, and heaps of vegetables transformed into stuffings for parathas and daal-puris. "

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Gravity At The End Of The World

Two working class brothers and their girlfriends dream of elevating their bleak lives.

"Growing up, we always looked up and wondered what it would be like to live in the grand homes looking down. At Christmas, our parents drove us along the overlook. Our mothers cooed at the beautiful decorations even though on every other day they cleaned those houses and took care of the children living in them. Our fathers, who worked for the grand homeowners, grunted. They said it wasn’t anything special. They swallowed the bitterness of their envy and chased it with a nip of whiskey."

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Conscious Knowledge

At a party, two black cousins confront each other on personal identities, class status, and honesty.

"Francis had blown through a trust the size of Connecticut to establish his career as a rapper. And from what had been rumored, paid out hush money and child support to women across the Northeast. My cousin the genius. I couldn’t believe how much Suze admired him. Despite my repeated warnings about his true character, Suze still believes that Francis is a role model the poor can look up to, that he gives hope to the less fortunate. In her attempts to win me over, she even pointed out that Francis’ rapping name was actually a clever bastardization of phlogiston: an archaic, imaginary substance people once believed responsible for making things burn."

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The Day He Flew

A elderly father and his grown son attempt uneasy bonding on fishing trips.

"But he would talk to me during that time when he wasn't concentrating on a cast or reeling something in. I loved that he would tell me stories. That day with the mayflies he told me how he went fishing everyday as a kid, had to because they ate whatever he caught that day for dinner. And when he went fishing with his dad in a little aluminum boat and when the motor gave out his dad told him to get out and drag the boat. He put a rope around him and pushed him into the water, which was probably full of gators and moccasins, and he dragged his big, fat, drunk dad in the boat until they got to shore."

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How I Killed My Mother

Exploring the relationship between authors and their parents.

It mattered to her that she could have, or might have, been a writer, and perhaps it mattered to me more than I fully understood. She watched my books appear with considerable interest, and wrote me an oddly formal letter about the style of each one, but she was, I knew, also uneasy about my novels. She found them too slow and sad and oddly personal. She was careful not to say too much about this, except once when she felt that I had described her and things which had happened to her too obviously and too openly. That time she said that she might indeed soon write her own book. She made a book sound like a weapon.

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And She Flew

A mother's interactions with her children is beset with ambiguous foreshadowing.

"The mother stares at her big, strong son, who in reality is still a boy, only he’s older than the others. The light in the room goes bright and dark, by turns, as clouds move with sinister purpose in front of the sun. The mother feels as though she is caught in a kaleidoscope and suddenly comes alive."

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Poof!

A man's memories of his troubled childhood lead to extravagant personal imagery of heaven and hell.

"Is heaven full of surprises? Our minister made it sound static. Happy, happy, happy, and no sleep, just blissed up like an addict, people bowing whenever Jesus walks by. Or the Father. Or the Holy Spirit sent a breeze-puff near where you stood by a window with a golden sill. Did the Holy Spirit get tired of being invisible? Maybe in heaven all is visible, even the Spirit."

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The Submission

The identity of the designer of a proposed 9/11 memorial competition inflames the emotions and the prejudices of an observer.

"The Rally to Protect Sacred Ground kicked off on a balmy Saturday morning in a plaza opposite the site. The members of both the Memorial Defense Committee and Save America From Islam were there, gathered in a cordoned-off area in front of the stage. Behind them stretched thousands: women holding signs that said NO TOLERANCE FOR THE INTOLERANT or KHAN IS A CON; fathers hoisting small children on their shoulders; men in camouflage who may or may not have been veterans. "

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Stories to Live With

Coping with a brother’s suicide.

We tell stories about the dead in order that they may live, if not in body then at least in mind—the minds of those left behind. Although the dead couldn’t care less about these stories—all available evidence suggests the dead don’t care about much—it seems that if we tell them often enough, and listen carefully to the stories of others, our knowledge of the dead can deepen and grow. If we persist in this process, digging and sifting, we had better be prepared for hard truths; like rocks beneath the surface of a plowed field, they show themselves eventually.

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The Grave Of Lost Stories

A fictional imagining of Edgar Allan Poe and a Faustian explanation of his talents.

"Don't you admit that a grave and corpse are more real than a memory and a lock of hair? and she said I never thought you such a materialist, Eddie and he laughed and they went on into the suffocating gloom and the Star set slowly over the black valley which his reasoning powers in combination with his accurate knowledge had enabled him to predict in bold relief, and as the Star set it cast a last beam down through the night-trees that occluded the gull, and tenderly brushed the pure darkness below."

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Florida

A mother visits her son—a failing entrepreneur—and is surprised by the news that he has married.

"Marie wondered what Raymond's title in this place might be. 'Manager,' he'd said, but he and Mimi lived like caretakers in an inconvenient arrangement of rooms off the lobby. To get to their kitchen, which was also a storage place for beer and soft drinks, Marie had to squeeze behind the front desk."

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Red

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."

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My Date With Satan

The narrator and a guy named Satan go to the Sanrio store; hijinx ensue. Kinda NSFW.

" A crowd of children had started to gather around Satan and me, pointing at my hair, which I had done up in braids entwined with wire so they stuck out of my head at right angles like my namesake, Pippi Longstocking, or PipiLngstck as I am known on-screen."

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Liliana

A supposedly deceased grandmother's unexpected visit is rife with confusion and memories.

"I nodded, and thought about what that might mean. 'But,' I said, 'there was an autopsy.'I didn’t want to offend her, and here she was, but there had been an autopsy."

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The Return

A father picks up the wrong gift for his daughter's birthday party.

" The look on your daughter’s face, though, devastates you; you feel it in your knees: her confusion and disappointment, paired with the newly acquired knowledge that those two emotions join each other effortlessly. The gift is what she wanted, but not what she wanted: a bike with no wheels."

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Tinto

The lives and tribulations of two small town families intersect and collide.

"I was five months along, due in April, around the same time Bran would have turned twelve. That seemed ominous to me, but my aunt assured me that I was suffering from nothing more than nerves. My husband laughed at me, said Calum couldn’t keep track of all his kids. He was bound to lose one or two."

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Lament For Car

A tricked-out Toyota Supra accelerates a family's unraveling. From the author of 2011's Busy Monsters.

"I know the ins and outs of what he did to that car, the numbers and brands and details, perhaps better than I know anything else on earth: I spent my most formative years steeped in this information, flipping through the automotive magazines with him, attending weekend car shows, listening to his ecstatic dinner-time talk of his next modification, of how that Supra would be the slickest in all of New Jersey."

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Anskan House

This house has a power. Happy Halloween.

"She said she rang the bell and then waited until she heard the sound of it coming up from the basement and could sense it there behind the door. And then she opened the slit of the letterbox and spoke into it."

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Modern Family

Neither Jon nor Ian is legally married to Jaiya. Both are allowed to see other women. But the three of them live a lifestyle that—much of the time—isn't that different from a conventional marriage.

On the rise of polyandry, in which one woman settles down with two or more men.

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Father's Kitchen

A father prepares a grotesque dinner for his family, with hints of unhappiness and ruminations on masculinity.

"Father tossed icy fishchunks into the microwave and they wobbled in the hot hum. Father sat back in his chair to swig golden brandy from his gut-flecked glass. Father peered down his great glistering nose at us. His nose gleamed like pocked gunmetal in the fishoil night and we sat on the floor in a row, each little child with his legs twisted into a knot."

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The Jewish Holly-Go-Lightly

Love advice from a beloved aunt.

I try to call my Great Aunt Doris every day. She's ninety-years old and lives alone. I love her desperately and as she gets older, especially of late as she becomes more feeble, my love seems to be picking up velocity, overwhelming me almost, tinged as it is with panic -- I'm so afraid of losing her.

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Town Of Cats

A young man Japanese man visits his estranged, domineering father.

"Still, it was not their physical features that made it difficult for Tengo to identify with his father but their psychological makeup. His father showed no sign at all of what might be called intellectual curiosity. True, having been born in poverty he had not had a decent education. Tengo felt a degree of pity for his father’s circumstances. But a basic desire to obtain knowledge—which Tengo assumed to be a more or less natural urge in people—was lacking in the man."

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This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise

A story about Holden Caulfield's older brother, published six years before Catcher In The Rye

"While you dance and the band plays on, you think about everything in the world except music and dancing. You wonder if your little sister Phoebe is remembering to take your dog out regularly, if she's remembering not to jerk Joey's collar—the kid'll kill the dog someday."

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U.S. Journal: Pinellas County, Florida Attractions

A visit to Walt Disney World.
The first thing I did at Walt Disney World was to take an oath not to make any smart-aleck remarks. A Disney public-relations man had told me that attitude was everything. So I placed my left hand on a seven-Adventure book of tickets to the Magic Kingdom and raised my right hand and promised that there would be no sarcasm on my lips or in my heart.
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Three Generations Under One Roof

Portrait of a Chinese-American family living in New York.

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Home For The Holidays

A typical family Christmas--dinner, presents, fighting, and the return of the dead father.

"My mother dropped a basket of hot rolls in the center of the table, looked quickly at my father sitting there. She may have been startled inside, but she didn’t show it; she just straightened a few of the forks on the linen napkins next to her and called into the living room where everyone was speaking in exaggerated hushed tones."

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"I Just Called to Say I Love You"

On cell phones and the decline of public space.

One of the great irritations of modern technology is that when some new development has made my life palpably worse and is continuing to find new and different ways to bedevil it, I'm still allowed to complain for only a year or two before the peddlers of coolness start telling me to get over it already Grampaw--this is just the way life is now.

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Weight

A nuanced, lively investigation of the relationship between a mother and a son, this received First Prize in the O. Henry Awards for 2000

"Mom understands life don't play so spends beaucoup time and energy getting ready for the worst. She lifts weights to stay strong. Not barbells or dumbbells, though most of the folks she deals with, especially her sons, act just that way, like dumbbells. No. The weights she lifts are burdens, her children's, her neighbors, yours."

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Becoming Deer

A woman makes the choice between deer and cattle.

"I want to explain. I was raised on milk and beef. That’s how I was robbed of my swift, slender legs. That’s how I was given the shape of a woman. "

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Once It's Gone

Animals,physical proximity and emotional distances link a troubled family and an eccentric neighbor.

"I am an expert now on the importance of throwing oneself back into neglected friendships and job. I suppose the advice is universal: teenaged girl, single working woman, middle-aged man living with his wife and the daughter he used to fail to recognize among the crowd of other people’s children pouring out of school when he went to pick her up. Now she drives herself."

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Tennessee

A Jewish family moves from Florida to Tennessee, and a prodigal son returns.

"My father decided he would cook a genuine Jewish brisket for the in-laws’ first Tennessee meal. They were coming up from West Palm Beach and he thought the brisket would make for the perfect pastiche of Jewish and Southern tradition, to the extent that either could be embodied in a slab of beef."

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His Last Great Gift

A religious leader in colonial New England builds a mysterious machine.

"The motor will cause great floods of spiritual light to descend from the heavens. It will reveal the earth to be a limitless treasure trove of motion, life, and freedom. "

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Sensini

Two writers, one young, one old, share a varied correspondence about writing, politics, and family matters.

" The Alcoy Council sent me his address without delay—he lived in Madrid—and one night, after dinner or a light meal or just a snack, I wrote him a long letter, which rambled from Ugarte and the stories of his that I had read in magazines to myself, my house on the outskirts of Girona, the competition (I made fun of the winner), the political situation in Chile and in Argentina (both dictatorships were still firmly in place), Walsh's stories (along with Sensini, Walsh was my other favourite in that generation), life in Spain, and life in general."

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Trilobites

Fossils and farms in the American South.

"It took over a million years to make that smooth little hill, and I've looked all over it for trilobites. I think how it has always been there and always will be, least for as long as it matters."

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Radio Vision

Death in various forms looms over a 1960s family.

"As she snubbed out her cigarette and rinsed her cup in the sink, Marianne thought, thirty-four. One of the television commentaries had mentioned Jackie Kennedy’s age and it was Marianne’s age exactly. She was in this way aligned with the grieving first lady: they had seen the very same days."

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The Copy Family

Straight into the uncanny valley with the author of There Is No Year and Scorch Atlas.

"The only thing that made the family different from the copy family was instead of teeth the copy family’s mouths were lined with mold. "

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The Best Girlfriend You Never Had

A beautifully detailed look at friendships, painful family memories, and potential unspoken desires.

"There was a man there named Josh who didn’t want nearly enough from me, and a woman called Thea who wanted way too much, and I was sandwiched between them, one of those weaker rock layers like limestone that disappears under pressure or turns into something shapeless like oil."

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The Empty Room

Semi-surreal account of a family's new home.

"The empty room, being a tabula rasa, bore aspects of total corruptibility, a potential we’d in childish obedience overlooked until now."

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The Esther Repellant

A odd and menacing story-like bit spun off from Marcus' forthcoming novel, The Flame Alphabet.

"To warn me of Esther’s approach, or indeed of the motion of any living creature through our halls and rooms, I rigged a system of alarms that puzzled into the wall switch plates. But I crossed the wiring or somehow failed to close the circuit for this contraption, because the high siren pierced the air even when no one roamed through."

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My Father Is an African Immigrant and My Mother Is a White Girl from Kansas and I Am Not the President of the United States

 The writer speaks with his father for the first and last time.

My father moved back to Nigeria one month after I was born. Neither I nor my sister Ijeoma, who is a year and a half my elder, have any recollection of him. Over the course of the next 16 years, we did not receive so much as a phone call from him, until one day in the spring of 1999, when a crinkled envelope bearing unfamiliar postage stamps showed up in the mailbox of Ijeoma's first apartment. Enclosed was a brief letter from our father in which he explained the strange coincidence that had led to him "finding" us.* It was a convoluted story involving his niece marrying the brother of one of our mother's close friends from years ago. As a postscript to the letter, he expressed his desire to speak to us and included his telephone number.

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Once In A Lifetime

Childhood acquaintances, meeting again in adolescence.

"In the morning you all slept in, victims of jet lag, reminding us that despite your presence, your bags crowding the hallways, your toothbrushes cluttering the side of the sink, you belonged elsewhere."

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Mark of a Murderer

Two killers and one cop: The story of the LaMarca family, told over three generations.

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My Mom Couldn't Cook

A personal essay about family through the lens of mashed potatoes.