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."
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."
An excerpt from Luna's as-of-now unpublished novel: a look at discontentment in Portland.
"I wasn't sleeping well, is the thing. I would go to bed at midnight where Tom was nearly always already asleep, and I'd lie awake until one or so when I'd finally fall asleep, only to wake up at 5 a.m.—always five am, like a bell clanging—seized with some unnamed panic. Panic gripping my throat, tightening my chest. Like waking up mid-heart attack morning after morning. I would get up, pull on my clothes, get out. Our apartment got so small and close like that, the walls closing in on me and I would need to get out. Just to breathe, to settle myself down some. Miles I would walk, winding my way past rain-faded hulking warehouses and auto shops and lumber yards and then I'd push past them, just me and the trucks and the highway sounds and the river."
A flight attendant's love affair.
"Only now, in filling up the legal yellow pads with her memories of Will bent over his maps and her black panties drying on the towel rack and those broken glasses and the plane roar that wakes her up at night, does he seem more lost then her. She wasn’t a bird, not a bit like one. Birds were sharp, had metal in their brains which told north and south apart."
A woman's sexual, educational, and career developments; NSFW.
"She spent many an hour in the presence of those adult models during various parties. Gin and tonic in hand to ward off the bong and tabs of Ecstasy and acid, she sat in a side chair listening to indie rock bands (Morphine was a favorite) or death metal as the mood struck surrounding male minds, and she studied the women. The pictorials always ended with the women’s legs spread or mouths wide open with questing tongues, although faces were not a necessity in certain periodicals. In the spread-leg scenario, the women used long, pointed acrylic fingernails, usually painted a harsh red or cotton-candy pink, to open themselves for optimal viewing. The effect, to Susannah’s eye, was that of a newborn marsupial ripped from the pouch and pinned for display like a reluctant specimen in a Victorian curiosity cabinet."
A group of female lovers take on a singular identity.
"We live in the most coveted spot on campus: the first in a row of bungalows at the top of a wooded hill. The yard is pine needles and dirt. The walls are red brick and thick like Collins’ skull. Between us, we’ve read Wuthering Heights 23 times. But we are sure Collins lied about her number. Watching Veronica Mars with sub-titles is the most reading we’ve ever seen her do."
Parents, children, and complications convene at a vacation home; an excerpt from Fierro's debut novel, out this week.
"Michael pulled her into his lap, and she stayed, even though it made her feel small, and these were surely not people who appreciated PDAs. Tiffany had learned quickly that the urban sophisticates admired subtlety over all else. Anything loud, lewd, or lascivious should be filtered through irony or irreverence."
A series of one-sided international love letters.
"I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out 'Oui', bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door."
Two friends find solace in sexual escapades while struggling with their own fragile connection.
"The four of us ended up in the bathroom—Darlene and Viktor in the claw foot, me and Illia in the shower. I tried to tell my guy he had the same first name as a favourite figure skater, but language was restricted to bodies only. Still wet, the Russians left scrambling to the airport. Dar and I woke hours later, a tangled two, and walked out of my bedroom to a small balcony that overlooked a maze of alleyway garages. We recounted the day and the night before, before she left."
A bartender contemplates architecture, gender identity, and sadomasochism.
"But Penthouse 808Ravel has promise. Shag carpet. Doors that shut heavily. Porridge doors thicker than mush. I have sexual feelings about Penthouse 808Ravel. Ligature feelings. Relational feelings, knots, bandages."
A woman struggles in the wake of her infidelity.
"Sherry hadn’t known anyone at the party. It was outdoors in someone’s back yard. She had a lot to drink, and pretty soon people and trees were practically indistinguishable. The boy had talked to her. Everybody at the party went to a school different from hers. She wore an ecru smock with an apple embroidered on the pocket, and was very pleased with the way her hair looked. Until the boy started talking to her, she felt exceedingly awkward. They drove to a park in her car, where the only witnesses to the uncomfortable and meaningless sex were medlars and lindens and Japanese maples."
On the “queer roots” of Disco, House, and beyond.
The evolution and deterioration of a marriage, told through interactions on/around a piece of furniture.
"Often, at the breakfast table, he reads a magazine from one of his many subscriptions. After a long article, he’ll lean across the table and open the window. Whenever this happens, it’s best if the blinds are unbound, so that the wind, clueless of human grief as it is, may work its way through their lofty protection. And often, when this happens, he’ll look out the window and think of himself as another person. Often, he’ll be walking beneath an umbrella in a foreign country, down some unrecognizable street, one which he can’t identify; or he’s standing on the stern of a fishing boat, one just recently bound by a rope, dark and wet from the sea, to an ancient dock in the Mediterranean, his body slowly rocking, coursing, in a semi-circle of moonlight, calming him to the point that he even forgets what he’s forgotten, and it’s all real, and actually moving, alive within the maternal ebb of the ocean; or he’s in another home, a shack in a forest, and never knew his own life: his job or wardrobe or wife, as he lies back in a cold, twin-sized bed, which keeps only himself, and the darkness, and the quiet; or he’s just a ghost, dancing in the hallways of his home as his wife stumbles through, drunk and mourning, with his absence everywhere, and then counting the strands of her hair as she does her single load of laundry for the week, consisting of only her nightgown, the jogging pants and old t-shirt of his that she relaxes in while spending her evenings at home, her seven pairs of flesh-toned underwear, and work uniform, for the job she had to find after his passing in order to both support and occupy herself—all the while at the breakfast table."
A husband's death; a long, complicated friendship.
"You'd take your anger at his passivity out to the porch, along with an old cigar (the closest thing you can find in the house to a cigarette) and your cell phone. Call your best friend Madeline. Make small talk. Get to the point. Tell her about the fight. Tell her everything—but don't tell her too much. Feel reassured by her certainty:'We're all polyamorous.'Remember she's single, and then hold her in secret disdain for shattering your fairy tales of soul mates and true love with her psychology books and her thesis theory."
A young man's story of sexual yearning and a looming military obligation; slightly NSFW.
"And there was nothing I could do about it. I mean, I couldn’t say anything bad about Betty. She was my very best, and only, hope of leaving the ranks of the aging virgins before I joined the ranks of the Air Force."
A story about growing up and sexual identity.
"They have contests, about everything — cough syrup as a substance to abuse, swearing accidentally in class, having sex in the parking lot with their girlfriends during passing periods (the record seventeen times in Matt Haney’s truck) — their lives a haze of baby Tylenol, whip cream cans, Ray Bans, pot, beer, Smirnoff ice, Mom’s Vicodin — everything at the ready in the glove compartment."
The unfolding of a fling between an employee and a club owner.
"There are two more bus trips and hotel rooms. Each trip goes pretty much the same. Each morning you wake up alone and he’s at the casinos, and he never picks up his cell phone and it all makes you feel so helpless and pale and when you ride back to the city there’s never anything to say. Spring is coming, and coat check season will be over soon."
A clash of culture, sex, and need between an English wife and her Greek husband.
"On this day Mary goes home excited and restless and sits in front of her looking glass and examines herself. She often does this. She is plump, pretty, with ruddy cheeks, black curls, and a lot of well-placed dimples, and Dmitri calls her his little blackberry. But she has gray eyes, and he says that if it weren’t for those cool English eyes he could believe she has Greek blood. His black eyes easily smolder, or burn, or reproach. Mary leans her forearms among the little bottles of scent, the lipsticks, the eye paint, and tries out expressions. She puts a long unsmiling unblinking stare on her face and frightens herself with it."
A father and daughter face complicated sexual dynamics; NSFW.
"Back home, he is watching Formula One on television and bingeing on my mother’s homemade apricot sorbet. Ayrton Senna is on pole position. I’m going through a L.L. Bean catalog, seated right next to him on the couch, turned sideways toward him, knees to my chest so that when I wriggle my toes, I can almost feel the rough fabric of his pants. His eyes are riveted on the screen. He leans forward to place the empty bowl ice cream bowl on the coffee table. The moment he sinks back into his seat, I jump on his lap knees first, like a puppy on its master, wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him on the mouth. He pushes me away. I lose my balance and fall from the sofa to the floor, bumping my head against the solid wood coffee table. The fake silver spoon trembles inside the empty bowl, a lingering echo mocking my collapse."
A young assistant causes strain and conflict between a writer and a painter.
"We took her with us when we went out. It was startling when a waitress at the Forest Diner mistook Evvie for our daughter. I had just turned 38 that fall, and Colin was 46. We were both on our second marriages, and had both agreed that children would get in the way of our art. Colin was old enough for a 22-year-old daughter—I certainly wasn’t. It was something like having a child, though, without the trouble of rearing one. Evvie was devoted to Colin. If she’d been more attractive, I might have felt threatened, but I didn’t. She was almost a daughter, in those early months."
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. "
A young woman engages in various misguided religious devotions.
"She reaches out and takes one of his hands, lifts it to her mouth as if to taste his blood, but he pulls it away and takes her hands—both of them—in his own. Because he is Christ, she lets him. He kisses her palms, each of them in turn, and then once more, lingering over the taste of salt; of something like stone, like metal; of roses from the tomb of the saint; and the taste, he swears, of hunger.
A woman's plan to seduce a Native American; Part Two.
"The inches fell apart, her face moved toward his, and he was gentle. He kissed too softly, with more wetness than she usually liked, but it wasn’t unpleasant. She pressed her hips toward him; he didn’t press back. He pulled her hand to wrap around his waist and made her meet him. Geronimo kissed her again, and she touched the braid, a thrill rushing through her spine, finally."
A college student's plan to seduce a Native American; part one of two.
"His eyebrows twitched. Tammy looked at him, the boy with the darkest skin in the crowd, so brown-red-russet it revved her courage and made her think of beautiful things she wanted to do to him. Wispy hair at the nape of his neck had come out of his braid, and he seemed momentarily breakable. She wanted to feel the braid on her neck as he pulled his face close to hers. She had spent years studying things she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, couldn’t touch. She wanted context. She wanted to touch him. She wanted him to be The Man Who Made Things Make Sense For A Night."
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."
In this excerpt from the novel Tampa, a pedophile prepares for her first day of teaching middle school; NSFW.
"The early start time of Jefferson Junior High was one of its main allures: seven thirty a.m. The boys would practically be asleep, their bodies still in various stages of lingering nocturnal arousal. From my desk, I'd be able to watch their exposed hands rubbing across their pants beneath the tables, their shame and their half-inflated genitals arm-wrestling for control."
A boy in Texas comes of age as a frequent visitor to an adult video store.
"Ricky pushes open the blacked-out door and heads to the counter at the back of the room. Ed trails slowly behind him, pausing to look closely at the shrink-wrapped magazines and their pictures of men and women together. They look bestial, naked, sunburned, mouths open and showing teeth. The magazines Ricky has at home are not like this, magazines of women only, alone, their clothes caught while falling off them, or running naked through the surf at the beach, the surf covering that one exact spot."
After a one night stand, a musican unknowingly takes a piece of a woman's soul.
"The girl tried to feel contempt for the boy, too, but it is hard to have contempt for a person who’s made off with part of your soul. She went about her life—her job at a used-clothing store, her once-a-week volunteer stint at the Outreach Center for homeless youth, her evenings out with friends. Outwardly, she did not appear much changed by the misalignment; the first layer of her thoughts was more or less the same, logical and competent enough to get her through the day.
Struggling to pay for her mother's medical care, a young woman is drawn into the sex industry.
"The man arrived in a BMW, a Be My Wife, Njideka teased. He was tall and dark, his simple linen buba and sokoto crisply ironed, and his shoes shone even in the dim evening light. He reached out his hand and took mine. He drew my hand upwards, and tipped his head just a bit as he placed a kiss on the back of my hand. He wore gold rings on three of his five fingers. They were not massive rings, but small diamonds circled each of them and sparkled so that the rings appeared much larger than they actually were."
A divorced father takes a job disposing 44 tons of rotting bison meat in an abandoned warehouse.
"As though exposure to air were a catalyst of some sort, a wave of the stench hit him, even through the painting mask and snowmobile goggles. His eyes watered; he was momentarily unable to breathe. He may even have blacked out, which may have been why his aim was off, why his shoulder stopped rotating in the air, and how he came to be showered in a blanket of maggoty meat. And then he did pass out, just briefly."
Desire and dental surgery in Northern India.
His father leaned back on his hands and tilted his face to the sun. Daniel bent over his cushion. In the habit of telling The Number his thoughts, he had already begun to narrate for her his feelings about the woman."
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."
The first published excerpt of J.G. Ballard's disturbing novel.
"The optimum auto-disaster. Panels consisting of drive-in theatre personnel, students and middleincome housewives were encouraged to devise the optimum auto-disaster. A wide choice of impact modes was available, including roll-over, roll-over followed by head-on collision, multiple pile-ups and motorcade attacks. In an overwhelming majority of cases a crash complex was constructed containing elements not usually present in automobile accidents, i.e. strong religious and sexual overtones, the victim being mounted in the automobile in bizarre positions containing postural elements of both perverse intercourse and ritual sacrifice, e.g. arms outstretched in a notional crucifixion mode."
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."
Secrets and reservations come out in the drunken lead-up to a wedding.
"Carrie couldn’t recall much of the walk home from the bar, except she said something about her grandmother that maybe she shouldn’t have, that her grandmother might have been gay, as she petted Alison’s hair. But she couldn’t remember whether she did this while they were walking or just standing around outside the condo complex. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. She first woke up when it was still dark and began going in and out of sleep with the air conditioner."
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."
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."
After sending dirty photos overseas, a high school girl is pursued by a returning soldier.
"She wondered how Ben could be everywhere she was. She had known that he would come for her, or in any case that one of them would. She hadn’t thought that it would be so soon. She hadn’t thought that it would be so strange. She had wanted to date civilian boys for a while, boys who didn’t know what it was like to bleed a man out. Not forever, but while she was young."
A boozy party reveals complicated social dynamics to a young teenager.
"Craig looked back at the keys dangling in the ignition. He looked out at the winking lights casting patterns on the river. This was his moment – the moment assigned to him by older social peers – and he clumsily scaled the seat like a fence."
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."
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."
A philandering newspaper reporter documents a small town's economic collapse.
"But, very late at night, other men and women walk the small streets alone, shuffling slowly along the leaf-filled gutters that border the roads, sometimes a constable stopping them as they walk, shining flashlights in their faces, saying little or nothing before nodding and driving away from the distant, fading stare of a man or woman fearing that their life is falling apart.
'This kind of rapid breakdown generally only occurs in times of war, famine or plague,' a Stanford economics professor tells me as I take notes, a group of six strikingly healthy grad students unloading knapsacks, tape recorders and clear plastic clipboards from a Land Rover parked nearby."
Two missionaries share their histories, experiences, and brushes with sin.
"They could walk together and talk without holding anything back. It had been like that since their third week together in school. They were sitting up on the roof of Oldham-Betts, and Samuel said, 'It’s hard to be up here and not smoke a cigarette,' and when Leslie gave him a sideways look, Samuel said, 'Look, I have a past. It’s pretty apparent, right? I’m a good thirteen years older than everybody here. There’s some things I had to walk away from. Can you handle that?' 'Who am I,' Leslie said, 'to judge you. I’ve got my own things to walk away from.' And Leslie—this kid—began to lay out his confessions, chief among them the lust he held in his heart when he looked upon a woman, this guilt he carried around with him daily, along with images he had seen in the magazines his father had kept behind some Time/Life books about World War II."
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."
A one-sided interview about a one night stand and a detailed, harrowing story about a sexual assault.
"That it was a titanic struggle, she said, in the Cutlass, heading deeper into the secluded area, because whenever for a moment her terror bested her or she for any reason lost her intense focus on the mulatto, even for a moment, the effect on the connection was obvious—his profile smiled and his right eye again went empty and dead as he recrudesced and began once again to singsong psychotically about the implements in his trunk and what he had in store for her once he found the ideal secluded spot, and she could tell that in the wavering of the soul-connection he was automatically reverting to resolving his connectionary conflict in the only way he knew. And I clearly remember her saying that by this time, whenever she succumbed and lost her focus for a moment and his eye and face reverted to creepy psychotic unconflicted relaxation, she was surprised to find herself feeling no longer paralyzing terror for herself but a nearly heartbreaking sadness for him, for the psychotic mulatto. And I’ll say that it was at roughly this point of listening to the story, still nude in bed, that I began to admit to myself that not only was it a remarkable postcoital anecdote but that this was, in certain ways, rather a remarkable woman, and that I felt a bit sad or wistful that I had not noticed this level of remarkability when I had first been attracted to her in the park."
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."
From the latest winner of the National Book Award for Fiction: a former nun's infatuation with classical music leads to unexpected connections and actions.
" At any rate, she played Chopin. Played him in utter naturalness until the Mother Superior was forced to shut the cover to the keyboard and gently pull the stool away. Cecellia lifted the lid and played upon her knees. The poor scandalized dame dragged her from the keys. Cecellia crawled back. The Mother, at her wit's end, sank down and urged the young woman to pray. She herself spoke first in fear and then in certainty, saying that it was the very Devil who had managed to find a way to Cecellia's soul through the flashing doors of sixteenth notes. Her fears were confirmed when, not moments later, the gentle sister raised her arms and fists and struck the keys as though the instrument were stone and from the rock her thirst would be quenched. But only discord emerged."
A set of instructions about how to handle culture clashes in modern dating.
"You’ll exchange names. His will be something like John or Jack or Jim — something with a J, something typical and boring. If he’s smart, he’ll make a joke about this. Not like your name. So beautiful. He’ll ask for its meaning. Give it to him. Land of the Canyons. Bringer of Hope. Gazelle Returning From Water. Your people have such a way with words. It’ll excite him. He’ll tell you (you were right!) he’s a writer. You’ll be impressed. He’ll say you’re prettier than anything he’d write. When he goes outside for a smoke, go with him."
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.
Boys and girls showcase themselves on opposite sides of an anatomical river.
"It only takes a split second for all of my cells to light up with horror-shock, a split second before I start gagging. The river is full of thighs, pushing along like fish, huge as bass, moving downstream. The thighs bump up against each other, create awkward waves, a strange flood of lone limbs in water, it is a tide of skins."
A dirty story about delicate hands. Part of Guernica's two-part erotic fiction issue. NSFW.
"Jimmy bathes with his eyes closed, his long dark hair clinging to the ceramic edges of the tub. He fantasizes about trashy and brassy broadsimagines their mouths and breasts and thighs and eyes."
A woman's communications and interactions with a potential criminal.
"The beaten man lurches to his feet and pulls out a shape, a gun, from his pocket–somehow it must have escaped the notice of the other men before. He staggers backward into the porticos and I can no longer see him. But a minute later I can hear him yelling in English as he storms up the stairs of my building, calling, 'Help! Help!' and hammering on doors. There are several banging sounds as though he’s fallen."
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."
A nameless, interlocking conversation about a tryst.
"Of course he was American, but I courted him, not the other way around. And now he's returned to the United States and you miss him. B-- removes a cigarette from her silver case. Please don't light that, A-- says, I haven't finished my meal. All right, go on then, tell us about him. When was the affair? C-- asks. He went home two weeks ago. You didn't tell us, D-- says. I didn't think you would understand. I understand that you're my friend and should have said something. So I was right, you don't understand."
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."
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. "
A chance meeting among old co-workers brings up unspoken attractions and desires.
"She adjusts her T-shirt. Was I staring at her chest? I need to watch that, but can it really be avoided? I don’t know. I don’t even really know her. I once knew her, sort of, before I was married, though you wouldn’t call it a friendship exactly. We worked at the same agency and she had been hired to oversee this huge grant, AIDS stuff, before protease inhibitors and before anyone could manage the disease. People died then. That’s all. I don’t even remember what kind of program she was running, what anyone ran back then, hospice and support groups mostly. It was horrible. They called her the Angel of Death. It was meant to be funny, escapist, black humor. But she couldn’t deal."
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."
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."
Adolescent desires and yearnings permeate the memories of an all-boys academy.
"At school, we were allowed to wear costumes but were not allowed to bring treats. So we'd made the most of it -- we wore our costumes, we overcrowded the hallways with streams of sleepy ghosts. And often, through the punctured eyeholes of our masks, we tried to imagine how things might be if only we had girls. We envisioned an influx of princesses, maybe a witch or two or three positioned by the lockers. But we were an academy, an all-boys academy, and the possibility of both girls and treats were, in Principal Foster's eyes, completely out of the question."
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."
A Green Beret returns from Haiti and surprises his wife with news of his unusual spiritual "marriage."
"She got it, sort of, how fluid and free your mind might become when life took on the quality of hallucination. How that might blow your coping strategies all to hell? Dirk meditated daily in the middle of the den, which Melissa took for a joke at firstGreen Berets, snake-eaters, did not meditate, nor did anyone else she knew except people from Chapel Hill. 'Keeping it real' was how he explained himself; meanwhile Melissa took wary note of her dreams and watched her life fill up with nagging signs and portents."
An isolated young boy engages in strange hobbies and interactions.
"The garage still dark, Gerald found the stepladder. He climbed the second step, reached up, and yanked the chain. The single bare bulb lit up. He stepped down, pushed the small ladder against the workbench, then climbed back up and clambered onto the chipped wooden bench. One by one he unscrewed the dusty glass jars, each held onto a shelf by a single nail driven through their lids. Gerald fingered the contents of the jars: short screws, long screws, shiny silver and dull gold screws, tiny square nuts that threaded onto some screws and not onto others--"
An elderly couple attempts a series of adventurous forays into crime.
"She grinned back, but her heart was wilting. This crumbling of old values must be a sign of dementia, mustn't it. Perhaps his was an encapsulated dementia, confined to mild misbehavior. Maybe petty crimes would stave off worse senility. She knew some poor old fellows who tried to fondle waitresses."
Duty and secret feelings mark the emotions of two undercover cops in a gay bar (NSFW).
"A black-haired man in a taffeta gown rustles close. Name’s Crow, he says. Got fully equipped rooms above. Certified clean. He waves his hand around the bar. Our eyes follow and we see men’s tongues licking the air. Some hands are down pants. Pick me, they all say with their faces. We spin on our bar stools toward the mamby pambys, tongues snaking out against our will, eyebrows up. "
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."
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."
A mother recalls her sexual past while on a trip to Disney World.
"We ride the Jungle Cruise. The animals are fake yet it remains a big draw of Adventureland. That and the turkey legs, which are big as clubs but 100% real. You should see how America eats them. I feel almost skinny. My husband picks up a stuffed giraffe as a souvenir. Call it luck. Until I planted that hissing plate of fajitas (hot, very hot) before him at Mary’s Cantina I had no idea anyone could see pregnant skin as potential."
Friendship between two quirky outsiders turns into a tumultuous love.
"He got her screenname from one of the other members of the group and started sending her jokes and one-liners, nothing too creepy or personal. Nothing threatening. He told her that he was part of their little group. He told her to guess who he was. There was no fear in this. Norm was a true original. He’d been locked away so long that he had no real sense of how others viewed him."
A high school couple discuss their future in a wave of public lust.
"The laugh echoed in Missy’s ears as she stuck her tongue in JP’s mouth. JP’s mouth was the best place she’d ever been. It was like falling asleep and waking up. Could there be a room in the dream house that would feel like JP’s mouth? Oh wait, she could just kiss JP in any of the rooms."
Iran’s sex-obsessed old guard reacts to a state where “the majority of the population is young.… Young people by nature are horny. Because they are horny, they like to watch satellite channels where there are films or programs they can jerk off to.… We have to do something about satellite television to keep society free from this horny jerk-off situation.”
During a train ride, a man reflects on his past lovers.
"I have not thought of that boy—Joey—for many years; but I see him quite clearly tonight. It was several years ago. I was still in my teens, he was about my age, give or take a year. He was a very nice boy, too, very quick and dark, and always laughing. For a while he was my best friend. Later, the idea that such a person could have been my best friend was proof of some horrifying taint in me. So I forgot him. But I see him very well tonight."
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."
Jeanette Winterson (author of a new memoir) contemplates the pleasures and the dangers of sex with the gods.
"He was close. She fell. He was on her. She pulled away. He grabbed her. He kissed her. She, in the time it takes to remember, in the time it takes to forget, kissed him. There was a second of surprise. Something happened. Anything might have happened because a world of gas and bubbles and heat was washing between their mouths. Then the known killed the unknown, and he was a god and she was a girl."
Outside of a Springsteen concert, a lonely young woman bonds with a bus driver.
"Heidi stood there with him, waiting for him to do something else. The thought of sitting in a hot stadium with thousands of other people made her sick. But the driver wasn’t leaving either, she realized. He, too, stood there with his hands in his pockets, looking a little awkward. She felt her heart pound instinctively, and ran her hand through her hair to tousle it."
A librarian engages in sexual pursuits following the death of her father (NSFW).
" She has him back in the room; he makes one tentative step forward and then he's on her like Wall Street rain, his suit in a pile on the floor in a full bucket, her dress unbuttoned down, down, one by one until she's naked and the sweat is pooling in her back again. She obliterates herself and then buttons up. This man too wants to see her again, he might want to marry her, he's thinking, but she smiles without teeth and says, man, this is a one-shot deal. Thanks."
A young pregnant woman versus the dryer at a military Laundromat.
"She is thirty-one years old, and she never wanted anything so much as to be married to the man she loves and to have a child with him. And she had thought, all those years when they tried to conceive, that she knew and loved her husband better than anyone she could even imagine. But what kind of man joins the Marines when there is a war going on? She could never have imagined herself in this Laundromat across the street from a strip designed for the eighteen-year-old children who are most of the Marines, her husband's new colleagues."
Various people descend on an Italian gay pride parade.
"Her sense of her own presence was mounting. The fact was that she-who hadn't gone on even one strike when she was a young factory worker; who had not voted for at least fifteen years; who hadn't gone on vacation since her husband died, and who had only traveled on her own to visit distant, faded relatives-she was nearly becoming intoxicated by the thought of immersing herself in the tumultuous throng; of being lost and out of place in a crowd to which she had no social, sexual, or official connection at all."
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."
Three girls and a checkout boy, up against authority in a New England summer.
"You know, it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor."
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."
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?"
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."
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."
Two women discuss various means of employment and potential job stereotypes.
"Tia is used to this. My bluntness has long ago lost the ability, if it ever existed, to even dent her obsessions. She's fascinated with the fringes of daily existence, as if her own position wasn't fringe enough. Her favourite daydreams involve strange kinds of work and the women she imagines doing them. She can't keep her mind off the jobs that, not to put too fine a point on it, nobody else wants."
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."
Married sitcom writers, once famous for their love, buckle under sexual and creative differences.
"The funniest lines in their work, the lines with that satisfying crackle of sadism, were mostly his, but he was aware that it was Pam’s confidence and Pam’s higher tolerance for cliché that had won them their big contracts. And now, because she wasn’t engineered for doubt, Pam seemed to think it didn’t matter that she’d gained fifteen pounds since moving to the mountains and that she was thumping around the house with the adipose aquiver in her freckled upper arms; she certainly seemed not to care that they hadn’t had sex since before Labor Day; and she’d been pointedly deaf to certain urgent personal-grooming and postural hints that Paul had dropped during their photo shoot for L.A. Weekly."
A father uses his daughter in a disturbing scheme.
"It only takes an hour and the pile of money gets higher and higher every time. The men pay twenty dollars a pop to come to the Tongue Party. "
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."
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."
From the classic collection Dubliners, two truant schoolboys encounter an unsettling old man.
"A slap on the hand or a box on the ear was no good: what he wanted was to get a nice warm whipping. I was surprised at this sentiment and involuntarily glanced up at his face. As I did so I met the gaze of a pair of bottle-green eyes peering at me from under a twitching forehead. I turned my eyes away again."
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."
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."
In the wake of a suicide attempt, a wise-cracking man addresses his late father, who died of auto-erotic asphyxiation.
"It was after all quite a shock to us, father, to learn of the promiscuous double life you had invented for yourself. When we found you, the tip of your penis was squeezed out through the top end of your fist like a tongue between two pursed lips, and the pearly sequins on the fronts of your stiletto heels shone up at us like droplets of you-know-what. And whatever shade of lipstick that was, smeared around the edges of that makeshift orifice, well, mother has refrained from restocking her supply—from wearing lipstick altogether in fact."
Upon seeing a random young woman, a man's mind goes through potential speaking points and stories.
"But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can't recall the shape of hers - or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It's weird."
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."
A woman working on a Cuban sugar plantation ruminates on her family and secret love.
"When Papá talks of making myself necessary, I cringe. Necessary would mean a lifetime in the field, just as Papá has “necessaried” himself into stained hands and bent fingers. So different from my own. I can still straighten mine when I put my machete down for the day. I don’t know how much longer that will be true, however."
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."
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. "
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. "
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."
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."