"Some of you probably think it’s a bad thing to group ourselves according to skin color—the lighter the better—in social clubs, neighborhoods, churches, sororities, even colored schools. But how else can we hold on to a little dignity?"
The inner thoughts and worries of a Bingo player.
"Phyllis didn’t need to focus when she was daubing her numbers. Her mind could wander. She could think of all of the fortune she’d had in her life, all the loving family that surrounded her, even if their visits fell few and far between. As the next BINGO was called, she ripped off her top sheet and placed it into her trash bag. She remembered when she’d started coming to play, how she’d thought what a waste it was that each player had their own plastic trash bag, but it wasn’t long before she’d blinded herself to this detail, too."
A WWI unit's fears and its devotion to a homing pigeon.
"I wish you could see Cher Ami. She always looks so patient. Her coo helps ease the stress. When you peek in at her, you feel the steadiness in her little black eyes. It says she’s ready. Just a little twitching in her neck, her legs. We feed her what we can. She always gets something. Usually breakfast biscuits and pieces of apple, some snatched abandoned beans left to dry on a wall. But sometimes these days it’s seeds we find and even the lice off our greatcoats. We always apologize when its seeds or lice, but she never seems to mind. She eats it all the same. We are always careful to feed her. You know, its like she knows we’re sorry. It’s like she gets it."
A story of childhood trouble and minor delinquency.
"None of this, of course, has stopped any of them from pulling the girls’ hair or throwing pencils or losing track of time and getting locked out of school. He looks at the younger one standing there with his hands behind him and gives him a little shove. Everyone grows alert, awaiting the silent war. The boy drops his hands and looks back at him, and then they are all shoving and wrestling (carefully, quietly, so as not to attract attention, holding in their breath) and distracting him from his thoughts. The immediacy of the situation wanes. His father does not arrive. He relaxes, the wrestling over, rolls his foot over the soccer ball. They all stop and pant for a moment. There is still that space–the one in the corner of his brain–and as long as he can see it, he’s not quite safe."
Scenes from a scary faith healing session.
"The one to be delivered shook at the apostle’s touch, recoiled from his voice. His boots stamped the floor, wrung more sweat free from his jumping body. It was darkest bluest winter and the one was dressed for the weather, had kept his coat on the whole dance. The look in his eyes, the exhaustion, the fear, his and not his. He named some of his demons at sentence length, readying his voice for story, but the apostle stopped him."
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."
A tale of two sisters with bodies that produce feathers.
"Up ahead a diesel semi had stopped, idling, its emergency lights flashing red in the mist, and on the wet tar and on Gale. I looked at her chest. The feathers were still growing, like a cancer. They would be as long as she was, longer. They would strangle, drown her. She ran to the cab of the truck, the door swung open far above. I couldn’t see the driver’s face."
A conversation between two truckers on a wintry Alaskan highway.
"Even at twenty-five miles an hour the snowfall looks like a TV left on through dawn. French is on the radio, letting the checkpoint know how fucked the storm is. There’s nothing we can do but watch the path of the road to not end up in a ditch, or worse, the pipeline. Of course, the checkpoint’s still timing us, that’s the rules and breaking the haul road’s speed limit is the kind of thing that’ll get you shit-canned. French hangs the mic on the dash. 'Hey, G.P.,' he says, picking up where he left off, “how’s a Green Peace turd like yourself do with the ladies?'"
A mysterious stranger in the woods; horrific escalations.
"When we were eleven Billy Jacobs told us he had seen three people standing at the edge of the woods. One was the redheaded man–or someone who from a distance resembled the redheaded man, a sicker, thinner incarnation of him. The three held big glass bottles as they waved to Billy. One let a cigarette fall from his mouth and the others shrieked with laughter. They stumbled away and were gone."
An unhappy mother yearns for a return to her creative roots.
"It seemed to her now like motherhood was a constant fall, a never-ending tumble. After she’d finished her nursery fresco and looked for surprise shapes in her sky, Marlee couldn’t find any meaning in the edges and swirls she had created."
An unsettling dialogue between a woman and her jilted lover.
"Her face is turning pale, her freckles darkening. Don’t feel bad now. Dismiss that urge to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe. She is the girl you love, but not. She is the girl who will break your heart. Who broke your heart already, and will do it again."
A mother and infant interact with neighbors and strangers.
"She looked down at the baby who was still nursing and recognized in him then not the unpolluted possibilities of a life not yet led, but instead a blissful unawareness of himself, or of responsibility, which allowed him a serene acceptance of all that was around him. The baby did not feel hungry for she kept him fed, he did not feel cold for she swaddled him, he did not feel wet for she kept him clean and dry, and when he was startled or unsure, she offered him her nipple, which he held tightly in his mouth before drifting off to sleep, where she imagined he dreamt of her, because she was all that he knew, all that he wanted, endlessly and relentlessly into the future."