Songs of the Dead: An Homage

Somber, tender scenes from a local bar.

"It was supposed to be an intervention, but they were getting piss drunk. Freddy Malins had been drinking all week. His mother died the morning after New Year’s at her home in Portobello. She was taking out the trash and fell down the steps in the hall that led to the street. There was another tenant, but they were stuck in Kildare due to the snow storm that covered the country, and, after Freddy came around to ring for her and she wouldn’t answer, he went back home, cursing at his mother for being a right bloody pain in the ass, and got his copy of the key to her house. When he opened the door he found her there, eyes closed, neck craned at a sharp angle, head pressed forward against her chest."

Johnny America on the Black Market

The aftermath of a back alley operation.

" He was lying in a tub with a gash around his gut that looked badly sewn up and possibly infected. The stitching was so poor that it mirrored the seams on a homemade football done left-handed. Ugly zigzags. The tub was floating full of Pabst and Budweiser cans. No ice, just cans and lukewarm water the color of weak coffee doing the cooling."

Walls [Excerpt]

Tender, sad interactions between old friends; an excerpt from Worthington's forthcoming book from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

"He was looking at the television across from him, above and between two of the tables. I was looking at the television behind the bartender, in front of the kitchen. It was the first time we had seen each other in two years. We didn’t have anything in common to talk about except for the Browns. I didn’t even really care about the Browns anymore. I glanced over at him, and he looked down at his drink, picked it up, took a sip. He returned his gaze to the screen. I often feel violently angry when people are not able to communicate effectively with me, but, at that moment, I didn’t. I took a sip of my drink."

In the Light of What We Know

Memories surface after an old friend reappears; an excerpt from Rahman's forthcoming novel.

All the same, it is not guilt alone that brings me to my desk to put pen to paper and reckon with Zafar’s story, my role and our friendship. Rather, it is something that no single word can begin to describe but which, I hope, will take form as I carry on. All this is quite fitting really – how it ought to be – when I call to mind the subject of my friend’s long-standing obsession. Described as the greatest mathematical discovery of the last century, it is a theorem with the simple message that the farthest reaches of what we can ever know fall short of the limits of what is true, even in mathematics. In a sense, then, I have sat down to venture somewhere undiscovered, without the certainty that it is discoverable."

Slights

A new boyfriend complicates the creative and personal relationship of two teenage musicians.

"I was asking if she had figured out the fifth part because we had worked on three or four different versions, and John said all our music talk was boring. Kenna looked at him for a second, and I could tell she was annoyed, but she wasn’t going to do anything about it. He was limiting her. The old Kenna might have dumped his Denver Scramble on his head. She just made a face."

The Sky is Electric

A high school senior's day is filled with unique crises.

"I hit the refresh button over and over, faster than the phone could even communicate with the server. I almost didn’t believe it when the screen moved down a quarter of an inch to make way for a new message. It was from the admissions committee. My years of soup kitchen volunteering, vocabulary cramming, blogging as a competitive sport, and butterfly-stroking in freezing-cold swimming pools in inconveniently located athletic facilities all boiled down to a single verdict that was probably a sentence long. If that."

Thank You For Disappearing

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."

Ericka

A young man's connection with a circle-drawing, perceptive young woman.

"Ericka left for two weeks that summer to go to Colorado. Her brother was in the hospital again, and I got the idea that it might be for the last time. I still pictured her in the waiting room. She would be drawing those loopy circles on the hospital’s copies of Vogue and People and Golf Monthly."

Triangles

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."

498

Two men take different paths during the Spanish Civil War.

"We each took a shovel, cursing the officer and the soldier whose question put us in our position, but before we dug a hole big enough for three corpses, another truck came from the bullring to the cemetery. This time, four of the Moroccan regulares sat on the tailgate. They shared a cigarette and joked with one another while bodies jostled heavily behind them. So we began unloading the dead. I hesitated touching their hairy forearms or muddy ankles, their bare feet or damp armpits, moist from fear. Their clothes and skin were soaked through, and their blood was warm and slick, making them difficult to handle. For many, their bowels had released their grip in death, and we worked while trying to cover our noses with a shoulder. Most of the bullets had entered their chests, though some destroyed their jaws so that their mouths swung open across a shoulder. What should we do about this one? a soldier asked, pointing at a still-blinking rojo. Blood clouded his eyes, and he breathed with his mouth open. Flies grazed at the corners of his lips. A bullet had sheared a hole through his trachea, which wheezed with each breath. The commanding officer glanced down, then turned away. He’ll be dead by the time you finish digging his grave, he said."

A Brief History of Myth

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."</p>

Twenty-Nine Ingredients

Two friends travel to Mexico while dealing with individual deaths.

"Late in the afternoon Allison and I happen upon a parade in the oldest part of Oaxaca―more out-of-tune horn-players and wild-hot colors and heart-shaped garlands and costumes and photos of people gone but still remembered and cherished. Two tiny girls dressed in white, like angels or brides or spirits, carry a baby-sized cardboard coffin on their shoulders. These good people of Oaxaca have learned, one generation to the next, how to make this annual occasion of loss into celebration."

The Trinity

The rise and fall of a friendship between three Indian women.

"We were goddesses. Meena, Annie, and Nayantara. Even our names were like heroines. Meena and Annie had known each other since they were 5. I met them in seventh standard. Though we never said it aloud, we knew that three beauties had more power than two or one. Like the Hindu gods. Or all those pop groups. Like the Wilson Phillips. We liked the Wilson Phillips. We pretended to like the fat one but heart of hearts we didn’t."

The Ground the Deck

Three London flatmates navigate work, identity, and class.

"Licia herself did not believe in restricting her lifestyle to her earnings, and was in the happy position of not having to. Her parents (The Parents, she called them, as if they were the only ones in the world) were forever buying her extravagant gifts and sending her hampers from Fortnum and Mason. Every spring and autumn, she and her mother went out to buy Licia a new summer wardrobe and a new winter wardrobe. If Licia were to peer from the top of a tall staircase, or teeter along a perilous rooftop, she would see The Parents waiting below, with mattresses spread out to catch her, duvets and goose down pillows. The feathers buoyed her steps; her feet, in their Italian leather shoes, never quite made contact with the pavement. She was always the one turning up the heat or throwing out two-day-old bread or buying white rum and vermouth to make cocktails."

Dream House

An island house; a series of apparations, dreams, and mysteries.

"Sara put trances on Leigh in the middle of the night, while Leigh was sleeping. Leigh knew but didn't tell Mum or say anything about it to Sara. All three had terrible secrets they kept safe. They kept them safe for so long and so devotedly that they were no longer secrets—they were alternate ways of navigating the world."

Oscar and Veronica [Excerpt]

Two friends commiserate and reflect on their single lives.

"This was the first time she’d ever asked a man out on a date. She was from a small Midwestern town and had been brought up very old-school, very he holds the door open, he comes in to meet the parents, he makes the requisite phone call. But five years of liberal education—essays by Adrienne Rich, press conferences about Anita Hill, dormitories full of post–Gloria Steinem girls who spoke out loud about equality and in secret waited by their telephones—well, it had all confused the issue, for better or worse, and she crossed her fingers in her mittens. What would he say, what would he say?"

Stopover

A story of friendship and distance between two Filipino-American women.

"If Cathy could ever convince herself to write a story about that night, she’d probably mention how she took Evangeline home after her friend had nearly passed out on the sidewalk in front of the fifth bar they had gone to; she’d admit that she had known that Evangeline wasn’t used to marathon drinking, but that Evangeline didn’t seem to mind. Maybe she’d describe how Evangeline’s laughter buzzed in her ears like flies’ wings as when she had asked Evangeline for her address, and how she watched the lights of downtown Austin illuminate the interior of their cab with its indulgent, wasteful glow. Evangeline had sobered up when they had gotten home, and they helped each other fold out her futon couch, laughing when they realized that they couldn’t figure out how they had done it when they futon finally gave in to their pushing. If words fractured a friendship, alcohol healed it, and she wished it were possible to drown in the amber-colored recklessness of that night forever."

Often Ogled Nancy

Personal dislikes and tensions abound during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"I have been held up to the standards of this perfect girl since. It was Nancy who pushed for Bonneville. She was a Nevada girl, through and through. Utah and the Salt Flats were only ever a mountain range away. Once the idea of Bonneville had been planted, it rooted itself in Jeffery, eating him like a mold. He had to be there. He had to be part of it. By 2007, forum members had pledged enough money to send us all out. Jeffery set a record that year then lost it the next."

Frontstabbers

After texts and phone calls are hacked and leaked, women across America are murdering each other for insults, slights, and dishonesty.

"Mom was trying to board up the window. She was terrible with hammers, with nails. Our living room was a sea of glass. The window was everywhere and everything was wrong. I wanted to tell someone about this but I couldn’t call Guncha. The phones didn’t even work anymore. That was how America was trying to fight. Just get people to stop interacting. There were curfews in effect. The phones were shut down. They figured if they could keep us from being near each other then maybe we would stop killing each other.

Victory Music

A young Sikh narrates gender identity issues to a dead friend.

"I just stare at him for a minute. It’s a minute that hangs in the balance. He may be batshit. But then, I’m the one seeing disappearing boys. I may be batshit. Something about what he says is true though. It’s unavoidable. There is something different inside of me. Something besides being a boy and a girl and neither. Maybe that something is what kept me alive all this time, kept me from shattering. An emptiness that sustains."

Paladin Of the Lost Hour

Loss, redemption, and magic highlight a friendship between two different men.

"He was standing beside the Cutlass, looking at Billy with an old man's expectant smile, waiting for him to unlock the door and hold it for him till he'd placed his still-calcium-rich but nonetheless old bones in the passenger seat. Billy stared at him, trying to figure out what was at risk if he unlocked that door. Then he snorted a tiny laugh, unlocked the door, held it for Gaspar as he seated himself, slammed it and went around to unlock the other side and get in. Gaspar reached across and thumbed up the door lock knob. And they drove off together in the rain."

(Untitled)

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."

Double Take

After a young man's death, his college friend and his mother reassess their lives.

"Many of these details Ben learned while he stood in the lobby of the funeral home on Madison Avenue before the service that warm September Saturday. He was looking for a place to stash his suitcase and people were saying the body was in good shape; it was nice to be able to say goodbye. Perhaps it was the jetlag, but Ben never realized they were talking about an open casket in another room and so he never went to see it. Later, when he started believing he was seeing Mike in London — in the turn of a cheek, a certain stride — he regretted this. He thought maybe the problem could have been avoided if he’d said goodbye with more finality, had seen Mike’s dead face. That seemed like part of the problem; it was hard to accept that Mike was gone. He’d worked harder than most for everything he’d attained. How could it be that the one thing he couldn’t work for was not granted to him in large supply?"

Homecoming

A high school athlete from a troubled Brooklyn family tries to stay on the right path in a small Virginia town.

"But it didn’t take long for Marcus to get around to missing Brooklyn. On weeknights his granny would be in bed by eight, and since the television in the living room got such poor reception Marcus would go to his room. The windows in Granny’s house had no curtains or blinds, so when it was dark he got a creepy feeling, like he was being watched. There were no yellow streetlights, no sirens or car stereos, nobody calling out to anybody else outside. Just unfamiliar sounds rising and filling up the air until it sounded like they were invading the room itself. Frogs? Crickets? He couldn’t tell. He’d make up his bed and lie down in it and put on his headphones and close his eyes and think about home."

The Fixed Idea

A grieving writer, a jealous actor, and sudden eruptions of [mock?] violence.

"Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the 'lounge,' his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked 'ghastly' but 'possibly interesting.'"