Fiction Pick of the Week: "Murder Games"

Family relationships and the complexities of childhood imagination.

"Out the side door and into the yard. Plastic table, plastic sandbox in the shape of a turtle, two plastic chairs blown over. An empty birdfeeder. Ella had no idea why Blanket would be out here. This was why adventures needed preparation: because once they were underway they were always disappointments. In her backpack the string was unused, the flashlight unlit. She took the fork out just to feel like she had packed more wisely than she did."

Horserace

Deep in debt, a man makes a large racetrack wager and recalls his history of gambling.

"I lean in to the betting window and tell her I want a grand on my horse. She looks shocked at first. She knows it’s a bet I shouldn’t be making, a bet I can’t afford, but she doesn’t know I’m running out of options. If I can’t come up with some serious cash soon, my number’s up. She types in some information but it seems to take her longer than usual."

The Ceiling

Horrifyingly astute reflections on a series of murders.

"The bank clerk gave John a pinched look as he pulled out his calculator, checking if she’d paid him the correct interest when cashing out Mother’s savings bonds. (She had, to the penny.) He sensed her subtle gloat. John didn’t care. He’d ended two people’s pain that day, single-handedly. Was SHE ever that kind?"

The Art of French Cooking

A woman bonds with her terminally ill sister over food, memories, and shaky lives.

"When Ava won the middle school election, there was peach cobbler with a filling so warm it burnt my tongue. When I failed chemistry, she silently let me lock myself in my room, but I came down for dinner to lasagna with short ribs that fell apart at the slightest nudge. Mom would only speak to us seriously once our mouths were full; with blueberry-banana pancakes the morning of the SATs, chicken-stuffed bell peppers after soccer games, and over spaghetti carbonara for high school heartaches. We came to interpret her innermost thoughts in meticulous meals culled from Julia Child and the Rombauers. It was like she needed something to distract us when she was fully there."

The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing

An excerpt from Rombes' forthcoming novel: on memories of a destroyed lost film.

"And with her Aimee — that was her name, not Rachel or Raquel — brought several pages of her grandmother’s notes for the film, notes suggesting that it was not nearly complete, and that its ending would involve an apocalypse the likes of which had never been rendered on screen before. Aimee turned out to be a real chatterbox, which surprised me, except when it came to the topic of Maya’s notes for the calamitous ending, which she talked about in hushed tones as if not to arouse the curiosity of some invisible butcher towering just behind her there in the cafeteria, in a sort of transparent region of space that loomed behind her and that I could almost make out. And she wouldn’t allow me to examine her grandmother’s notes in front of her, forbidding me to so much as look at them in her presence."