The Art of French Cooking

A woman bonds with her terminally ill sister over food, memories, and shaky lives.

"When Ava won the middle school election, there was peach cobbler with a filling so warm it burnt my tongue. When I failed chemistry, she silently let me lock myself in my room, but I came down for dinner to lasagna with short ribs that fell apart at the slightest nudge. Mom would only speak to us seriously once our mouths were full; with blueberry-banana pancakes the morning of the SATs, chicken-stuffed bell peppers after soccer games, and over spaghetti carbonara for high school heartaches. We came to interpret her innermost thoughts in meticulous meals culled from Julia Child and the Rombauers. It was like she needed something to distract us when she was fully there."

The Unknown Soldier

An actor, fresh from prison, attempts to reconnect with his son in 1950s California.

"And he had believed it. Everyone had. Since the day he’d been cast as Lev, Alexi had been aware that he was getting away with something—though, he reasoned, he’d never explicitly lied about anything. He just never told the complete truth. He may have, when asked about his American accent, mentioned the pronunciation workbooks stacked on his family’s kitchen table, as if he, and not just his parents, had pored over them nightly. He may have once, a little drunk at a party, pretended to forget the English words for the pigs in a blanket being passed around. He may have, that night and possibly a few others, begun sentences with, In my country . . . He may have, when asked by the film’s very openly communist director one night over steaks at Musso’s what he thought about Truman, parroted back what he’d overheard at the writers’ table, that he was narrow-minded and ruthless, his doctrine a farce and an affront to civil liberties. He may have, at Stella and Jack’s invitation, attended a number of meetings in their Hancock Park living room, where there may have been some pretty detailed discussions about following their Soviet comrades down whatever path they took. He may have, on one of those evenings, filled out one of the Party membership forms being passed around, simply because everyone else was."

The Wenceslas Men

An isolated apartment sitter sees apparitions of mysterious beings.

"And then, after a few days, I returned to the living room, to sit in the blank and quiet night and watch them pass in darkness. And after a few more nights, I crept closer to the curtains. One night, having left them closed, I peeled one back as the last of them passed. I watched them proceed down the street in their own strange strides, walking steadily, not turning a corner, not entering some structure, not vanishing in mid-air."


A worker in a slaughterhouse observes the ups and downs of generational differences.

"This morning is always pig-killing. This afternoon is always cleaning. Tomorrow is sheep-killing. It is the same each week. Tuesday, pigs. Wednesday, lambs. Just after we had opened the gates this morning a young farmer came. He is one of those who are the amateur farmers. I like them. They are unlike any farmers I know at home. They wear farming, as if it were a jacket. It never truly fits their shoulders. They farm not because they have to but because they think it is good for them, or for their children, or for society. They believe in the soil and in hard work and they add farming to their office jobs. In this factory, we can recognize them from afar. They drive their jeeps like they would drive a car, and they are always a little frightened of their animals. When they leave off their animals for slaughter they stare at the killing equipment.

Break All the Way Down

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."