Intertwined memories of institutions, family, and the creepy side of industrialization.
On the eve of their daughter's wedding, a divorced couple is confused by old feelings despite sexual identities.
Family relationships and the complexities of childhood imagination.
"Out the side door and into the yard. Plastic table, plastic sandbox in the shape of a turtle, two plastic chairs blown over. An empty birdfeeder. Ella had no idea why Blanket would be out here. This was why adventures needed preparation: because once they were underway they were always disappointments. In her backpack the string was unused, the flashlight unlit. She took the fork out just to feel like she had packed more wisely than she did."
Deep in debt, a man makes a large racetrack wager and recalls his history of gambling.
"I lean in to the betting window and tell her I want a grand on my horse. She looks shocked at first. She knows it’s a bet I shouldn’t be making, a bet I can’t afford, but she doesn’t know I’m running out of options. If I can’t come up with some serious cash soon, my number’s up. She types in some information but it seems to take her longer than usual."
Horrifyingly astute reflections on a series of murders.
"The bank clerk gave John a pinched look as he pulled out his calculator, checking if she’d paid him the correct interest when cashing out Mother’s savings bonds. (She had, to the penny.) He sensed her subtle gloat. John didn’t care. He’d ended two people’s pain that day, single-handedly. Was SHE ever that kind?"
A woman bonds with her terminally ill sister over food, memories, and shaky lives.
"When Ava won the middle school election, there was peach cobbler with a filling so warm it burnt my tongue. When I failed chemistry, she silently let me lock myself in my room, but I came down for dinner to lasagna with short ribs that fell apart at the slightest nudge. Mom would only speak to us seriously once our mouths were full; with blueberry-banana pancakes the morning of the SATs, chicken-stuffed bell peppers after soccer games, and over spaghetti carbonara for high school heartaches. We came to interpret her innermost thoughts in meticulous meals culled from Julia Child and the Rombauers. It was like she needed something to distract us when she was fully there."
An excerpt from Rombes' forthcoming novel: on memories of a destroyed lost film.
"And with her Aimee — that was her name, not Rachel or Raquel — brought several pages of her grandmother’s notes for the film, notes suggesting that it was not nearly complete, and that its ending would involve an apocalypse the likes of which had never been rendered on screen before. Aimee turned out to be a real chatterbox, which surprised me, except when it came to the topic of Maya’s notes for the calamitous ending, which she talked about in hushed tones as if not to arouse the curiosity of some invisible butcher towering just behind her there in the cafeteria, in a sort of transparent region of space that loomed behind her and that I could almost make out. And she wouldn’t allow me to examine her grandmother’s notes in front of her, forbidding me to so much as look at them in her presence."
Current personal problems are tied to racial issues from years past.
"Helen Conley knew this story: When Maxwell Conley was sixteen and in high school, with a bad attitude like many of us have, two young members of the Black Panther Party saved his life. It happened because a recent veteran of the war in Vietnam woke up one morning believing he was still in the jungle. Adrenaline began pumping through his body at impressive levels. He didn't have a gun, but he found an oak baseball bat in the alley behind his mother's apartment building. He laced up his combat boots. He stormed down the street until he came to the high school. He kicked open the doors of the school, and came through the hallway breathing hard, fists clenched around the bat. It was seventh period. The hallway was quiet. Around the corner came Maxwell Conley, cutting class as was his custom. He was not sober. He was wondering why Kay Svenson wouldn't pay attention to him in art class. He was admiring his long curly hair in the reflection of the fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. His Converse sneakers flapped open and his unwashed sock came through. The Vietnam veteran, only a few years older than Maxwell Conley, met him in the hallway, and wasted no time."
On childhood amnesia, or why we don’t remember much before age seven.
Memories of an abusive father and a mother's ghost.
"One night, he didn’t come home, and we went to bed without dinner. After you’d fallen asleep, I went to the kitchen to make a peanut butter sandwich. I didn’t make you one. I came back into our room and ate quietly. When our mother’s ghost appeared near the foot of your bed, she startled me: I had never before seen the moment of her appearance, and now I did, the flash of it, quick and bright, like an eye opening. I dropped my sandwich on the floor."
A space station custodian reflects on her terrestrial past.
"She scrubs the fingerprints from the instrument panels, watches the lights flicker and dim. She wonders how many rags she’ll go through, how many surfaces have to get clean before she can finally empty herself of the past. She doesn’t know about metaphors but she knows that even the smallest human vessel has boundless storage for sorrow. Was there a right way to take in so much sorrow it burned clean through the lungs and heart? Was there a right way to atone?"
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."