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The Neighbor

A lonely housesitter makes himself at home in slightly inappropriate ways.

"He’s in the master bedroom. There are no decorations—no photos hung on the wall or in frames on the dresser, no other artwork, no decals like Alice bought and had Ben stick-apply to the walls of their own bedroom when they’d first moved into the neighborhood themselves. There’s only the dresser along the wall, with a vanity mirror and neatly organized jewelry atop, and a nightstand on each side of the bed. Neither has anything on it but books, but Ben can immediately distinguish his from hers from the selection, the way they are stacked. Without thinking, without being able to help himself, Ben goes to Helen’s side of the bed and opens the drawer."

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Walls [Excerpt]

Tender, sad interactions between old friends; an excerpt from Worthington's forthcoming book from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

"He was looking at the television across from him, above and between two of the tables. I was looking at the television behind the bartender, in front of the kitchen. It was the first time we had seen each other in two years. We didn’t have anything in common to talk about except for the Browns. I didn’t even really care about the Browns anymore. I glanced over at him, and he looked down at his drink, picked it up, took a sip. He returned his gaze to the screen. I often feel violently angry when people are not able to communicate effectively with me, but, at that moment, I didn’t. I took a sip of my drink."

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The Twenty-Third of June

Two lovers, a new home, a repeating cycle.

"That night, I will dream a dream of trains, and of the sound of waves. I will dream that I am the woman searching for something lost. I will dream the man’s dream, and walk into the night alone, guided by the moon. The earth is cool under my feet. It is summer. I can smell the light from the sun that has left the trees. I am knee-deep in the swaying ferns. They are so tall I only have to bend a little to reach them with my fingertips, and then I let my legs fold under me, and I lie down in the ferns. I close my eyes and listen to the ferns, try to understand their secret whispers. When I open my eyes again, the ferns begin to blossom, their fragile white petals bright against the night sky."

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The Return

A deserting Civil War soldier sets out for home.

"As he approached Jacob Story’s farm, Benjamin saw that the corn stood dark and high. No hard frost or gullywasher had come. The signs held true, not only for the corn but the beans and tobacco. Smoke rose from Jacob’s chimney. Noon-dinner time already, he thought. Benjamin followed the trailway through a stand of silver birch, straddled a split-rail fence, placed one foot on his land and then the other. He had hoped Emma would be in the cabin. That way he could step onto the porch, open the door, and stroll in no differently than he would coming from a field or the barn. Benjamin wanted their separation to seem that way, he wanted to never speak of the war or their months apart. He wanted it to become nothing more than a few dark moments, like a lantern carried through a cabin’s low door."

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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 Breakfast Table

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

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

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Dream House

An island house; a series of apparations, dreams, and mysteries.

"Sara put trances on Leigh in the middle of the night, while Leigh was sleeping. Leigh knew but didn't tell Mum or say anything about it to Sara. All three had terrible secrets they kept safe. They kept them safe for so long and so devotedly that they were no longer secrets—they were alternate ways of navigating the world."

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Mice

What starts as a mouse infestation turns into a complex study of a marriage and a husband's place in the world.

"But in the evening I did the bills at the dining table and one ran across my foot. I could see it through the glass top, looking exactly like the one I’d released. I realized I’d sort of imagined only one, maybe two. Mice are so identical, appearing on one and then another side of the room as if by magic, moving through walls. All that damage. Now they could be filling the walls and if I slit one with a machete they’d spill out like organs, or like corn from a sack. This could make the species more impressive, or less."

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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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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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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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Marco Polo

A couple's marital problems stem from the wife's inability to fall asleep with her husband.

"She tells me I’m a lunatic, it’s not like she’s having an affair. I think that’s probably true. She’s never been good at subtlety or deception. When we were first married, she came to bed with me every night, settled her naked body on top of mine, settled her face in my neck. I could tell she liked it, but she wasn’t romantic in the least."

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Experience

A caretaker becomes enmeshed in the relationships of the homeowner.

"I'd never have picked Julian out as a sensuous type if I hadn’t read Hana's diary; he seemed too busy and prosaic, without the abstracted dreamy edges I’d always imagined in people who gave themselves over to their erotic lives. And yet, because of the secret things I knew about him, I was fixated on him the whole time I watched him cook, and then afterward, while we sat opposite each other eating at the little table he pulled up to my armchair."

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The Balcony Cliffs

Trying to maintain human relationships in a post-collapse underground city.

"Wick added special beetles and spiders and other precise infiltration mutations as he called them—so effective that even after the Company had cast him out and he had lost their protections, the strength of rumors alone protected him for a time. These creatures registered in my network of lines as pleasing nodes, unless I was angry with Wick, and then I thought of them as irritating, interfering knots in the system."

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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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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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Your House Is A Body

Descriptions of a decrepit house take on (and intersect with) human qualities.

"Look at your hallway here, these smooth white walls, freshly painted, everything seems clean and healthy. But you’ve got to think of your house like a body, all wired up with electrical veins and pipes, a nervous system running beneath the surface without you even knowing it. You’ve got your water pump, your furnace, your water heater in the basement, these are your organs, they keep things moving, they keep things regular."

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Child Her Mother

A young girl's relationship with her mother and rural surroundings are told in an experimental dose of stream of conciousness.

"...you ask her what she is doing and she tells you still not opening her eyes nothing, girl only that word does not mean what it means it means something so big and black it can hardly fit into language though she does not say another thing and her lack of saying says more than her saying ever could the sun bit by bit turning itself off and the evening bit by bit turning itself on and the over-sweet summer breeze stirring for maybe fifteen minutes no more without cooling a thing and you go back into the trailer to watch the television trying not to think about all this thinking but after a while you go out again to see and she is still there still sitting in the lawn chair alone precisely as you left her smoking with her head tilted back eyes closed..."

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A Sigh Is Just A Sigh

A series of shorts about a marriage and conversations with two old-time movie stars.

"Ingrid Bergman told me she'd sleep with any man who desired. And there had been plenty. She slept with the majority of her costars on every film, most of the directors, several costume designers, and once, for kicks, a sound-effects editor—"helps me get into the role," she argued. It didn't bother her at all. It was like taking a walk, 'like reading from a script,' she said."

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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 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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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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All Their Riches

Karen refugees from Burma--a mother and small child--adjust to a new life in the United States.

"Picture me following Derek, our startlingly obese caseworker, through the new apartment, trying to concentrate on his English with all of my mind. Picture me flipping a light switch for the first time and seeing the lamps blossom into electric life. Picture me flinching at the scream of the smoke alarm and the rush of water in the toilet and the wintry blast of the freezer, the coldest air I’d ever felt. My new apartment was full of traps, it seemed."

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American Rules

A satirical list of musts for the paranoid American.

"...if there's a malignant thunderstorm and you've left a window open, the house may flood and you know your insurance won't cover all costs. If you're really lucky, you won't lose your vanilla house, your life, your honor, your delicate psyche, your precious collectibles, your SUV, communication devices, or the cat; but expect some collateral damage at the very least. There will always be something missing. "

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Hunter's Crossing

Civic and domestic troubles lead residents to unusual acts of creativity.

"Jen's car was still missing; Jeff was nailing again, hard. Instead of tiles, though, he was using Jen Simmons's underwear, pair after pair, sides touching like the hands of paper dolls."

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Midnight Visitation

A woman has a midnight encounter in her kitchen.

"She thinks, it is amazing, this man is calm enough to make a glass of milk while robbing her. She moves to check the silverware in the dining room, but stops herself. What good would it do? If it’s gone, it’s gone."

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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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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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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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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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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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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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What A Thought

A Hitchcockian meditation about everyday people's capacity for violence.

"An odd thought crossed her mind: She would pick up the heavy glass ashtray and smash her husband over the head with it."

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Sanctuary

A black man on the run for murder seeks a hiding place in this brief yet controversial piece from a stunning Harlem Renaissance voice.

"Annie Poole cut him off. 'Dis ain't no time foh all dat kin' o' fiddle-de-roll. Ah does mah duty as Ah sees et 'shout no thanks from you. Ef de Lawd had gib you a white face 'stead o' dat dere black one, Ah shuah would turn you out. Now hush yo' mouf an' git yo'se'f in. An' don' git movin' and scrunchin' undah dose covahs and git yo'se'f kotched in mah house.'"

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The Dreadful Mucamas

Discomforting struggles between a homeowner and the hired help.

"But when I reminded her about the toast, she broke into a tirade – how could I think she would ever let the toast get cold or hard? But it is almost always cold and hard. "

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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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Mirrors

Life without reflection.

"She does her hair in the morning in much the same way her husband shaves: by feel, brushing it out, patting it into shape, fixing it with pins. She's been putting on earrings for forty years, and certainly doesn't require a mirror for that."

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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."