Fiction Pick of the Week: "Outside Kandahar"
A man cares for his ex's mentally unstable brother.
A man cares for his ex's mentally unstable brother.
A backyard wrestling match; an examination of different young lives.
Sober living, loss, and unexpected connections.
On mathematical shapes and family ruptures.
A pizza deliverer/calculus whiz becomes involved in the lives of two unstable college students.
"I licked my thumb, outside, by the car, and ran it over the suction cups, before I slapped the marquee to the top of my cobalt blue Toyota. The pizzas were already sitting in the passenger seat, cardboard mouths smiling. I was conscious, despite Walter’s assertion, that I was operating under the tick of a clock, an invisible, indefinite deadline. Really, we all are. But no one realizes how soon it’s coming."
An uneasy relationship between two people squatting in a crime scene house.
"But that guy was gone. In between the fourth and fifth beer at the bar, he disappeared in a haze of yellow and heat. Someone’s joke. A crack of broken glass. Tony and the guy out the door. Maybe in the back alley. And then it was all Tony Disco sidling up to me at the bar, his arm warm against mine, his breath like juniper. And now here he and I were, slumped on a dead woman’s couch."
A troubled wife's obsession with her husband's ex.
"I’d been researching generic articles on divorce for a long time, but never found anything that reminded me of Henry’s. They were young, but they weren’t as stupid as he seemed to say. They seemed to have really been in love. The picture he’d shown me was of them on a boat on a lake—a lake we’d been to, one we’d brought a picnic lunch to. They looked so happy and he looked so young, his hair not yet flecked with stray whites and grays."
Romantic complications between a surgical coordinator and a brilliant transplant specialist.
"I hadn’t wanted Clara at first, at least no more than any other woman I’d casually slept with. Too bony, too neurotic. Too pale. But when she asked for a ride home from the dinner party where we met, I drove, intrigued at the prospect of UCSF’s top heart-transplant surgeon debasing herself with a med school dropout-turned-cellist."
An abused woman reacts to her downstairs neighbor's murder.
"Laurie thinks he tries to cry, and she appreciates the effort. She kisses Jimmy in return, pretends it doesn’t hurt when he scrapes his teeth over her collarbone, and ignores the phone when it rings. If it’s her mother, she’ll call again soon enough; if it’s another reporter, well, Laurie doesn’t have much to say."
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.
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."
A homeless man's wanderings and moral quandaries.
"Aimless, his wandering. The recurring theme of his life. That he would never escape. The single aspect of a pointless existence. What had he accomplished? The food in the bag would sustain him for two days more, three. Would his body retain any of it? Could he eat it without tasting his own wretchedness, the abhorrence that churned now through his body? A turn and then another, then down a street, an alleyway to hunker down in, only to leave abruptly because of a passing shadow, a rustle of paper. He felt persecuted, scared, timid and small. He felt disgust. For himself, the life that had prodded him thus. It was a thing that welled inside of him, the pit of his stomach, like a ball of thorny vine that tore and snagged on his delicate insides. Hours had passed. But hadn’t it been but a moment’s time? For him, all had changed; he had crossed the river to foreign shores and the language was one he could not recognize. He could not go back, though he longed to, and tried to look to the other side, but it had disappeared. He walked."
A brother visits his sister in a mental institution after an unspoken incident.
"His sister talks about how they are staring at her. How she thinks the fat man in the purple shirt is going to rape her, though she won’t tell Greg if he works there or if he’s a fellow patient. She talks about starving and dying and figuring out how she can get out and sue the place into the ground. He tries to listen, he tries to ask questions, but after fifteen minutes he smiles and nods at her and tries to ignore listening to anything she’s saying. He looks out of the doorway when she looks away from him, and he wonders how many of the people who walk past are just as confused as she is. He imagines that everyone in the common area is just as lost, all of them imagining everyone else is trying something."
An overweight teenager's psychological test with an unhappy neighbor.
"Mrs. Butler never commented on my weight. I wanted to believe she didn’t see my layers of fat or hear how my breathing quickened if I exerted much physical effort. My neighbor wasn’t gorgeous like a supermodel, but she moved her long graceful limbs with an elegance I could only envy."
A young woman is hired to hand out pamphlets at a seedy racetrack.
"When the supply of flyers was gone, I walked over to the snack bar to get more from Al. The crowd was thinning now. People either looked me over or tried not to look. Without the stack of paper in hand, I felt self-conscious again. The pumps hurt my feet."
A rural worker conjures up fantastical mythologies to hide his own troubled past.
"Several days after re-wiring the fence, Shuck asked Boss if he could take me to town for new tractor parts. Shuck drove Boss’s truck and smoked with the windows up, filling the cab with thick tendrils of burnt and cheap tobacco. He took the long way into town and told me that they gypsy had been the most beautiful girl to ever exist back in Spain. She had been the daughter of a rich soldier. But after some incident that Shuck wasn’t entirely sure of, she had joined with a vagabond group of gypsies, travelling the foothills of Spain, marking her new group’s travels by the patterns of stars and their gathered constellations. Shuck said that she had been the most beautiful girl to ever set foot on the entire European continent. But she grew old so quickly that soon her limbs began to tangle and go numb."
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 father attends his son's birthday party, hosted by his ex-wife and her boyfriend.
"Locklin sat next to Will in front of the fireplace. The brick was warm and Locklin put his arm around his boy. He was proud of the way Will had handled it all—he seemed okay, not blaming himself or anything. Will was a lot like he was, though, and that worried him. Once, Locklin had talked to him about how there were two types of people in this world: volcanoes and geysers. 'Volcanoes, like you and me,' he’d said 'sit and brew and stuff all their problems. The thing is, one day, they erupt. You don’t know how or when, but when it happens, it’s ugly. It’s best to be like your mother, a geyser—let it out often and easily. Don’t hold back.' Will had seemingly understood."
A drifter shares a bond with a friend's mistreated dogs.
"It’s Thursday. Every Thursday he goes to see Mel’s dogs. Mel owns Mel’s Grocery and Mel’s Laundry. Mel lives above the grocery and out back he keeps two Rottweilers, one male and one female, in cages. Mel never bothered to name the dogs, so Mike named the female She. He didn’t name the male. The male is just a big dumb empty head. But She is smart. Mike likes to play with her in the vacant lot behind the old Sears building. Just last week they were playing ball. They huddled up."
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."