Fiction Pick of the Week: "Secondhand"
Various time passages in an old home.
Various time passages in an old home.
A girl kidnaps a mysterious figure.
"What has he spared me, this Enzo Ponza? What, with his constant presence, has he prevented happening in my life, and what, if anything, has he caused to happen? Does he care for me, my mother, my children? Is he escaping something, or is he just biding his time? Why has he never once asked to leave? And why did I never investigate whether he had any living relatives to whom I could send a ransom note?"
Nighttime mysteries of flower petals and animals.
"The streets filled with coyotes at night. Their cries pulsated into our sleep in such a way that everyone thought they were a dream and never mentioned them to anyone else. I slept in their sounds until the last few skirted back to hiding places. Under cars and in bramble thickets."
Two fictions about yearning, morphing, and instincts.
"The stewardess needed time to figure out what protocol she should follow or what precedent the man and his possessions had set. The man preferred not to wait and ran as fast as he could through the door to boarding, past passengers who had already gone through and formed a line inside the tube with the little windows, waiting like blood in a syringe, now followed at an animal’s pace by the little suitcase on legs, ridden like a horse by the passport with the long fingers, a sight that both fascinated and terrified and caused personnel, propelled by some odd sense of duty, to stand in the way of the trio and block their path, to protect the plane and its pilots and cabin crew from what they couldn’t define."</p>
A lonely housesitter makes himself at home in slightly inappropriate ways.
"He’s in the master bedroom. There are no decorations—no photos hung on the wall or in frames on the dresser, no other artwork, no decals like Alice bought and had Ben stick-apply to the walls of their own bedroom when they’d first moved into the neighborhood themselves. There’s only the dresser along the wall, with a vanity mirror and neatly organized jewelry atop, and a nightstand on each side of the bed. Neither has anything on it but books, but Ben can immediately distinguish his from hers from the selection, the way they are stacked. Without thinking, without being able to help himself, Ben goes to Helen’s side of the bed and opens the drawer."
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."
Two lovers, a new home, a repeating cycle.
"That night, I will dream a dream of trains, and of the sound of waves. I will dream that I am the woman searching for something lost. I will dream the man’s dream, and walk into the night alone, guided by the moon. The earth is cool under my feet. It is summer. I can smell the light from the sun that has left the trees. I am knee-deep in the swaying ferns. They are so tall I only have to bend a little to reach them with my fingertips, and then I let my legs fold under me, and I lie down in the ferns. I close my eyes and listen to the ferns, try to understand their secret whispers. When I open my eyes again, the ferns begin to blossom, their fragile white petals bright against the night sky."
A deserting Civil War soldier sets out for home.
"As he approached Jacob Story’s farm, Benjamin saw that the corn stood dark and high. No hard frost or gullywasher had come. The signs held true, not only for the corn but the beans and tobacco. Smoke rose from Jacob’s chimney. Noon-dinner time already, he thought. Benjamin followed the trailway through a stand of silver birch, straddled a split-rail fence, placed one foot on his land and then the other. He had hoped Emma would be in the cabin. That way he could step onto the porch, open the door, and stroll in no differently than he would coming from a field or the barn. Benjamin wanted their separation to seem that way, he wanted to never speak of the war or their months apart. He wanted it to become nothing more than a few dark moments, like a lantern carried through a cabin’s low door."
A small town paramedic reflects on her troubled yet protective uncle.
"Inside, Lou washed our faces and made us some lemonade. I changed my pants. He turned on the radio in the kitchen. He made us peanut butter and crackers. He dealt out hands of Crazy-Eights and told us a story of Mom learning to milk a cow. Not once did he look out the window. After an hour, Lou picked up the phone and called the coroner."
The evolution and deterioration of a marriage, told through interactions on/around a piece of furniture.
"Often, at the breakfast table, he reads a magazine from one of his many subscriptions. After a long article, he’ll lean across the table and open the window. Whenever this happens, it’s best if the blinds are unbound, so that the wind, clueless of human grief as it is, may work its way through their lofty protection. And often, when this happens, he’ll look out the window and think of himself as another person. Often, he’ll be walking beneath an umbrella in a foreign country, down some unrecognizable street, one which he can’t identify; or he’s standing on the stern of a fishing boat, one just recently bound by a rope, dark and wet from the sea, to an ancient dock in the Mediterranean, his body slowly rocking, coursing, in a semi-circle of moonlight, calming him to the point that he even forgets what he’s forgotten, and it’s all real, and actually moving, alive within the maternal ebb of the ocean; or he’s in another home, a shack in a forest, and never knew his own life: his job or wardrobe or wife, as he lies back in a cold, twin-sized bed, which keeps only himself, and the darkness, and the quiet; or he’s just a ghost, dancing in the hallways of his home as his wife stumbles through, drunk and mourning, with his absence everywhere, and then counting the strands of her hair as she does her single load of laundry for the week, consisting of only her nightgown, the jogging pants and old t-shirt of his that she relaxes in while spending her evenings at home, her seven pairs of flesh-toned underwear, and work uniform, for the job she had to find after his passing in order to both support and occupy herself—all the while at the breakfast table."
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."
What starts as a mouse infestation turns into a complex study of a marriage and a husband's place in the world.
"But in the evening I did the bills at the dining table and one ran across my foot. I could see it through the glass top, looking exactly like the one I’d released. I realized I’d sort of imagined only one, maybe two. Mice are so identical, appearing on one and then another side of the room as if by magic, moving through walls. All that damage. Now they could be filling the walls and if I slit one with a machete they’d spill out like organs, or like corn from a sack. This could make the species more impressive, or less."
A young couple's moving day, complete with a variety of mishaps.
"The door spring is rusted and doesn’t really work anyway so I get a screwdriver and take the thing off its mounting. I take the broken couch leg and stick it in the upper corner of the door to prop it open. When I come inside a little while later to check on things, the movers are wrestling with my mattress on the stairwell. Bright streaks of fresh blood mark the white plaster in the living room and on the stairway wall. Rod is in mid-staircase, holding up the bottom end of the Macy’s queen that Kelly’s mom bought us for a wedding present. 'You exposed a screw on your front door when you took that thing off,' he says. 'I cut my arm open on it.'"
A man's colonoscopy causes him to reflect on aging, mortality, and family life.
"For a moment, Pete wondered if he should say something else, anything, but the guy had already picked up his magazine again, leaving Pete to ponder not only his inadequacies, but his colonoscopy, something he was suddenly looking forward to and maybe even deserved."
A woman struggles with her faith while caring for her addicted husband.
"She stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. She would choose to believe the anointing had worked. That there would be some change. That she and Mitch would embrace and begin the path toward healing. God would never give her more than she could handle. It said that in the Bible. Nothing beyond what you can bear. She and Mitch were only being tested, refined like silver."
A couple's marital problems stem from the wife's inability to fall asleep with her husband.
"She tells me I’m a lunatic, it’s not like she’s having an affair. I think that’s probably true. She’s never been good at subtlety or deception. When we were first married, she came to bed with me every night, settled her naked body on top of mine, settled her face in my neck. I could tell she liked it, but she wasn’t romantic in the least."
A caretaker becomes enmeshed in the relationships of the homeowner.
"I'd never have picked Julian out as a sensuous type if I hadn’t read Hana's diary; he seemed too busy and prosaic, without the abstracted dreamy edges I’d always imagined in people who gave themselves over to their erotic lives. And yet, because of the secret things I knew about him, I was fixated on him the whole time I watched him cook, and then afterward, while we sat opposite each other eating at the little table he pulled up to my armchair."
Trying to maintain human relationships in a post-collapse underground city.
"Wick added special beetles and spiders and other precise infiltration mutations as he called themso effective that even after the Company had cast him out and he had lost their protections, the strength of rumors alone protected him for a time. These creatures registered in my network of lines as pleasing nodes, unless I was angry with Wick, and then I thought of them as irritating, interfering knots in the system."
Family faults, loss, and discontent arise when a widower watches his grandson during a summer in Florida.
"In the calm that follows his tears, Fowler sees clearly how Mary, in dying, not only took herself away from him, but also widened the gap between he and his daughter and his grandson. Fowler would have to take on his wife’s best qualities — her patience, her unconditional love for people despite their flaws — in order to stop that gap from widening. This realization terrifies him — he doesn’t have that kind of strength — and as his heart beats fast with that fear, he notices the boy’s socks on the floor near the bed. He picks one of them up and uses it to wipe at his eyes. He blows his nose into the sock, breathes in the fabric’s sour scent."
While dealing with her fractured, fighting family, a girl tries to find out why bananas keep appearing in her home.
"With a sigh, Rachel got up and pulled the vacuum out of the cleaning closet. She plugged it in, turned it on, and immediately turned it back off. Coming from inside the dust compartment was a loud thumping sound that died as the vacuum's motor slowed to a stop. Opening the compartment, she discovered that the source of the sound was a long, yellow, banana."
Descriptions of a decrepit house take on (and intersect with) human qualities.
"Look at your hallway here, these smooth white walls, freshly painted, everything seems clean and healthy. But you’ve got to think of your house like a body, all wired up with electrical veins and pipes, a nervous system running beneath the surface without you even knowing it. You’ve got your water pump, your furnace, your water heater in the basement, these are your organs, they keep things moving, they keep things regular."
A young girl's relationship with her mother and rural surroundings are told in an experimental dose of stream of conciousness.
"...you ask her what she is doing and she tells you still not opening her eyes nothing, girl only that word does not mean what it means it means something so big and black it can hardly fit into language though she does not say another thing and her lack of saying says more than her saying ever could the sun bit by bit turning itself off and the evening bit by bit turning itself on and the over-sweet summer breeze stirring for maybe fifteen minutes no more without cooling a thing and you go back into the trailer to watch the television trying not to think about all this thinking but after a while you go out again to see and she is still there still sitting in the lawn chair alone precisely as you left her smoking with her head tilted back eyes closed..."
A series of shorts about a marriage and conversations with two old-time movie stars.
"Ingrid Bergman told me she'd sleep with any man who desired. And there had been plenty. She slept with the majority of her costars on every film, most of the directors, several costume designers, and once, for kicks, a sound-effects editor—"helps me get into the role," she argued. It didn't bother her at all. It was like taking a walk, 'like reading from a script,' she said."
A person seeks solace from an overwhelming family visit.
"I held my head in my hands and wondered if a hundred years in this filthy closet could be enough to undo the past four days. I felt my inner eye zeroing in on an escape, but there were rides to be given to the airport in the morning, babies to be cuddled, dishes to be washed. The polite thing to do was stay."
A mother and daughter seek various forms of spiritual guidance and stability.
"The waitress came over and her mother ordered a coffee, plenty of cream and sugar, and Melissa ordered a pop with everything—Coke, Sprite, and Dr. Pepper but no root beer. The psychic ordered a side of bacon and an iced tea with three slices of lemon. He touched her mother gently on the hand and said, Shelley, you are a Gemini. Pollux, one of Gemini’s stars, is the nearest giant star to Earth. Her mother ooohed and went glass-eyed, and Melissa wished she could take her mother home, where the two of them could wait on the porch for dark, and when it came, Melissa would point and say, There, Mother. There’s Gemini. Right there. But Melissa didn’t know where Gemini was."