River Of Smoke [Excerpt]

An elderly woman and her extended family make their traditional pilgrimage to a cave shrine.

"Much depended on the weather, for a trek up the wind-swept mountain could not be undertaken except on a fine day. When the conditions seemed propitious, the bandobast would start the night before. The feast that followed the puja was always the most eagerly awaited part of the pilgrimage, and the preparations for it occasioned much excitement and anticipation: the tin-roofed bungalow would ring to the sound of choppers and chakkis, mortars and rolling-pins, as masalas were ground, chutneys tempered, and heaps of vegetables transformed into stuffings for parathas and daal-puris. "

Big Truck

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."

Important Men

Short fiction from the author of this year's giant novel, The Instructions

"He was carrying a black-lacquered cane with a diamond-studded handle and I envied him his cane. I imagined thumping my fingertips against it, the sound that would make, and flipping it upside-down to make believe it was the letter L."

Cake

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."

Sniffing Glue

A youth set to the shifting sounds of CCM, Christian Contemporary Music:

This, by the way, is considered the ultimate sign of quality CCM, even amongst Christians: the ability to pass as secular. Every band’s goal was to have teenagers stop their grooving mid-song and exclaim, like a soda commercial actress who’s just realized she’s been drinking Diet, “Wait, this is Christian?”