relationships

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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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Sex, potential violence, and human awkardness convene on an isolated shore.

"A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun."

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A young woman struggles in the wake of her mother's disappearance in this Hugo-nominated work.

"After Mom left, I waited for my dad to get home from work. He didn't say anything when I told him about the coat. He stood in the light of the clock on the stove and rubbed his fingers together softly, almost like he was snapping but with no sound. Then he sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. I'd never seen him smoke in the house before. Mom's gonna lose it, I thought, and then I realized that no, my mom wasn't going to lose anything. We were the losers."

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A woman discovers artistic integrity during an ill-fated relationship.

"Melanie finally knew their relationship wasn’t going anywhere while in the contemporary art hall of the museum. Andy stopped every few feet and brought his hand to his mouth. She couldn’t look at him for more than a few seconds without getting irritated. It was like a performance piece. He exhaled through his fingers, rubbed his chin, and circled a pile of Styrofoam chunks. He circled counterclockwise."

James Yates is a contributing editor to Longform.org.

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A tale of identity in LA's television scene.

"Because he’s written television for as long as Shelly has known him, Jack drags her along on these nights, to watch staged readings of other writers’ scripts in the attic above the bar—a cramped, airless room they call the “Actor’s Den.” The television Jack makes rarely finds its way into peoples’ homes, but he makes it, one way or the other—even if he only guides it along its path to destruction like a doomsday chauffeur. The bar is wood paneled and velvety like the inside of a jewelry box. The owner drinks ancient scotch out of a miniature crystal glass and pulls constantly at his handlebar mustache, a collector of old timey things. When they arrive, he tells Jack about the two screenplays he’s writing: one comedy, one horror."

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Young people consider changes to their personalities, and to their relationships.

"When I moved from Kansai to Tokyo to start college, I spent the whole bullet-train ride mentally reviewing my eighteen years and realized that almost everything that had happened to me was pretty embarrassing. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t want to remember any of it—it was so pathetic. The more I thought about my life up to then, the more I hated myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a few good memories—I did. A handful of happy experiences. But, if you added them up, the shameful, painful memories far outnumbered the others. When I thought of how I’d been living, how I’d been approaching life, it was all so trite, so miserably pointless. Unimaginative middle-class rubbish, and I wanted to gather it all up and stuff it away in some drawer. Or else light it on fire and watch it go up in smoke (though what kind of smoke it would emit I had no idea). Anyway, I wanted to get rid of it all and start a new life in Tokyo as a brand-new person. Jettisoning Kansai dialect was a practical (as well as symbolic) method of accomplishing this. Because, in the final analysis, the language we speak constitutes who we are as people. At least that’s the way it seemed to me at eighteen."

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A young hopeful competes in an international air guitar competition.

"Aki nods sheepishly, says thank you. The American is last year’s champion. He was interviewed on the BBC and does Dr. Pepper commercials now on American television. 'Air Jesus'they call him. He slurps from a can of Sandels Finnish beer. There are contestants from twenty different countries, and each has a nickname. Aki—the Greek—goes by 'Air-istotle.' There’s the Belgian, Hans 'Van Dammage' Van Deer Meer and the Argentinian, Santiago 'Buenos Air-ace' Carrizo. Hirotaka 'Electric Ninja' Kinugasa is representing Japan."

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Tensions eat away at a relationship between a musician and his girlfriend.

"Something in her cadence caught my attention. What if…? I imagined the bass line with a new syncopation, a little shift in the rhythm that might liven the song. I ran the part in my head, but I wanted the instrument in my hands, to be certain. Somehow, Anna had wound up at the pier, although it would have been out of her way."

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Gossip embroils a set of small-town characters: a mayor, a priest, a doctor, and two widows. An excerpt from García Márquez's 1979 novel; featured on Longform Fiction, October 2013.

"Together they went to a vacant lot behind the movie theater, where they’d begun to raise the tent. Taciturn-looking men and women were taking cloths and bright colors out of the enormous trucks plated with fancy tinwork. As he followed the impresario through the crush of human beings and odds and ends, shaking everybody’s hand, the mayor felt as if he were in the midst of a shipwreck."

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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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In deep space, a physicist tries to cope with his isolation.

"He read several classic novels and philosophical texts to pass the next few days and exercised on the stringy, wiry contraption collapsed into one wall. The long hibernation had melted the muscle from him and congealed the quick currents of his mind, but he had to be alert, intelligent, and at his peak physical condition when he arrived. He was supposed to be disciplined. He was not supposed to replay his wife’s voice over and over, with longing and anxiousness. So he selected his parents’ recordings."

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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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A thirty-year-old Brooklynite on the cusp of supernatural adventure struggles with the strangeness of everyday life.

"Just a week ago he was on the subway, sitting across from a woman with a tiny dog in her purse, and as he watched her tickle the little goatish beard under its chin he made the mistake of beginning to think about the very existence of dogs in general. People have pets. He repeated it. People have pets. It began to become odd; the very concept of pet began to slide out of his grasp. How did it get to the point where we began to keep animals as, like, accessories? He spent pretty much the rest of the ride staring at the dog, thinking basically: Holy shit, human beings, the shit they come up with. When he got back to his apartment he looked up Dog in Wikipedia and lost the rest of the day. By midnight, he had somehow drifted to looking at videos of fighting Madagascar cockroaches, actually developing opinions on the cockroach-fight-video genre, cold, alone, uncertain as to what exactly had happened."

Jeremy P. Bushnell is a contributing editor to Longform.org.

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In a Haitian tent city, a referee prepares for a soccer game.

"Almost unconsciously, I began gathering various items from the tent: my official registration card, a couple of Fox whistles, two pairs of black socks, a black undershirt, an armband, two flags, my kangaroo-leather turf shoes, and then three different jerseys that I had so painstakingly preserved. I stuffed all of this into an Agency sack, which I normally used for collecting my ration of nourimil cereal."

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An accelerated overview of a couple's life together.

"They are in his small room drinking wine. Her eyes are lovely. The boy is talking. He is being bitter about something. Eventually it becomes clear. It’s the world. He is being bitter about the world. He chain-smokes and drinks a lot of wine."

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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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A disillusioned actress, retiring from show business, moves to the Midwest.

"And so she left Hollywood. Phoned her agent and apologized. Went home to Chicago, rented a room by the week at the Days Inn, drank sherry, and grew a little plump. She let her life get dull—dull, but with Hostess cakes. There were moments bristling with deadness, when she looked out at her life and went 'What?' Or worse, feeling interrupted and tired, 'Wha--?' It had taken on the shape of a terrible mistake. She hadn't been given the proper tools to make a real life with, she decided, that was it. She'd been given a can of gravy and a hairbrush and told, "There you go." She'd stood there for years, blinking and befuddled, brushing the can with the brush.

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Damaged people thrash about in doomed relationships.

"I told her I had been well into my central twenties before it dawned on me that to 'sleep with' someone didn’t simply mean to take a companion for your horizontal hours and thereby get sleep domed over you so much the higher than it would if you went home to bed alone. I had thought that was how you gave greater compass, greater volume, to your dreams."

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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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Gossip embroils a set of small-town characters: a mayor, a priest, a doctor, and two widows. An excerpt from García Márquez's 1979 novel.

"Together they went to a vacant lot behind the movie theater, where they’d begun to raise the tent. Taciturn-looking men and women were taking cloths and bright colors out of the enormous trucks plated with fancy tinwork. As he followed the impresario through the crush of human beings and odds and ends, shaking everybody’s hand, the mayor felt as if he were in the midst of a shipwreck."

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After a breakup, a man begins to transform his apartment into a retro arcade.

"I ask him what he plans to do with the games. Is he going to start an arcade? Is he going to fix them and sell them? Matt shrugs and tells me it’s just a hobby now. It’s good that you’ve distracted yourself from Sarah, I tell him, and he says yeah, he’s enjoying his abdication—abdication, as if he’s resigning from the presidency or something. He says it makes him feel like a kid again and I nod. Video games will do that. Nostalgia. But Matt shakes his head, like I’m not understanding him."

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Workers and diners in a British cafe experience a small act of weather-related magic.

"None of the others notice Tommy pull up a chair and seat himself next to the counter, his eyes level with the cup. The furious churn of the storm grips him. He hears a hurried tinkling as tiny fists of hail sugar the bottom of the cup. For the first time in years he does not think of Alice. The storm’s rumble elongates, thunder and lightening overlapping. A tinny crescendo rattles inside the ceramic shelter of the cup."

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Two malcontents engage in a phone romance.

"We talked for a long time, more than an hour, until I got sleepy, so I started to fall asleep with her on the phone. The next night, around the same time, she called me again. I was really happy she did that. We had a nice conversation. She told me this story, how she used to prank call a math teacher of hers in junior high. She did it so much, she figured out how to reprogram his outgoing message, using his two-digit remote-access code. She redid his outgoing greetings, said things that were explicitly sexual. Her teacher didn’t understand technology or remote-access codes. He assumed someone was breaking into his house each day to rerecord his message. It filled him with fear and paranoia. He bought a dog. He had an alarm installed and got a prescription for sleeping pills. It was a long time—nearly a year—­before the police identified Koko and got to the bottom of the mystery. "

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A woman encounters a strange pair of missionaries.

"'Are you suffering some anguish?' the man asked abruptly. When I heard this, I realized that he was probably a member of some sort of cult. Proselytizers from these groups often pick days when the weather is bad, and they often bring children with them—which never fails to throw me. Still, there was something about these two that felt different from those I had encountered before. In fact, there was something that set them apart from anyone else who had ever come to my door."

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A woman grapples with the abundance of her accumulated "content"—data, ideas, memories.

"What she wants to discover is a framework for her content, where it will be contained and even put to a good use so that she does not feel she has more than she can manage. There are the lyrics of songs—usually only the chorus—that repeat when she is awake and when she is asleep, occurring in her dreams to different melodies, yet still filling her head with their words. There are actual objects that fill the place where she lives: tables, chairs, the rind of a grapefruit, many plastic bags, dishes with food congealed to their surfaces. There are surfaces, and there are memories of surfaces—the glittering one of the pond where she swam with a man she no longer sees."

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A relationship is explored via memories and lists; a mental breakdown ensues.

"I thought the standard things like dates and flowers could keep us normal. But it was the subtle derision in your smile that made me want to smother you in your sleep after I said things like: It aches sometimes—how life seems so long. You thought therapy could keep us sane so you made it an ultimatum and flushed my Seroquel down the toilet."

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Leo Gursky, author and former locksmith, reflects on mortality and the past.

"When they were ten, he asked her to marry him. When they were eleven, he kissed her for the first time. When they were thirteen, they got into a fight and for three terrible weeks they didn’t talk. When they were fifteen, she showed him the scar on her left breast. Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised her he would never love another girl as long as he lived. 'What if I die?' she asked. 'Even then,' he said. For her sixteenth birthday, he gave her a Polish-English dictionary and together they studied the words. 'What’s this?' he’d ask, tracing his index finger around her ankle, and she’d look it up. 'And this?' he’d ask, kissing her elbow. ''Elbow'! What kind of word is that?' And then he’d lick it, making her giggle. When they were seventeen, they made love for the first time, on a bed of straw in a shed. Later—when things had happened that they never could have imagined—she wrote him a letter that said, 'When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?'"

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Interlocking narratives of relationships and a potential murder.

"Metal ran in an extensive and intricate network in streams across the countryside and densely through the city. Metal channeled the blood, and metal screws held Sarah’s glasses together as she left the parking lot and exited Le Roy onto the freeway. She felt sad to have missed a chance to get involved with a crazed dangerous person like Mike. Had he really committed a murder before she picked him up? She thought about the geese and drove home."

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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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An ornithologist and a cellist converse desperately while trapped in a crashing plane.

Somewhere over the Bay of Fundy the cabin lights began to flicker. The video monitors went dead (they’d been showing a map of the Atlantic, with our speed, altitude, and outside temperature). The cellist looked up for a moment, her lips still moving with the sheet music. Then the cabin fell entirely dark, and a strange silvery light poured into the plane through each oval portal and lathed the aisles in a luminous, oddly peaceful glow.

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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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A woman's ex-lover moves into her duplex apartment.

"I wanted to be with Mitch again the way we were after college, with that safety of the late-night sex call, the backup-plan date who was not really a date to parties filled with couples. But I did not have the courage to tell him that I wanted to pick up where we had left off before he married Janet any more than I could have told him I had loved him all those years ago. By the time he was free again (and moving into the duplex I owned), I had learned to seal off my heart from his casual, unofficial kind of love."

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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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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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A woman views a breakup through the lens of a condition.

"She would be asked to do interviews with local news channels and it would become known that she was crying because of her virus. There would be marathons and benefits for finding the cure to the unlovable virus, which she would become a spokeswoman for, and many other people would speak out about being UNL-positive. There would be ribbons on cars. There would be t-shirts. There would be pins. There would be a lot of people, everywhere, saying to their friends, 'I’m sorry you’re unlovable and that I can’t love you in the way you want, the way that would cure you.'"

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A woman enters a casual relationship with a butcher.

"He was lazy about it. He told me he couldn’t that night but could he give me a call? It was two weeks and one — almost two — skipped Five Dollar Fridays later that he called and demanded why I had not come in yet. I arrived at a quarter to nine. He grinned and dug his knife into pork liver. Then a plucked duck. I ate the spinach rolls he set out for me and watched him slice away. Finally I told him I was starving and he looked up from his bloodied counter and grinned some more. He put his meat in the giant freezer behind him, hung his apron and walked out to me. It was the first time, I realized, that I’d seen his legs. I could tell they were brawny behind his jeans. In fact he looked like a hockey player and I wished he did that instead of dismembering dead animals all day."

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A woman agrees to be a photographer for a couple of her adulterous friends; slightly NSFW.

"I walked around the room, taking shots of the empty bed. I took a shot of the clouds outside, and another of Bill and Marie. I snapped the pictures quickly and flung them across the floral comforter with what I felt was the boldness of a pornographer. I took a shot of those dolls. I waved the photograph in the air and watched the ghostly forms darken into a row of Raggedy Anns. They had black circles for eyes and red triangles for noses. Their mouths were thin, red slits. Smile lines ran from the corners of their mouths up to their cheeks."

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A man in a struggling relationship travels in Europe to find a cure for a serious medical condition.

"It was meant to be a romantic medical-tourist getaway, a young invalid and his lady friend sampling the experimental medicine of the Rhine. But they’d fought in France, and he’d come to Düsseldorf ahead of her. Now he waited not so hopefully, not so patiently—dragging himself between the hostel, the train station, and the Internet café, checking vainly for messages from Hayley—while seeking treatment at the clinic up on the hill."

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A young bartender attempts to make sense of where his life is going.

"A lot of people proclaim a need for independence, for space. And while I could attest to that, more than anything, I was a tiger dying amongst the sprawling jungle. I longed for a cage of my own. My apartment, a two bedroom overlooking the gentrification of Philadelphia, had a décor of my design. I picked out the furniture, including the Ikea futon I dubbed “death trap,” and gave every trinket and knick-knack their designated spots: high school diploma and Bachelor’s degree over my black computer desk, novelty shot-glasses along the top of my bookcase and various Buddha figurines, from flea markets in South Jersey, on my dresser and nightstands. And of course, my vinyl collection, a two hundred piece of my heart that took me to the dustiest, most allergenic music stores on the East Coast."

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Mysteries and complex memories envelop an unhappy suburban marriage.

"So Kendall started it, and once the ball of change got rolling, it gathered velocity. No going back. Things were starting to happen. One morning on the brick patio, Kendall was in sweats after finishing his workout. The look suited him: athletic but not excessively sweaty. In the distance, the heavy haze was like a scrim in front of the cityscape. It would mean a smog alert when they turned on the news. Behind him was the dry swimming pool, a long, inset coffin with a sturdy mesh cover that looked like a rectangular rug laid over the yard. She felt a recklessness bubbling up in her. He was her husband, yet not. Something about him coming home a stranger was cutting her loose, changing the plan."

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A writer and a spacefarer discuss time travel, the symmetry of the universe, and the conquest of America.

"Don't forget what I was in the middle of. I had to recount my adventures again, silently invoking Marco Polo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Italo Calvino, and the annals of geography. It turned out very well: they were all hanging on what I said, they were scared when they were supposed to be scared and they laughed when they were supposed to laugh."

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The writer, entering her thirties single and adrift, heads to San Francisco to spend time with Kink.com’s Princess Donna Dolore and attend a gangbang “where all the men were dressed as panda bears.”

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A man's partner disappears, leaving only a movie recommendation as a clue.

"The phrase 'vanishing life style' catches Jack's attention. He wonders if vanishing is a motif in the movie, a theme echoed in the love story between Costner and Bening, prompting the odd question: What if I were to vanish?"

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A series of mysterious, dangerous interactions in a Mexican bathhouse.

"In every public bath, there tends to be a fight from time to time. We never saw or heard any there. The clients, conditioned by some unknown mechanism, respected and obeyed every word of the orphan’s instructions. Also, to be fair, there weren’t very many people, and that’s something I’ll never be able to explain, since it was a clean place, relatively modern, with individual saunas for taking steam baths, bar service in the saunas, and, above all, cheap. There, in Sauna 10, I saw Laura naked for the first time, and all I could do was smile and touch her shoulder and say I didn’t know which valve to turn to make the steam come out."

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A series of linked fantasies, veering from the whimsical to the grave.

"If you sang unrequited love songs, I’d take you on tour. We'd go to Broadway. You'd stand onstage, talons digging into the floorboards. Audiences would weep at the melancholic beauty of your singing."

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A woman from the past emerges with an offer.

"She was tall with a long, elegant nose like a thoroughbred. What people look like isn't the same as what you remember. She had been coming out of a restaurant one time, down some steps long after lunch in a silk dress that clung around the hips and the wind pulled against her legs. The afternoons, he thought for a moment."

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A lesson from a spurned grammarian.

"With the aid of the comma, statements are united, points of view are broadened, and the complexities of reality are more accurately rendered. Here, on the other hand, are examples of less elegant sentences: You're just too difficult to love. ... I've met someone else."

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An evening of drinking and tensions culminates in the revelation of embarrassing childhood memories.

"'What’s in my Memory Palace?' she wondered. A driveway. One with a basketball hoop on a pole. Megan was 11 and playing with her new friends. They grinned at each other and approached her, tied her to the basketball pole with two jump ropes, attached rollerblades to her feet, and then drew penises on her face. Then they dressed her hair with shaving cream."

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What will you remember when it's all over?

"That night, like every night that year, long after dark had fallen, I climbed the tree at the top of the hill behind town hall. That night was different, though. When I'd almost made it to the top, instead of the bird with whom I'd been having an affair, I met a fellow border guard."

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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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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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A surreal, minimalist exploration of dating, longing, accidents, and keen observations.

"The next day Brandon woke up to the bright morning sun shining through his bedroom window. He walked to his couch and napped until lunch. After lunch Brandon looked for jobs on the Internet. He read: Financial Analyst, Portfolio Associate, Dental Receptionist, Detention Services Officer, Helicopter Repair. Just like the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that, etc., there were no listings for Ethnomusicologist."

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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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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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Illicit lovers disrupt the laws of physics.

"We neared the chandelier and I grasped the base of it, its sparkles and gems flying around my face but I held on, something to keep us still, and his motion lifted me to the ceiling, laid my back against it. With my arms over my head grabbing the light fixture, tangled in crystals and cords, it was like I was on the ground, both arms tied to a radiator, and we finished that way, almost like things were normal."

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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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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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A bag-maker takes on a medically unique client. From the new collection Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales.

"It was indeed a strange bag. The complicated shape of it was difficult to achieve. I had assembled nine different pieces of leather into an asymmetrical balloon with seven holes of varying size. The bottom of it was an oval, but the bag tapered toward an opening at the top that fastened with hooks."

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A poet takes a train journey in the company of her daughter—but not her husband. [Free registration required.]

"Once Peter had brought Greta's suitcase on board the train he seemed eager to get himself out of the way. But not to leave. He explained to her that he was just uneasy that the train would start to move. Once on the platform looking up at their window, he stood waving. Smiling, waving. His smile for their daughter, Katy, was wide open, sunny, without a doubt in the world, as if he believed that she would continue to be a marvel to him, and he to her, forever. The smile for his wife seemed hopeful and trusting, with some sort of determination about it. Something that could not easily be put into words and indeed might never be."

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On a mission to the moon, a female astronaut reflects on her mission and her family life.

"John left and I had Jonah and I felt like I had a hole in me like rocket man, starting between my legs and going right up inside me. I asked Houston if I could stop the special events and training and trajectory and thrust for a little while so I could see my children's special events and training and trajectory and thrust. Houston copied that and so I did. For a little while. But after a little while it felt like a long while. John came back and my children were good and my status was good but I felt the moon calling."

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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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Two B-movie directors compete for the talents of a reluctant actress.

"Real life—that's what I wanted to play, but my only roles were Bat-Winged Pygmy Queen, Werewolf Girl, Two-Headed Bride of Two-Headed Dracula, Squid Mother—all those monstrous girls that Checkers dreamed up just for me."

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A neighborhood, a building, and a woman's precarious existence at the periphery.

"No doubt there are those who will be critical of the narrow, essentially local scope of Fatou's interest in the Cambodian woman from the Embassy of Cambodia, but we, the people of Willesden, have some sympathy with her attitude. The fact is if we followed the history of every little country in this world—in its dramatic as well as its quiet times—we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures, like swimming. Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle. But how large should this circle be?"

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A late bloomer works up the nerve to interact with a woman in his building.

"On his way down in the elevator he was joined by a woman who looked familiar, and as he glanced at her sidelong he tried to recall where he might have seen her. Sensing that she was being looked at, however, she turned to Archie with an expression of covert hostility, her gaze lingering just long enough for Archie to notice that her eyes were greenish brown with corners that tapered upwards. He also noticed that although she was not small, exactly, there was an un-robust quality about her, what his mother might have called 'peaked.'"

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A lonely hotel waitress has a fling with a guest.

"Tonight, when the man hands over the tissue he asks Lori up to his room. He tells her he only wants to put his arms around her. Every time he sees her, he says, he longs to put his arms around her. Lori finishes her shift, counts and shares her tips, unties her apron and meets the man outside the bar. She wishes she didn't smell so much like hamburgers."

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A woman imagines herself to be in an inappropriate relationship with a young boy.

"In the store Del and Simon race to the drinking fountains, Simon gets a mouthful and gleeks it at my slacks, says Oh hey, pisspants, Del points and laughs. In the magazines they say men are sometimes cruel because they are testing your emotional boundaries, I want Del to know I am boundless, I am a universe, I grit out a smile and follow them to the toys, they arm themselves with swords and commence to stabbing me, Simon saying Lop off her tiddies, Simon saying I wish these blades were real, and I wish you were dying like old ladies are supposed to, Del chops me in half. A woman smiles at me, says Boys, I want to tell her Del is my man, tell her he is not a boy, but she is wearing a pink hairclip and a wooden necklace and this convinces me she would not understand."

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A man—one half of a costume reenacting a famous Times Square photograph—reflects upon love, loss, and using the bathroom.

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<p><blockquote>"I'm waiting in line for the only bathroom in this bar while my mother is dying somewhere. I don't know where. I have to piss really bad. An obese Cinderella is in front of me and a zombie with ample cleavage and a bloody throat is behind me. A man dressed as a hot dog in a bun comes out of the bathroom. No mustard, no sauerkraut. Cinderella takes the hot dog's place on the pot, the lock clicks behind her."</blockquote><p>
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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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A young couple approaches the task of caring for calves.

"Paul followed his dreams by becoming a soldier, and when he came home was sleepless and dreamless, folded himself into the envelope of space Lori had made for him in her bed, and one day decided he was going to buy a calf. He wanted something warm and gentle around. He said he would raise it and slaughter it when it was grown, but Lori did not believe this even at the very beginning."

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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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A jilted lover's revenge plan is upended by the actions of a blunt young woman.

"That wasn’t my plan. Until this girl elbowed her way into the paint and started talking trash, I’d been doing reconnaissance. I was looking for guys with Marlboro Man style denim jackets who looked like me. Pale. Unkempt. Like a base player in an indie rock band. Grace, my ex-girlfriend, had a weakness for men like this. Once she’d found a new edition, she’d give him this jacket that had belonged to her father. I’d never wanted to know the rationale behind this practice. Anyway, I’d thrown said jacket at her head upon catching her mid-coitus with a local barista. My present plan was to look for the jacket, kick the shit out of the barista wearing it and then steal her heart back. I thought it was a solid plan."

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A trio of addicts--a man, a woman, and a prostitute--venture into Las Vegas to find a dealer.

"At the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, we are swallowed by a cheery, comforting crowd of good mothers from Wisconsin and fathers from Minnesota, out as late as they ever have been. It is a sea of gaping purses. Flip-phones are holstered to belts, tucked under big bellies. Half-drunk gallon-sized tubes of ruby-red beverage crowd the trashcans and I have no qualms about picking one for myself and gulping it down. The liquid is warm and syrupy, but under it all there is the low burn of rum, a small relief. Deborah has powdered her nose and is eyeballing the frat boys on the periphery. Only Shelly is looking lost, still sweating around her underarms, her eyes bugging and the space under her chin, dipping up and down, swallowing nothing."

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A philanderer's last moments with two different women before moving away.

"And you kiss her full on the mouth on Sunday morning when you leave. She gives you a bag of organic apples from her fridge. Pacific Roses. She doesn’t cry. She kisses you again and afterwards, punches your arm. You pretend it hurts. You say okay. She says okay bye. You think about how pretty and small her hands are. That poem where the guy talks about how not even the rain has such small hands."

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Careers, relationships, infidelities, and anxiety envelop the friendship of two New York women.

"Ellen should have mentioned his kiss right at the time — the next day, or on their weekend upstate. But even thinking about it had felt disloyal, an insult to Abby’s judgment, looks, her soul. When Abby phoned, barely able to announce that Marcus had slept over, what else could Ellen say but that she was happy for her? If Ellen said something now, that, and her reasons for it, would upset Abby more than Ellen’s years of saying nothing, or Marcus’ long-ago — and always after drinking — indiscretion."

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Men working in penal servitude develop a fascination with a sixteen-year-old seamstress.

"Life was stuffy and tight in a stone box under a low heavy ceiling, coated in soot and cobweb. It was hard and sickening in thick walls, spotted in dirt and mold. We rose at 5:00 AM, unrested, and — dull, indifferent — by 6:00 we were making kringles from dough our comrades made while we slept. And all day at a table from morning to ten at night, shaping elastic dough and rocking to and fro so as to not go numb, while others kneaded flour with water. All day sadly purred boiling water in the pot where kringles cooked; on the stove the baker's shovel hit fast and angrily, flinging slippery boiled dough on hot brick. Morning to night wood burned in the oven and flared, reflecting red flame on the workshop wall, as if silently laughing at us."

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Memories of happiness and troubling behavior linger during a couple's vacation.

"He could hear nothing underwater but his breathing and the rise and fall of frothed waves. Sometimes Nora appeared in front of him or off to the side, but he couldn’t talk—only wave or point. She was beautiful, a streak of light in the water. He duck-dived and his breaths rumbled in the tube. He imagined the crew back on the boat. The whole trip he had noticed how people treated him differently, an Asian with a white wife in Australia, where they didn’t belong, even without knowing he had tried to choke her and she still refused to forgive him. The mask covered his nose and he breathed out of his mouth now like he did when he was trying to sleep."

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A businessman-cum-boxer struggles with the motives and attention of an unlikely mentor.

"We went from the weigh-in directly to the ring. We were introduced not only by name and by record but by salary, title, and time served with the company. I felt certain this was the wrong thing to do, but there was no one I could tell. Everyone was in the bag for Cory. The referee had his arm around him and was saying nice things about his father, comforting things. A woman in the front row had a sign that said 'A Good Employee Punches In' and, beneath it, a drawing of a boxing bell."

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A piece of shocking news and a terrible accident sends a husband on a chain reaction of consequence-laden impulses.

"Looking at the results, Dooley can’t be happy or relieved that Gracie has been spared a future of progressive hearing loss. The report says there’s a 99.9 percent chance that Toby Tidwell—when did he get tested?—is Gracie’s father. Dooley wants to go get fucking Toby Tidwell and string him up by the ankles. Bleed him like the pig he is. Toby Tidwell got busted up in a tank accident while practicing whatever people in the Army practice, so Dooley will have to wait till he gets out of Walter Reed to bust Toby up himself."

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Two ex-lovers meet another couple with physical and personal similarities; sexual and identity crises unfold.

"I’m asking too much. I am asking him to take two men he has something with, two men who are falling out of love with one another or have fallen out of love already, and to convince them both to have sex with him while I watch. It’s too much. But I won’t say that. And he doesn’t claim that in return. He seems resolved to make it happen. This will be the series of events, the course of action. The way people go to the shore to watch the tidal wave, why they stand and watch the zeppelin burn, or play the video of towers falling over and over. It’s just the kind of thing that people agree to in order to see where it leads.

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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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A father and son work the Chinese cattle markets in this story from the 2012 winner of the Nobel in Literature.

"People trusted him implicitly. If a transaction reached a stalemate, the parties would look at him to acknowledge that they wanted things settled. 'Let's quit arguing and hear what Luo Tong has to say!' 'All right, let's do that. Luo Tong, you be the judge!' With a cocky air, my father would walk around the animal twice, looking at neither the buyer nor the seller, then glance up into the sky and announce the gross weight and the amount of meat on the bone, followed by a price. He'd then wander off to smoke a cigarette."

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A small plane crashes into the Yucatan wilderness at the outset of this classic of 1970s-era feminist science fiction.

"But something is irritating me. The damn women haven't complained once, you understand. Not a peep, not a quaver, no personal manifestations whatever. They're like something out of a manual."

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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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A new story translation from a late Spanish master; a troubled music aficionado strikes up a tenuous relationship with a young woman.

"The square takes a while to fill. Below, where the slope ends with the book stands, records are also for sale. Everything is traded: singles, LPs, apartments and young girls who end up here who, like me, no one knows where they come from, looking like they haven’t eaten or slept all week, happy to have a bed to sleep in, wine to drink, and something to smoke if the budget allows or if they have a friend who comes and goes to Morocco."

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The winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize explores the disastrous, unexpected consequences of an unfaithful moment. Via John French.

"He knew Jody was rattling about the house. He knew—and he acknowledged this later—that she might at any moment blunder in. She did not like parties that involved open doors, and guests passing between the house and the garden. Strangers might come in, and wasps."

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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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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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A couple goes about their relationship while the world outside may or may not be descending into chaos.

"When the announcement was made, my first instinct was to hold my breath in case whatever it was had already been released into the air. 'What?' Victor asked, coming in and turning down the volume. I exhaled. 'Gas masks,' I said."

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Two shorts: 'Dear Creatures' examines a relationship and a chance observation; 'Imaginary Birds' examines place, potential creations, and identity.

"Some of you will leave, break through the walls to build more in someone else’s country, uninvited and entirely necessary. You will bring tablets to make the water drinkable, pieces of printed paper to explain your theories; scrawl pictures in the dust when words become too heavy in the mouth. You will wipe soot from leaves, soak oil from birds. You will weave shelters from torn branches with ends still weeping sap. You will build things up for others to break down."

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A young man explains the physical and psychological turmoils of his anatomical differences.

"Sorry, I keep forgetting you’ve seen my file. As I was saying. Even after I started dating, I still had to leave the gloves on. I’d tell a girl that my hands were covered in burn scars or that I had early onset arthritis. It was easier to lie to them, give them something they’ve heard of, something they could believe. Something they could deal with."

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A doctor and a rabbi try to find ways to understand the world, and God, and one another.

"The rabbi pulled out some books. She talked about Jacob wrestling the angel. She talked about Heschel and the kernel of wonder as a seedling that could grow into awe. She tugged at her braid and told a Hasidic story about how at the end of one's life, it is said that you will need to apologize to God for the ways you have not lived."

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An obstetrician (and abortionist) makes the decision to marry. An excerpt from Wa, the most recent novel from this year's Nobel Prize in Literature winner.

"Aunty said that in all her years as a medical provider, traveling up and down remote paths late at night, she'd never once felt afraid. But that night she was terror-stricken."

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A simple title; a complex, detailed look at the ebbs and flows of modern dating and instability.

"'I’ve never felt you act this way before,' said Michelle, unsteadily, looking down; something in her previously assured, or at least focused, was now tired and scared, the protest of it having dispersed to something negotiable or seizable. They stood not looking at each other as the rain fell on them in an idle, general insistence of somethingness. Paul felt himself trying to interpret the situation, as if there was a problem to be solved, but there wasn’t anything, or maybe there was but Paul was three or four skill sets away from comprehending it, like an amoeba trying to create a personal webpage using CSS."

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A dreamlike look at a person's lavish celebration with various figures from her life.

"They are all waiting by a picnic table in a park this person has driven past many times before. There they are, it's everyone. There are balloons taped to the benches, and the girl this person used to stand next to at the bus stop is waving a streamer. Everyone is smiling. For a moment this person is almost creeped out by the scene, but it would be so like this person to become depressed on the happiest day ever, and so this person bucks up and joins the crowd."

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A married man meets a married woman in a Russian seaside town.

"The stories told of the immorality in such places as Yalta are to a great extent untrue; he despised them, and knew that such stories were for the most part made up by persons who would themselves have been glad to sin if they had been able; but when the lady sat down at the next table three paces from him, he remembered these tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a romance with an unknown woman, whose name he did not know, suddenly took possession of him."

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A tale of romance gone wrong, from MacArthur Fellowship winner Junot Diaz's new collection This Is How You Lose Her.

"Alma is a Mason Gross student, one of those Sonic Youth, comic-book-reading alternatinas without whom you might never have lost your virginity. Grew up in Hoboken, part of the Latino community that got its heart burned out in the eighties, tenements turning to flame."

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A new teacher begins work at a TB hospital in rural Canada.

"The number of students who showed up varied. Fifteen, or down to half a dozen. Mornings only, from nine o'clock till noon. Children were kept away if their temperature had risen or if they were undergoing tests."

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Mannequin parts, violent sex, and a fight club for women. Not for the timid.

"A cou­ple months later, he comes over to my apart­ment in the mid­dle of the night because we've long aban­doned any pre­tense of a mutual inter­est in any­thing but dirty sex and he's hold­ing a fiber­glass baby arm, painted the color of flesh. "

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Welcome to your new workplace.

"Amanda Pierce, who tolerates Russell Nash, is in love with Albert Bosch, whose office is over there. Albert Bosch, who only dimly registers Amanda Pierce's existence, has eyes only for Ellie Tapper, who sits over there. Ellie Tapper, who hates Albert Bosch, would walk through fire for Curtis Lance. But Curtis Lance hates Ellie Tapper. Isn't the world a funny place? Not in the ha-ha sense, of course."

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An NYU student examines two different relationships: a friendship and a tense love affair.

"I blamed my need for Patrick’s adoration on our undergraduate rivalry. That and our occasional, unbalanced, raucous affair. It became a vendetta. Our disagreements occurred often enough to be not just memorable, but legendary, in both volume and scope. We waged verbal combat with ease, caring neither for our hewn down egos nor dismantled bonds. Other people can afford to be thoughtless; they’re ignorant of the gravity their speech holds. But linguists will devastate if only because we can do so with a well-placed term or phrase. Then it’s the silences that serve as our minions. They scrape at wounds old and new, where apologies dare not tread."

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If you could see the future, how would it change your relationships? What if your partner could see the future too? Winner of a 2012 Hugo for Best Novelette.

"I just can't see a happy future where I don't date Doug. I mean, I like Doug, I may even be in love with him already, but... we're going to break each other's hearts, and more than that: We’re maybe going to break each other's spirits. There's got to be a detour, a way to avoid this, but I just can’t see it right now."

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A prison camp, inhabited by dentist-philosophers, murderous baseball players, and other colorful figures.

"Shortstop: Evelyn Roak, surgeon, supplied human fragments to a delicatessen, and was undone by scandalous amputations."

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Metafictional entanglements and sexual violence in a lost 1970s novel from Stephen Dixon, published this year by experimental publishers Fugue State Press.

"When he was here two winters ago he wrote a short story about a writer who came to a similar village to get over a woman in New York who had stopped seeing him. In the story and real life she was an actress portraying an actress on a daytime television soap opera who was in love with a writer of soap operas who couldn't give up his wife for her. One night, in the story and real life, she told Paul she couldn't see him anymore as she was in love with and thinks she'll be marrying the actor who plays the writer on the show."

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Ten photographs serve as milestones in this romance with fantastical overtones.

"Vaughan captured pieces of the world—never as it was, but as it could have been, as it almost was. As it might actually be, if we just looked around the edges and noticed the magic."

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A couple's relationship, analyzed in standard and experimental shorts.

"A brown beard and sideburns thirty years ago; now bald on top and feathery white tufts above his ears. Thick-knuckled fingers wrapped in wrinkles; reddish palms, the same as the end of his nose and the rims of his eyes. Construction, a soda fountain, washing neighborhood cars, infantry, insurance adjustment, management, retirement. Brother, father, grandfather, husband. Tin Roof Sundae ice cream, creamed corn, cornbread. Breadwinner, collector of rare bottlecaps, once sled down a hill of grass. This morning imagined his death, falling from the wings of a bird to the green ground, splayed like a leaf, equal parts love and regret. "

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Sketches of a lonely woman's search for love and happiness.

"...three weeks later asking the redheaded dishwasher to drive her home and directing him to the spot she knew those girls went to, her lips aflame, when he pulled up sliding over, the stick shift digging into her hip, putting her mouth on his freckled neck, it smelled like mashed potatoes and industrial soap and sweat, her hand first on his thigh and then crabcrawling to his zipper, it was already hardening under there despite him saying, Hey hey, what, and Peggy Paula saying, Just, please, and the dishwasher quiet after that, letting Peggy Paula, letting her, following her into the backseat, holding her tight when it happened, saying I’m sorry and Peggy Paula saying Shh, stinging his shoulder with her lips and his back with her nails and feeling filled up and afraid and like her heart could kick the windows out."

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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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A woman makes a companion from spoiled soup in this weird tale from the "Queen of Russian horror," Anna Starobinets.

"I moved, but a week later I'd already started fretting. After all, I did have a responsibility. I was constantly wondering how it was getting on there without me. Completely alone. In the plastic bags."

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The author ("media inventor" Robin Sloan) describes this as a "short story about recession, attraction, and data visualization."

"That night, at the bookstore, I started working on the new visualization, thinking I could impress Kat with a prototype. I am really into the kind of girl you can impress with a prototype."

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A personal reflection on bird-watching and relationships.

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Scenes of a crumbling relationship between a black woman and a Jewish man.

"You know what I mean? I was nineteen and crazy back then. I'd met this Jewish guy with this really Jewish name: Gideon. He had hair like an Afro wig and a nervous smile that kept unfolding quickly, like origami. He was one of those white guys who had a thing for black women, but he'd apparently been too afraid to ask out anyone, until he met me."

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Experiments in making others feel good.

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Experimental surrealism; a mix of memories and strange evocations.

"A railcar arrives in the middle of desolation. A girl enters and sees a mangy rat pacing the floor inside. He approaches her and asks her for the latest news. 'There is no one left,' she sobs. After many days, she makes a nest for herself in the railcar. She adopts the mangy rat and begins to groom him with her fingers."

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An aimless man forms a connection with a one-armed woman.

"Our date ended on that uncomfortable accusatory note and I didn’t see Lenore again for quite some time. Occasionally I would have these little fantasies, daydreams involving Lenore and her metal pincher hand. She’d stare at me with those light eyes while we made love and that other rubber hand would lie on a table next to us, feeling left out of the action."

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A darkly comedic story about a fighting couple and an unexplained severed finger.

"'You mind shutting the hell up and helping me look for my finger?'I skim my good hand over the crusty red felt carpet. I pull myself off the ground, but standing adds a new dimension to the folds of my dizziness; I fall back against the bar, and Clive hoists me up with his elbow."

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In this curious world, a young couple find their lives filled with strange cats and a consuming video game.

"They did not stroll alone. When they left the apartment they’d see the marmalade perched beside a newspaper stand across the street or slinking in through the complex door as they walked out. Along with the cosmopolitan pigeons and robins, and the urban rats and mad squirrels, cats were stationed at odd intervals on their meandering route. One night an olive green and basalt cat sat perched on its haunches in the ruby umbrella of light cast by a low street lamp on Carmine St. Laura and Eric would swear that the same cat had sat as still as stone on the corner of Commerce St. and Cherry Lane the evening before. In a shadowed alcove on Bedford St. a giant tabby guarded a litter of three sable kittens, its marble eyes mirroring the random lights of the city night."

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Three women bribe a Red Cross driver for a ride to a battlefield to identify the lost men in their lives.

"They climbed into the back of the Red Cross truck, carrying small bags of lunch and the knickknacks they hoped to bury. The interior smelled of disinfectant, of cigarettes. The metal seats offered only the ache of ice. Underneath their unwashed winter coats, they wore clothing for the dead -- Carmen in Savic's favorite dress, the one he always begged her to wear without a bra, and now much too thin for this cold; Marina in jeans and a sweater, wearing her brother's skiing cap and a large cross around her neck, folding and unfolding her spotted hands; Gisele bundled up, zipped up, buttoned up with all the clothing she could wear, not a bit of wife showing."

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A man embarks on a troubled relationship with a psychic.

"She called it, so, fine, I gave her twenty bucks. But I forgot all her predictions, being the king of the drunken blackout. My brain tries its best to sweep up, and most times I do appreciate it. I had some residuals the next morning from her reading, mainly of outrage and disappointment at what she saw for me, but no specifics. It really wasn’t fair having her walk around the bar like that. Everyone was there to meet their future, and then she walks by, selling it. And then those of us who are ugly. And those of us that can’t dance. We’re gluttons for punishment: we’re desperate for good news."

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A couple's love leads to an oddly sweet collection of "mementos."

"She liked textures, how the hair on his chest and belly bunched between her fingers, the slow swirling of her palms and fingertips a steady growing arousal. Afterwards, her cheek on his matted chest, he rested his arm on her back, relaxed but secure. Then she dug in his navel."

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Personal histories and mysteries emerge when a woman stakes out the woman who may have cannibalized her boyfriend.

"Now she is hungry. I can tell by the way she moves. And her laughter isn´t real nor is that hair. It is a wig woven from the hair of all the men she has eaten. This has gone on for so long. I can tell. Her hair reaches her waist. Turning, she looks right at me, does not see me. Does not recognize the picture that must have been inside my lover's heart that she split open before boiling."

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Haunted by the abuse of her former cellmate, a prison inmate seeks companionship with an inflatable Cell Buddy.

"Keeping one eye on the cell door, Amanda opened the box and pulled out the folded plastic figure, gently removing the sealed packaging, complete with a two-part pump system she assembled after a few minutes of difficulty. (Amanda was pretty handy but sometimes struggled with instructions.) Now with her back to the tier, hiding the plastic figure from view, Amanda slowly pumped up her Cell Buddy until it was fully inflated. She then stood back, admiring her new friend."

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A divorce takes the same celebratory gestures as a wedding.

"Still, Susan and Michael enjoyed their last weeks of marriage and felt sad about the things they would miss, like half of their belongings. They set up a registry, two registries actually. Hers included a food processor, a flat-screen TV, and a Nintendo Wii because he would be keeping those things. His included high quality Tupperware, an ab roller, and an espresso maker because she would be keeping those."

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A woman walks on her ceiling, listening to a song written by her estranged lover.

"As she walked, looking up at her toes, or sometimes, as she stood, staring down at the room from a stillness because walking threw her aim off, she punctuated her morning diatribe with only the best or most awful parts of the song he dedicated her on the airwaves, and then, throwing a dart, down at the plate, would attempt to pop a balloon."

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A dying professor hosts a party for his students.

"The professor and his students arrived the evening of the party to find the house filled with peonies, flush with plates of sausages ringed by cucumber slices, and equipped with small kegs of beer. The students went around the room sniffing at the plates of sausages and at the flowers and fondling the kegs. One young woman began immediately eating cucumber slices."

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An astrophysicist's long walk to avoid distraction turns into a mysterious journey.

"One day Thackeray has to leave the house; he is overcome by a feeling that is not familiar to him seeing Maria’s legs, and he’s on the brink of discovering the mathematical secret of the universe, and he must think, by God, clearly now, women’s legs of all the absurd things, so he walks out the door and along the streets up to the college, across the millstream, losing himself in thought, out past the observatory and up an old mining trail and finally into the wilderness as the light among the great trees thins to dust."

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A woman shares memories of various communications, ranging from the innocent to the violent.

"Still, there were occasions on which I had to be stopped. When you think of two things to say, pick your favorite and only say that, my mother suggested once, as a tip to polite social behavior, and the rule was later modified to one in three. My father would come to my bedroom door each night to wish me happy dreams and I would speak without taking a breath, trying desperately to keep him in my room with only my voice. I would see his hand on the doorknob, the door beginning to swing shut. I have something to say! I’d tell him, and the door would stop midway."

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The histories of a corporate workshop leader and a conference attendee intertwine.

"In fact, Jim was taking a bigger risk than someone might have thought. He’d hidden his name tag when he asked his questions, but Lund could easily have recognized him without it. Lund was by no means a stranger, though Jim was by then pretty sure Lund had forgotten who he was. He and Lund went back a long way. At one point, in fact, they’d been pretty close. That was decades earlier, when they were both in school and working summers at a boys’ camp called Camp Fairweather, in another part of the country."

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A man enters an ill-fated relationship with his friend's ex-lover.

"They sat in a small, downstairs living-room with an upright piano against the wall and above the piano a portrait of her. She was wearing a dark green sweater in the picture and looking disinterestedly into her lap. The sweater had a broad neck, showing her prominent shoulder bones. She was wearing the same sweater that evening. That night they didn’t do anything but sit around and talk. There were some scores on the piano and Morgan wondered if she played. Her hair was fair and lustreless and drawn loosely back from her face. She smoked all of the time. He wondered what her relations with Sears were. She had evidently known him for a long time."

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A stoned woman's journey encompasses family memories and political and feminist activism.

"The caravan of images broke apart, dispersing into the motes that poured through the windshield of her Dart. Ruth took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. The tiny blood vessels felt huge. She did not know her sister anymore; they were separated by politics and by her marriage to Jack. Had she ever known Helene? Ruth put the saliva-soaked joint to her lips, aware now of the music coming over the radio. “All you need is love. Love is all you need.” She laughed, sapphires and rubies spilling from her mouth, and the sadness left for a moment."

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A nerve-wracking mountain drive and degrees of protection.

"He didn’t seem to mind. He drove fast, confident, and he had turned the music up on the radio, and it was the wrong music, loud and angry, the kind she thought was okay sometimes, maybe when they were drunk and at a bar, laughing and shouting their words.But not now. The music, the loudness, the speed of sound and movement, the fog, the loopy meandering, the mountains ready to move, she couldn’t handle it."

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A story about love letters and failed connections, from Adam Levin's new collection, Hot Pink.

"The way I heard it, this guy, Donald, who was pathologically shy, wrote the world’s greatest love letter—four lines long, a mere seventy words—to a girl called Janet, with whom he’d made slightly longer than average eye contact on at least three separate occasions. "

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Two companions strive to be the best—or the worst?

"I stole and later sold my ex’s clothes and books to a secondhand store."

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At a nursing home, a middle-aged woman deals with her scientifically modified body and memories of her past.

"For the past few months, nanobots have been rebuilding Elise’s degenerative neural structures, refortifying the cell production of her microglia in an experimental medical procedure. Now she sits in the Memory Lane Neurotherapy lounge, strapped into a magnetoencephalographic (MEG) scanner that looks like a 1950s beauty parlor hair-drying unit. As a young female therapist monitors a glowing map of Elise’s brain, a male spits streams of nonsense at her."

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Contemporary fabulist Kate Bernheimer spins a yarn about a girl, a husband, and a secret zoo.

"Each morning, before the husband comes to breakfast, the girl goes down the basement stairs to feed the pets. At sunrise animals must be fed. She remembers this from school."

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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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Two men, one recently abandoned by his wife and child, engage in mundane activities.

"I want to love but know I never will. Or is it that I want to be loved and know that that, too, I can prevent? Or must prevent? I can locate the object, it is in the method I fall down. Do not quite have the hang of it. This is a difficult idea to get your brain on, in the truck with Driggers, who is calmed into an earthly earthy mania. You could not hold the idea in your head that you did not quite get the hang of, say, eating."

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After the birth of his child, an unhappy man's mind wanders.

"Carl didn’t want to cut the cord. He had done it for the others and this, he felt, was more than his share. The other kids were tucked in and away for a few days at her sister’s spread in Winnetka, not far from his parents’ old farm. His own modest house off Cicero, just southwest of downtown, was enticingly empty tonight, all five windows to the street, three on top and two on each side of the red door, would be dark and oblivious to Carl, for example, in a big empty bed, or babies, or the half moon rising through the grit and glow of the city, outlining the tallest of its buildings. Keep it dark. He hoped to get home tonight and sleep some, in all that still and lonesome."

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A list of various lovers, presented with no judgement but a wealth of observation.

"I see on Max’s wrist a bracelet made of kelp. “Oh this?” Max says, and describes wading out into the Pacific, his stomach pressed against his board, anchoring himself by the wrist and diving, weaving through the kelp vines that sway deep below. There’s a whole world down there, he says, and I feel like he’s describing the dimensions of a home I’ve always imagined. He takes the bracelet from his wrist and ties it on mine. Anna walks between us after that."

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The author of History Lesson For Girls meditates inventively on the magnificent force of a big truck.

"You’re sitting at a red light, and there it is, all that power underneath you, all around you, jiggling your bangles, making it hard to light a cigarette, making you have to go to the bathroom, making the poetic stare hard to maintain as you listen for the illustrative comment—once you’ve been there, I’d say it’s like being present when a star is created, up way up where these things happen, these mysteries, these strong beautiful mysteries of destruction and creation."

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Not exactly Valentine's Day: an English professor in Chicago, lost in grief, begins dating a student.

"I can't even figure out what it is in Eric, why he sometimes reminds me of my old boyfriend. It's something in the way their faces shift, but I can never pin it down to a feeling or a cause. It surprises me right out of sleep."

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In the midst of unspoken emotions, a horseback riding trip goes terribly awry.

"And he was right, it did, but I kept on talking and soon I was telling him about the pain in my mouth and the back of my head and what Billy had done that day in the barn, and the ghosts I carry with me. Blood was coming out with the words and pieces of tooth, and I kept talking till I told him everything, but when I looked at his face I knew all I’d done was make the gap wider with the words I’d picked so carefully that he didn’t want to hear."

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A conversation about love in the form of excavation.

"I want to be unearthed again, she says, marvelled at, brushed delicately, cradled, magnified, examined, taxonomied, announced at symposiums."

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A couple's history, told through eleven moments in their erotic life.

"She throws her head back in a deep, genuine, womanly laughter, her eyes flashing, and where did the girl go, he wonders, and who is this?"

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A broken traffic light leads a driver to stay in a small town longer than he may have anticipated.

"You knew right then, before anyone else had figured it out, that he wasn't going to move until the light turned green. You don't know how you knew, but some things you just know."

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The present and future collide with the romance,collaboration, and tensions of two college classmates.

"Right now, the beanbag thunks into Scott’s left palm. His eyes still itch and he feels the grief he’ll feel again at the end of the semester. A ghost Scott moves to shut the dorm room door. If he closes the door, he and Tony will never meet. Tony will never learn how to hurt Scott in a way that only he can be hurt. Tony will never hurt him in a way that anyone can be hurt."

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The gift of a dog causes a woman to reflect on earlier dogs, and earlier relationships.

"'Ruff, ruff,' Rex had said, and she kissed him, then the puppy. That was days before and they were still trying to find a name that seemed to suit, one day calling the pup Beep, since, when he whined, he sounded like a car horn. "

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A woman reflects back on the end of her relationship with Sergei, a Ukranian.

"I was hugged and examined by Sergei's parents. I realized that I was being sized up for something, which was frightening, and that their response was that of instant, teary approval, which was far more frightening. With watery eyes and pinched lips they whispered 'precious' and called me 'gorgeous,' while the roundest of the official-types on stage began to sing."

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Nick Adams goes fishing with his girlfriend, Marjorie, in this story from Hemingway's groundbreaking first collection, In Our Time.

"They ate without talking, and watched the two rods and the fire-light in the water."

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A woman's relationship with a hipster artist, heavy with potential disasters.

"They'd been together nearly five months. She was still reading the signs, parsing his remarks for flickers of irony and enlightenment. Sometimes she gazed into deep springs--not that she really saw what was in there--sometimes a shallow, reflective pool. David liked to birdie-feed her in bed, kissing her tenderly and spitting chewed-up food into her mouth. It made her feel exquisitely delicate and dependent, endearingly vulnerable."

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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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From Lutz's new collection, Divorcer: a man mourns his deceased wife in an unorthodox fashion.

"Death didn’t have any of the detergent effect I thought I had been led to expect. Things that had looked violently dirtied before looked even dirtier now, and there was a marital malodor to our place, but make no mistake: we had been lovers, my wife and I, meaning mostly that we had coated things and people with love, had used our love to cover things up, to see to it that layer after layer got put over everything."

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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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Dancing in the office, after hours, leads to a fragile romance.

"It is too lovely to be a joke, though, and you both know it. The two of you are as clumsy as costumed animals on stilts, but in the most charming way ever. The office lights know it is the best thing they will see sitting up there and blink sadly in approval."

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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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A university student-worker distantly observes her surroundings and relationships.

"She tolerates the students she works with because they are mostly scholarship kids. Many of them grew up in neighboring towns and can only attend this University if they work. They live on Ramen noodles and tap water and their shirts are stiff and rough from being hand-washed in the sink."

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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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A guy just out of prison drops in at a party, with zombies on his mind.

"It turned out that everyone in the prison had a zombie contingency plan, once you asked them, just like everyone in prison had a prison escape plan, only nobody talked about those. Soap tried not to dwell on escape plans, although sometimes he dreamed that he was escaping. Then the zombies would show up. They always showed up in his escape dreams. You could escape prison, but you couldn’t escape zombies."

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The new owner of the Twin Forks Store and Campground encounters some trouble.

"The sheriff had said, 'You probably should've shot him while you could do it legal and get it over with. He might be back for you, or you might not ever see him again, who knows with meth heads. But you surely will want to be ready if ever he does come around for you, and that could be at any time from now on.'"

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Gaitskill's first published short story, in which a young female street merchant endures an unwanted proposition.

"Susan has been waiting for something better than this for years now. She hasn't a clue as to what this better destiny might be, although she can picture herself writing caustic bestsellers, or hosting talk shows, or something, you know. But this will have to happen later because now she has this stuff to sell. "

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From Winesburg, Ohio, this classic short stands as a model of character description and authorial empathy.

"The story of Wing Biddlebaum's hands is worth a book in itself. Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in obscure men. It is a job for a poet."

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Brian Mihok, the editor of the experimental journal matchbook, examines beauty, monuments, memory, time, and warehouses.

"This is a café, she said. But everything in this café was made in a warehouse. Even me, she said. You were made? Taiga said. I was born in a hospital, but the hospital was a warehouse."

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A woman hooks up with her ex-boyfriend.

"Denis' fiancé was in Panama City with her girlfriends, in celebration of her upcoming nuptials, while the two of us were in his bed, landlocked and naked."

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Charles Morton Luger unexpectedly becomes Jewish.

"When they sat down to dinner, Charles stared at his plate. Half an hour Jewish and already he felt obliged. He knew there were dietary laws, milk and meat forbidden to touch, but he didn't know if chicken was considered meat and didn't dare ask Sue and chance a confrontation -- not until he'd formulated a plan."


In three parts: 1 | 2 | 3

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Nearly four years later, I sometimes type his email address in the search box in my Gmail. Hundreds of results pop up, and I’ll pick a few at random to read. The ease of our everyday interactions is what kills me.

Remembering a relationship through IM.

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A boy falls in love with a Barbie doll. A little NSFW.

" I did something Barbie almost didn't forgive me for. I did something which not only shattered the moment, but nearly wrecked the possibility of us having a future together. In the hallway between the stairs and Jennifer's room, I popped Barbie's head into my mouth, like lion and tamer, God and Godzilla."

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A man, a woman, and a child negotiate their uneasy triangle in the days and weeks following 9/11.

"His briefcase sat beside the table like something yanked out of a landfill. He said there was a shirt coming down out of the sky."

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A couple's late night conversation reveals much in its sparse dialogue.

" I could tell she was tired now, she was talking with her face on the pillow and her speech was slurred a little. 'And when you get back with the bottle and after you see your friend we could talk for a while and maybe sleep together.'She was quiet for a long time. Finally she said: 'I'm going with him.'"

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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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A man's crumbling life is explored through his precise medical afflictions and liquid consumption.

"“This is a little bit of shit luck that you’ll certainly shake,” his father had sighed sympathetically into the phone. “You know, when you step in shit, sometimes you just got to leave that shoe outside for a while, but eventually, it airs itself out.” It was an awkward attempt to imbue some wisdom on his son, but Fredrick wasn’t exactly sure what he meant."

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An ailing massage therapist views life and interpersonal connections with philosophical musings.

" Again my eyes get the waves, white water foam at the edges, rolling toward the center, blurring my vision. It feels like someone ripping off the film of my eye, Doc. Like someone's pulling the lid off my eye if my eye were a pudding. Cold plastic chair. A bright light. He looks disconcerted and leaves the room and is gone for awhile and then comes back in."

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Desire and frustration. From Tillman's recent collection Someday This Will Be Funny

"Her imagination was her best feature. It embellished her visible parts, and altogether they concocted longing in Rex. She could see it; she could have him. She couldn’t have her analyst. "

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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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An American ESL teacher faces a potential crime investigation, mirrored by a crumbling relationship.

" The absurdity strikes him again – Jude the Midwestern philosophy major, worrying about a Thai jail sentence for counterfeiting – and he bites back a smile. He lives too much in his head, he knows, blowing up hypotheses and imaginings. The bills read ‘legal tender’; surely they are."

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Pleasure, pain, and electricity from the author of Daddy's (Featherproof Books). Explicit.

"After I cleaned myself up, I went to the fence. I went again just before Tim came home. He thought I was out there to greet him, and I let him believe it."

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A boy ("the kid"), a man, a girl, a dog, a a bag of drugs, and the Buddha.

"The kid didn't laugh, because he never fake-laughed. The girl laughed because she was nervous. There was an uneasy space where the kid was not laughing. "

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Musician Jordaan Mason's eerie, formally experimental story about a love triangle.

"The difference between him and her was parts of the body represented through skin as organs which were not the same organs. "

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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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A sweet, curious anti-story, from Zacharia's collection Now Playing.

"See, you ask me what's going on, and I know you mean, tell me something good, but not much is going on."

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An office misunderstanding.

"A guy in a suit, I don't know him, walks by my cubicle holding one of the paper plates, his mouth full, chewing his last bite, folds the plate around his napkin and fork and cake crumbs, leans into my cubicle, reaches around a corner and stuffs the plate in my garbage can. No look, no excuse me, no nothing."

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A minimalist exchange set inside a volcano.

"There is nothing to do but drink beers and stare up into the black and so that is what we do. "

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Envy and failure in the 1970s literary scene.

"There is a kind of minor writer who is found in a room of the library signing his novel. His index finger is the color of tea, his smile filled with bad teeth. He knows literature, however. His sad bones are made of it."

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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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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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A visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Olinka and Drazen are artists, and after some time passed, they did what artists often do: they put their feelings on display. They became investigators into the plane wreck of love, bagging and tagging individual pieces of evidence. Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul, showing the concept to the world. Everywhere they went, from Bloomington to Belgrade, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: “The Silver Watch” with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said, “I love you.” The wood-handled “Ex Axe” that a woman used to chop her cheating lover’s furniture into tiny bits. Trinkets that had meaning to only two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience that seemed to recognize the same heartache all too well.

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Poe's "The Raven," reimagined

" That's right, buddy, the crow is talking. Pinch yourself; it isn't a dream. The crow is talking. Feed me meat."

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Aftermath of a hookup, told in the form of an interactive fiction game.

"It is possible that you did not sleep with her, but here she is, next to you, wearing your clothes. She also has your socks, a pristine new pair of tube socks, on her hands. That was probably enormously funny at the time. Some other time. Not at all funny now, what with you being naked. There are closed doors to the EAST and NORTH."

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On why the Anthony Weiner story makes people more uncomfortable than simple cheating, the shifting meaning of faithfulness in marriage, and the relationship ideals espoused by Dan Savage:

In Savage Love, his weekly column, he inveighs against the American obsession with strict fidelity. In its place he proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.

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She is an unknown struggling writer. Her boyfriend is Jonathan Franzen.

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On existing as a girl in the boy’s club that is the world.

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What the great romantic novels of history can tell us about “seduction theory” and the cult of the pickup artist.