Fiction Pick of the Week: "Ghosts & Cyborgs"

Loss and family in an era of police crime and black protests.

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"Guilt racked Lois as she downed the last of her coffee. She had promised Jillian she’d go to church with her whenever the verdict came; they were supposed to mourn together. The thing was, even as they were having the conversation, Lois knew she wasn’t going. Something about the thought felt hollow and wrong. How could she embrace people inside the comforts of stained glass when, outside, folks were fighting a foul battle?"

Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Speed of Stopping"

On fishing, physics, and life's intangibles.

<p>“Back when his girls were girls, with fluffy pink rugs on their bathroom floor, Burgundy wasn’t much of a second-guesser. He was a richly confident physicist with work at the university. He golfed. They went to the club. Even when there were questions of the girls smoking or skipping school (and there were always questions, wink-wink), Burgundy hadn’t worried about His Girls. They weren’t that kind of a family. And anyway (so lovely were His Girls) if they would have been that kind of family they would have worn it well. Being well-paid, occupied and cohesively married does wonders for a man’s confidence.”</p>

No Matter How Far Apart

A story of disintegrated relationships and the odd things left behind.

"Tabitha positioned the big horn sheep in the front yard and I drank a third mimosa. On Sundays, we got together and searched for any random thing to do, but always ended up back at her place. A neighbor, watering bushes, watched as Tabitha dragged the sheep around the yard, trying to find the right place."

No Matter How Far Apart

A story of disintegrated relationships and the odd things left behind.

"Tabitha positioned the big horn sheep in the front yard and I drank a third mimosa. On Sundays, we got together and searched for any random thing to do, but always ended up back at her place. A neighbor, watering bushes, watched as Tabitha dragged the sheep around the yard, trying to find the right place."

Slow Wave

A tale of small town love and loss; a summer tale for the last official weekend of summer.

"Do you love her? Those things are kind of hard to know. For me, anyway. My mom died when I was four and my dad never met anyone else, at least, not anyone that made him want to try again. I never got to watch him love, and so it feels like that part of me is broken. I know how to ride a bike, how to fry an egg sunnyside-up, how to thread a worm on a hook, but I don’t know when someone says I love you if they mean it or if they just want me to lie back in the grass and hike up my skirt."

The Naturals

A son goes to visit his dying father in a story about various forms of storytelling.

"He ripped open his shirt and crushed the mutilated tomato against his chest. Juice glistened in dark burls of hair. He thought that maybe he was about to make a serious declaration, or even try to laugh the whole thing off, when he felt a twinge, a test cinch for another spell of nervous woe. The Belt of Intermittent Sorrow, which he somehow now named the moment it went tight, squeezed him to the kitchen floor."

Three Aerogrammes

A series of one-sided international love letters.

"I want to frame those first three months I was in Paris with you, and that month last year in Morocco. I want to hang it next to the wooden clock on the wall above my bed. Those hot nights of waiting, talking, making love with our words on Rue D’Aboukir. Waiting for you to return to my fourth-floor apartment with ice cubes for the Martini Rossato and the loud love making that would follow next to paper thin walls where I could hear the neighbours cough. Paper-thin walls never mattered in that hotel room in Morocco. Calling out 'Oui', bent over the bed and the knock of the chamber maid on the door."

The Haunt-Away

A boarding house for ghosts; coping mechanisms of family deaths.

"My mother forbade me from going to the Haunt-Away, so I went every day after school. My aunt and I had never been close. Her husband, George, had died thirteen years prior, just months before I was born. Now, each afternoon, I watched her wash sheets and remake untouched beds. She set out plates of cookies and brewed pots of tea which, when poured, grew cold in unused cups. She talked and laughed to empty rooms, and sometimes when I entered, I had the distinct impression that I was interrupting."

Irreducible

A scientific and psychological examination of a gunshot.

"This is how you feel a bullet. You have certain sensory receptors that detect pain, these are called nociceptors. When a nocicpetor receives a painful stimulus, it sends a signal through its neuron to the spinal cord, which sends the signal to your brain, which sends it to a number of different areas for processing. The location and intensity of the stimulus is deciphered by the primary and secondary somatosensory cortex, for example."

Between Here and the Yellow Sea

A former student and high school coach travel to California to kidnap the coach's daughter, an adult film actress.

"I would watch her green eyes, the smile that always closed them. I remember her face lit by a Bunsen burner's quivering flame, laughter bursting from her like confetti. Once, I saw her slap Junior Wendell's hand away from her skirt, and I felt the confinement of a teenage girl. The way her mind was full of longings—a knot of emotions constantly rising to the surface, washing over her, carrying her through a harrowed suburban field, past the shopping mall and long acres of bluestem grass, into the back seats of cars, truckbeds."

The Highway

Two strangers on a bus attempt to make sense of mutual loss.

"Back on the bus, the old man has vanished. Only flecks of tobacco linger on his empty seat. If he suspected me of anything, by now I’d know. Through the window, I watch the market shrink away until it’s no more. The sun beats on my face, hotter than yesterday, and the day before that. Motion sickness snaps between nerves in my brain, spreads down and gnaws the lining of my stomach. I feel my organs rotting from the inside out. One hundred and twenty. Stupid dogs."

Eugenia Will Come Back To You Someday

A primer on services for the afterlife.

"So you’ll start by taking a ride in the flatbed truck with Gurtie, and she’ll drop you off at the ARF center. You’ll probably be pretty disoriented. It’s okay. You’ve been riding in the back of a white flatbed truck with a bunch of recently dead people for several hours through the Afterlife—which looks basically like North Dakota. None of you will be happy campers, and some of your traveling companions will look downright alarming, what with death not being such a photogenic moment for most people. We understand and we sympathize. It’s an unpleasant time for you, but like I said, we are understaffed. Do we wish there were a better way? Yes, we do. Is there a better way? Not yet, there’s not."

24 Ladies Resting

A social and historical look at a women's sanatorium.

"What about the exercise path keeps the women moving together. They move toward the birds and the birds disperse. A woman drops a handful of raisins from breakfast and the birds converge for the raisins but only until the raisins are gone. The birds will disperse again. They will fly down chimneys and into cars. The shriveled fruits cannot hold their attention for much longer now. They have no exercise path like the women have. The exercise path keeps the women moving together each morning and evening, as if they will never disperse. The women entwine their wet hands."

The End of Everything

A story of telemarketing and the aftermath of a terrible accident.

"She looks run down and queasy under the yellow fluorescent lights. When I was on her side of the glass, I thought visitors always had a look of contentment, as if they didn’t have problems, other than someone in here they had to visit. They came in all tan, wearing white shorts and baseball caps like they were headed to picnics after. It seemed cruel. My parents always looked like they’d gotten lost on the way to church."

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."

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."