Driving

A dream-like drive alternates between urban and rural settings.

"A few streets away from home now, past the closed tailor’s shop, and suddenly there are ducks gathered under a streetlight. The night is disobedient. When she pulls up she sees them standing there, hovering over a puddle of dark water in a small crater made by broken paving stones. There are seven of them, tall and snow white, untouched by the soot and grime in the air, with bright orange beaks and feet. She stops the car and turns off the lights."

An Annotated List

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."

Now Is The Time For Us To Be Sweet

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."

On The Fire Escape

An adolescent girl encounters some sketchy characters in and around her apartment building.

"That afternoon, after I cursed the old guy, the rain finally got to me the way it sometimes did and I got all depressed and cried all the way home. I unlocked the metal gate and walked into the dark hallway of my green apartment building. My neighbor was standing there in the hallway drinking a beer like it was his living room."

At The Kitchen Table

A woman reflects back on a son who died in prison.

"A few of the guards were kind to her. In a couple of them she could see them look at her as if she were a vision of their own mothers driving four hours to be humiliated, to be searched, to have the insides of her thighs patted down for the love of a son who didn’t deserve it. "

The Landing

A problem on an airplane, observed by the acute eye of Lydia Davis.

"With his announcement, everything had changed: we might all die within the next hour. I looked, for comfort or companionship in my fear, at the woman in the seat next to me, but she was no help, her eyes closed and her face to the window."

Muggins Here

A comical look at the lives of grocery store employees, from the author of Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.

" "What about the glacé cherries?" I tell her they're in Home Baking and she asks, "Where's that?" so I have to take her back. My knees are hurting. Passing through Meat and Poultry these beanpole girls with pierces and tattoos ask me, "Do you know the difference between a 'free-range chicken' and 'farm-fresh'?" For a second I'm too miserable to even say "No.""

Bolero

A dancer turned marketing writer reminisces about her previous profession.

"Back in the home offices in midtown, I was the mistress of machines, baroness of 1,001 banalities it took to keep the organization running. I’d quit dancing at twenty‐one when the work got too hard and the people too mean. At twenty‐five I could no longer stretch or bounce like the kids in the company."

The Rankings

Financial workers engage in a gambling scheme that mirrors the contemporary banking crisis.

"Word spread. Other people approached us about joining the pool. At first we were angry that he told on us, but in the end it really was because of him that we got as rich as we did. Harrison and I decided to back the bids ourselves and open up to outsiders. We gave Steve partial ownership in the venture—not a whole third, of course. Our favorite sniffling over-sharer picked up the slack from our actual jobs, which let us dedicate more time to the rankings without getting fired ourselves."

Sleeping With John Updike

Two older writers—literary allies—discuss their memories, their past relationships, and their past conflicts.

"Their own sales were holding up, just about. A couple of thousand in hardback, twenty or so in paper. They still had a certain name recognition. Alice wrote a weekly column about life's uncertainties and misfortunes, though Jane thought it would be improved by more references to Alice's own life and fewer to Epictetus. "

Red

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."

Thirty Seconds From Now

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."

Buster

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. "

Mercy

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."

Trespassing

A woman's investigations of closed-off places become quiet expressions of nationalistic outrage.

"She went through a summer or two of exploring empty listed buildings. The English countryside was full of them, just standing there, vast, abandoned, too big to develop but architecturally and historically too important to destroy. "

The Submission

The identity of the designer of a proposed 9/11 memorial competition inflames the emotions and the prejudices of an observer.

"The Rally to Protect Sacred Ground kicked off on a balmy Saturday morning in a plaza opposite the site. The members of both the Memorial Defense Committee and Save America From Islam were there, gathered in a cordoned-off area in front of the stage. Behind them stretched thousands: women holding signs that said NO TOLERANCE FOR THE INTOLERANT or KHAN IS A CON; fathers hoisting small children on their shoulders; men in camouflage who may or may not have been veterans. "

The Road

The perceptions of an Italian mule, pressed into military service on the long WWII onslaught on Stalingrad.

"Everything had become habitual and therefore right. Everything had joined together to form a life that was right and natural: hard labour, the asphalt, drinking troughs, the smell of axle grease, the thunder of the stinking, long-barrelled guns, the smell of tobacco and leather from the driver’s fingers, the evening bucket of maize, the bundle of prickly hay."

Hideous Beast

A comic, loose fable: Big Foot teaches a creative writing course.

"He goes on about how he, the Big Foot, was famous for a minute, and that he’s not quite sure where it all went wrong. Then, of course, he brings the government into it. Fictitious Beast Placement program this, FBP program that, and a few of us fall asleep at our desks because we’ve heard the same speech for like three weeks in a row."

Reluctant Vegan

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."

All Their Riches

Karen refugees from Burma--a mother and small child--adjust to a new life in the United States.

"Picture me following Derek, our startlingly obese caseworker, through the new apartment, trying to concentrate on his English with all of my mind. Picture me flipping a light switch for the first time and seeing the lamps blossom into electric life. Picture me flinching at the scream of the smoke alarm and the rush of water in the toilet and the wintry blast of the freezer, the coldest air I’d ever felt. My new apartment was full of traps, it seemed."

Summer Job

A young woman endures tedious, infuriating work in the hospitality industry.

"I told him that pest control would’ve noticed cockroaches when they were here looking for rats. They’re very different creatures, rats and cockroaches, he said. Yeah, but you’d know if you saw cockroaches or if you didn’t, I said. He looked at me as if I’d confessed that I used to be an insect myself and just stared with that fixed gaze for an interminable period and then said, what makes you think you’re qualified to make that distinction?"

Star Babies

Affluent star babies, much like regular humans, experience nature and transgressions in this slightly surreal fable.

"Similar promises were made at the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls and the Hoover Dam, where unwitting star babies were brought to the edges in hopes of seeing god and instead were hurled over the edges, smashing their skulls on the rocks or impaling themselves on branches. In the Everglades, Mushroomites proclaiming themselves to be Alligatorians, walked their foes into the mouths of waiting predators who swallowed them in single bites."

Me And Gin

The intensities and disappointments of a friendship between two girls on the cusp of adolescence.

"Me and Gin like to play preacher and supplicant, Gin is always the preacher and I am always the supplicant. Gin saying You a fearful sinner, young lady, and me heaving my shoulders, begging Please."